Lodeve: gateway to the Mediterranean

By Joan Lewis, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Lodeve.

Overall rating:5.0 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Enjoyable
4.75
4.8
Useful
4.5
4.5
Inspirational
4.5
4.5
Recommended for:
Cultural, Family, Food and Drink, Budget, Mid-range

It's spring, and sleepy Lodeve is stirring, as visitors head for this corner of Southern France. Billed as the gateway to the Mediterranean, it's quite unique, and definitely worth stopping by

Lodève's hidden secrets

Sometimes it takes a while to get to know someone. When you do, that person may become one of your most trusted friends. My home town of Lodève is a bit like that. A little shabby, almost defunct in winter, you have to delve a little to discover its treasures.

Lodève has certainly got what it takes to make a fine French town. A river, spanned by three main bridges; a 13th century cathedral with a unique bell tower; a Bishops' Palace with a multi coloured tile roof every bit as beautiful as the one at Beaune; and shady squares of beaten earth, where men play boules under magnificent plane trees. Ok, so some buildings are a bit shabby. But peep behind those great heavy doors. You will notice fine archways, stone stairways and balustrades and little hidden courtyards. Look upwards and see stone cornices with carvings of shells, enigmatic faces and flowers, and balconies of the fanciest wrought iron. You see, Lodève was once prosperous, manufacturing highly prized textiles in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Maybe it does look a little down at heel now, especially in winter, and it certainly isn't Pézenas, its smart neighbour. But it's quite unique.

Spring has arrived

...and brilliant  mimosa blossoms light up the town like clusters of yellow street lamps. Fishermen line the riverbanks, casting for trout, and the local tobacconist is stocking worms and maggots alongside the "penny sweets". The first convoys of motor caravans can be seen on the horizon as visitors from northern Europe head south. They are following the A75 toll free motorway that bisects France. The road winds down from the Massif Central and Causses de Larzac, offering spectacular views over vast plains crammed with vines, all neatly pruned and bursting into leaf. Some tourists are heading for the beaches and fishing ports of the Mediterranean. Others will stay put right here, keen to enjoy the pleasures of the Lodèvois.

Market days

One of the things I especially like about Lodève is that it is a real town, and does not exist mainly as a tourist showpiece. On Saturdays throughout the year the streets and squares come to life for the weekly market. With the arrival of tourists, new stalls open up selling pottery; olive wood bowls; lavender soap; and a sunshine display of Provencal fabrics. But the basic stalls selling charcuterie and fish; multicoloured fruit and vegetables; clothing and hardware, are there all year round.

From June to September there is an additional farmers' market on Tuesday evenings. This sells local cheeses, organic veg and wines. Try the chèvre from Pegairolles. It's the best.

Festivals

All summer long, Lodève is buzzing with events: music festivals; an international festival of poetry and music called "Voix de la Mediterranee"; parades and medieval tournaments. It's fun just to soak up the atmosphere while sipping a drink at a pavement café.

Exhibitions

I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the summer art exhibition. It is housed in the elegant Musée Fleury, once home to Cardinal Fleury, a minister of Louis XV. Over the years we have seen many excellent exhibitions here, mainly of impressionists. This year's exhibition of Gaugin and his contemporaries should be no exception. Admission is 6 euros; 12 June - 11 Nov (Musée Fleury, Square Georges Auric; +33 4 67888610).

Lodeve also values its local artisans. If you want to take home a really special souvenir, go along to La Galerie Horizons Interieurs, which acts as a permanent showcase for their work. You will find the most exquisite glassware, pottery, sculpture and fabrics (45 la Grande rue; +33467442928; www.horizons-interieurs.com).

A small vestige of Lodève's textile industry still exists in the form of a national carpet workshop. Using centuries old weaving techniques, they make contemporary tapestries and traditional carpets for France's grand palaces and embassies. You can visit Tues - Thurs afternoons, but call to book. Atelier National de la Savonnerie de Lodève (Impasse des liciers; +33 4 67 96 40 40)

Where to eat in Lodève

We often eat at Le Petit Sommelier. This is a traditional French style restaurant...no frills...just reliably good food, and a wide choice of fish or meat. Menus from 16 euros (3 place de République; +33 467440539).

Slightly more upmarket is the restaurant at Hotel de la Paix. Again the food is traditionally French. Menus from 18 euros. In summer try to get a table on the pretty Moroccan style terrace (11 Boulevarde Montalangue +33 467440746)

In the inaptly named Grande Rue, a pedestrian way running through the centre of town, you will find the Bohemian style cafe Le Soleil Bleu. Lunches here always contain fresh ingredients, with one meat/ fish option and one vegetarian option every day. I love their broccoli and goats cheese tart (10 euros)

Out and about, around Lodeve

Whichever direction you take from Lodeve you will find stunning scenery.

Lakes

A few km south of Lodève is Lac Salagou, set amongst red lunar like hills (les ruffes). You can swim, wind surf and hire pedalos here, or just find a quiet spot with a view.

