Destinations Europe France

Languedoc-Roussillon: Blast from the Past

Cité de Carcassonne

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).

House in Paraza village in Languedoc-Roussillon

House in Paraza village in Languedoc-Roussillon

 

Balcony view - a few beers where consumed here

Balcony view – a few beers where consumed here

 

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!

 

Arènes de Nîmes

Arènes de Nîmes

 

Arènes de Nîmes

Arènes de Nîmes

 

Outside the arena

Outside the arena

 

Carcassone

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.

 

Cité de Carcassonne

Cité de Carcassonne

 

On top of the castle walls

On top of the castle walls

 

Walking around the exterior wall

Walking around the exterior wall

 

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.

 

Canal du Midi boat trip

Canal du Midi boat trip

 

Narrow bridges on the canal

Narrow bridges on the canal

 

Occitan cross on boat

Occitan cross on boat

 

Market stall at one of the locks

Market stall at one of the locks

 

Cathar Castles

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.

 

Château de Peyrepertuse

Château de Peyrepertuse

 

Château de Peyrepertuse

Château de Peyrepertuse

 

The ruins from a distance

The ruins from a distance

 

Château de Quéribus

Château de Quéribus

 

 

Approaching the castle remains

Approaching the castle remains

 

Château de Quéribus from a distance

Château de Quéribus from a distance

 

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?

 

Languedoc-Roussillon Further Reading:

Chateau de Queribus

Chateau de Peyrepertuse

Arena de Nimes

Great Languedoc tourism site with lots of information on villages, beaches etc..

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