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
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
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
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

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style