Herault: A sensual slip into serenity

From cycling to spas, it’s time to indulge your mind, body and soul, writes Harriet O’Brien

Just east of Montpellier, the area around the bustling little town of Lunel offers wonderful rolling countryside that has as yet escaped the attentions of tourist hordes. So it is a prime place to enjoy peace, along with wide-open spaces. Dotted with picturesque villages, it’s great biking country, with a network of cycle paths opened here last summer. These are graded, rather like pistes, into colour-coded routes: green for relatively easy going (perfect for families with young children) while blue, yellow and red trails respectively present increasing challenges.

There are more than 100km of these bike paths, which are well signposted so finding your way around should present few problems. However, should you so wish, an enterprising outfit in Lunel will supply you with a satellite navigation device when you hire a bike there. Cyrpeo in Lunel is part bike shop, part activity tour operator and can kit you out with everything you need – from mountain bike to helmet, child seat, trailer and more. They even have tandems to hire and can deliver bikes to your accommodation if needed.

You’ll soon be able to combine wine tasting with biking in the Lunel area. A state-of-the-art wine centre is currently being constructed at the village of St Christol. Not only has it been painstakingly planned as an environmentally friendly building, but when it opens next year it will also be offering green transport in the form of bikes to rent, and you’ll be able to set out from here on the colour-coded trails.If you prefer to walk, there are plenty of hiking options in the area. The Lunel tourist office has devised seven walking circuits in the region, including a trail that leads you around the wine lands of St-Christol.

Up in the north of the Hérault departement, the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc is a ruggedly beautiful area of granite peaks and river valleys. It extends over 260,000 hectares and is criss-crossed by footpaths and bike routes.

A particularly pleasant option is to follow the cycle route created from the disused railway running through this region. Known as the Voie Verte, it was an operational train line until the mid 1970s, and it variously passes through some of the most attractive little towns and villages in the area, among them Mons la Trivalle, Olargues and St- Pons-de-Thomières.

Nearby the last of these, there’s a treat in store. Grotte de la Deveze is an extraordinary series of caves celebrated for their speleothems. These needles of calcite and aragonite are so fine they look like spun glass – hence the caves are often referred to as le palais de la fileuse de verre, the palace of the glass spinner. The caves were discovered in 1886 during the construction of the Toulouse-Montpellier railway line – and in the course of time these natural wonders have been made safely accessible to the public.

For seaside contrast, head down to the coast and to Frontignan where a host of activities is on offer, from sailing to waterskiing. The tourist board also organises guided walking tours into the outlying woods and hills, ending each excursion with a venture into the winelands and a glass of local Muscat wine.

To counterbalance the exertions – and to emphasise that sense of wellness – there are some soothing spa options. Balaruc-les- Bains, set on the Thau Lagoon near Frontignan, has a well-earned reputation for the therapeutic cures provided by the two big thermal spa institutes here.

Last summer a new enterprise opened in this small town: Obalia is a chic and extensive day spa with wellness treatments and facilities based around the warm water from Balarucles- Bains’ natural thermal springs. Its central, outdoor features range from a large thermal pool with geyser and hydromassage benches to an onsen, a Japanese-style pool complete with waterfall. Meanwhile, treatments extend from wraps, footbaths and facials to a wide range of soothing massages.

Alternatively, you can take in the thermal resort of Lamalou-les-Bains in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc. Here the Thermes de Lamalou spa also opened last year and offers a wide variety of treatments including white-clay baths, as well as hydromassage.

Travel essentials

What to do

For cycling in the Lunel area, contact Cyrpeo, 235 Ave Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny, 34400 Lunel (00 33 4 67 71 16 09; cyrpeo.com or discoverfrance.com).

For details of La Voie Verte railway tracks converted into bike paths see languedoc-voieverte.com and saint-ponstourisme.com.

For walks in the Lunel area, pick up a map from the Lunel Tourist Office, 16 cours Gabriel-Peri, 34402 Lunel (00 33 4 67 71 01 37; ot-paysdelunel.fr)

For walks in the Parc du Haut Languedoc see parc-haut-languedoc.fr

Grotte de la Deveze, Courniou les Grottes (00 33 4 67 97 03 24; tinyurl.com/5rr5y92) From April departures for daily tours are at 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.30pm – more frequent in the summer (Sundays only in February, March and October, November); adults €8 – the ticket also covers entry to the caving museum.

For further details on activities in the Frontignan area contact the tourist office, avenue des Etangs, Frontignan (00 33 4 67 18 31 60; tourisme-frontignan.com).


O’Balia, allees des Sources, Balaruc-les-Bains (00 33 4 67 18 52 05; obalia.fr).

Thermes de Lamalou, avenue Georges Clemenceau, Lamalou-les-Bains (00 33 4 67 23 31 49; chainethermale.fr)

Staying there

Chateau de Pouget, chemin des Brus, Verargues (00 33 4 67 86 08 82; chateau-de-pouget.com). This wonderful country retreat dates from the 12th century – and was much embellished in 1800s. Accommodation is offered in five bedrooms in the oldest part of the property, all exquisitely styled to enhance the antique atmosphere. Doubles from €130 including breakfast.

Nabat le Haut, Courniou, Saint Pons de Thomieres (00 33 4 67 95 35 81; nabathaut.com) Set in a dreamy location in the heart of the Parc du Haut-Languedoc this old stone farmhouse exudes tranquillity. It offers cosy accommodation in four guest rooms costing from €70 per double per night (including breakfast) and a self-catering gite equipped for up to four people and priced from €350 per week.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?