Give your sense of smell a treat, simply brush a tuft of thyme or lavender to enjoy the typical scents of the aromatic herbs that characterise our 'garrigue'(aromatic scrubland). The word stems from the kermes oak, 'garric' in the Occitan language, a shrub highly resistant to fire and once used for its tannins. This is typical vegetation for the climate and soil of the Languedoc region and the Ambrussum hill.
The garrigue and Man, a closely linked history
Typical of the Mediterranean regions, this type of land and vegetation, shaped by fire, by overgrazing and by human activity has also had to adapt to extreme seasonal contrasts. The garrigue – open, bushy, thin, sparse – is home to over 700 different species of flora, with a predominance of oak, pine, cistus, broom, arbutus, lantisques, honeysuckle, rosemary, sarsaparilla, thyme...
The coastal regions of the Mediterranean enjoy a warm climate characterised by hot, dry summers and cool, wetter winters. The vegetation adapts by tending to remain green all year long and by developing thick and leathery leaves that can resist drought; indigenous Mediterranean forest is evergreen and dominated by oaks (green, oork) and pines (Aleppo, Parasols, Maritime).
The 'bouquet of the garrigue'
If thyme is probably the king of aromatic herbs, there are a multitude of other herbs emitting powerful scents, for example, chives, savory, mint, basil, rosemary
The thyme is used to treat liver problems and is a powerful antiseptic. Its stems have the consistency and appearance of dried wood. Its very small leaves have no petiole but are connected directly to branches; its roots are not adventitious (new roots are not formed from branches that touch the ground)
Savory was in the seventeenth century called the sauce for the poor, 'pepper donkey' or "St Julian's herb". It aids digestion and has a slightly peppery taste reminiscent of both mint and thyme. Known and appreciated in antiquity, it is still an ingredient of some digestive liqueurs.
The needles of Juniperus Oxycedrus, or Cade are used in the manufacture of an antiseptic oil. The juniper can form in either impenetrable thickets or in normal tree configuration up to 8 metres high. Its green needles are grouped in threes, presenting two white furrows; this differentiates it from the continental juniper.
Hawthorn produces a treatment for sore throats and is also useful for anxiety problems. It is characterized by the long spines on its branches. These spines are particularly strong and in the olden days were used as nails. Some birds and small mammals take refuge from large predators in its branches.
The Spanish broom is recommended for worm problems. Its fibres can be used to produce a durable canvas-like fabric which can compete with those made from hemp or flax, and its twigs, when soaked, can be used to make rope.
The origin of the river's name is obscure. One finds traces from 928 with ' Vidosoli ' then 'Vitusulus' in 994, 'Viturlus'in 1025 ou encore 'Viturnellus' in 1054. It is most likely those names all stem from the Gallic god 'Vitoursulus'. He was the god of two faces, sometimes benefactor - generous and hospitable – sometimes angry, to the point where those living near the river would remove the article and talk about 'Vidourle' as if it were a feared and respected nobleman.
The river's source is 500 metres north of Fage Mountain at Saint Roman de Codières in the Cévennes. After passing Cros, it disappears underground at Saint-Hyppolyte-du-Fort and reappears after 6 km at the Sauve fountain, regarded by some as the true source of the river. It eventually reaches the Mediterranean at two outlets, the Etang du Ponan and the Grau du Roi.
Many rivers overflow, their ravages are simply called 'flooding' or 'overflow', but only the Vidourle distinguishes itself from others by its famous 'vidourlades' because they take everything in their path. The 'vidourlade' doesn't act like other rivers. So much so that the Académie Française has defined the word itself to mean flooding. There are many stories of damage caused by its flooding which can reach record heights, speed and throughput (up to 2000 cubic metres per second were measured in 1993) – true stories of tragedy and tales of survival such as that cattle being taken by the flood at Sauve and found alive at Rauret.
... and its fauna
The river is rich with wildlife and feature fish species much sought after by anglers: pike, zander, perch, gudgeon, crayfish, brown trout...
The course of the Vidourle and its banks are home to rare and remarkable species: mammals such as the beaver; birds such as the European rollier or night heron; migratory fish such as the shad and crustaceans such as the sham-clawed, white crayfish.
The river is also home to a wide variety of more common species such as the little egret, the grey heron, dippers, the kingfisher, the viper, the perch, the southern frog, the common toad, dragonflies, and plants such as soapwort or water mint.
The large common grasshopper: with its 10 centimetre wingspan and 5 centimetre length long, is the largest cicada in the South of France. To operate its 'singing' apparatus, males spread and lower their wings, clearing their abdomen to better achieve the required up and down vibration movement.
The Montpellier snake: at more than 2 metres, it is the longest snake in Europe. Found near Montpellier, it is the only representative of a family of African origin.
The Languedoc scorpion: Even if its scientific name claims it is capable of killing an ox, it's venom is not fatal but can inflict severe pain on humans. The scorpion spends its days under the stones of the scrubland and at night hunts spiders and centipedes
The ocellated lizard is the largest in the garrigue but also in Europe. It lives in the bushes of the French Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. Standing high on its legs, it can move fast in pursuit of its prey.
Guided visits are available at 3pm every Saturdays without booking and some Sundays with booking (click here for see all the dates).
Free access to archeological site and site museum.
Prices of guided visits (in french only)