Issel - Languedoc Roussillon, South of France

Issel

Issel on the hill where once a castle stood
Issel on the hill where once a castle stood
The village pond near to the 'Porte d'Aval once a part of the moat for the medieval castle.
The village pond near to the 'Porte d'Aval once a part of the moat for the medieval castle.
An example of a piece of pottery from the village, this design can be found all around the village indicating the street names.
An example of a piece of pottery from the village, this design can be found all around the village indicating the street names.

Cassole

The traditional shape of a Cassole
The traditional shape of a Cassole

Issel a village with history

Situated at the top of a hill in the Pays de Lauragais and South West of the 'Montagne Noire', Issel is a pretty little village with a population of around 500 people.

From the village on a clear day there is an impressive view of the Pyrenees. To the west of the village lies a valley called 'Le Glande' and to the north is the valley called 'l'Argentouire' through which the river Argentouire runs. Issel is about an hour and a half from the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean coast and only about 40 minutes from the Black Mountains national park.

Dating back to the medieval period the centre of the village used to be occupied by a primitive castle called the 'L'Hort Grand' which was the tallest building in the village and was surrounded by a moat, sadly no longer there. The village was once thought to be home to one of the Knights Templar so there is a good chance that the castle would have been the residence in question, something I really would like to verify.

The newer part of the village, separate to the castle, has the circular shape typical of many of the fortified villages in the region, which the French refer to as a 'village circulade'.

Around the 14th century, an Italian called 'Jean Gabalda' establish and launched a pottery in the village that drew on the clay soil surrounding the village as a natural resource for the production of the products manufactured in the pottery. In it's heyday during the 19th century the pottery employed around 72 people.

The famous haricot bean based 'cassoulet' which is the premier food dish of Castelnaudary was not considered to be truly authentic unless it was cooked in one of the clay dishes that came from the Issel pottery.

A little difficult to be authentic these days as the pottery ceased to operate a little before the 2nd world war, but there have been one or two other potteries that have taken up the mantle to produce the distinctively shaped clay pot used for cooking cassoulet.

Of course if you go cycling on the Canal du Midi between Castelnaudary and Segala, you will find the 'Poterie Not' which is the last surviving pottery from the 19th century industry that was thriving in Castelnaudary and the surrounding area back then. They will supply you with a cassole and that is about as authentic as you can get these days. Be nice to give a 200 year old business a little bit of support as well.


Cassoulet, Castelnaudary Style

A cassoulet, Castelnaudary style. Courtesy of Wikipedia and photographed by ignis
A cassoulet, Castelnaudary style. Courtesy of Wikipedia and photographed by ignis

Visiting Issel

Although the castle is no more there is still plenty of the original architecture from the medieval period and you can enter the village through the splendid 'Porte d'Aval' which leads to the centre of the village named after the original castle and is called 'La Place de l'Hort Grand'.

The building attached to the door of Aval is called the 'Conciergerie' (caretakers lodge) and still has some original parts from the medieval period preserved in the current house. There are also some remants of the original moat that surrounded the castle close to these buildings.

The main street of the village is named after the pottery and is called the 'Rue des Potiers', just off which you can find the traditional church dedicated to the Virgin Mary which has a walled belfry that points North West and Southeast and dates back to the 13th century.

It is believed that the church suffered serious damage at the end of the 16th century but was later restored around 1602. Today the chuch has undergone a total restoration and is a well preserved and maintained example of the walled belfry style of chuch that can be found across the region. You will notice in the photographs that there are 5 bell chambers in the belfry but only one is actually used.

In addition to the village itself there are many routes and walks that can be taken from the village and into the woods where you can find plenty of evidence of the red soil that was traditionally used by the pottery. Plus a number of wonderful views that can be seen from the higher parts of the village or surrounding countryside.

The gite we operate just on the outskirts of the village is available as self catering accommodation and you can find more details about the gite and the location by visiting the web site French Holidays Aude. Le Moulin is on one of 2 sites where you can find historic mills, Le Moulin was a water mill and dates back 300 years or so, there is also a former windmill at the top of the hill called Le Moulin a Vent.

The next village along from Issel is St Papoul which is famous for its abbey from the Cathar period and is only about 5 minutes drive from Issel.

After St Papoul you can head to Saissac and its famous chateau for a visit and if you want to go a little further then you can head off to Carcassonne from Saissac via Montolieu village du livre (village of books) and turn into a bit of a day out.

