Every good road trip has a few detours along the way and our Mediterranean adventure was no exception. We drove from Barcelona to Andorra to Marseille, and then all the way back to Barcelona in one very busy week. Here are few of the places we got to see along the way.
We arrived at the fully preserved medieval village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert under somewhat stressful circumstances. There was no parking to be found in the town’s only lot, so we had to drive back out of the village and find a spot along the side of a winding, mountainous road. Just as we started to hike back into town, the sky began to rain. Nevertheless, we walked back into the village to explore its mysterious and quaint maze of stone buildings.
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert was named for a combination of its monastery, which was established by Saint Guilem in 806, and for the uninhabited valley it in which it was built. The land surrounding the village is now occupied by vineyards that sprawl out beneath craggy hills. A river lined by towering cliffs runs past the town, and is a popular destination for kayaking, and a nearby cave offers adventure tours, but Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert remains as a reminder of the valley’s history. The narrow streets now contain shops and restaurants, but the abbey is still preserved in its historical state.
When we arrived in town we all scattered to explore, shop, and in my case look for secluded passages to photograph. We reconvened for a late lunch, then trodded back out of town as the sun finally broke through the heavy cloud cover that had been shrouding us all day. We took one last look at the beautiful village as the sun gleamed against its stone architecture.
On our way back to the car we stopped to check out a crumbling stone tower alongside the Hérault River.
2. La Jasse Castel
Next we stopped at La Jasse Castel, a local vineyard near Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, for a wine tasting. We were greeted by the owner of the estate, Pascale Rivière. She was extremely friendly and enthusiastic about her work, and she taught us a lot about how to properly taste wines.
I was particular to a floral white called El Abanico, but I felt like I appreciated the flavor of all of the wines more than I usually do. I had never really let a wine sit on my palette before and it was interesting to see how the flavor changed when I let it sit on my tongue for more time.
3. Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
A couple of days later we stopped at a cathedral called Notre-Dame de la Garde on our way out of Marseille. This basilica sat on top of a tall hill that overlooked the city and the Mediterranean, and we arrived to a softly colored sunrise as we prepared to drive back to Barcelona.
Notre-Dame de la Garde is the best known symbol of Marseille and offers views that are as beautiful as the church itself.
Inside, Notre-Dame de la Garde was different from any of the other cathedrals we had visited. It had a festive design with a bold striped pattern and gilded elements. Little boats hung in strings from the ceiling, and intricate mosaics adorned the walls.
Our visit made for a lovely start to a long day of driving.
4. Château de Flaugergues
The final stop on our French road trip was at the Château de Flaugergues, an estate that was constructed by a French aristocrat starting in the 1690’s. The Château, which is still occupied by a family today, is open for garden tours and wine tastings, and more limited house tours. It was midday by the time we arrived and the day had become oppressively hot and humid. That didn’t stop us from leaving the comfort of our air conditioned cars to visit the mansion’s gardens and do a wine tasting.
We started with the wine tasting, which was much less in-depth than the one we’d done at La Jasse Castel. Then we wandered into the garden of the historic estate. The main garden consisted of hedges that were pruned to perfection. Just as we entered the grounds, a couple of children opened a third floor window and released a large toy airplane that gently glided through the air until it crashed into a cedar hedge near us.
The afternoon was dead quiet as we strolled onto the Château’s lavish patio and then into a larger garden on the side of the building. There we found a bamboo forest, and many other interesting types of trees including a cork tree and a young sequoia. We also found a playful cat and spent a lot of time watching him pounce on leaves and chase lizards through the forest.
Eventually we were exhausted from being out in the heat so we retreated to our cars and got back on the road. More adventures were yet to come, and we were happy to have made the most of our travel days.