Monday, 3 August 2015

A Walking Tour of Castelnaudary



Map courtesy of the Office de Tourisme
This tour is approximately 3km and starts at the Moulin du Cugarel right at the top of Castelnaudary. Not only do you get to see the mill itself, you also get to look at the views across the plains towards the 'Beverly Hills' of Castelnaudary, better known as our little village of Issel, from the Table d'orientation where you can find information on some of the history of Castelnaudary including Simon de Montfort's skirmish with the 'Count de Foix'.

So plenty of history to take in before you even head into town from the top of the hill. If you take the Rue de la Comedie from the mill you will arrive at the 'Place de Verdun' once the home of the Office de Tourisme now relocated next to the Halles aux Grains in the Place de la Republique. This is where you will find the Halle de Verdun a beautiful pillared building that many people have admired for its architecture. The photograph at the bottom of the post gives you an idea why.

From here you can take the 'Grand Rue' to the church of St John which has commanding views over the Grand Bassin towards the Pyrenees. Just a little further along, via the Rue de College, you will find the Musee du Lauragais where you can explore more of the history of the town and of course the Lauragais region generally.  

Going down the hill from the museum you can follow the road down to the 'Ecluses Saint Roch', a five gate lock that links the Canal du Midi directly to the Grand Bassin, the biggest port of the canal and where luxury boats are available for hire from 'Le Boat'.

From the lock you can skirt around the 'Grand Bassin' via the Quai's Canelot, Edmond Combes and Labouisee past the 'Ile de la Cybelle' and then cross over the bridge into the 'Cours de la Republique' which is the main road through the centre of Castelnaudary. The road will take you past the 'Hotel de Ville', the 'Halle aux Grains', several restaurants, cafes and shops back up to the 'Place de Verdun' which is almost where you started this little tour of Castelnaudary. 

This final section is even better on a Monday morning when the weekly market takes place or during the 'Fete du Cassoulet' at the end of August each year when the iconic dish of the town of Castelnaudary is celebrated. 


Well it has been around since medieval times, so it deserves a little bit of credit. But personally I can't help thinking that the 'Fete' might be better celebrated in the winter months when such a hearty meal would bring some real comfort on a chilly day. Perhaps there should be two 'fetes'?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Montsegur - The Location of the Last Big Cathar Siege

Atop of the 'Pog'
Montsegur is where many people feel the Albigensian Crusade came to an end. There were further skirmishes but essentially the siege of Montsegur is widely considered to be the last significant stand off between the Crusaders and the Cathars.

During that period it had become a refuge for the Lords who had been dispossessed of their land during the crusade. There were at least 600 of them living there, courtesy of Raymond de Pereille who had been asked to restore the castle in order to provide a safe haven on the very top of the rocky peak (or pog in Occitan).

Secondary Entrance
The single event that marked the death-knell for Catharism was the killing of eleven church inquiry members on the 28th May 1242, as they travelled through Avignonet, by a group of faydits (the depossessed lords) from Montsegur. The King of France ordered a blockade at Montsegur to appease the Pope who was angered by the killings.

The siege started about a year later in May 1243 under the command of Hugues des Arcy. It lasted 10 months and went right through a very severe winter. On the 1st March 1244 an attempt to escape the besieged castle failed and the stronghold was finally taken.  A 15 day truce was arranged and the Cathars had to choose whether to denounce their faith or suffer the consequences. The result was that on the 16th March 1244 over 220 Cathars were burned at the stake in Montsegur.

The only evidence you will find of what happened that day is a memorial on the path to the castle that commemorates the martyrdom of the Cathars. 

North West View
The castle that you can visit today is not the same castle that was there during the siege, that original castle was left in ruin and the latter day fortress that you can now visit is built on the ruins of the original site. It is still referred to as a Cathar Fortress because of it's history and the fact it is widely considered to be the place where Catharism came to an end.

To visit the castle you will have to be prepared for a steep climb and there is a modest admittance fee that gives you access to both the castle and the museum in the village below the castle rock. But 'wow' what a treat for anyone that relishes a great view whilst they explore the history of the Cathars. Makes both the climb and the fee well worth it.

There is a 'Table de Orientation' at the north west end which is where you will also find 'The Keep' and you can scramble around the outside to gain views in, literally, every direction.

A visit to the museum in the town after the castle will give you an opportunity to catch up with the full history of the fortress and is where you can find many artifacts discovered from the period of the siege, including the skeletons of a man and woman believed to have been killed by arrows during that time.

Montsegur is 30 km east of Foix and is 1200m above sea level. That is about an hour and a bit from Le Moulin. It is in the Ariege department of the Midi-Pyrénées.

