That's how I spent yesterday, and, save for one snag at the end, it all went very well. And, fortunately, the person I was showing around was of a very inquiring turn of mind, so we saw and did a lot of things.
The tour always starts in Sommières, a small town, formerly walled, which has a Roman bridge from the first century AD leading into it, a castle of sorts (pretty ruined, and not open to the public) looming over it, and a couple of decent places to have lunch. Yesterday, I didn't think I was going to get across the bridge, because there was a profusion of odd waterfowl, including a pair of black, black swans, who kept giving photo opportunities. At one point, a huge mammal appeared, nearly two feet long, leisurely boogie-ing downstream in the river. It looked to me like a muskrat, but...do they have muskrats in France? Anyway, he was determined and it was odd to see his hind legs propelling him along as his nose and most of his body stayed dry.
|Sommières Market Square and Beyond|
Leaving Sommières, I head down a road that leads through wine country, and, eventually, to Pic St. Loup, a mountain visible from downtown Montpellier. It has a twin, l'Hortus, a "limestone escarpment," which makes it, technically, not a mountain. On the side facing the Pic, it has sheer limestone cliffs, in which, apparently, have been found Neanderthal dwellings. There is a winery, Domaine l'Hortus, which produces some very wonderful and affordable wines, although that could be said about the whole Pic St. Loup area. It's been "discovered" by the wine world, but there are still bargains to be had.
It's possible to climb the Pic all the way to the top, where there's allegedly a small chapel founded by the saint who gave the mountain its name. I've never done this, but the mountain is quite dramatic just from the side of the road. But it's l'Hortus which continues to fascinate me. The main reason for that is that I thought I once spotted a huge castle on it -- but only for a second and, because I was driving, only out of the corner of my eye. The place where this apparition appears is not conducive to taking one's eye off the road, though, and until yesterday I never got a good look.
Fortunately, as I said, my passenger was very interested in all kinds of things, and we found a convenient place to stop. We got out of the car, and through the trees, with the aid of my trusty zoom lens, I was able to snag a couple of pictures.
A little further along, we spotted a fine place to pull off the road and got out and found a better vantage point. Here, it was possible to get a shot of the entire ruin.
Now that I've established just where it is, I notice there's a very tiny village up there called Le Fesq, and a road (D122) that may pass not far from the castle. I need a higher-resolution map than Michelin can provide, though, and even then the historical context will be missing. Who built this? Why? When? Who trashed it? It's pretty clear that the roof's been blown up.
NOTE: Later, after posting, we found it: this long essay is in French, but this is it.
At any rate, the rest of the trip -- the quiet of the tiny Romanesque church in St. Martin de Londres, the UNESCO sites of Pont du Diable and St. Guilhelm le Désert -- went well, but we arrived in St. Saturnin too late for me to buy a six-pack of the IV Pierres rosé from the Domain d'Archimbault, dammit. Making things worse, at the superb visitors center that serves Pont du Diable and St. Guilhelm, my friend got to taste the IV Pierres white, a masterpiece of a white wine, which this region isn't exactly known for. But not me. No, I was driving.
Not that I'm complaining. I saved that for the trip back into town, Friday afternoon Montpellier rush hour, which was just about as much fun as it sounds like. But we got away with €8.50 worth of gas for the whole thing, which I found remarkable.
So now I need your help. If anyone has some details on the castle/fort/thing I'd like to have them. And I'd also like more of you to come visit before I leave France, which is going to happen at some point. Great food, wine, scenery, and castles guaranteed.