Imagine a beautiful lake encased within a basin of iron-red earth that in the autumn is home to yellow and rust-coloured trees dotted around the hills. Accompanied by autumnal warmth that has you basking as if in a pottery-kiln and sharp blue waters that makes the camera scream out for shots, there is so much that Lake Salagou has to offer the late season visitor. Let’s see if I can tempt you.
Just an hour away from the Mediterranean coast and 90 minutes away from the Camargue, this beautiful region of Languedoc-Rousillon is perhaps one of those ‘Road Less Travelled’ places, as people flock to the seaside resorts. This typically French countryside with its iconic vineyards and roads lined with plane trees, gives you so much more than the over-populated towns along the high-rise south.
Lake Salagou… there truly is something for everyone
Lake Salagou is actually man-made, back in 1968 as a preventative measure for the, prone-to-flooding river Salagou, whose swollen waters often threatened the agriculture of its surrounding land. That said, the lake is beautiful none the less and whether you love sailing, fishing, kitesurfing, SUP, kayaking, cycling or horse riding, there truly is something for everyone.
One of the things we loved the most, was the shape of the lake which actually belies its man-made conception. It has formed its own curves, inlets and secret coves over the last fifty years and provides refuge to a veritable feast of wildlife and I’m sure a sanctuary to its carp-filled waters.
Get off the beaten track by taking one of the many forestry paths or the lakeside cycle trails that tests out your mountain biking skills with its rugged terrain and see the lake’s many faces. Each corner offers a new vista of this stunning blue treasure. Parking areas are dotted around everywhere and you will see many campers bunked down for the night in both official and unofficial places, which out of season seems to be tolerated by the local Gendarmerie.
On the northern side of the lake, a must-visit site is Celles, When they built the lake, the original intention was to raise the water level firstly to 130m and then to 150m, which would have flooded the village that stands at 144m. So the village was abandoned although the second level was never initiated, leaving Celles unaffected, paradoxically. Today, the buildings of this tiny hamlet are in rack and ruin, with vegetation being the only resident in this slightly eerie place. With the lake licking the fringes of the village’s perimeter, the local commune are currently planning to renovate the entire village, having already started with the local Mayor’s house. Over time, each building will get the loving care that is needed to bring it back to life and breathe fresh energy into this once thriving agricultural community.
Further outside of the lake, not more than 30 minutes away heading north-east, you have Les Gorges de l’Herault, Le Pont du Diable and the medieval village of Sainte Guilhem le Désert. You will notice plenty of walking signs around and through the village, which are part of the pilgrimage route Santiago de Compostela. Also en route to the village you have caves that look interesting, although we didn’t stop here. Certainly the Devil’s Bridge is a great place for swimming and picnics, and Guilhem cut up into the mountain rock, with its ruined castled keeping watch is a must visit, given that it is on the 100 Most Beautiful villages in France list. We would recommend out of season though, otherwise you run the risk of sharing the place with the crowds.
There are other sights, such as Gignac, Claremont l’Herault and Cirque de Mouréze which is a natural amphitheatre of dolomites and all worth seeing if you are in the area for more than a couple of days, unlike us sadly. Although so beautiful is this area and Lac du Salagou in particularly, that we will be back to explore some more.
In the meantime, why not divert your path away from the crowded and built up region of the south coast and head inland. Place your feet upon the earth that is shaped by Mother Nature and cultivated for its richness and feel the tranquility that Lake Salagou offers the humble visitor.
If you are coming with your camper, then there are plenty of wild camping spots along the lake. There are a couple of campsite that are open from April until beginning of October, and two official Aires that whilst have no facilities, do allow you to park up for free. Here are the co-ordinates:
Wind 34 – 43.644036 003.383137
Camping Le Salagou – 43.645460 003.389700
Rive d’Octon – Overnight parking with services 43.65425, 3.318127
Come on! Give it a go – you’ll not be disappointed.