The Keep

Table de Orientation

Inner Ward





Monday, 13 July 2015

Demonstrating a Little Bit of Tolerance at La Cite, Carcassonne

If you visit La Cite before the 20th of September you will be able to see a series of sculptures by the artist Guy Ferrer. Each sculpture is a letter of the word 'TOLERANCE' and they all stand around 2m high.

They are located in front of the main entrance under the watchful eye of Dame Carcas, a permanent sculpture of a Saracen princess who is once said to have ruled the city after the death of her husband. Many people believe the name of Carcassonne came about when a ruse involving a pig fed with wheat was thrown from the castle walls during a siege under the orders of Lady Carcas. This was to convince Charlemagne that the castle had plenty of food and could withstand the siege indefinitely. The ruse worked Charlemagne left and the bells rang out in celebration. Giving the city its name Carcassonne (Carcas sounds). Or at least that is how the legend goes, there are some that say this is completely fictional of course, so who knows? But it is a nice story.

So what of the temporary sculptures? They have been placed on display to represent how different letters brought together can form a word with a simple message, even though the individual letters may represent different cultures or spirituality. The message being that different cultures and religions can co-exist in peace and harmony, despite the presence of ever increasing violence in a world that is facing a serious challenge through misguided racial tensions.

The sculptures have been created to try and bring about convergence of different cultures and spirituality rather than the divergence sought by extremists. The artist intends you to draw your own conclusions through your own imagination by examining the individual letters that make the word and how they sit together to deliver a message that tolerance is required by all parties for the world to progress. Well that's my take on it and what I think he is saying. 

But of course you can go along and make up your own mind, because at the end of the day that is what we all do and sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong!



The sculptures are pretty impressive in their own right and worth a look just from the perspective of seeing the skill that has gone into their production, but the spiritual aspect certainly does add another layer of interest and delivers a message we should all perhaps be receptive to. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Where In the World

It's amazing how many places you can clock up as having visited when you are, well let's call it 'of the mature variety'. But it's clear from my map that I need to find a way to head even further south than the South of France. But not bad for the northern hemisphere.

Brian’s Travel Map
Brian has been to: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Argelès-sur-Mer & Céret in the Pyrénées-Orientales

I have always thought of Argelès-sur-Mer as a bit of a modern seaside resort, perhaps even, dare I say it, a poor neighbour of the beautiful little fishing village of Collioure. 

Well I have to admit that I have been paying it a little bit of a disservice. yes there are areas of the town that are exactly as I imagined them and actually, if that is what you are looking for in a seaside resort, there really is a lot on offer. You can find accommodation on most every level ranging from camping to hotels with everything in between.

Comparing Argelès to Collioure is a bit like comparing chalk and cheese and what I came to realise on a recent visit is that they both have a lot to offer, but in their own way. For example if you are a sun-seeker looking for miles of golden sand, then Collioure is not the place for you. Where are on the other hand Argelès will definitely tick that box. 

There are parts of Argelès that are very modern and have clearly been developed to cater for the major influx of tourists that visit the South of France each year, especially during the months of July and August. But there is also a slightly less well known historic centre, away from the beaches a little and tucked nicely near to the foothills of the Pyrenees. 

Here you will find a little bit of traditional France with lots of cafes and shops that serve the resident community all year around. A delightful little place to visit and where you can get away from the more distinct tourist areas, but only if you want to.

When we visited, we sat down to a very reasonably priced lunch at the Bistrot De La Fontaine, out in the street on a lovely sunny day and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, which for me was a very nice, but simple salad. 

Another factor that can't be ignored is that Argelès-Sur-Mer is in a great location, it is very easy to get to Perpignan where there is an international airport and a beautiful cosmopolitan city.  You are virtually on the Spanish border for excursions into the Costa Brava or even Barcelona for a day out and you have easy access to places like Collioure and Céret where the likes of Picasso used to hang out.

In fact once we had finished lunch we took a drive out to Collioure and Port Vendres then headed off to Céret for a look around. The photograph of one of Picasso's sculptures in the form of a fountain which we stumbled across whilst exploring.

We soon realised that Céret is another beautiful town and it is known for it's Cherry Festival that takes place each year and it's very French 'cafe culture' environment.

All in all a lovely day out touring the Pyrénées-Orientales and having a look at a little bit of France that has more than enough of a draw to pull us back every now and then for another look.

The region is certainly in striking distance of Castelnaudary and everything in between. Carcassonne, of course, is worth a mention as are the wine regions that surround the area such as Fitou, Corbieres and Minervois. But if you are staying at Le Moulin, I would say it should be considered a full day out to make the most of it.

Here are a few more photos of Argelès & Céret







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