TO DO | MUSEUM
On a beautiful summer day, I decided to pay a visit to Presqu’île de Maguelone: a fantastic site just 20 kilometres outside of Montpellier. This peninsula, or “almost an isle” as the French name it, is perfect for a day trip if you like to mix culture with nature. And more, as wine and oysters are cultivated as well.
The adventure starts when I park my car at what seems the last parking of Palavas-les-Flots. Crossing the long straight road leads me to the peninsula of Maguelone. It is quite a long walk, about 1,5 kilometres, to get to the cathedral. But from May till September you can take a little train that leaves from the parking. The surroundings are beautiful: on the left side a small strip of low dunes with access to the beach of the big blue sea and on the right side a great view over the Étang du Prévost. Arriving at the site, I get my ticket and audio tour to visit the cathedral.
The peninsula of Maguelone has a long history. Remains of Romans and Etruscans have been found and in the 5th century, the Visigoths created a small town on the former volcanic island. Since then, men always have occupied the land: as home, fortress, agricultural land, religious centre and hiding place. The Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral dates from the 12th century and was the first cathedral of the South of France. It not only served as a religious place but also as a refuge. It was a hide-out for the four popes of Rome and always has been a safe haven for the ill and seamen. Being a shelter for people in need was more important than its religious role.
Although the thick walls of the cathedral keep me cool during my visit, I do find some shade in the lush green garden as well. Slowly I stroll back to the visitor’s centre, which also hosts a restaurant and a small shop. While I enjoy a refreshing drink (I have to come back to eat, as it looks great), I learn that the peninsula is run by “Les Compagnons de Maguelone”. This association has three missions. First of all as a social project to host and educate 90 disabled people. Secondly, they protect the extraordinary patrimonial of Maguelone. And finally a cultural mission, which shows in all the festivals, exhibitions and concerts that are organised on this fabulous site.
Presqu’île de Maguelone is located in such a magnificent place between sea and pond. To my great surprise even in this secluded place, grapes are grown. This is the work of Frédéric Fabrège, whose father bought the domaine of Maguelone in 1852. Frédéric Fabrège didn’t only save and restore the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral; he also restored the vineyards on the peninsula. With great success, as still today you can enjoy a nice biological red, rosé or white wine. Together with a locally cultivated oyster, it can’t get much better.
The walk back to my car takes a bit longer, as I’m still not done taking pictures. Apparently you can see peacocks and flamingo’s around the waters of Maguelone, but unfortunately, I don’t spot them. I do see other birds though; if I’m not mistaken some black-winged stilts and white egrets. And I’m not even a birder :). In the end, I am happy to have found another special place in the South of France!