Here I am, finally writing my first post about France, funny isn’t it? I must admit that having started our travel/photography blog in the middle of the Pacific, on Tahiti Island, we never had the opportunity to write about France. It’s now done and I’m taking advantage of being on summer vacation at my parents’ house in the South of France, more precisely in the Hérault region, to go for a walk in a well-known site in the region: the famous Cirque de Mourèze.
For those of you who have been following us on our blog for some time, it is clearly a less tropical destination than the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora (which we write about on a regular basis), but we also thought that this countryside stroll would allow you to discover a little corner of France, which many of you probably don’t know (unless you live in the area).
Let’s go, we invite you on a little walk in this famous Cirque de Mourèze, a geological curiosity of the region.
Before describing the Cirque walks, I wanted to tell you a little bit about geology. I’m not going to give a lecture (that’s not the point, eh!), but if this place is so famous, it’s mainly thanks to its geological and morphological context. The 160-million-years-old site is called “mega-lapiaz”. Simply put, it is an area of ruin-shaped relief, in this case dolomitic limestone, dug by erosion over time. What we observe today was the bottom of an old shallow sea back in time (now withdrawn) on which erosion and rainwater precipitation formed the landscape.
To simplify, in addition to natural erosion by water action, limestone rocks have the particularity of being soluble thanks to the water charged with carbon dioxide when coming into contact with the ground. It is the process of dissolution which applies thanks to the water charged in carbonic acid, which will attack the limestone/dolomite. The result is this characteristic landscape in the form of ruins.
There are actually two walks that you can do in the Cirque de Mourèze. The first one is a small loop, called the Parc des Courtinals, which allows you to go around the most characteristic formations of the Cirque in 1 hour; and the big loop of 3 hours, offering you a magnificent view on the ridge of the Mont Liausson of the Salagou Lake. Note that you can also access the Mont Liausson from the small village of the same name, on the other side of the mountain. For this article, I decided to do both walks with my mother!
From the beginning of the walk, you can discover this very original landscape, essentially composed of dolomitic rock (a kind of limestone, to sum up), which crumbles under the effect of erosion and dissolution with rainwater. The result is a jagged landscape, between small canyons, imposing rocks and sand called “sandstone” or “dolomitic arena”. This sand simply comes from the rocks of the landscape where we walk. You will cross a classic and preserved vegetation of the Cirque: rosemary trees, multicolored heather, strawberry trees, a few pines, junipers and helianthemum.
The beginning of the walk is not the most spectacular part of the Cirque, which you will be able to see rather on the way back during the walk in the Parc des Courtinals (small loop). The path goes uphill from the junction of the “Chemin des Charbonniers” to the “Montagne de Liaussion” (you’ll see a sign). The climbing part to the summit is not interesting in itself but sometimes offers breathtaking views of the surroundings, the Pic Vissou and its ancient watchtower. Nothing truly complicated in the walk honestly, even if there are some rather steep passages.
The arrival at the top is a very nice reward and offers a 180° panoramic view on the Salagou lake. For the local experts, the famous peninsula of the lake, the village of Liausson and the vineyards below can be seen very well. Take a moment for breakfast here, it feels so good to be up there. It took us 1h30 from the parking lot to get to the highest peak, taking some picture breaks on the way …
The way back by the ridge offers you some different points which overlook the Salagou lake. The rest of the way back to the village is relatively shady and does not present any major interest. Nevertheless, take the time to wander for a few moments in the small streets of this picturesque village. You can even stop for a drink at the foot of the imposing castle built just below the Cirque.
By the way, I had the privilege to access the castle, usually closed to visitors, and to be able to take some nice pictures of the surroundings and the Cirque. Judge for yourself!
Personally, if you have the time and the desire to spend the entire day in the Cirque de Mourèze, I would advise you to leave early in the morning for the big loop, take the time to have a drink on a terrace and to eat lunch at the restaurant in the village, and to leave later on in the afternoon for the small loop. You can even consider spending the night here in the village, in one of the very well-known hotels, but I’ll tell you about it below.
