If you are in Montpellier, France in the Gorges de l’Hérault Valley, take the 25-mile trip to the picturesque medieval village Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. The town was classified in 2012 as “The Most beautiful village in France.”
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert has maintained its remarkable medieval appearance for twelve centuries and has an incredibly powerful historical legacy. The backdrop of the village is craggy rocks and the town is lined with stone houses and streets. Beautiful flowers bloom everywhere and the ancient alleys are dotted with small artists’ shops.
The Devil’s Bridge
Discover the “Pont du Diable” (The Devil’s Bridge) spanning the Hérault River at the Gorges de l’Hérault (Hérault Gorges) entrance between Saint Jean de Fos and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. The Devil’s Bridge is an essential visit, as it is one of the oldest medieval bridges in France and is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Work on the bridge was started more than 1000 years ago. According to the legend, the monks and pilgrims reached the Gellone Abbey by the bridge in the 11th century and the devil wanted to prevent the progress of the work on the bridge. The Patron Saint Guilhem finished the construction, and the devil was unable to destroy it due to its strength and solidarity.
From the Pont du Diable parking lot, take the wide, flat path to the bridge for a half-mile roundtrip stroll. A few benches are along the way, and if needed, the office of tourism lends manual wheelchairs. On the way to the Devil’s Bridge at the beginning of the Hérault Gorges, stop at Le Grand Site de France for a rest and striking views. Return the same way, but first, consider visiting the terrace of the Brasserie for a drink while enjoying the exceptional setting. It’s located in the Maison du Grand Site building about 300 meters from the Devil’s Bridge on a flat path (close in October).
Visitors will want to view the exterior and marvel at the Romanesque architecture of the Gellone Abbey at the Place de la Liberté. Looking at the abbey immersed in the natural bright sun is an incredibly serene and picturesque setting. For the best abbey viewing experience, bring power wheelchair assistance to navigate some steep streets.
Unfortunately, accessing inside the renowned Gellone Abbey which is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has a few steps and is not suitable for wheelchair and no ramp is provided. Part of the cloister at the abbey was sold and disassembled during the French Revolution and exported to the United States, where some of the remains are displayed in the New York Cloister Museum.
Near Bélarga Village, between the wine country and wooded hills, experience a hike called “De Rouviègein Dardaillon.” Created in 2017, it is the first hiking circuit open to families with disabilities in the Hérault department.
4-miles of the original 7-miles is wheelchair accessible. Starting from the parking area, visitors can stroll through the old part of Bélarga Village with informational signs displayed by important architectural structures. Few restaurants are around, but 3-miles south in the Paulhan Village there are more options.
Rent a Joëlette:
A one-wheeled Joëlette is available for hiking/trekking on any kind of terrain. Designed for both recreational outings and sports, the Joëlette enables access to the rough terrains. Contact Escapéo, the only company with this adaptive equipment that can also recommend indoor and outdoor activities.
- Driving is the fastest way from Montpellier to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, taking approximately 30 min via A 75 then taking the A 750 (toll-free), direction Millau/Lodève. To access the village’s main street, you must take a steep street that will lead you to the main square. Handicapped parking is near the center of the village (Place de la Liberté). 2-miles upstream from Saint-Guilhem le Désert is a parking lot for the Pont du Diable and includes handicapped parking. It is free in the winter and on weekdays with one set price all day for all vehicles.
- Hiring a taxi is possible but expensive. Consider this wheelchair taxi.
Accessible toilets are in the Pré des Pères parking lot as well as the free shuttle parking lot.
To discover the medieval riches of the village, the remarkable Romanesque facades of the village and the beauty of the Verdus waterfall, it is a good idea to download the free IZI TRAVEL application on your smartphone. The Tourist Office has developed a new free audio-guided tour. It turns your smartphone into an audio guide and leads you to discover the secrets of the territory. Thanks to a geo-location system, you can go at your own pace, like exploring Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert and the Devil’s Bridge.
- “La Source” offers specialties all day long, like roast camembert, pizzas, meats, salads, pancakes, and other daily specials. This restaurant is located on the Place de la Liberté in the village of Saint-Guilhem by the historical fountain and the hundred-year tree opposite the Abbey of Gellone and has accessible toilets.
- “Oustal Fonzes” is a traditional restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Hérault Gorges. Specialties include crayfish and trout. It is located at the entrance to the village of Saint-Guilhem le Désert and is a spacious restaurant with access to both the terrace and interior room. The toilets are not accessible but there are adapted public toilets a few meters away.
- “Côté cour” is a quiet restaurant, located in a quiet place by the village square and car park. This restaurant has terrace-only seating in the shade of the trees. Accessible toilets are available inside.
Located in the lower part of the village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Hotel Guilhaume d’Orange may have accessible room with a view of the Hérault from the garden, though details have not been verified. The hotel restaurant is open year-round.