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In our South France road trip itinerary we had two nights scheduled in Montpellier, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The plan was to do a full day trip out to the countryside to visit an abbey, a priory and a cave system. The other day we would do a city walk and spend some time on the coast. Due to the bad weather we finished the day trip earlier and did the city walk the same day. The next day in the morning instead of the afternoon we drove to our next destination. Spending time on the coast in bad weather was not on our list. I wrote about the planning of the trip before (Planning a “free” south France road trip and the first day in Carcassonne) and how we would end up having an almost free trip. Now it’s time to share our rainy day in Montpellier!
Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory
The Priory of St Michel de Grandmont is the last remaining of the order of Grandmont located in the Hérault province in France. The religious order of Grandmont was founded in the 11th century. Their architecture is known for its simplicity. The place was one of the 160 smaller monasteries of the Grandmont order. The monks of the order dressed in minimal clothing; they did not have heating, did not archive anything in writing and lived in the simplest way you could imagine. Until the last monk died in 1785 the priory was in the hands of the order. After 1785 it was turned into a farm and housing. In the mid-20th century the owners started to produce wine and only in the 1980’s it became a monument open for public. The priory is open all year and you can visit the monastery, church and living areas of the monks to get a good impression on how they lived.
The ultimate 10 day South France itinerary for a road trip packed with culture
The surrounding nature of the priory is magnificent with pine trees, hills and in between you find also remains of a pre-historic civilization. Various dolmens and a sacrifice altar can be found in the woods overlooking the valleys beneath. They were used for megalithic rituals over 5000 years ago and worth a visit for sure.
We arrived at the place early morning with the hills still in the mist and clouds. Luckily it stopped raining so that we could make a nice walk through the park breathing the fresh pine tree air. Watch the various animals in the park and see the megalithic remains. The weather got worse so we quickly returned to the priory to make the tour and learn about its history. A lot of background information is given by an audio guide and worth the few additional euros. In the shop, you should buy some local wine or other treats for later. Overall, we spend an hour or two at the place which easily could have been a bit more if the weather was nicer for a hike in the area. We continued onwards to our next destination that day.
TIP! Arrive early at opening time to leave enough time to admire the nature surrounding the priory.
Grotte (cave) de Clamouse
We continued our trip to the town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. A few kilometers before this town we made a stop to visit the Cave of Clamouse. The cave was discovered in 1945 when speleologists were investigating an underground river. Since the mid-60s the public can admire the richness of the formations in this karst cave. I have been in a few caves and I can assure you this one is one of the better I have seen. You will find stalactites and stalagmites and a lot of other formations everywhere. The tour takes you through various separate small rooms. A light show will give the formations a range of different colors. This cave is one of the better in the region and a must visit! I, but also the kids, enjoyed visiting this cave a lot. After the tour we continued to Sint-Guilhem-le-Désert for our lunch.
TIP! As access to the cave is in groups there could be a waiting time. Then buy tickets for after lunch and first go to Sint-Guilhem-le-Désert and arrive back at the cave when it’s your turn.
The next spot on our South France road trip itinerary was the small town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert in the Hérault province. The town is located in the narrow valley of the Hérault River and it was founded in the early 9th century by duke Guilhem of Aquitania. He is a legendary medieval person and now a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church and patron of weapon-blacksmiths. The village is part of the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. You find here the remains of the Gullone monastery; a bell tower and church from the 15th century with its crypts and a museum.
There is a nice square with shops, terraces and restaurants. We had a great salad with fois gras for lunch accompanied with a nice biological local wine. As in most small French village you get good quality food for an affordable price. With lunch we spend just under two hours here. Unfortunately the weather was bad so we did not go for a hike in the area. We decided to add another additional abbey in our day trip.
TIP! Take lunch here in one of the small classic French restaurants accompanied with a great glass of French wine!
On the way back to Montpellier we made a short stop at the Valmagne Abbey, mainly to buy wine. The Valmagne Abbey was founded in the early 12th century. It changed several times but the biggest change was after the French revolution when it was sold. The new owner transformed the church into a wine cellar with big barrels for wine storage. It’s now surrounded by vineyards for wine production which is available for sale at the shop. This was one reason for us to visit this Abbey; to buy wine! To see the abbey itself you do not need much more as 45 minutes but it’s well worth the time to learn about its history.
Afternoon walk in Montpellier
Montpellier is a moderately sized cosmopolitan city in the South of France. This, the location and the fact it has beaches very close at the Mediterranean sea makes it a great destination almost all year round. Unfortunately it rained as mentioned before during our visit so we kept our visit to a small city walk. The center of town is easily walked on foot as it is not that large.
History goes back to the medieval ages only unlike many other cities which have Greek or Roman roots. Start your walk at the Place de la Comédie from where you can walk around the old town. You will find various (private) old buildings besides the major places of interest. These are a Jewish bath, botanical gardens, the St. Pierre Cathedral, Arc the Triumph, Tour des Pins and Tour de la Babotte.
We did an afternoon walk until dinner time which we did in one of the many great restaurants Montpellier has. If you are new to France for sure it would be interesting to spend a day more in Montpellier but as we had seen many French cities before we continued our road trip to our next destination which was Marseille and a lot of places in between. More on that later, stay tuned!
TIP! Take a great French wine on one of the many terraces. If weather permits of course!
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