This week we are featuring some walks in and around the Gorge just along the road from the beautiful Gorge d’Heric, l’Hérault. The Gorge de Colombières, is less known, and therefore a lot less busy than the famous Gorge d’Heric. In fact, one of my favourite walks is down and then back up the gorge, and I was almost tempted not to let Pam Smith tell you all about it. Fairness and a sense of responsibility told me to get over myself and feature this article. So please enjoy these walks, and don’t tell another soul about them.
By Pam Smith
Walk 1 – Les balcons d’Arles.
Les balcons d’Arles is a really pretty short walk around the little hamlets of Colombières-sur-Orb and a short way up the dramatic gorge itself. The walk takes around 2 hours and is only about 5km in distance. It’s easy to follow too as there are blue markers on the entire route. The walk starts from the car park for the gorge. Once you’ve parked, walk back down to the D908 and turn left over the bridge, there’s a lovely view from the bridge of the gorge and waterfalls. Now cross the road itself to a little road on the opposite side of the road signpost; Les Claps. Continue down this little road.
Follow the blue markers carefully as the route switches right and then left down a tiny cobbled path before coming back out onto a little road to cross a small bridge over the river. This route follows a lovely little bubbling channel of water all the way from the river at the top to join the river further down. It’s quite fascinating how it winds its way through the little streets, gardens and chestnut orchards.
After crossing the bridge you will come to a left turn onto the little road near the voie vert. Cross the greenway and continue down to a tiny footpath. You will pass a ruin on your left, be careful as it’s a very old donkey path and the stones can be slippery here after rain has fallen, not that we have a lot of that in the Languedoc to worry about!
Turn right at a little wall and walk along this tiny path through the woods, it passes small vineyards and small interesting old pumping equipment used locally for watering the fields in days gone by. At a left turn, join a large track which continues uphill, this crosses the voie vert again and continues on up the D908.
Cross the road and take the little concrete road to your right. The road bears right at the château and goes up to la Barriere. It’s a beautiful chateau but you will only have a few glimpses of the towers from the road. Turn left past the forge which is laid out as it would have been when it was in use many years before, and up the little street to le Theron. The path turns right just beyond the old buildings that housed the village washing facilities in a long forgotten time.
Follow the road up to the church and then bear to the left but take the right hand track uphill. This track goes through the woods and then opens out into lovely views of the valley and the gorge. At a junction turn right onto the yellow/blue path down to Colombières. There’s a lovely viewpoint of the gorge on the way down.
Walk 2 – La Cabrière
La Cabrière is only 7.5 km and takes around 2 hours 30 minutes. It’s a lovely easy walk with plenty of markers although they are different in colour as you complete the route. This is a wonderful short hike on the Caroux massif without any real difficulties. Throughout the whole circuit there are exceptional views, beautiful wild flowers, a good chance of seeing mouflon and a delightful contrast of landscape.
Start the walk at the car parking area for La Fage, near Rosis. Drive up from the first parking area on a wide track to another parking area with signs for climbing. Now take the track to your left until you see yellow markers directing you to turn right.
Take this path down until it splits and then take the path to the left. This path leads all the way around the upper Gorge de Colombières with delightful rocky views of the gorge, Caroux, and the Orb valley below. Finally you start to go down to a point where the zigzags begin.
Here you will see a wooden post, look for a small blue marker for a trail to your left. Now follow the blue trail over to the far side of the hill then back up the hill a little and finally down into the woods. It drops down through lovely old chestnut woods, on a little path with lovely views of the gorge de Madale. You will notice that you will not see many blue markers only old yellow ones, this is fine.
Now the trail drops down onto a wide dirt road beside a house and a yellow wooden post. Turn left and walk along this track towards the Col de Madale, passing a small disused quarry and enjoy the wooded track. The track reaches the hamlet of Madale just before the col, it’s an interesting little hamlet where you may even hear animals on the ground floor of some of the old houses just as families had lived with their animals for many centuries. After the village you will come to a wooden signpost at the col.
Take a left turn onto the GR7, there are red and white markings. This small path leads over the beautiful heather and broom covered tops with remarkable open views of the Espinouse, Caroux, Monts de Orb, and what seems like the whole of the Languedoc down to the coast and over to Montpellier.
