aude (11)
region: languedoc-roussillon

hidden hamlets huddled in hollows


The abiding impression of Aude is of never-ending vineyards, for this is the land of Corbières, Minervois, Fitou and the delightful bubbly known as Blanquette de Limoux.


In recent times, it has become the focus of attention dwelling on the history of a persecuted religious sect known as the Cathars; indeed, ‘Le Pay Cathare’ and the numerous ‘Routes du Pay Cathare’ are actively promoted by the local tourist offices. Dan Brown instigated a landslide of interest through the Da Vinci Code, but it is arguably Kate Mosse’s award-winning Labyrinth and its sequels, Sepulchre and Citadel that make the history of this fabled land of troubadours, knights and blaggards come superbly and imaginatively alive.



The département of Aude is sub-divided into five slightly amorphous regions. Facing out onto the Mediterranean is the Pays de la Narbonnaise, the littoral, a long sandy stretch of coastline backed by large lagoons and fronted by popular, modern holiday resorts like Narbonne-Plage and Gruissan. The focal centre here is undoubtedly Narbonne itself, a very easy-going and bright city at the heart of the wine-producing business. In its time, it has seen a Roman presence – parts of the Via Domitia are visible in the square in front of the Hotel de Ville – and a Visigoth dynasty. But the charm of the River Robine lined with mini-cruisers, the narrow streets and elegant boulevards make Narbonne a most agreeable and laid-back place.



Although Aude is undoubtedly the setting for some of the most enjoyable wines produced in France, there is, of course, much more to the place. Mountains in the north; mountains in the south; the Mediterranean to the east, and a superb canal driven right through its middle. Throw in the superb heritage, the history, the mysteries and intrigue, the puckered landscape like crumpled paper, the heady scent of broom, sweet cicely and thyme, the villages and hamlets tucked neatly into hillsides, and Aude provides you with a vastly different perspective on all the good things of life in France.

And when the sun shines (and even if it doesn’t), there is no more relaxing place to wile away hours, days, weeks…a lifetime, maybe.



HIGHLIGHTS

The highlights of the department of Aude are many, and far flung. There is no greater delight than simply driving around the winding country lanes into the foothills of the Pyrenees, passing vineyards shoe-horned into the tiniest plots, or suddenly discovering some hidden village where time is something for others to worry about.

Almost at the centre of the département lies the two-tiered city of Carcassonne, while Gruissan, on the coast, is something of an odd-ball. But there is no escaping the evidence that this used to be a stronghold of the Cathar faith. Quéribus, on the border with Pyrénées-Orientales, is accessible by a short and easy walk, while, within viewing distance, the much more complex Peyrepertuse blends so closely with the rocky upthrust on which it stands as to be indistinguishable from it at a distance.

Between the two lie the 10th-century perched village of Cucugnan with its neat 17th-century windmill, and the rather less compact medieval village Duilhac, both marvels of culture and architecture.

Further west lies a small, seemingly innocuous village, Rennes-le-Chateau. The village is a delight, and a most pleasant place to mooch around, but, perhaps surprisingly, given its modest size, this is a place with international renown, and the centre of a great mystery.




Rennes-le-Chateau

A place with international renown


The extreme western part of Aude centres of the town of Castelnaudary, arguably the cassoulet kingdom of the world, while the final segment of Aude’s jigsaw is the Pays Carcassonnais, the region of Minervois wines.




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TOURIST INFORMATION

Comité Départemental du Tourisme de l’Aude Chemin du Moulin de la Seigne, 11855 Carcassonne.
Tel: 04 68 11 66 00
www.audetourisme.com.



read more about aude in the author's 'aspects de la vie franÇaise'