Sightseeing South of France
Collioure, a Catalan port close to the Spanish Border
The following tour goes through the Languedoc-Roussillion region of Southern France. It is for the wine buff, the historians interested in the Cathar period and for simple admirers of wonderful scenery. For sightseeing attractions in the South of France, it doesn't get any better than this and this route is well worth a visit.
The journey starts at Carcassonne where you can get on the A61 'peage' heading towards Narbonne. The first port of call is approximately an hour and a half away and is called Collioure situated just south of Perpignan. To get there you pick up the A9 south off the A61 as you travel towards Narbonne, leave the A9 near Le Boulou and take the D618 towards Argeles then the D2 and finally the D114 which goes right into Collioure.
The reason for taking the motorway is because speed is of the essence and if you set off around 9.30 to 10.00 a.m. You will be arriving in Collioure at a very convenient time to take a delicious lunch at one of the seafood restaurants that overlook the little pebble beach next to the port.
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Collioure and nearby coastlineClick thumbnail to view full-size
Languedoc Roussillon Guide Books
First Stop Collioure
Now I had better warn you parking won't be easy Collioure is a little gem of a place and the word is out so be prepared to have to tour around a bit to get parked. The months of July and August bring hoards of visitors and long lines of traffic so beware.
Matisse "discovered" the town in 1905 and because of the clarity of light from the sun combined with the blue of the sky and sea, he managed to persuade other painters such as Dufy, Dali and Picasso to join him, the artist studio theme remains to this day and you will find lots of budding painters and artists studios throughout the town.
Art of all types is prevalent in and around Collioure, its close neighbor Port Vendres also has a few new artists appearing. One I particularly like is Metalmorphosis, a site that offers recycled objects, primarily scrap metal, that have been upcycled into modern sculptures. You may be surprised at just how good these sculptures are. I know I was.
The harbor is full of "working" fishing boats, as well as boats dedicated to coastal tours, well worth taking for an hour and a half or so if you can spare the time.
There are beaches which seemed quite popular despite having pebbles rather than sand and perfect to relax on for an hour after lunch, then you can visit the Chateau Royal, built by the Knights Templar in the 13th century, take one of the boat trips or just wander through the quirky little streets browsing in the shops or buying a piece of art from one of the many studio outlets, Don't dwell too long though there is still a long way to go.
Fitou, The Oldest of the Languedoc-Rousillion AOC Wine Regions
You now need to head back to the A9 and aim for Fitou going North, you will see it signposted from the motorway.
Fitou is wine producing country and you will find a few degustations where you can taste the local wine (driver can't swallow remember) so it' worth a quick stopover, particularly as Fitou is the oldest Languedoc-Roussillion AOC wine.
Fitou is very close to Port la Nouvelle and the island of the Sainte Lucie which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful sites on the Mediterranean, the beaches of La Frangui and La Palme are also close by if you fancy a bit more beach time. Fitou also has it's own chateau or medieval castle which was built in the 10th century
When you have finished at Fitou you need to back track a little and head south again towards Rivesaltes where you can pick up the D117 to Espira-de-l'Agly and eventually Quillan.
Through Cathar country and past the Cathar Fortresses
Once on the D117 you can stay on it all the way to Quillan, at the start you will be driving through wine country and will be amazed by the endless rows of grape vines, it does enter your mind as to who will drink all this wine, but then I wouldn't mind having a little go myself.
A nice place to do a bit of wine tasting if you fancy it and have time for a little detour is the Chateau de Caladroy which is a little bit south of Estagel
The scene changes, as you travel along, to that of mountains and Cathar fortresses with wonderful scenery and lots of picnic places to stop in, pretty typical of holiday places in the South of France.
Then the road eventually starts to run alongside the fast flowing River Agly which has carved a way through the rock, at some points to a depth of 300m, forming the Gorge de Galamus.
You can see where man has had to do some rock carving as well in places to make the road high enough for the 'Camions' to get through.
You will pass through Saint Paul-de- Fenouillet, Caudies de Fenouilledes and Saint Martin Lys passing very close to the Chateau de Queribus and the Chateau de Peyrepertuse.
