Hérault (34520) Population: 119 Altitude: 625 m
This is an interesting little village in the hills of Languedoc-Roussillon, 40 km NW of Montpellier, in a land of ancient menhirs and dolmens.
The village of La Vacquerie-et-St-Martin-de-Castries is located on the limestone plateau of Larzac, an area of neolithic dolmens, mentors, tumulus and other ancient burial caves.
We stayed here a few days in the Springtime and liked the place for the natural beauty of the area and the peace away from the main tourist routes.
Menhirs and Dolmens
The rocky hills and plains in this area have numerous ancient standing stones called menhirs and pre-Roman burial sites called dolmens. To explore them, it's handy to have the IGN hiking map for the area (see Hiking, below).
The Dolmens de Ferrussac, a couple of km east of Vacquerie-St-Martin beside the D130 road, has an interesting informative plaque at the site. It seems Roman archeologists explored the site a couple of thousand years ago; like us, they were interested in ancient history.
A few km further out the same D130 road are four menhirs, standing somewhat separated in the fields beside the road, 3 on the left (north) and one on the right side.
The Dolmen de Coste Caude is 2 km north of the village, beside the D152 road.
The Prunarede Dolmen is 15 km north, almost to the Cirque de Navacelles.
A 1000-square-km limestone plateau in the upper Languedoc region, bordered by deep-canyon rivers of Dourbie, Tarn and Vis.
History of Vacquerie-et-St-Martin-de-Castries
The commune, with its current name, came from the joining of the village La Vacquerie and the village Saint-Martin-de-Castries in 1832.
The name La Vacquerie is derived from la vacarià, from the latin vacca, meaning vache (cow); and aria, meaning large space, therefore: a large area with cows ("big cow pasture" sounds much less exotic).
The name Saint-Martin-de-Castries is from the Latin castrum (chateau) and, of course, Saint Martin.
• GPS: 43.789146, 3.459502
IGN (1/25,000) #2642 ET "St-Guilhem-le-Desert; Cirque de Navacelles"
We did a number of half-day hikes around Vacquerie-St-Martin, including no-trail hikes in the hills just east of the village, where we saw ancient stone walls, bories and eagles.
The GR7 (Grande Randonnée) trail passes through Vacquerie-St-Martin. To the north, the GR7 crosses fields and follows some small roads to the village of St-Maurice-Navacelles. North of that village, the trail drops down the steep sides (570 m to 260 m) of the beatiful Gorges de la Vis, then follows the river north through the gorge to the Cirque de Navacelles.
To the southwest, the GR7 goes through more rugged hills, past the Plateau de Courcol and eventually to Lodève.
There are several other major hiking trails in the hills southwest of Vacquerie-St-Martin, including a variant of the GR653.