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To the fortress of Carcassonne and castles of Cathars

Home -> Europe -> France -> Travelogue France -> 19 June 2006

Monday 19 June, to the fortress of Carcassonne and castles of Cathars

Today it is less hot (24 degrees) and the air at sea looks gray and it is very humid in the air. We hope that it is better in the interior and that is why we go out today, to Carcassonne.
Montagne the la Clape View on the grape fields and GruissanWe drive first through the area of the Montagne de la Clape, a rough limestone massif between the coast and Narbonne with mostly bad roads. It is a beautiful and quiet area, and there are also many areas with grapes growing. From the coast we see the sky becoming blue again, while the mist lingers above the sea and the coast.
The Cité of CarcassonneWhen we arrive at the Cité from Carcassonne the thermometer is already at 34 degrees. Carcassonne is divided into two halves by the river Aude, there is the lower town and the Cité. The Cité is a large walled medieval city, a super castle that has been completely restored in the 19th century. There are still a few dozen civilians, but otherwise it has become a major tourist attraction. It is the largest fortress in Europe and was once an important Cathar city.
It looks impressive and is on the Unesco World Heritage list for good reasons, but there has also been some criticism of the architect Viollet-le-Duc, who had allowed himself quite a few liberties in determining how certain parts of the castle would have been in the Middle Ages. And to be honest, it looks just a little too perfect. On the internet and in travel guides there is much more information about Carcassonne and its history, so we will not repeat all of that here. In July and August festivals are also held inside the castle, undoubtedly especially for tourists.
The Cité of Carcassonne The Cité of CarcassonneThere are a number of museums in the Cité and several buildings that can be viewed from the inside. There is a double defense wall and you can walk in between the entire fortress. Especially in the evening, when there are spotlights on the city, that should be a very nice sight when you walk here. We also find it very fascinating and fortunately there are everywhere shaded terraces where we can occasionally sit down.
The Cité of Carcassonne The Cité of CarcassonneAfter a few hours walking around, we have enough, although you could wander around here for a whole day. You can also get various guided tours with a guide, but we still find it easier to find our own way. You may getless information, but from what such a guide tells you, we soon forget half again. We are still looking for a spot along the Aude to take a photo of the exterior and then continue to the Cathar country to the south.
South and south-east of Carcassonne is Corbières, one of the most wild and inhospitable parts of France. This was one of the areas where the Cathars, who in the 13th century opposed the corruption of the Catholic Church, had many supporters. The inhabitants of this area were (and are?) always been a bit contrarian and quirky, not a bad thing at all. In the 13th century they were mercilessly punished for this in two crusades that cost tens of thousands of lives, all because of the so-called true faith ...
Abbey of Alet-les-BainesAlet-les-Bains, already a spa resort in Roman times, seems to have its own micro-climate, but at the moment we think it's just warm, very warm. There is no coffeebar in the village so we look at the ruin of the cathedral. On the internet we had seen a website where it was claimed that Nostradamus was born here, but we do not find any trace of it. According to most official biographies he came from Saint-Rémy in Provence.
Castle Peyrepertuse Castle PeyrepertuseWe now retreat into the mountains where impressive Cathar castles have been built that sometimes blend into the rocks and from the distance are barely recognizable as castles. But in the end they all were defeated. We see several, but especially the Cheteau de Peyrepertuse is very difficult to recognize from a distance and for a while we doubt whether we look at a castle or only a rock face. The road to it is not easy to ride, but the place is definitely worth it.
CucugnanA little further we drive through the village of Cucugnan (100 inhabitants). This wine village is famous by the French writer Alphonse Daudet and his collection of stories "Lettres de mon moulin" and we think we have that mill in the picture here. Due to lack of time we have to skip the Gorges de Galamus, which seems to be a beautiful gorge.
Château the QuéribusWe want to go to the next castle, Château de Quéribu, the last hiding place of the Cathars after the fall of Montségur that was suppopsed to be invincible. At 730 meters altitude (and a steep road going there), situated on a rock, this place seems difficult to conquer, but in 1255 the castle is conquered to complete the defense line against Spain. The crusades against the Cathars have already ended and the last ones who have found refuge here disappear and almost nothing is known about the siege. Here begins the mystery of the Cathars: have any members escaped, do they have something to do with the Knights Templar, and so on. A mysterious thing, but not the steep, last walk to the castle, that is a serious matter, our legs tell us.
View on the valley at TuchanWe see more castles on our way to the coast and occasionally we see several on the distant rock peaks. At Tuchan we see the castle of Aguilar and we drive back through a beautiful, wild valley. Gradually the region becomes less rough again, but still we encounter few larger villages. Indeed a very special area that is certainly worth exploring.
Winery Petit Mandirac, near GruissanWe go along the south of Narbonne on a road to Gruissan and our camping and pass another charming little castle, Petit Mandirac, obviously with to a vineyard. Despite the ruggedness of the area, a lot of wine is made here, almost all constructible plots of land are occupied by vines.
And the closer we get to the coast, the colder it gets and the clouds get darker. We have already forgotten the heat of the day, it is only 24 degrees. No, it is perfect, very nice to sit outside at the tent in the evening ...


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