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Once you turn off the D908 towards Mourèze, the landscape changes from hills of thick oak and pine forest, to a sandy rocky territory. The narrow windy road dodges blocks of flaky limestone rocks until the quaint village of Mourèze appears with its cluttered houses around the church of Saint Marie, topped by the castle.
Just west of Montpellier, in the department of Herault, this site is certainly one of the most spectacular displays of natures work that I've ever seen. The Cirque de Mourèze is in fact Europe's' most intact dolomite site, a vast landscape of centuries of erosion, leaving a maze of strangely shaped sculpted rocks, to which the locals have given names such as the Sphinx, the bear or the Sheppard, in accordance with their shapes.
The village has two small car parks, one at each end. Off season is of course the best time to visit, as it does tend to get packed in the summer, despite the hammering heat. Once parked, I like to walk through the tiny medieval village, with partly cobbled streets and an impressive church which seems moulded into the rock. Surprisingly, Mourèze has kept its authentic aspect, with only one small shop and very discreet sign posts to the cirque.
It's a unique landscape that opens up in front of me, as I leave the village, past the dry riverbed with thick overhanging vegetation. The ground is of sand and the air is embalmed with the scent of thyme while broom flowers cover the side of the narrow sandy paths. Towers of rocks loom above me ranging from red ochre to white, with the occasional silver reflect. The further I walk, the wilder it gets!
What I generally do is climb a hill to get an overall view. From there, I just sit and admire the view, over the dolomite towers, the village with its huge church tower and the castle, partly in ruins, which sits on top of a giant dolomite, the lot just blends into a completely chaotic landscape. It has been proved that this site has been occupied, non-stop, from prehistoric times to the present day, offering shelter to Shepherds and their cattle, sheep or goats.
There are fossils lying around here and there, and the last time I went, I found a hand-sized rock in the shape of a donut! When Im feeling particularly fit, and when the weather is mild, I climb the mountain that forms a semi circle around the whole cirque, from where the view is absolutely mind blowing. On one side, the dolomite site, and on the other, the Lac du Salut - an artificial lake, which is strikingly blue, in the midst of the surrounding red earthed undulating landscape. Afar, I can see wind turbines and scattered villages between rippling forest land.
Leaving is always the down part of this day out, although the road home is beautiful and my mind is cleansed by the impact of this extraordinary nature show. Take a look at my photos, they speak for themselves!
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