TO SEE | VILLAGE
Spring is the perfect time to visit one of France’s most beautiful villages: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. I have been here in winter and was kind of disappointed. But now in spring I completely understand why this lovely village is listed as most beautiful and even as a Grand Site of France and UNESCO World Heritage Site. So expectations for a visit are high!
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is situated in the “Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc” and beautifully surrounded by wonderful nature. The medieval village will let you go back in time when you walk the narrow streets and admire the charming houses. It all started way back in the year 804 when the Abbey of Gellone was founded by Guilhem, Count of Toulouse, Duke of Aquitaine and cousin of Charlemagne. Guilhem – Occitan for William – was renowned for his military actions against the Saracens to protect the southern border of the Frankish empire. After taking Barcelona in 803, he decided to lay down his weapons and become a monk.
Charlemagne had given a relic to Guilhem as a present, containing pieces of the True Cross. Because of this relic, the Gellone Abbey attracted many pilgrims on the pilgrimage of Saint James’s Way or Santiago de Compostela. It became such a popular stop that eventually a village was formed around the Abbey: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert.
Even today, the village is still very popular. Tourists mainly, I didn’t see many pilgrims… The weather was just perfect. Sunny, blue sky and a welcome burst of spring invited me for the first ice cream of the year. To be enjoyed at the foot of the 150-year-old plane tree at Place de la Liberté. After this break, I continued the stroll into the charming village. You will find many restaurants in case you are hungry, and I always like the little shops where you will find original and local products.
As I explored the village, I saw some dried flowers hanging on several doors. Curious as I am, I asked a local about the meaning of these dried thistles. He explained to me that it was a “Cardabelle”, or “Soleil des Herbes” (Sun of the Weeds) as the Larzac shepherds call it. These “suns” are hung on the gates of their barns and stables, to give protection to their animals. If the Cardabelle is dried and hung on your house, it will bring luck. There are a lot of lucky people living in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert!