History lesson in The Languedoc

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December 1st 2019
Published: December 1st 2019
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The gods must have looked after us whilst we were in Switzerland, but as we leave the heavens open and they don't stop until we get over the border and into France. Any view of Lake Geneva was completely obliterated by low lying cloud. Hey we don’t mind as we are back in the land of the croissant, baguette, oh and cheese but also annoyingly loads of Motorhomes! It might surprise some of you that we are not the first at this game!?! Admittedly we may be a bit younger than most (but there are youngster’s, met a couple tonight, home-schooling travelling because as they said, you never know what’s around the corner, do you!) but as we have found before sometimes getting a parking/sleeping space can be a challenge.

We know from experience to head inland and you will normally have no problems so that’s where we go, we need some down time to plan our next route of travel. We find two, nothing extraordinary about the villages and take some time out just walking between the now persistent rain showers, planning and making use of the local boulangaries and restaurants.

With plans a foot and some help from home we head off to the Ardeche and the natural stone arch of Pont D'arc. We make two notable stops and that is for purchases! We love buying local and so far have purchased wine (of course) Artisan Nougat, Honey, Apple Liquer, Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Tapenade and any local delicacies. Perouges, whilst an interesting hill top village (Used for filming the Three Musketeers) gives us Galette of Perouges, a Pizza shaped dough with baked sugar on top, and delicious. The other is more wine with a great name L'enfant Terrible from a wine cooperative, who very kindly allow us to use their car park to sleep in. We understand the wine is sold to M&S so must be good!

The Pont D'arc is reached by a very wiggly road according to our sat nav and yes it is. We take one of the options and it turns out to be a good one as we find some local honey, this producer has some 800 hives and after trying some honey we buy, lavender, chestnut and scrubland all very different and very scrummy. We also learn that the production of honey is difficult due to the high temperatures they have here now, a sobering reality check on the bee situation and climate change. As we leave we head back down the more straightforward road, the Ardeche Gorge reveals itself to us with incredible views on the way back down.

Pont du Gard many will know and as we enter the site it doesn’t disappoint, the engineering of getting water some 50km to Nimes, we thought extraordinary! Our walk at this the world’s highest viaduct follows some of the relics of the water way itself. In summer people swim and sit here on the banks, in Nov we don't have that luxury but spend an absorbing day at the site and museum. Luckily for us the weather is improved so we make our way to the coast and enjoy some downtime near to a beach which makes Poppy very happy.

Our last few days in France will be exploring an area in the Languedoc region and the old stronghold of The Cathars. Put simply the cathars believed everything in the living world, including mankind, had been created by Satan, and only the spiritual world was created by God! This region saw one of the bloodiest periods of French history, much of it taking place in some of the most heavily fortified castles ever built, as we were about to discover!

We start at Minerve, deep in the Minervois hills, and home to the wine of the same name which of course we purchase as we enter! This former stronghold stands high and dry on a promontory where rivers have carved out deep gorges on either side, it looks well quite odd just sat there, but beautiful at the same time. We have the village almost to ourselves as most other tourists don’t come at this time of year, and we make two circuits both afternoon and morning, only being joined by a village dog who it seems is keen to show us the must see points of interest.

We head to Carcassone the largest and probably best know of the Castles in the area it is very Disneyesque in look and holds 52 turrets within the citadel. Some parts of the ramparts date back to Gallo-roman times but we are here as Carcassonne became famous for its role in the Albigensian Crusades when the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 the crusading armies forced its citizens to surrender. Viscount Raymond-Roger de Trencavel (the then monarch) was imprisoned whilst negotiating his city's surrender and died in mysterious circumstances three months later in his own dungeon. The people of Carcassonne were allowed to leave – in effect, expelled from their city with nothing more than the shirts on their backs.

Our journey continues through the Cathar castle route The chateau de Queribus perched on a rocky pillar at 1200m is awe inspiring, it beggars belief how it could have been built at all , small wonder it became the symbol for Cathay resistance. Our final stop is to Chateau de Perypertuse, it rears up against the sky, its silhouette resembling a ship grounded on rocks. A steep walk from the village below gives no indication to the area that the chateau covers. Again like all the others it is built on every available piece of rock and within the walls are the ruins of an entire medieval village, complete with lodgings, a chapel, a dungeon, and cistern. We have the place to ourselves and wander amongst the inner walls admiring breathtaking vistas, watching Griffin vultures circling and declare this the best end to our discovery of the Cathers and their castle. The crusaders recaptured the catharsis territory, not without bloodshed, in one battle 112 cathars felt unable to denounce their beliefs and as such were burnt at the stake, the battle lasted 20 years and Catahrism was driven underground by 1244. We have had the opportunity to learn about this period and explore the amazing castles left behind because we just happened to read an article in a magazine how lucky we were when we did.

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