Visiting the nearest town of Limoux which straddles the river Aude, we mingled with the crowds enjoying the festival. The entertainment was loud and ‘’Mo Jackson,’’ a Michael Jackson tribute act was keeping everyone amused with his dubious, moon-walking, tee shirt, ripping, and crotch grabbing, cries of '’oowwww’’. There was dancing in the square, a Petanque competition on every corner and a fun fair, with a merry- go- round of real ponies. The kids, obviously enjoying themselves, were squealing in the saddles as they were led around, while a young boy shovelled up any mess.
The food in this region of France, whether eating in a restaurant, a café, or relais, is great value for money. For our daughter’s birthday, we chose the charming, grey shuttered, Auberge Corneilla, in Limoux. Where in the spectacular, Bougainvillea draped, garden, we enjoyed the lamb, fish, steak, salad, desserts, coffees and wine for less than a main course, in a London restaurant.
Another memorable meal was enjoyed in the Hotel L’Eveche, in Alet Les Bains, before we attended an event, in the ruins of the 9th Century Abbey. Inside the Abbey, on the make-shift stage a lady was warbling shrilly in the flickering, candle light as she swayed like Kate Bush. The accompanying guitarist who was plucking the strings loudly, seemed to be trying to drown her out. We were surprised though, when in these very sedate surroundings a drunken, heckler appeared and jeering and swaying he mimicked the singer. Outraged, the audience started to hiss ’asseyez vous, asseyez vous’’ and then someone grabbed him and shoved him through a medieval archway. During the interval, we sipped wine under the stars that were twinkling above the roof- less Abbey, as dozens of leather-clad, shapes descended on the dance area. And appreciating the music of the next act, ‘’The Black Swans’, and with their head banging, air guitar, strumming, shadows, flickering on the abbey walls, the dull, music evening was transformed into the ‘’Rocky horror show’’. Even the drunken, heckler was dancing the night away.
Rennes Les Bains, is a village situated south of Carcassonne in the Aude Department. Originally developed in Roman times with the discovery of the local thermal waters, people flock here to use the waters as a cure for rheumatism and certain skin problems. Rennes Les Bains has both hot and cold springs, the two wells were dug in the 19th century. A favourite with hippies, who sell their crafts in the shaded square, the characterful, village, has an hotel, artisan shops, a café, a restaurant, and an abundance of tumbling buildings that overlook a rickety bridge.
Lac de Montbel, a real treasure, lies between Ariège, and the Aude, in the shadow of the Pyrénées.
We lazed on the beach, slathered ourselves in green, mineral enriched, mud, said to be good for the skin, and swam in the lake. And in the evening, we barbequed under a star crammed sky, that was so beautiful; it could’ve inspired Van Gogh.
Arques,10 km east of Couiza, is equally stunning and unique, with rich red earth and a vibrant green landscape. We swam all day in a lake nestled in a plush, green, valley, without seeing another soul. And likewise, in the Pyrenean town of Bugarach, where, under a mountain known locally as ‘’magic mountain’’, we shared the lake with the riders and horses from the local riding school.
On our last weekend, we attended the Art festival in Magrie, the next village to Toureilles, where every year they celebrate their artists, by exhibiting their work. Colourful, musicians, dancers and actors entertained us, as we wandered through giant, metallic, bugs and various artisan stalls laid out with jewellery, pottery, paintings and sculptures. We sampled Blanquette, the local sparkling, tipple, as we watched a local wood carver, working on an ugly tree stump, whittling it into an Eiffel tower, masterpiece. Then joining the local community outside on the long, trestle tables, we had lunch of steak, frites, fruit salad, brie, and red wine. A wonderful last day, and a memorable way to end our stay in this fascinating, region of France.
Helen Burke visits South Central France
Trundling through the Aude, in south, central, France, in our trusty Burkemobil, the landscape was ever-changing, ranging from sweeping, vineyards, and craggy, rock faces, to brick red earth and green hills scattered with mysterious, Cathar ruins, remnants of a troubled, religious, history.
On top of the hill, amongst the vineyards was Tourreilles, our destination, where, for the next few weeks we had the luxury of staying at a friend’s place. Dominated by a 12th century church, the village, consists of narrow, shuttered homes, a community hall, a cemetery, and a square, where a monument, is dedicated to a 12-year old, drummer boy, who, sadly, died in battle in 1794.
The ancient, grape presses, buried amongst the village’s crumbling buildings, are a testament to the area’s wine producing history.
Extra Info - The Cathar Trail extends for 200 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pyrenees.
A wide diversity of sceneries: coastal lagoons, hillside vineyards, Mediterranean garrigue scrubland, Pyrenean forests, gorges and mountains. A number of citadels built on high rocky peaks are dotted along the route, recalling a page of mediaeval history in southern France: Catharism in the Languedoc