DISCOVER the region from the Château
The Languedoc-Roussillon, on the edge of the Pyrenees between the Aude and the Ariege rivers, is a region marked by the mystic of the Cathar history that resounded through the mountains in the 13th Century. It was here that the only crusade took place on European soil in 1209, its aim to eradicate the Cathar heresy. This rich, turbulent history is still felt today as you encounter ruin after ruin and numerous castles that trace the tragic and mystical lives of the Cathars.
Stunning scenery becomes almost common place as one follows the route of the Tour de France, which runs annually through the Languedoc and on occasion, Chalabre or nearby villages.
The Bastide of Mirepoix, a small town of 3100 permanent inhabitants, is situated fifteen minutes from Chalabre and is a must visit. Although thought to have Celtic origins, its name was first mentioned in the 10th century in a charter granted to the inhabitants by the Count of Foix, It was rebuilt in the 13th century after a devastating flood but has preserved a 14th-century fortified gate and a French Gothic-style cathedral. Within its quaint market square surrounded by beautiful half-timbered houses, shops and cafe, the village hosts one of the best markets in the region on Monday mornings, as well as various festivals throughout the year. All of the produce comes from local farmers and artisans, including local cheeses, yogurt, wild mushrooms from the local forests, fresh poultry, local meats and patés. After the visiting the market, one can find some great restaurants to sample the local cuisine, Bon Appetit!
In the beautiful city of Carcassonne we find La Cité Médiévale. This massive citadel is a well-known UNESCO heritage site, boasting an incredible fifty-two towers and two enormous ramparts. It is the second most visited tourist destination in France, after the Eiffel tower.
Carcassonne has become a popular European hub with an airport and train station that provide travel to the UK and other European cities.
Cathar Castles – Foix to Perpignan
The city of Foix is dominated by one of the most important Cathar castles, known as the center of the Cathars. Heading east towards Perpignan, one finds the landmark of Montsegur, marked historically as one of the Cathars’ last stronghold, which fell after 10 months of siege in 1244. One of the most spectacular and finest examples of Cathar fortresses is Peyrepertuse, with its 2.5km of ramparts. Nearby is the picturesque village of Cucugnan, enhanced by its setting in the vineyards and with its citadel, Queribus. Here was the tragic last stand of the brave Cathars, before falling into the hands of the crusaders, the Albigensians, in 1255. One could spend the entire week studying the history of the Cathars and visiting the many ruins, castles and fortresses still standing.
Andorra & Ax-les-Thermes
With three combined ski areas and seventy-five km of terrain, “Ax” has twenty percent advanced skiing, and is a seventy minute drive away. It is an ancient thermal spa town, voted the top thermal spa in the Ariege/Pyrenees. Andorra, an independent principality nestled between France and Spain, is just one hundred and thirteen km away. It has a staggering thousand years of history, and is a whole country renowned for its duty free shopping. Andorra also has three resorts with 300 km of all terrain skiing. In comparing the ski fields here to the Alps, the runs are shorter but the Pyrenees are steeper, requiring more skill. There are more black level runs in the Pyrenees than in the Alps while the cost is considerably cheaper for families.
Narbonne was established as the first Roman capital in 186 AD by none other than Julius Caesar, who had constructed a Roman road Dominata stretching from the Alps to Narbonne and into Spain, with Caesar naming the city Narbona. Today you can still see the Roman influence in this lively Mediterranean town. Narbonne boasts the best covered food market in the region. Open every day in the morning almost all year round, it is full of stalls of locally produced cheeses and charcuterie, local olives & vegetables, not forgetting locally caught fresh fish from the Port Nouvelles down the coast from the town. Narbonne also has great shopping and excellent restaurants with fresh produce coming directly from the market.
Caves and Prehistoric Sites
Fifty-six km away, is the Grotte de Lombrives, Europes largest cave system and one of many prehistoric sites in the region. It is thirty-nine km long, and is close by the amazing Niaux caves, with their stunning Paleolithic drawings and the awe inspiring Chasm of Cabrespine, with it’s impressive display of crystals and other limestone rock formations. It is the largest in Europe and known throughout the world for its mineral wealth.
Just over five km from Chalabre, is Lac Montbel, one of the region’s most famous and beautiful lakes. Sailing, swimming and other water sport facilities dot the shoreline of this pristine, man-made, 570 hectare lake, which was voted as having the best inland beaches in the Ariege and Aude. Also close to the lake and five minutes from the Château is the old disused railway line the Voie Verte (the green way) a gorgeous pathway covering forty km, with Chalabre at its centre. It is ideal for walks, mountain biking, horse riding or picnics near the trout filled flowing streams.