It's worth noting here, that if you want to go through the Gorge de Galamus, then you need to turn off at Saint Paul de Fenouillet and go into the mountains. After you have passed through the Gorge de Galamus you can either turn right to find Peyrepertuse and Queribus or turn left for Bugarach and on to Rennes le Chateau.
Puilauren Sits Above the Town - On Route to Quillan and Esperaza Possibly Via The Magic Mountain, The Pic de Bugarach
Quillan is a shoe making centre and sort of working town, it sits just south of Esperaza via the D118 (where they found some pretty cool dinosaurs eggs which are now on display at Dinosauria. Esperaza is also quite well known for making hats at the beginning of the 20th century and you will also find a museum dedicated to hat making right next to Dinosauria, so you can pay your money and take your choice.
After Esperaza you will come into Couiza (make a note of this place if you fancy some white water rafting at some point in your holiday). Couiza is where you will find the road up to Rennes le Chateau one of the most famous Cathar fortresses, there are only a couple of ways up and down and the main one is from Couiza but it is well worth it just for the views.
The other way to Rennes le Chateau is off the road that runs out of Bugarach (on the D14 route) which you end up on after exiting the Gorge de Galamus and going around Bugarach back towards Rennes le Baines , which incidentally is a fabulous drive.
But beware, there are stories of the world coming to and end on the 21st of December 2012 and that the only place to survive this strange event is, you guessed it, the Pic de Bugarach. You can find the full story of this anticipated end of the world at Bugarach via this link.
In a nutshell, the only way to survive the end of the world event is to camp out on the 'Magic Mountain' and get airlifted to safety by aliens. Well I suppose you never know, stranger things have happened? Well actually, NO, they haven't really, have they, this is probably about as strange as it gets.
Personally I just thought it was a lovely picturesque place, which incidentally you can see from the walks off our gite in Issel.
French History Books - The Lauragais Story
Living so close to Castelnaudary, the capital of the Lauragais, this French history book really grabbed my attention. A chance to find out about and understand the history of the region, admittedly in English, where we live. It really is a chequered history, the region has had more than its fair share of heartache and misery, but has risen to be one of the most important parts of France. Toulouse is the centre of aerospace and the home of Airbus, but in days gone by it was wheat and wode that were the main generators of wealth in the region and where the funding for many ch�teaus was found.
A fascinating insight into the complete history of the Lauragais region in the South of France, from Toulouse to Castelnaudary. Includes the Cathar persecution by Simon De Montfort, the German occupation and much much more. There was a lot of action in the Lauragais over many centuries and if you ever visit this region, this book will really inform you of its past, where money was made and how lives were lost.
Getting to Rennes le Chateau
Mountain road on route to Quillan
Couiza, gateway to Rennes le Chateau
As well as Couiza being the gateway to Rennes le Chateau you can take the D613 from here and visit Rennes les Bains where you will find the chlorine and calcium hot water spas (the name gives it away) so you can treat the rheumatism you got from sitting in the car too long. Arques is not too much further along this route, this is where you will find that there are still a few Cathars and there is an exhibition in the town centre about the Cathar history in the Roche house.
Alternatively you can head up the D118 towards Limoux and Carcassonne and back into wine country. Limoux plays host to the sparkling white wine credited with being the oldest bubbly in the world, dated from around 1531.
You will also pass through the lovely Alet-le Baines on route to Limoux which is another spa town, never have guessed would you.
From Limoux you are nearly back where you started and can head home, there are plenty of other lovely places in the area including Fanjeaux, another Cathar stronghold, which you will see if you are heading towards Castelnaudary. Fanjeaux perches high on a hill and provides some more wonderful views and a restaurant or two if you don't fancy cooking.
Of course Carcassonne itself is a wonderful city and La Cite it's famous medieval fortified town has plenty of restaurants where you can go to eat and relax before heading off to find your bed, because after this you are going to need a good nights sleep.
We run a gite about 40 minutes from Carcassonne which you can find out about by visiting our website French Holidays Aude, the website also has a travel advice section to help you make all your travel arrangements and a travel shop where you can purchase from a range of products to accessorise your holiday.
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