From the heights of Aubrac to the “garrigues” (scrublands) of the Languedoc
This very old road leaves the « Via Podiensis » of Compostelle (way of Puy-en-Velay) at the town of Aubrac to reach the gorges du Tarn at Sainte-Enimie via Nasbinals, La Canourgue and the Causse de Sauveterre. From there crossing the Causse Méjean, the Chemin de St Guilhem arrives at Meyrueis, then the Mont Aigoual (summit 1567m), before plunging towards Le Vigan. Further on, it reaches the Cirque de Navacelles and then climbs to the Larzac to arrive at Saint Guilhem-le-Désert by the Val du Verdus and Notre-Dame-de-Lieu-Plaisant.
The variant route branches off on the Aubrac at the Rode Cross and further on, after La Canourgue, towards Les Vignes then continues its path along the river, left bank, to Le Rozier to climb after onto the Causse Méjean and rejoin the principal route at Meyrueis.
The origin of the chemin de Saint Guilhem™
Originally, this was a sheep migration track, from the time when the herds were not yet domesticated. It was later known as “grande draille d’Aubrac” (great track of Aubrac) which joined the back lands of Montpellier with the volcanic plateau of Aubrac. Each season shepherds drove their flocks from the dry scrublands to the fresh green pastures of Aubrac.
From the middle ages, travellers took this path : witness to this, the foundation in 1002 of the hospice of Notre Dame de Bonahuc (today the ruins of Notre Dame du Bonheur), near Mont Aigoual, where six augustin canons insured the safety of travellers against dangers and storms.
Since the 11th century, the trail assured communication between the coastal planes and the great markets of Le Vigan and Meyrueis (that live on in our times).
The stormy life of William of Orange, white knight of the emperor Charlemagne (who inspired the minstrels to create a famous, storytelling, song), ended here at the Abbey of Gellone, after a retreat devoted to the spiritual. He was canonised under the name of Saint Guilhem. Since a relic of the holy cross has been conserved at Gellone, a constant flow of pilgrims have visited this place, coming from the north and from the Via Podiensis of Compostelle to rejoin after, in the south, the trail of Arles which took them towards Rome to the east, or towards Santiago de Compostela to the west.
The uncertainties of the 15th century (epidemics – hundred years war) and the Religious wars (16th century) slowed down the flow of pilgrims. The Camin Romieu was still frequented by merchants until the end of the 17th century and abandoned in favour of new, royal roads made suitable for vehicles by the king’s administration at the time of the war of the camisards (1685-1710).
Until 1960, migrating herds still used the trail as far as the Aubrac
In our times, only the south part (from the scrublands to mount Aigoual and Meyrueis) is still used by some of the migrating herds.
The actual route of Chemin de St Guilhem is situated almost entirely within the perimeter of the land that is inscribed in the world heritage under the title of mediterranean agro-pastoralism.