This day proved to be the highlight of our holiday. We set off north into the scenic limestone mountains of the Cevennes National Park, discovering by chance le Pont du Diable at the start of the Gorges de Hérault with its three bridges, ancient and new, crossing the River Hérault as it emerges from the gorge into a large lake. It was a scorching day and we watched canoeists, swimmers and even some brave folk diving from the rocks into the green/blue waters. It had been a long journey from the coast and when we arrived at our first intended stop at St Guilhem le Desert it was impossible to find anywhere to park. After having driven up and down the road a few times we gave up, very sadly, as this village is supposed to be well worth a visit. There was another car park further along the road, with a long walk back – too far for my small daughter but worth remembering for another time. To get a parking space close to the village, you need to arrive much earlier.
We continued on to the Cirque de Navacelles (picture looking towards the La Baume Auriole viewpoint in Hérault) which, along with St Guilhem le Desert and the Gorges de Hérault, is listed as one of the Grands Sites de France. (This network, created in 2000, lists 32 exceptional, fragile, protected and listed cultural landscapes that are both well-known and emblematic.) We had seen pictures of the Cirque de Navacelles but were totally unprepared for the vastness of this geological marvel. At the cirque there are two viewpoints looking down onto the valley far below, one from each side of the ravine. Far below there are the oxbow remains of an ancient river meander with a rocky outcrop in the middle. The river now runs in a straight line. The only way to reach the floor of the valley is down a tortuous zig-zag route with multiple hairpin bends and then the only way out is to return by the same road or to go up a similar road on the other side. One side of the cirque is in the Departement of Hérault with a restaurant, shop and exhibition area at La Baume Auriole and the other side is in the Departement of Gard. It was a remote and wildly beautiful place and we wondered what life was like for the few residents of the farming village of Navacelles in the winter.
The evening shadows were lengthening across the Cirque as we drove up the Gard side of the valley. When we got back to Sète it was well after dark and we ate a hasty and very late dinner. We discovered that we had done 188 mile round trip, which turned out to be the longest journey of our entire holiday, but agreed that it had been well worth it. The Cirque de Navacelles is not to be missed!