The Causse du Larzac is an area of limestone plateau that appears to hover in the air, stretching as far as Millau Viaduct, a Great Tourist Site in Midi-Pyrénées. Fringed with giant limestone cliffs, it is a vast region of wild countryside and grasslands that stretches endlessly like steppes to the horizon, mostly empty and featureless.
Here and there, staggering Templar and Hospitaller cities rise up, flocks of sheep graze the dry grass, farmed for their milk to make Roquefort cheese, orchids push up through the thin soils and the heavy stone-slated roofs of sheepfolds litter the countryside, looking like chapels.
A gem within the Causses and Cévennes area
The Causse du Larzac was already the crowning glory of the Grands Causses Regional Nature Park, and now with its UNESCO listing its value has been fully recognised. The listing applies to the whole of the Causses and Cévennes area of which it forms a part and which covers part of both the Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon regions.
The beauty of the ancient landscapes shaped by water, wind and also man is not the only criterion that UNESCO applied. According to UNESCO, the Causses and Cévennes are "a changing and living cultural landscape of Mediterranean agro-pastoralism."
Indeed, since the 1970s there has been a resurgence of the agro-pastoral lifestyle here, while this practice has been diminishing greatly elsewhere in southern Europe.
A fascinating pastoral lifestyle unique in Europe
On the Causse du Larzac, sheep farmers and their family are hard at work. The grasslands here are maintained by the flocks. The lavognes, sheepfolds and cave cellars are still used. The farmsteads are inhabited and have been restored using the local materials of schist, granite, limestone and wood and traditional construction methods.
At the same time, the outstanding heritage left behind by the Knights Templar and Hospitaller has been restored and protected. You can see this for yourself when you visit the ancient cities of the Larzac such as Sainte Eulalie de Cernon, La Cavalerie and La Couvertoirade. One can even make out, among the undulations of the grazing land, the Templar and Hospitaller boundary markings that still today mark the limits of ancient plots of land.
At once magnificent, austere, gentle and arid, the Causse du Larzac is still very much alive. Symbolic of a landscape it shares with Southern Europe, it is a popular destination for nature tourism, which here is entirely in its element.