Ten Recommended Excursions by Car
Cathar Fortresses and the Gorge de Galamus.Day trip. Pic-nic lunch or restaurant en route.
Choosing the scenic country roads on your way out, your eyes will discover the wide vineyards of the region they occupy the biggest part of the flat country and stretch over the foot-hills of the next mountain range, Lees Corbières. Going through a number of small, old villages, please do not miss the wine cave (Coopérative) in the Moorish founded town of Maury. Their wine (red and sweet) is famous in the region and has obtained many distinctions in wine contests. You can ask for a taste - both the red and the sweet wines are sold directly from the casks and very good value for money!!
From Maury go through St. Paul de Fenouillet (follow the signs for the gorge) and continue into the mountains to Gorge de Galamus. At this point you will have noticed the abrupt change in nature-the soft slopes have transformed into rugged, gray cliffs and only the most hardy, stubborn vegetation survive in the sparse grabble, vines obviously belonging to this category. But what can you expect with 30 meters long roots......
The Gorges de Galamus never fail to impress the visitor and the narrow road winding through, glued at the steep side only allows one car at the time. Safely arrived on the other side, it is easy to find a sunny/shady spot for a pic-nic lunch-if you prefer a restaurant meal, be sure to arrive between 12 and 14 hours as the French are quite specific with their meal hours!
After lunch (bon appetit)! the next highlight on the trip is Peyrepertuse, the first of the two Cathar fortresses to be visited. The immense fortress is perched along the very top of the mountains, a typical building site for the Cathars. And who were they? Also called the "Albigeois" as they had a certain tie to the town of Albi (also known for the artist Toulouse-Lautrec museum), the Cathars brought their religion, Catharism, from central Europe to the Languedoc-Roussillon and soon occupied the region. Their religion, which did not recognize the doctrines of the Pope, was widely accepted here, thus becoming a threat to the established Catholic Church during the 13th century. This resulted in a long, bloody war between the Christians and the Heretics, the latter falling victim to the Inquisition and slain.
At the feet of Mount Montségur the last 207 Cathars finally surrendered after a long siege, descending the mountainside onto a gigantic pyre - their peaceful surrender on the 16th March 1244 put an end to years of brutality and religious supression.
(Books on the subject are easily available in all bookstores and souvenir shops). Chateau de Quéribus is as impressive as that of Peyrepertuse, situated like an eagle's nest and very well restored. Both fortresses are open to the public, but do not bring children up to Quéribus on a windy day as the Chateau is rather exposed. Upon returning to our civilization, you can vary the trip by passing Estagel-Millas-Thuir-Le Boulou.
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