Starting at the turn of the 11th century, Compostela, a village in Galicia, Spain which is home to the relics of Jesus Christ’s apostle Santiago, was the destination for thousands of pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. Today, hikers and Romanesque art enthusiasts follow one of the four historic routes to Santiago de Compostela that cut across the Occitania region.
The Via Tolosana or Arles Way (GR 653) crosses Gard and Hérault from East to West on its way to Toulouse and Saint-Sernin basilica as far as Somport pass. All the way, walkers are welcomed by the sight of arid, garrigue-clad rolling hills and forests, punctuated by Arles and Montpellier, as well as villages and spiritual landmarks, such as Saint-Trophime d’Arles cathedral, the Romanesque abbey church of St Giles, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the crypt of the Benedictine abbey which houses the tomb of St Giles.
But before reaching Compostela, hikers can admire a string of Romanesque art treasures, some of them listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998. Among them, the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) spans the Hérault gorges: surrounded by cliffs and rock faces, this magnificent Romanesque structure, built with great difficulty across the steep gorges, prompted the legend of the Devil undoing the fruits of the workers’ labour by night.
A few kilometres farther on, in a valley hemmed in by the Infernet amphitheatre, the medieval village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is home to Gellone abbey, founded in 804 by Guillaume, Count of Toulouse, who was canonized in 1066 under the name Saint-Guilhem.
This spiritual path is complemented by secondary roads, such as the connecting route between the Arles Way and the Pyrenean Piedmont Way (GR 78) which links other spiritual milestones: Carcassonne, Saint-Thibéry, Saint-Lizier, Saint-Just-de-Valcabrère, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, Lourdes, the chapel of the Knights Templar of Aragnouet…