Issel - Languedoc Roussillon, South of France
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
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 IsselClick thumbnail to view full-size
Amusing Tale of Ex-Pat Life in the South of 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 viewsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Rough Guide to Languedoc Roussillon
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