Herault Geography and Natural Beauty

Beziers and the Canal du Midi, Herault, Languedoc Roussillon, France

Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi, linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, makes a wonderful venue for a leisurely canal boat cruise or for short canal trips.

This 240km feat of engineering - it has 99 locks and 130 bridges - stretching from Herault’s Bassin de Thau to Toulouse, is now a World Heritage site and was already known as the ‘Wonder of Europe’ by the end of the seventeenth century.

In 1666, Pierre-Paul Riquet, a tax inspector from Beziers, persuaded Louis XIV to let him begin work on his dream waterway which 14 years later brought trading prosperity along its route until the coming of the railways.

In the twenty-first century, commercial traffic has given way to holiday craft slipping quietly past green tree-lined banks sunny with yellow irises in spring.

Walk or cycle along the towpath to view the 9 locks of Fonserane - 7 are still operational - and enquire about organized canal trips at Les Bateaux du Soleil in Agde, tel: (00 33) 4 67 08 79, and Beziers Croisiere, tel: (00 33) 4 67 49 08 23. Boats can be hired at Base Eco Canal in Villeneuve les Beziers, tel: (00 33) 4 67 37 88 65 and Anjodi in Lignan-sur-Orb offers luxury cruises, tel: (00 33) 6 14 94 66 43.

Grotte des Desmoiselles

This massive underground ‘cathedral’ was formed from an old ‘swallow-hole’ made when a surface stream disappeared underground. Discovered in the late eighteenth century, the cave is acknowledged by speleologists to be one of the finest natural caves in the South of France.

The main chamber is 50m high, 120m wide, with a constant temperature of 14ºc summer and winter. Pride of the place amongst the fantastical columns and translucent curtains is the famous stalagmite of the Virgin and Child in white calcite.

A network of steps and passageways and an underground tram climbing gradients of 36º ensure visitors can travel with ease around this exceptional site deep in the heart of the Thaurac Mountains. Open all year, visits last about 1 hour. For details of times and prices tel (00 33) 4 67 73 55 57. 

Grotte de Clamouse

The discovery of a new underground river in the Herault Gorge in 1945 led to the exploration of the Grotte de Clamouse near the village of St-Guilhem-le-Desert. Today this rich array of stalactite formations is open all year to the public.

You can visit the Sand Hall, Red Niagara Room, Subterranean Canyon and huge Boulder Chamber and see the wonderful aragonite crystals and 2m long straw stalactites for which the cave is famous. For opening times and prices tel (00 33) 4 67 57 71 05.

Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park

Located along the southern tip of the Massif Central, Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park extends across parts of the Aveyron, Tarn and Herault departments. Off the beaten track in all but high season, the park is a place of quiet beauty to be enjoyed by lovers of outdoor activities such as walking and horse riding along ancient pilgrim routes.

Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park’s diverse scenery ranges from the forests and green valleys of the Black Mountains with their Atlantic climate in the west to the drier Mediterranean limestone peaks around Mont Caroux and Monts d’Espinouse in the east. The latter is much favoured by back packers and rock climbers.

At the heart of the Park are plateau and mountain lakes enjoyed by fishermen and watersports enthusiasts. Vine-covered valley slopes descend to the south. Such a range ensures a huge variety of fauna and flora for visitors to enjoy including 240 species of birds and mouflons - red-brown wild sheep - which have been reintroduced from Corsica.

The 2,605km² park created in 1973 has its headquarters in St-Pons-de-Thomieres where the park visitor centre is housed at the local tourist office, tel: (00 33) 4 67 97 38 22. Fraisse and La Salvetat in the Agout Valley are important bases for outdoor activities.

Saltwater Lagoons

Interconnecting saltwater lagoons account for over 50% of Languedoc Roussillon’s coastline where the westernmost reaches of the vast Rhone Estuary that forms the famous Camargue wetlands meet the sea.

Rice fields pattern the coastal plain from Pezenas and looking seaward from Montpellier, Herault’s lagoon landscape fans out to display a watery haven for wildlife - the place to see huge colonies of pink flamingos. Bassin de Thau, the largest lagoon at 200m and separated from the sea by a narrow stretch of sand, once formed an important link between the Canal du Midi and the Canal du Rhone.

It now provides a rich source of income from oyster and mussel farms. Explore characterful fishing villages such as Sete, Marseillan and Balaruc - famous for its spa centres. Sample excellent seafood restaurants in quiet Bouzigues, the centre of shellfish farming, and the charming harbour town of Meze where environmental procedures ensure waters of the lagoon are kept pure and clean.

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