The easiest way of seeing small villages like Issel, which are a bit off the beaten track, is by using a car. Driving to Europe is relatively easy to do these days however, and France is no exception. You can hop on a ferry to cross the channel or you can hire a car when you get here and the roads, compared to the UK, are so quiet they shouldn't really pose a problem.


A Lovely Holiday Apartment Just Outside Issel for Up to 9 People

Photographs in and around Issel

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The churchPorte d'AvalThe church from the other sideOpen gateThrough the trees
The church
The church
Porte d'Aval
Porte d'Aval
The church from the other side
The church from the other side
Open gate
Open gate
Through the trees
Through the trees

Amusing Tale of Ex-Pat Life in the South of France

The Happy Hooker: Expat Intrigue - Living with the Enemy in Deepest France
The Happy Hooker: Expat Intrigue - Living with the Enemy in Deepest France

The 'Happy Hooker' initially conjures up completely the wrong impression, because it is actually about ex-pat life in the South of France. A highly amusing take on the activities of both the local community and ex-pat infiltrators in a small French village. Local politics are rife as the village community go about their daily routines and try to influence exactly how life works in their French idyll versus the way they would like it to work. The results are sometimes spectacular successes, as the cunning plans unfold, but more often there are deep sighs of resignation as they accept their fate. Well worth a read, especially if you fancy the ex-pat life yourself.

The author Jonathan Veale actually lives in Verdun which is about two villages away.

 

Verdun - Lauragais a typical village of the region

Country walks and spectacular views

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking over Issel to the PyreneesCountry walk to IsselWoods around IsselBetween Issel and LabecedeA walk in the woodsLe Moulin a VentSunflower fields around IsselWalking in the farmers fieldsA field away from Le Moulin de l'ArgentouireA few of the localsAn evening stroll at sunsetAn evening stroll at sunset
Looking over Issel to the Pyrenees
Looking over Issel to the Pyrenees
Country walk to Issel
Country walk to Issel
Woods around Issel
Woods around Issel
Between Issel and Labecede
Between Issel and Labecede
A walk in the woods
A walk in the woods
Le Moulin a Vent
Le Moulin a Vent
Sunflower fields around Issel
Sunflower fields around Issel
Walking in the farmers fields
Walking in the farmers fields
A field away from Le Moulin de l'Argentouire
A field away from Le Moulin de l'Argentouire
A few of the locals
A few of the locals | Source
An evening stroll at sunset
An evening stroll at sunset
An evening stroll at sunset
An evening stroll at sunset

More by this Author


Let us know your thought on Issel. 8 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Wow, what a beautiful spot! Am going to email this hub to some Francophiles. Loved the photos and the youtube video. Thumbs up!!!


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France Author

Hi Peggy, it really is a lovely place and plenty more to see in this region generally. Thanks for the comment.


Kirsty 7 years ago

I have heard about 'cassoulet' from friends and it is supposed to be really nice but very filling so if I ever have one I am going to make sure I am really hungry.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Brian

Such a beautiful place. I'm very envious of you living in such a gorgeous part of France. Reading this reminds me of eating Cassoulet in a restaurant in the old town of Carcassonne twenty or so years ago. I stayed within the city walls at Hotel des Remparts, and I remember that there were medieval style buskers performing on the streets. This whole area is rich in character and steeped in history. A wonderful place.


anjalichugh profile image

anjalichugh 7 years ago from New York

Hi Brian! This looks like a mini Wikipedia on France. I hope to visit this beautiful and much talked about place in next couple of years. Great pics and video.


packerpack profile image

packerpack 7 years ago from India, Calcutta

Good description and obviously good Hub. You know what I am in office now reading your Hub (finished my work a bit fast today) and when I saw that sunflower field photo that you have here it took my heart away. I just reminded my of my own village. I am feeling so nostalgic now. I liked it Brian!


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France Author

Really appreciate your comments, I enjoy writing about and sharing this lovely part of France with others, there is so much to discover here and as I do putting the information into a hub seems such a natural option for sharing the information especially when people like yourselves take time to provide feedback and let me into your thoughts on what the hub means to you. Thanks


ISSEL 3 years ago

Issel is known to be a village potter behind the flat tradionnel Chaurien (Castelnaudary capita), but also for its famous medieval festival held on Pentecost Sundayment...

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