Few years ago Gavin and I spent a week in France at the cottage his parent’s were holidaying in every autumn. The gite where we stayed was located on top of a small hill, practically in the middle of nowhere, with panoramic views of the rolling Tarn countryside. The drive from the nearest airport, Girona, which is actually in Spain, goes through the Cathar country of the Languedoc region of France. It is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt territories of France but has a rather tumultuous past. Cathars were originally a Christian sect that flourished in Western Europe in the 13th century, but they were condemned as heretics by the Roman Catholic Church. After relentless persecution they were eradicated by the 14th century, however the Languedoc region is still a reminder of these people and has many ruins of Cathar castles and churches, the most popular of which being, undoubtedly, the famous walled city of Carcassonne .
On our drive to the gite we stopped to look at another famous Cathar castle, Chateau de Peyrepetuse, which literally means “pierced rock” – and when you look at it you realize why. It is perched on a steep crag and built as a defence fortress on the border between Spain and France. The views you get when you climb to the top of the fort are unbeatable. A detour to this castle is definitely worth your while if you are in this region.
We spent the first few days in the cottage just taking in the views and living life in the slow lane. We would wake up, have a breakfast of fresh croissants from the nearest boulangerie and spend the rest of the day under the blissful sun; swimming, lazing around in the vast grounds outside the cottage or going for strolls in the farm. Every now and then, Gavin would cajole me into playing the French game of “Boules” which, by the way, I am completely rubbish at and therefore dislike playing, Gavin has obviously has had much more practice due to his regular visits to France.
Another note worth mentioning is the elaborate lunches that French indulge in every day of the week. No wonder they smirk at sandwiches that pass as a sorry excuse for lunch for most office-goers back home. No, sir, nothing short of four course meal, with a glass of the finest local wine, will do if you are in the French territory. Since I was in the company of regular French holidaymakers I was shown how to wine and dine the French way which, by the way, I was only too pleased to do 🙂
The week was not all about food though. Some days we were driven through the stunning Averyon gorges by my in-laws to be to see some of the “les plus beaux villages” of France. The one I can highly recommend is the stunning medieval village of Najac. It has a long steep street that runs through the village and takes you to a castle built on top of a ridge. The village has lovely stone and timber houses, some with terraces, which are beautifully decorated with baskets of plants and blooming flowers hanging from their windows. At lunch time it felt like the whole town had spilt outside with people sitting on the patio of quaint cafes sipping coffee. Only France can make everything look so elegant and romantic.
One morning we decided to be more adventurous and stretch our legs by going for a hike in the mountain ranges of Ariege Midi Pyrenees, which is a short drive away from where we were staying. We left early in the morning and drove through the magnificent countryside, filled with deep gorges and thick forests, until we arrived very close to Spain in a town called Casteil, in Southern France. From there we walked on a scenic mountain path, past the 10th century Romanesque monastery of St-Martin-du-Canigou, and rambled through the narrow ridges of the Pyrenees. It was a really pleasant walk that can be easily undertaken in a day, if you are in or near Perpignan.
As always, here are some photos to inspire you: