The plateau of Aubrac is a volcanic massif (from 5 to 9 million years ago). The neck of Belvezet gives evidence of the former volcanic activity in this place. A volcanic neck (or volcanic plug) is a volcanic object created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano. Erosion removes the surrounding rock while the erosion-resistant neck remains. The double neck of Belvezet is located on a hill above the hamlet of Belvezet. This basalt rocky hook is 8 million years old. At the top of it, a castle was built in feudal times : today, only a few….
It is not located on the way to Saint Guilhem, but it is worth a little detour… In the midst of the vast open spaces of Aubrac, the waterfall of Déroc dominates the glacial valley of the Gambaïse river. On the edge of the ravine, the tributary of the Bès and the water of Salhiens lake flow from a high basalt cliff (which corresponds to an ancient lava flow) and falls 32 meters lower. Behind the waterfall, a little grotto is hidden. On its roof, basalt columns can be observed. This grotto, discovered by doctor Prunières, was probably used as….
In the center of the village of Montdardier, there is a ice house. This half-buried building is 8 meters deep. Formerly, and until the 1920’s, large ice blocks were collected in winter from the lavognes (little ponds where flocks water on the causses) and were stored in the ice house. Straw was placed between each layer of ice : thus it could be kept for months. The enabled the inhabitants of the castle of Montdardier to have ice in order to chill drinks, preserve food and make sorbets (this dessert, invented in Italy in the 18th century, was quickly appreciated by….
The abyss of Bramabiau is a cavity from which flows an underground river. Bramabiau, in occitan language, means “lowing ox“, because of the clatter of the 10 meters high waterfall. A little geography… The way to Saint Guilhem is the only way where you can be sure to find Happiness! The Bonheur river (which means, in french, « Happiness river ») originates on the mountain of the Aigoual. It flows along the bottom of a little valley through about 5 km ; the nit becomes a sinking river. It divides in several underground rivers which dig a maze of more than 10….
In 2010, inhabitants of the Causse Méjean undertook to restore the mill of La Borie, near the small hamlet of La Parade (Hures-la-Parade). This mill is one of the windmills that were built in the 17th and 18th centuries on the Causse Méjean. Some of them have completely fallen away. After a 5-years work, the mill of La Borie, which was nothing but a ruin, is entirely rebuilt and works again: since 2017 you can see its blades turning. The mill’s renovation has enabled to continue a traditional activity and to develop an economic system that gives precedence to short….
The Cévennes were the land of silk : for a long time, the spinning of silk yarns was the main economic activity in many Cévennes villages. Silk has been spun there as early as the Middle Ages, but this activity began to really flourish under the reign of Henri IV of France. In the 16th century, the price of the raw silk that was imported mainly from Italy had increased so much that the king encouraged to produce it within the kingdom. And then were planted a lot of white mulberries (Morus alba) : in fact, in the spring, silkworms eat the….
Megaliths are large and roughly hewn stones, erected since the end of the Neolithic period. They could have a religious function, were used as graces or preserve the memory of an important event, and are quite noticeable in the landscape. The Causses and the Cévennes are, after Brittany, the French area where there are the most numerous megaliths. On the way to Saint-Guilhem, you walk alongside dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs. On the Causse de Sauveterre, one can see the dolmen of La Rouvière, the dolmen of La Cham and the one of the Aire des Trois Seigneurs. Not far from….
For the pilgrims on the way to Santiago or to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, the Bridge of the Pilgrims, which was built at the end of the 14th or at the beginning of the 15th century, was the onlyplace where they could cross the river Boralde without wading. The medieval cross on the bridge (dating from the 15th or 16th century) represents the Christ on Cross and, at his feet, the Virgin Mary and John the apostle. At the bottom of the cross a pilgrim can be seen : he wears a long hooded cloak and holds a staff (the traditional stick of the….
The village of Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac (Aveyron) is crossed by an old Roman way which linked Rodez (Segodunum) in the west and Javols (Anderitum) in the east. This route enabled also to go to farest big cities as Lyon in the north-east and Bordeaux in the south-west. From Les Enfrux to Le Pendouliou de Fabrègues, the route to Saint-Guilhem follows a part of this way : you can still see, at some places, the stones of the road. The 6 metres-wide way was delimited by roadsides made of vertical slabs. The road was made of basalt stones which were graded thanks to soil….
In the Aubrac region, the “burons” are little small partially underground granite houses, with solid lauze roofs. Not such a long time ago, they were used to make cheese in the summer, during the mountain pasture period. They were opened from the 25th of May to the 13th of October. In the main room lived the man who milked the cows and made cheese. The cheeses (and in particular, the “Tommes“) were stored in another room. Cheese was made in the burons until the Second World War; then, these little houses have been deserted little by little. Fresh Tomme from….
