Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is one of 158 “most beautiful villages of France” (Plus Beaux Villages de France).
The “desert” in the name of the village may refer to a time when overgrazing and overpopulation led to a lack of vegetation. What remained was used for lifestock feed or heating. This situation did not end until early in the 20th century, when enough people left the area to enable vegetation to recover.
The count of Toulouse and duke of Aquitaine, Guillaume de Gellone (Guilhèm in the local Langue d’Oc, nicknamed the Great), founded an abbey in a remote area of the Hérault valley in 804. He became a saint in 1066, when the abbey was named after him.
Sections of the abbey were sold and can now be seen in The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. What remains is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village was voted second favourite village in France in 2012.
The Devil’s Bridge, also known as Pont de Saint Guilhem, is part of the legend surrounding Saint Guilhem. In the summer concerts and a medieval festival are held in the village. For more information, visit www.saintguilhem-valleeherault.fr.