It’s a lovely route whatever time of year you decide to walk it but during the spring we saw several meadows of cowslips and many beautiful wild tulips along this part of the route. Once autumn comes the bracken turns many shades of gold and yellows. The path leads on up over the heathy hill and drops onto the wide track, turn right and go back down to the car park. This is probably the easiest walk on the Caroux massif.
Walk 3 – Les Gorges de Colombières.
This is a beautiful walk taking around 5 hours to complete. It’s quite a long walk of about 13km, but it’s the amount of climbing and descending that makes this walk a fairly difficult route. The walk is marked by yellow markers throughout.
Start the walk by parking in the parking area beside the bridge in Colombières -sur-Orb. Once parked, return to a footpath near to the road. Go up the steps and keep on this footpath through the trees as it makes its way up the lower path of the gorge.
There is a rather lovely view up into the gorge quite soon and then you will see the blue marked route go off to your left. The route continues up though lovely chestnut woods and with oak too. There are some parts where the path makes its way over exposed rock that sticks out into the gorge. It’s not difficult to navigate but if you don’t like heights you may not care for the exposure. On these rocky areas the views to the opposite side of the gorge are superb.
There is one other footpath to your left that is marked to Bastion but ignore this and continue on up, it’s hard work on a hot day so try to choose a cooler one with clear skies. Now the route starts to become a little easier as you once again come nearer to the Arles stream. The views are pretty here and you can see some of the little waterfalls and the beauty of the rocky slopes above. Near to the top of the route you will pass a stone gite, La Fage. The yellow markers will clearly guide you around the building and up onto a little road and passed a watermill. Ignore the footpath joining here from your left. You are now on the GR7.This little road takes you up to the Rosis road.
Here you turn right and walk along the road a short distance to a small track on your right sign posted Les Avels. Do not go down to the auberge on your right but take the wide track to your left that goes uphill. The other path also returns to Colombières -sur-Orb but keeps within the gorge most of the way down. I prefer the La Cabriere route described earlier as the views are quite stupendous and you have a good chance of seeing mouflon and red squirrel if you take this route.
They are both marked yellow so be care to take the correct one. After heading uphill a little way you will see a sign for a right turn (ignore the GR to your left). Take this right turn and it soon come out of the trees with lovely views across to the Caroux and the gorge itself. You will be above the other path and may occasionally hear people below if it’s a sunny day otherwise you will be totally alone up here in this beautiful wild spot. The route twists around some rocky outcrops marked with climber’s routes of the walls of the gorge below. Keep to the yellow markers and you will be rewarded by unforgettable views, wild flowers, mouflon and eagles if you are fortunate.
After descending a little the route bears to the left with more wonderful views, this time of the Orb valley, Avant Monts and the Gorge de Madale. When you reach a junction of paths take the zigzags down and make sure you follow the yellow markers. This part of the route has some lovely views and a beautiful old cobbled path. Enjoy the views as you will soon descend into a lovely old chestnut forest. The path becomes easier once in the woods but it is more enclosed in this lovely valley. The route reaches the tiny hamlet of Les Seilhols and descends down a tiny path back to Colombières -sur-Orb. Go around the steps of the last house and down to the road, here you turn right over the bridge and right again to reach the car park.
The history of Colombières-sur-Orb stretches back to pre-historic times and you can in fact find megalithic tombs and the remains of stone buildings of the Neolithic period on the slopes above the eastern side of the village. There is also a square tower dating back to middle ages and a chateau or castle with dove cots in the towers from the same period. Three doves form the shield of the castle and symbolise peace and Christianity. Perhaps they were also chosen as doves could only be kept by gentry and symbolised wealth and power in that era.
Above the hamlet of Les Seilhols a rare fanum was found. This is a site of a building used for religious purposes, rectangular in shape with a chamber below. This would have dated back to the Gallo-Roman period. Here too a Castrum was found giving more evidence that people had lived here in the fourth century. Among other items glassware, ceramics, beads and statues were found at the site.
Gorges de Colombières,