The Languedoc-Roussillon region, on the edge of the Pyrenees and 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, it’s aim to eradicate the Cathar heresy. It’s rich, turbulent history is still felt today as you encounter ruin after ruin and numerous castles as you trace the tragic and mystical lives of the Cathars.
Amazing scenery is almost common place, as one follows the Tour de France, run annually through the Languedoc and on occasions, Chalabre.
The reminders of their heartbreaking history are best seen in the medieval UNESCO heritage sited town of Carcassonne. It boasts an incredible fifty-two towers and two enormous ramparts. It is the second most visited tourist destination in France, after the Eiffel tower.
One of the most spectacular and one of the finest examples of Cathar fortresses is Peyrepertuse, with its 2.5km of ramparts. Nearby is the picturesque village of Cucugnan, enhanced by it’s setting in the vinyards and with it’s citadel, Queribus, the tragic last stand of the brave Cathars, falling into the hands of the crusaders, the Albigensians, in 1255.
The Black Mountains to the north reach is the start of the Massive Central. At a height of 1210m its regarded as a challenge for those hikers or cyclists, with an adventurous spirit. Deep valleys and clean flowing, trout filled rivers are scattered throughout the area, and it abounds in edible mushrooms throughout the year. The highest point, Pic du Nore, on a clear day, gives a splendid view of the Pyrenees to the south and the Mediterranean to the East
Fifty-six km away, is the Grotte de Lombrives, Europes largest cave system. 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 it’s 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, 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 Chemin Vert 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.
With three combined ski areas and seventy-five km of terrain, “Ax" has twenty percent advanced skiing, and is a seventy minute drive. 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. Also Andorra has three resorts, and 300 km of all terrain skiing. In comparing the ski fields here to the Alps the runs are shorter but the Pyrenees are steeper, so 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 Narbonne Narbona. Today you can still see the Roman influence is 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 that buy their produce directly from the market, Fine Wine Tours offer a day tour to the market, where Angus will introduce you to his friends the stall holders in the market
Mirepoix, is a small town of 3100 permanent inhabitants. It's situated fifteen minutes from Chalabre and is a must visit. Its name was first mentioned in the 10th century in a charter granted to the inhabitants by the count of Foix Raymond Roger and is thought to have celtic origins. During the crusade against the Albigensians (Cathares) in 1209, Simon de Montfort took the feudal Château and the family, who had strong links to catharism, was dispossessed. Simon de Montfort gave it to his loyal lieutenant Guy de Levis who became Marchécal de Mirepoix. Mirepoix also holds one of the best markets in the region on Monday mornings, which is great because almost everywhere else is closed on a Monday! All of the produce comes from local farmers and Artisans, which includes local cheeses and yogurts, wild mushrooms from the local forests, fresh poultry, local meats and pates. After the Market there are some great restaurants to sample the local cuisine, Bon Appetit!