S o after spending a few days in Toulouse with my cousin, I then drove down to Montpellier where I was joined by two friends Katie and Tony – yes, the two friends who joined me in America if you had the pleasure of reading my blog post on that. We were staying a little outside of Montpellier itself down near the beach in a place called Pérols.
One of the places on the list to visit whilst we were out here was Pic Saint-Loup. This was a suggestion from Tony as he had been to this area many times before but had never had the chance to actually go there. Luckily this time, we had a car, so getting out there wasn’t going to be a problem.
So one afternoon, after a morning of lying around the pool doing sweet FA, we hopped in the car and headed for the hills. Tony had given us a brief explanation of what to expect on our afternoon adventure, but for those of you who know him, you will understand how inaccurate his description was – but I’ll get to that.
The drive out where was fantastic. Once we had cleared the motorway it was nothing but winding country roads through the hills. The roads were lined with acres and acres of vineyards which Katie was extremely excited about, wine tasting was very high on her list of things to do. I mean it was obviously very high on mine as well, but someone had to drive…
So eventually after an hour or so of some of the best driving on the holiday so far, we arrived at the village of Cazevieille where we parked up the car ready for what we had been told was a short walk up to the top. Well, actually, we hadn’t been told there would be any walking at all. Katie and I both assumed that the top would be car accessible. How very wrong we were. More accurately, how wrong Tony’s explanation was – see I told you.
To clear up the whole situation, we consulted a map to find out exactly how in the dark Tony had left us. 5km and 2 hours. Thats how much. One hour up, and one hour down. So off we went, to basically climb a mountain.
Our lack of preparation for the ascent became apparent pretty early on into the journey. The path was basically just gravel and boulders which unfortunately did not agree with Katie’s footwear, so off she went back down to find herself a local vineyard to enjoy a glass of rouge. I wasn’t jealous. Not even a little bit. I was enjoying the steep, hot, sweaty walk up the mountain…
The effort of hiking up the mountain soon paid off. We arrived at the top and it was beautiful. Right at the end of the path, there was a small chapel perched on top of the mountain. It was only a small building, no more than a few meters long, with no doors or glass to keep out the elements, just holes in the wall to allow people to enter.
Apparently, the chapel had undergone some renovation in the late 90’s. It must have been difficult work hiking up to the site each day, working all day in the hot sun, then hiking back down. Being located in the centre of a fairly large wine region, I’m sure the workers relaxed with a glass or two of the local vintage after their commute down the mountain, I know I would have.
Apparently, one of the biggest issues the workers had was getting enough water up to the top to make the cement. With no water supply, they left a sign asking the daily hikers to leave their remaining water inside the chapel before beginning their descent, which they then used to make the cement. Quite an interesting fact I thought.
The chapel itself was quite bare inside. It was a fairly narrow building, with stone walls, and an arched ceiling. At the end of the chapel was a stone table, upon which, people had placed various objects, candles, flowers, prayers, passages, and photographs.
Behind the table, on the far wall a cross was nailed on the wall, again draped with sentimental objects, and inscribed with words from years and years of visitors to the site. Another cross stood balanced on the ledge to the left of the main cross, amongst the other objects left behind. The need for water to be left was no longer relevant, so there was none of that lying around. Shame really, I was parched!
Past the chapel, there was a few more boulders to climb up and at the top of them was a narrow ridge. The highest point of our journey.
On one side of the ridge the beautiful chapel stood against the backdrop of the rich green hills of the surrounding region, stretching far into the distance where there was a thin line of buildings before the Mediterranean sea took over all the way to the horizon.
On the other side of the ridge was a sheer vertical drop, unbroken to the ground below. Looking straight down from the top over the cliff definitely gave my legs the wobbles, let me tell you that! Standing at 650m high, the views were outstanding. Virtually unbroken for as far as the eye could see.
The surrounding landscape wasn’t exactly flat, it was covered with gentle hills and slopes (aside from Montagne d’Hortus which stands at 512m, slightly north of Pic Saint-Loup, directly facing it), but it was still quite bizarre to be stood at the top of a mountain when everything surrounding it was comparatively flat.
I couldn’t get over how rich the green was that covered the surrounding land. It was so dramatic to see this colour for miles and miles until it was taken over by the bright blue of the sky. The rock features that were dotted around the hills added detail and interest when I was getting some photos done, which was a nice contrast. Post processing, I tried to emphasise these rocky features a little bit, to bring them out more in the colourful landscape.
The last sight to see at the top was an iron cross that stood on a platform along the ridge. It was quite a nice feature, and the dark colour of the cross really stood out against the blue sky when you were looking up at it from below. The thing that really stood out for me though, was the aggressive metal spikes that were located at the base of the cross.
It got me thinking, they were probably put there to prevent people from climbing up, which meant that people must have done it in the past. The thought alone terrified me! I mean, climbing up the cross and sitting at the top would have made for one hell of a photo, but my legs were shaking enough already and I was only standing at the bottom! The top of the mountain was so open and exposed to the elements, I didn’t feel like there was any protection. If I tripped, it would be a long way down!
Once I got all the photos I wanted (and Tony and I had finished out ‘top of the mountain’ photoshoot), I quickly made my way back down to the flat area by the chapel, where I finally felt safe again and my legs ceased to tremble uncontrollably.
The journey down the mountain was much easier and more enjoyable. It was early evening by now, so the temperature had dropped quite a bit. Plus, we were going downhill and I was taking full advantage of gravity in all its glory.
On the way down we stumbled across a lizard taking shelter in a bush and enjoying a juicy beetle. I stopped for a while to get some photos, but it was so quick to move, I couldn’t get a clear shot. My feeble attempts to sneak up on it and catch it off guard all obviously failed, but I stuck at it until I thought I had got at least one good shot.
After a while I decided that I had bothered the poor creature for long enough so we left it to enjoy its meal and headed down to the bottom where we found a rather wine filled Katie annoying an afternoon snooze in the back of the car. Being on holiday is such hard work sometimes isn’t it!