Languedoc-Roussillon is the southernmost region of France. Part 5 in my blast from the past series is my trip to this region in September 2012. For two weeks I stayed in Languedoc-Roussillon region in the small village of Paraza. A village which has a population of only 586! The village itself sits on the Canal du Midi – a 17th century canal which took 14 years to construct linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean.
House in Paraza
The house that I stayed in was the village pub in the 1920s apparently. The house even had a balcony overlooking the Canal itself where you could watch boats passing by very slowly (There is a speed limit of 5mph on the canal).
Arena de Nimes
The Arena de Nimes is a Roman amphitheatre, built around 70 AD and located in the city of Nimes (which is where the word denim comes from). The arena has a current capacity of 24,000 people and has even hosted concerts by Dire Straits, Rammstein, Metallica and Depeche Mode. It is the best preserved amphitheatre in the world and is definitely worth a visit to Nimes to see!
The medieval Cité de Carcassonne is a citadel lying south east of Carcassone city. It was founded in approximately 270 AD and features two 3km long walls incorporating 52 towers. The fortifications have been renovated many times but when the province of Langeudoc-Roussillon became a part of France, they were abandoned. In 1849, the fortifications were to be demolished but local protests reversed this decision and they were to be restored instead. The restoration work was led by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, whose work was criticised for not being true to the original citadel. I think he took artistic licence a little too far and made some things up based on what he would have liked it to look.
Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is 240km long with 86 locks, some of which require flooding due to different water levels on different sides. You can take a boat trip along the canal from many of the towns and villages nearby and many of the locks feature popup market stalls selling local goods and produce.
The Cathars were people who followed Catharism, principally in areas in Northern Italy and Southern France in the 12th to the 14th centuries. To say that they were persecuted by the Catholic Church would be an understatement! The 20 year long Cathar Crusade was started by Pope Innocent III to remove Cathars from the Languedoc area. In July 1209, the city of Beziers was sieged and all Catholics were asked to leave and the Cathars surrender. Both refused and the entire population, including several thousand refugees, were massacred. The city was also burned to the ground.
The Languedoc area has many ruins of castles, two of the most famous being the Château de Quéribus and Peyrepertuse (pierced stone). These form part of the “Five sons of Carcassone”, castles which were strategically built to protect the French border against the Spanish.
Quéribus is high and isolated. It stands on top of the highest peak for miles around. In 1951 restoration work on the turret began, and between 1998-2002 a complete restoration of the castle was undertaken: the castle is now accessible to visitors.
Peyrepertuse has 100,000 visitors a year and is over 800m above the surrounding vineyards and the village of Duilhac. You get to the ruins via a zigzag mountainous road and then walking for about 20 minutes to the main entrance. I wouldn’t call the ruins dangerous but you certainly need to take care and pay attention especially when it is windy as some sections are fully exposed to the elements with a 50 metre sheer drop.
The highlight of this trip for me was definitely the castles, even if i was the designated driver for the day! There is something about old ruins that I love. These castles, while popular, are no where near as touristic as places like Carcassonne. I had a fantastic time. Yet it’s hard to believe this was 5 years ago (it feels a lot more recent)! Perhaps a return to the region is needed?