A June 2003 trip
to Languedoc Roussillon by artsnletters
Quote: Languedoc, in southwestern Mediterranean France, is a region of arid, dramatic scenery and tragic medieval history. I spent an unforgettable day hiking to the ruined hilltop Cathar castles for a look down at the rugged landscape and back through the ages.
The name Languedoc comes from the language of the medieval Occitans, where the word for "yes" was oc, langue d’oc, as opposed to the northern langue d’oïl, where the word for "yes" was oïl (later oui). In the Middle Ages, Languedoc, though nominally a collection of fiefdoms owing allegiance to the King of France, really ran its own show. Retaining ties to its ancient Roman heritage, it was wealthier and in many ways more advanced than much of contemporary northern France. By the end of the bloody 13th-century Albigensian crusades, when the puritanical Cathar sect of Christians was viciously eradicated, however, the region had come firmly under the control of the King.
A memorable day trip from Carcassonne will let you take in a couple of dramatic ruined hilltop castles near Perpignan, with a picnic break between. The smaller castle, Queribus, looms above a straight, taxing uphill path, but in exchange for its less dramatic setting, it owns the more intriguing interior. The much larger Peyrepertuse hides at the end of a delightful route winding among trees, rocks, and wildflowers, but it is less restored and somewhat harder to make sense of. Each has its charms. Visit both!
Narbonne, located near the coast along the A9 autoroute east of Carcassonne, is a mid-sized city with a very different history. Founded by the ubiquitous Romans, abandoned to the barbarian Visigoths with the collapse of the empire, and rebuilt into a bustling city in the Middle Ages, it features an attractive church and historic quarter, and a couple interesting museums, all of which can easily be seen in a brief visit.
During my visit to Languedoc, I stayed in Carcassonne, a stunning, fortified medieval city that can be overrun with tourists by day but makes a charming, historic, and peaceful home base in the early morning and late in the day. My journal The Medieval Walls of Carcassonne gives details on what to see and where to stay in Carcassonne.
The hike to Queribus is short but steep. The path to Peyrepertuse is less steep but longer and has quite rocky footing – good walking shoes are necessary. You needn’t be fit for either hike if you allow time to rest.
Narbonne is just off the autoroute; follow signs to "Centre" and park in a garage when you see the cathedral. Driving around and around downtown, confused by rampant road construction, I passed the train station, a very short walk from the same cathedral. If you can, come by train!