Shaken but not Stirred – Taking Shelter among the Cathar Castles

DSCF3171When entering France, I had planned to spend some time on the coast between Perpignan and Narbonne. However, Mother Nature has other plans. Despite the glorious sunshine, it is bitterly cold. That alone would not deter me, but the fierce north wind, averaging 50 km/hr does. My motorhome is not really designed for this weather. While being small and agile is good for driving, Trixie cannot really cope with the wild winds. My first choice of overnight stop, just outside the village of Leucate, with great views overlooking the etang, turns out to be too exposed and after 30 minutes and having checked the weather forecast, I realise I need to move.

About 10 kms north is the town of Port-la-Nouvelle, the third largest Mediterranean port in France and not really very pretty. But here I find an aire that is slightly more sheltered. It’s not a very good night, with the wind buffeting the motorhome and the noise from passing trains and fuel trucks, I get very little sleep and wake up feeling a bit seasick!

DSCF1829My only option is to give up the wide open, sunny, coastal plains and head for the mountains in the hope for a little more shelter. I take the main road from Perpignan to Foix, which follows the River Agly and the narrow gauge railway tracks for a little red tourist train, but there’s no train today. It only runs during the summer months and for a special Santa service at Christmas.

DSCF1870I stop in Maury, to pick up some information for the region, and discover that there are numerous trompe l’oeil paintings to be found along the village streets. I brave the wind and go in search of some. They are large and imaginative, and certainly liven up the dull concrete walls. A large thermometer hanging outside one of the houses reads 5 deg C, but with the wind chill it feels more like -5 deg C.


DSCF1885I continue towards Foix, in the shadow of some of the Cathar Castles. To the north are Queribus and Peyrepertuse, and to the south is Puilaurens. These are three of the castles known as the five sons of Carcassonne and I was lucky enough to visit them 7 years ago while leading a walking tour in the area. Further to the west is the ruined fortress of Montsegur, where the Cathars retreated from the Catholic French troops and withstood a long siege before surrendering and being burned to death after refusing to renounce their faith. Some believe that a secret treasure was smuggled out of the castle at that time and hidden in the nearby mountains. Treasure hunters have scoured the area for years, hoping to find it, including German Otto Rahn who visited Montsegur in 1929 and linked it with the Holy Grail.


Maybe the real treasure is the wealth of history to be found in the region and perhaps the publication of the hundreds of books about the local mysteries.



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