Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Cabardes and The Cubservies Cascade

Cubservies cascade
There are several lovely places to visit in the Cabardes area of France which is only a short drive from Carcassonne. We had decided we would like to visit the Cubservies Cascade and see what else we could find on the way there.

So from Carcassonne you head towards Mazamet on the D118 then you turn onto the D101 where you see the signs for Lastours and Mas Cabardes.

Now you have a number of different choices, the caves at Limousis, the chateaus of Lastours, not one but four, or you can carry on up the hill through Lastours towards 'Les Ilhes Cabardes'.  Which is exactly what we did and then we kept on going until we got to the D9 and headed towards Roquefere. 

So far so good, we were intending to have a look around Roquefere but there was some sort of event going on and the main road through the village was blocked. We got diverted off to the left and before we realised it we were on a very narrow route where, with all the activity, it was very tricky to turn and there was nowhere to park. At that point we decided it was better to just keep going and save Roquefere for another day, our main objective was after all to visit the Cubservies cascade.

The next 7 kilometers or so were a little hairy, very narrow, very twisty and very few passing places if you met something coming the other way. Fortunately for us the only car that did come the other way passed us when we stopped on the outskirts of the little village of 'Saint Julien'. Quite lucky really but we were, it felt, driving up into the heavens and we still hadn't arrived.

Finally, it seemed to take a long time, we arrived at Cubservies and immediately spotted a sign for the cascade. So at least it wasn't going to be difficult to find. 

It actually turned out to be very easy indeed. There was a viewing point for the cascade right on the edge of the village and this time a few handy parking spaces where we could park quite easily. Have to say as well, it was worth it, the cascade is 90m high and it was a lovely sunny day so not only could we get the view of the cascade itself we were also able to wander a little further into the village and get a magnificent view right back down the valley we had just driven up. The village itself, albeit quite small, was very picturesque and certainly helped to make the trip worthwhile. We now really were in the heavens, almost at the top of the 'Montagne Noire'.

Cabardes France

Having enjoyed the views of the cascade and the valley below we pressed on, made a quick stop at the 'Saint Sernin' chapel, a Romanesque building from the 11th & 12th centuries and then arrived at a junction of the D1009. We decided to turn left towards 'Les Martys' and then just followed our noses until we were back on the D118, the main route between Mazamet and Carcassonne.

Saint Sernin Chapel

Where you come out is only just down the road from the 'Lac Des Montagnes' so we decided that would be a very nice place to visit before turning back towards Carcassonne and the route home. We had driven past the lake before but never been in to see it, so it was a nice way to end the trip and have a walk around the edge of the lake for a little way (it's a big lake).

Lac Des Montagnes

Then we were back on the D118 heading towards Carcassonne, retracing our steps a little in the process, and before we knew it we were in Cuxac, home to a very nice English run restaurant The Hungry Fox which we can personally recommend for some excellent food and friendly service.

Then it was a right turn towards St Denis & Saissac beyond, passing by the 'Le Moulin à Papier de Brousses' (to be the subject of a future post) and the famous Saissac Chateau.

For us that was nearly home, just a quick run down the hill through St Papoul and on to our home village of Issel. All in all a pretty good day out.

Monday, 14 September 2015

A Short Break on the French Mediterranean

Many people may think we are a bit mad, this is because, just recently, we packed up our little sports car, left our lovely old watermill  and went camping on the French Mediterranean.

I suppose on first impressions that may seem a bit mad, leaving all that comfort, a swimming pool and country scenery behind to go and sleep on an airbed in a tent.

But there was method behind our madness. First of all being away from home with no internet access meant that there was no way we could slip into work mode and ensured that we did actually have a little break.

Secondly, we opted to take the scenic route to the Mediterranean, heading off to Limoux, then Quillan and finally along the Gorge de Agly (D117). A beautiful route with no time pressure and the opportunity to enjoy the trip, the scenery and even a little picnic in a gorgeous location next to the River Aude.

That is a bottle of shandy in the photo by the way, we were driving after all.

Taking that route you go right through Cathare territory, passing by the Chateaus de Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse and Queribus en route. You can have a look at this map for more information on the location of the Cathare Fortresses.

Our ultimate location was of course the French Mediterranean and one of our favourite little places to visit, Leaucate Plage.

We chose the campsite called 'Camping Cap Leaucate' because it was located virtually on the beach and was still only about a twenty minute walk from Leaucate village for restaurants in the evening. There are restaurants at Leaucate Plage as well, but being September the choice was a bit limited.

It wasn't long after arrival that the tent was up, we were set for the evening and we could go off to meet some friends at Canet En Roussillon. But not before ensuring we had some nice croissants for breakfast the next morning and something for lunch on the beach, courtesy of a very handy supermarket between Leaucate Village and Leaucate Plage.

Canet turned out to be a lively little town with live music in the 'Grande Place', right on the sea front, which also turned out to be a great place to chose a restaurant for an evening meal. Our little break was off to a great start and the accommodation was actually less expensive per night than the dog kennel where our dog Charlie was staying for a few days :-)

The next day, as we had promised ourselves, was to be a whole day lazing on the beach, picnicking and swimming in the Mediterranean. The weather was gorgeous and we just completely chilled out. To top the day off we had a cold beer in a bar on the beach before heading back to camp for a shower, brush up and getting dressed for dinner.

We did take a quick look at the restaurants in Leaucate Plage, but there was only one open so we decided to head into town where there was much more choice.

Plus there was the added bonus of the sun setting over the lake as we walked along the promenade. Incidentally, when the sun sets in September, it is probably a good idea to have a fleece or something light to pop on, because it can get a little nippy, not bad but a bit.

We actually really enjoyed the walk, it was a lovely evening and we had had a pretty lazy day all in all. So a bit of exercise was a good idea and we could also convince ourselves we had earned our meal for the evening. We chose El Chupito 'La Table de Lily' for our meal and that turned out to be a great choice, lovely food and wine with a very nice young lady looking after us.

After a suprisingly good night's sleep, perhaps we had a little more wine than we should have done, we woke for our last day at Leaucate Plage. The weather had turned a little cloudy, which was unlucky because it was the only day of the week that there were clouds. So after a quick change of plan, we decided to head towards Narbonne and see if we could find a little sunshine. We did eventually, when we got back to Le Moulin, but on route we took a look at Peyriac de Mer, which is a stunning little town near Bages and then tried our luck at Gruissan Plage. But it was not to be, the cloud persisted and we decided to pass on another beach day and headed inland.

All was not lost however because once we were the other side of Narbonne we spotted a sign to the 'Abbaye de Frontfroide' and thought why not? A drive through the Corbieres wine region taking in Frontfroide, Lagrasse and Carcassonne. Seemed like the perfect way to end our little break to the Mediterranean also this is a section of the famous 'Route 20' wine tour through the Corbieres and of course Carcassonne is our nearest big city and the home of 'La Cite' a UNESCO World Heritage site. So you know it is not going to be too shabby a trip home.

So there you have it, our little break to the Mediterranean, of course we can do all of this in a day trip and we often do. But it was very nice to have a couple of nights in the great outdoors, even if my back did complain for a few days after, and to enjoy a little more of this fantastic place we live in. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Lac de St Ferreol - A Little Bit of Local Action

We decided to have a quick trip out to the Lac de St Ferreol and check out the AquaZone facility that has been set up there this year. It is a lot like the one they have at the Lac de la Cavayere near Carcassonne but for us is much closer with St Ferreol only being about 15 to 20 minutes away.

Seemed to me that it was pretty popular and was being enjoyed by both children and adults. 

Judging by the queues waiting to go on, there is a good chance that it will become a regular feature each summer adding to the many facilities already on offer at the lake.

The prices didn't look too bad either, ranging from 7 euros for an hour, 11 euros for two hours, 16 euros for for four hours and 20 euros for unlimited enjoyment.

Not bad with a life jacket thrown in and lots of different inflatables available to challenge everyone. Who knows, it could be the start of a local 'Wipeout' program?

Of course there is not just the new AquaZone at St Ferreol, you can also hire pedalos, go windsurfing, hire paddle boards and canoes. The lake is also surrounded by lots of cafes, restaurants and little shops. 

Just down the hill towards Labecede and Castelnaudary  you can find the museum of the Canal Du Midi and a lovely picnic area next to the cascades and the big fountain below the museum buildings. In fact there are picnic tables dotted all around the lake, perfect for lunch after the Saturday morning food market at Revel perhaps. 

The cascades are where the feed to the Canal Du Midi start, so you can imagine with 67 hectares of lake sitting right behind them, the cascades can be pretty impressive at certain times of the year.

So as you can see, even before the new AquaZone the lake at St Ferreol was well worth a visit and now there is even more to enjoy and I haven't even spoken about just how beautiful it is up there simply walking around the perimeter of the lake, which takes about an hour, or visiting the arboretum to search for the ancient oak trees that reside there. All with the lake as a backdrop.

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 four 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. 

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