TO DO | NATURE
Summers in the South of France are warm and sunny with endless blue skies pretty much all the time. So, you definitely need a place where you can cool down. Of course, there is the “grand blue”, as the French call the Mediterranean sea. But inland, you will also find many gorgeous natural swimming spots. Rivers, lakes, Languedoc-Roussillon has it all! Here are our top 5 wild swimming spots – which means not supervised – in the Hérault department.
5. Barrage des Olivettes
This small lake, formed below the Olivettes Dam, is a popular place for the locals to go swimming. The dam was built in 1988 and was meant to regulate the Peyne River’s flooding. You will find the Lac des Olivettes just outside the village of Vailhan in the Hérault. The road to the lake takes you through amazing nature and beautiful surroundings. Although Vailhan is close by, you will have the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere. Perfect place for swimming and picnicking. Parking is free, and during the high season you will find a little food truck selling snacks and drinks. You can even get a cold beer. If you are looking for something fancier, you might want to try the restaurant Äponem, located in the 18th-century rectory overlooking the lake. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but, from what I hear, it is worth the trip.
In summer, the beautiful Gorges d’Héric in the heart of the ‘Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc’ are well worth a visit. Perfect for a swim in the river Orb and the naturally formed rock pools. Only for the brave though, because the water is cold as ice, even in the summer! To round off the day, you will find plenty of wonderful places to spread your picnic blanket. If you would like to visit this magical place, you drive in the direction of Olargues. As soon as you see the Mons la Trivalle sign, as well as the Gorges d’Héric one, follow this direction. You can park your car for 3 euros between April and September. Parking is free during the other months. In the parking lot, you will also find a bar – Le Snack Loulette – where you can have a drink or eat an ice cream. The bar closes in low season; please keep this in mind as there is nothing much to buy after the parking lot.
Lac du Salagou is an artificial lake and was built in the sixties to irrigate the surrounding agricultural fields. Because of the red earth around the lake, the landscape is often compared to the Arizona desert. In France! Some people don’t like this lake. I don’t really understand why as you can do all kinds of sporting activities. Swimming, of course, but also (mounting) biking, sailing, canoeing, surfing to name a few. At the ‘Base de Plein Air’ just outside of the village of Liausson, you will find all the rental equipment and a small restaurant with snacks. If you are looking for a more peaceful spot, go to the ghost town of Celles. This abandoned village with its ruins is very unusual because it was evacuated right after the dam was built. People thought that the water would flood the village; however, in the end it stopped right in front of it, leaving the empty village intact. Be careful to avoid swimming at the barrage (dam) and the La Sure area.
In summer, you can take a dip in the refreshing Orb River with the scenic picture-postcard view of Roquebrun in the background. Locally known as the Nice of Hérault, Roquebrun benefits from a microclimate. We love to go here to escape the crowds on the beach, swimming while our children catch our evening meal. Not really, the fish are very tiny, but it keeps the kids busy for ages. Do bring your water shoes to protect your feet from all the pebbles. When arriving from Cessenon-sur-Orb, you can reach the pebble beach by turning right just before the bridge to Roquebrun. In summer you can park your car for 3 euros, and you can buy an ice cream and some drinks. On the left side of the bridge, you can rent out canoes and stand up paddleboards (sups).
1. Pont du Diable
Near one of the oldest bridges of France, you will also find a really cool swimming place. The Pont du Diable crosses one of the most important rivers in the Massif Central and Languedoc region: the Hérault. The bridge was built in 1031 to connect the abbeys of Aniane and Gellone in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert on Saint James’s Way (Santiago de Compostella). On one side of the bridge, you will have a breathtaking view of the Gorges d’Hérault. The other side has a natural pool with a pebbled beach, so bring your water shoes. The view of the Devil’s Bridge is amazing. Be careful when swimming into the gorge, as the young and brave (or reckless?) tend to jump off the old bridge and even the higher new bridge next to it. You can easily spend a day at the Pont du Diable, but you can also combine it with a visit to the Grotte de Clamouse and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. From April to October, you can park your car for 5 euro at the Maison du Grand Site at the Pont du Diable. From here, it is a small walk to the beach at the lake.