The shoeing frame was used to shoe animals that worked in the fields or were used for skidding. People shoed especially cows and oxen, which are calmer than horses. These shoeing frames are witnesses to the agricultural past of the Aubrac region; most of the time, they were located near the fountain and the bread oven, as it is the cas at Rieutort-d’Aubrac. The banal oven is sometimes still used in some villages. The rounded shaped oven is made of carved stones or of bricks covered with sand to assure insulation. The wood and the tools that are necessary for….
The “lavognes” (also called “lavagnes“) are little natural hollows in the ground that can be found on the causses (limestone plateaus). In these dry regions, man has rearranged them in order to hold rainwater: the ground is covered with clay or paved with limestone so that the water doesn’t seep into the soil. These little ponds are used for watering cattle. The water level varies with seasons. The lavognes supports a diverse ecosystem: it harbours rich flora and fauna. For instance, newts and other amphibians, dragonflies or even white water-crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) can be observed there.
All along the route, crosses are landmarks for the pilgrims. These crosses, made of wood, stone or metal, attest the impact of christianisation and the religious fervour in these areas. There is a ide diversity of crosses, which have often a specific function. There are, of course, devotional crosses: these are pilgrim crosses which are often located on heights near villages. The are also directional crosses in the crossing of the ways or along the route. They were built in large number in the Middle Ages to christianize the places: they guide and protect travelers along the road of pilgrimage…..
The village of La Canourgue faces the Lot valley. The village was built around a monastery in the 7th century. Since the Middle Ages, life has been organized along and around the river Urugne (a tributary of the Lot). Water is everywhere: it comes under buildings, flows and gushes in the numerous fountains. Water has also given to the village its special architecture: canals, bridges, béals (small irrigation canals), wash houses… That’s why La Canourgue is nicknamed “The Little Lozerian Venice“. The canals enabled the development of the processing of wool, leather worf and flour-milling activities until the 19th century…..
South of the Aubrac region, the Grands Causses are several limestone uplands: there are seven “main” causses and many other little ones. On the way to Saint Guilhem, you will walk on some of these causses: first, on the Causse de Sauveterre and the Causse Méjean (two of the “main” causses). Then, after having crossed the Cévennes, you will find the Grands Causses region again, with the Causse de Blandas and the Causse du Larzac. These causses are separated from each others by valleys and gorges. On the route, you will see the Gorges du Tarn and the Gorges de….
West of the Causse Méjean, along the Gorges de la Jonte, rocks with curious shapes stand: in the municipality of Saint-Pierre-des-Tripiers, you can see the “arches de Saint Pierre”, the “Sèvres Vase” and the “China Vase”. These beautiful and strange rock formations are due to the erosion of the dolomite. The Arches of Saint Pierre are natural stone arches. They may be the result of the ebb and flow of the sea which covered the Grands Causses millions of years ago, or they may be the ruins of a former underground network which is now collapsed. The same path that….
In the early Iron Age (in the 7th century a.C.), because of the influx of people the Celts moved to the Grands Causses and settled there permanently. First, they built simple stone walls on the edges of the plateaus to prevent access to a rocky promontory which was still naturally protected on at least two sides. Then, by the 6th century a.C., more elaborate defensive works were built on the plateaus. The walls are now fully closed : these are protohistoric surrounding walls. Three of them are known on the Causse Méjean, and in particular the one at Hures-la-Parade, on the….
The Our-Lady-of-Pleasant-Place Hermitage is a small sanctuary hanging from the rock. Located in a ruiniform landscape (dolomitic limestone) and fragrant garrigue, more than one hour walk from the village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, it is a pleasant place where freshness can be enjoyed. The little chapel and its outbuildings are sheltered from the wind and the hot sun. The origin of the hermitage The hermitage is humble and isolated in accordance ith the wish of its founder, Jean d’Alble, a layman from diocese of Lodève. Jean d’Albe built the hermitage which was called Pleasant Place. Willing to ensure the perpetuity of….
At Montdardier, the houses are tightly packed together at the foot of the stone fortress which has guarded for centuries the access to the Causse de Blandas. In fact, the village is located on the road from Le Vigan to Lodève, from the Cévennes to the Pyrenees, and this main road was used not only by merchants and pilgrims (as the remains of an hospital and many inns testify it) but also by soldiers and marauding bands. Built on the top of a hill for strategic purposes, the castle provides an unobstructed view out over the Glèpe valley to Le….
The hamlet of La Sablière has been built in the 11th century on huge rocks on the edge of the Gorges du Tarn. The place is accessible only by foot or by small boats. Once a hermitage where lived Benedictine nuns, it has been deserted for a long time. In fact, many little hamlets based between the left bank of the Tarn and the cliffs of Causse Méjean were abandoned and forgotten when the road was built on the right bank : inhabitants then moved to the other side of the river. The hamlet of La Sablière is thus an….