I love to lunch at l' Auberge du Lac and gaze down the lake from my table on the terrace. Menus from 19 euros are always beautifully presented (Les Cremades, Lac du Salagou; +33 46744 4540).

Ancient villages

Ten minutes to the north lies the fortified village of Soubes with no less than two chateaus. You can eat in the village square here under the shade of giant plane trees. This is our "local". The basic menu du jour at 10 euros changes every day, the food is basic but wholesome, and the local wine comes in a carafe. It's a convivial place to spend a sunny lunch time (Café du Terral, Place du Mairie, Soubes; 0467440148).

Steep cliffs and  wooded valleys

Continue up the valley through our home village of Saint Etienne de Gourgas. You will pass beneath steep cliffs and pine forests, where tiny Romanesque chapels and stone bergeries lie hidden amongst the trees. At the top of the pass you will see a restored windmill. It is working and open to visitors at weekends. The 2 euros admission includes a small bag of milled flour. It's great fun (Le Moulin de St Pierre de la Fage; 0617927100).

Spectacular gorges

Now follow the road over the limestone causses towards the Cirque de Navacelles. Stop at the Baume d'Auriole for a spectacular view over this amazing valley with ancient hamlet of Navacelles far below. Then take the road down. If you don't like steep drops sit on the left hand side of the car. Even in summer this spot remains uncrowded, and yet some say it is as spectacular as the Colorado Canyon, if not on the same scale. It is magic to picnic by the edge of the falls. There are places to eat here and a restaurant at Baume Auriole, but for my money it's better to stop off at  La Vacquerie, on the way back to Lodeve, where you will get an amazing 3-course meal at Auberge des Causses, for 19 euros. The local "gigot d'agneau", served with potatoes dauphinoises is fantastic (see below).

Where to stay

You could stay on at the Auberge des Causses where you will get a basic but comfortable room for 50 euros, and charming hosts (2 Place de Ormeau, La Vacquerie St Martin de Castries).

In Lodève I like Hotel de la Paix. Double rooms from 55 euros plus breakfast at 8 euros (11 Boulevarde Montalangue).

Finally, if you like self-catering (and who wouldn’t with such abundance of local produce?), you will find a wide selection of gites and villas in the Lodevois area, many with pools. Try www.ownersdirect.co.uk. We also offer three gites near the village of St Etienne de Gourgas: www.franceazure.co.uk. However you have to prefer the call of owls to disco music. To us it's paradise, but we are off the beaten track.

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More information on Lodeve: gateway to the Mediterranean:

Author:
Joan Lewis
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
5
Average: 5 (4 votes)
Total views:
639
First uploaded:
12 April 2010
Last updated:
4 years 26 weeks 18 hours 36 min 5 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Family, Food and Drink
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
sightseeing, French cathedrals, art galleries, French towns

Joan recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Auberge Des Causses
N/A
2. Hotel De La Paix
N/A

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Community comments (8)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I found myself nodding my head as I read this. No, I was not falling asleep, it's just that I could picture myself right in the heart of the town, such was the high quality of the descriptions.

This is written in a way that makes me feel that you are here actually talking to me, which just brings the reader so close to the action. Beautiful.

As I have a share in a house about 50km to the west of Lodeve, I will be visiting soon - armed with a copy of your excellent guide!

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Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

How did you find this place Joan? It sounds wonderful and very much my kind of place- thanks for the guide and the lovely photos

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

How did you find this place Joan? It sounds wonderful and very much my kind of place- thanks for the guide and the lovely photos

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

The guides that give a view of out-of-the-way places are my favorite on Simonseeks, and this is a cracker!

Definitely will be paying a visit to Lodeve.

My only cavil is that I had to look at a map to get a better idea of the location (and it turns out to be in my favorite part of France, which is nice). Would it be possible to have a link to Google maps on guides, so that similarly geographically challenged people could see where such place are?

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Hi Jon. The map is now showing. The reason it wasn't? The hotel/s hadn't been pinpointed properly (this is down to the user who first recommended the hotel). But, aside from that issue, I agree that a map should show to pinpoint the destination, whether a hotel appears or not. This is something I will pass on to the development team.

Clearly, once we have a forum (it's coming...promise!) that will be the place to raise these issues.

One question for Joan - where is the Auberge des Causses? It doesn't appear to be in Lodeve. If it's in a place called La Vacquerie, can you tell us how far away that is from Lodeve? I'm unable to pinpoint this hotel on the map. Thanks.

Hi Jeanette, and thanks also to Jon

Pinpointing a place is something I shall pay attention to from now on. It's useful to know exactly where a place is.

Auberge des Causses is on the Larzac plateau, about 15km from Lodeve in a village called(believe it or not) La Vacquerie de St Martin de Castries.

Thanks Joan. Would you edit your copy to reflect this (just in case readers don't see these comments)? Thank you

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

It’s always a pleasure to work with a writer like Joan who writes with passion, enthusiasm and intelligence. Thanks for another well-rounded travel guide Joan, I’m sure this will inspire as much as some of your other guides.

What do you think? Would you visit based on Joan’s recommendations? Rate and comment here to have your say.

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