After a good meal in the village, you can consider going for a little walk, also known as Le Parc des Courtinals. You have two possibilities. If you have done the long hiking trail in the morning for example, you can then do the loop in the other direction and start from the village, which will avoid you to go back by the same path as in the morning (which is also less interesting). If you only come to do this little walk, you might as well choose to do the loop in the right direction, starting from the parking lot at the exit of the village.
Personally, I find this small loop of one hour really very interesting to do, especially the second part. Landscapes are really great and with a beautiful evening light as we had (around 8pm), it makes truly nice spectacles. This second part presents a lot more sandy canyons, small paths and you surely will enjoy walking between the rocks, each one presenting more spectacular shapes than the other.
You can easily spend a good hour, or even two for those who love photography, to wander through this maze of so particular shapes! For those wondering, it’s a very easy walk, which is not strenuous at all compared to the big loop, and you can totally do this with children or a baby.
Of course, everything will depend on where you arrive to discover this site classified “Natura 2000”. The two closest airports are Beziers and Montpellier, a little less than an hour and 55 kilometers on average. If you are planning to book an internal flight, I advise you to have a look at the Skyscanner website that I have been using personally for more than 10 years.
If you are on vacation in the area, you can simply rent a car in Montpellier or Beziers for your holidays. Access to the Mourèze site is from the parking lot, at the entrance of the village. Please note that a 3€ fee is required for the parking.
Personally, I would recommend you do both walks, because they are each of different interest. I would advise to do the big loop that goes up to Mont Liausson in the early morning, and the smaller loop trail late in the evening or in the late afternoon. If you can avoid the summer and the “crowds of tourists”, it is surely much better. Ideally, for people in the area, I would advise autumn or spring, always early or late to have beautiful lights. Avoid going there in the middle of the day (because of the hot weather) and do not forget bottles of water (there is nothing on the whole circuit).
Hotels in Mourèze:
- The Navas hotel “les hauts de Mourèze”: the hotel has an excellent reputation from what I have heard (I did not sleep there personally). The location is perfect, overlooking the cirque of Mourèze. The swimming pool and the warm welcome are very appreciated! A superb value for money, in my opinion, that I will try next time I come to my parents’ house in Nébian,
- L’auberge Val Mourèze: located outside the village, the place also has a good reputation. People particularly like the setting of the hotel and the magnificent swimming pool as well as the SPA to relax after hiking.
The guest rooms and cottages in Mourèze:
- The gîte l’Ombretta: in the heart of the village, in a quiet place, this is an old winegrower’s house entirely renovated.
- The guest rooms of Sabel: located outside the village, they offer 2 bedrooms, 1 outside hut and 1 hut in the trees.
- The Domaine de Nabes gîte: several houses are available for holiday rentals in a splendid setting, away from the crowds. Note that it is possible to camp!
As I said at the beginning of the article, you really need to think about bringing water for both hikes because there is nothing on the way. You can possibly buy water at the Restaurant Ô Cirque, at the beginning of the hike, only a few minutes from the parking lot.
To eat lunch or dinner, there is a well-known restaurant in the village, called L’art de la flamme. You can also eat at the restaurant of Val Mourèze.
Finally, also note that you can have a drink in a small snack bar in the village located at the end of the hikes, perfect to recharge your batteries – its location is very nice: at the foot of the village castle, in the shade. I did not test it personally, but I saw that there is a creperie just next door. It’s a good way for those who want to eat quickly and do not have the budget for a restaurant. In order to find your way around, you can look at this very good map made by the Mourèze town hall.
I’m coming to the end of this article, my first one about France and even Europe! I hope you enjoyed the walk and that the pictures will make you want to discover this beautiful part of Herault. I admit it was nice to do and to rediscover, especially with my family. Unfortunately, I won’t have time to write another article about the region, but I plan to do it next time. There are a lot of things to discover in the area, and to name a few: the Salagou Lake, Saint Guilhem le Désert, Le Cirque de Navacelles, the Larzac, Mediterranean villages by the sea or ponds to enjoy good seafood (Bouzigues, Sète, Balaruc-les-Bains), etc.
See you soon anyway,