along the GR653 - practicalities
as at April 2014

This is a delightful walk among vineyards and medium to small hills, with varied scenery. However the markings on the GR653 and the GR7 (also the GR74, which we used a bit) are much less reliable than we were used to, particularly for getting in and out of towns. For this reason, detailed maps or GPS are essential.

1. Walking days
4½ days. You could get to Bédarieux (where there is a bus back to Montpellier) in four, but we were told it wouldn't make a satisfying finish.

2. Getting there & away
Fly to Montpellier. A Navette (shuttle bus) takes you into town at the Place de l'Europe. Return from Clermont L'Hérault by bus - about 5 a day - to Montpellier (Mosson), where you can get trams to the Place de l'Europe (ask for a bus plus tram ticket when you board the bus).

The first day is quite long, so you need to arrive in Montpellier the night before; however you could fly back on the afternoon of the last day, making six days in all.

3. Leaflet, Maps
We used the 1:100,000 map IGN 170 (Montpellier, Nîmes) map for planning, and the 1:25,000 IGN 2642ET (St-Guilhem-le-Désert) for days 2 and 3 of the walk. We relied on the 1:100,000 map for the rest of the walk. Big mistake! Getting out of Montpellier was very tricky, and it took us a long time to meet up with the GR, especially as there are different versions of it on different maps. Map 2743ET is essential.

Also essential is the 1:25,000 map covering the end of the walk, Lodève to Clermont L'Hérault (2643OT). The last part is not on a GR, so the more detail you have of the many paths, tracks and small roads, the better choices you can make.

4. The Route
We stayed at the Hotel Colisée, just by the old town.
DAY 1: Montpellier to Aniane
This was quite a long day, because 1) we are purists, and walked out from the centre, and 2) we had an inadequate map. You could take the tram to Mosson and pick up the trail there. The walking is easy, but way-finding was not helped by the D27 being re-routed. We sometimes saved time by taking the road, e.g. the D27 shortcut between La Boissière and Aniane, but it was quite boring.
We stayed at the Hostellerie Saint Benoit.
DAY 2: Aniane to Montpeyroux
This was quite a short day. The route from Aniane to St-Guilhem-le-Désert is fast, and there is plenty of time to explore the Abbaye de Gellone. The climb afterwards is longish, but once at the top, the going is pretty level. Because it was incredibly windy, we came off at the first opportunity, and walked down past the reservoir.
We had looked for accommodation nearer the trail, but Montpeyroux was a nice town, and it worked well. We stayed at the L'Ostal del Poëta.
DAY 3: Montpeyroux to Lodève
At Arboras we decided to take the higher route, the GR74, which was lovely but very hard to find. After 'lunch' (there are no facilities at Les Salces or St-Privat) our detailed map ran out, so we took the D153 (tedious) down to meet the GR653. This path was lovely - near but not on the road - until it took an unexpected detour to arrive in the South of Lodève (our B&B was in the North).
We stayed Le Clos René, roger.castano@orange.fr. We found most restaurants shut on a Saturday night(!); eating seemed to be in Hotels only.
DAY 4: Lodève to Octon
The GR653 is now joined with the GR7, but there are no marks until you are way out of Lodève; however the route becomes a gorgeous balcony path. We carried on to Valquières and Carlencas to visit Jeremy's brother, but you can come off after the GRs split, going east to Lavalette and on little roads to les Valarèdes. Here there is a choice of paths; the most direct is parallel to the D148E9 down to Octon and passes through the Ruines de Lauzières; or you can carry on to St-Martin des Combes, soon after which there is a track following the South-West side of the valley, with a good view across it to the Ruines. (We checked out the routes, they are both lovely.)
We didn't stay in Octon, but the hotel in the photo is La Calade.
DAY 5: Octon to Clermont L'Hérault
We didn't walk this, but the countryside south of Lake Salagou is delightful, and there is an itinéraire equestre right along the south side of the lake to a beach, after which you head into Clermont L'Hérault for lunch.