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France’s Cathar Country

The Aude , a “department” or district in the Languedoc region is Cathar Country, whose most notable towns are Narbonne and Carcassonne. Cathar was a Christian sect that flourished in western Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. It was considered heretical and was roundly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Carcassonne is one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe. Viewed at sunrise or sunset, the old cite is a sight to behold. Narbonne is a Roman city whose most famous sites include the Horreum, an ancient Roman storehouse, and a section of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road linking Italy and Spain which was uncovered in 1997.

The Roman city of Narbonne

Not-to-be- missed Sights in the Aude:

The city of Carcassonne has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The best preserved of European medieval cities, it has two parallel ramparts and many towers. The castle dates from the XIIth and XIIIth centuries. Inside the walls is an entire medieval city set up for modern tourists. Walk the cobbled streets and you will find several hotels, shops and restaurants. But it is still an interesting visit and the view from the outside is awe inspiring.

Cite of Carcassonne at night

Le château de Peyrepertuse (the castle of Peyrepertuse)
Built in the XI century on a huge rocky ridge, the skilled construction of this building makes it the most important and remarkable example of military architecture.

Le Château de Quéribus (the castle of Queribus)
Built on a steep rocky spur, at an altitude of 728 meters, this castle was the last bastion of resistance in the crusade against the Albigensians (Cathars) in 1255. There is a one hour visit of the castle, the south east tower and central square keep. The dungeon offers a superb view of the Mediterranean sea.

Chateau de Queribus

Abbaye de Fontfroide
In 1093, a Benedictine monastery was founded in Fontfroide. But, when Saint Bernard came to the Languedoc in 1145, he persuaded the Benedictine monks to join the order of the Cistercians. Soon thereafter construction of the church abbaye began. Abbaye de Fontfroid exemplifies the simplicity of Cistercian architecture.

Where to Stay near Carcassonne:

Hotel de la Cite 5-star Luxury
One of the most beautiful hotels in the world is the Hotel de la Cite located inside the city walls. This hotel offers rooms that either overlook a charming courtyard or Carcassonne itself.
Place Auguste-Pierre Pont
11000 Carcassonne

Hotellierie du Chateau de Floure 4-star
Just a short drive from Carcassonne, is the lovely, reasonably priced, Chateau de Floure. We have stayed here more than once and would love to return soon. It is a an ivy-covered chateau filled with lovingly decorated rooms. There is a pool and a fabulous restaurant. And you will appreciate the lush gardens and tennis courts.

Food Specialties of the Aude

Lauragais capon: Produced in the Lauragais, the capon is the most prized exhibit in all the ‘marchés au gras’ (markets dedicated to foie gras and fattened poultry) organised throughout the winter in the Aude region. These castrated fowl weigh around 3.5 kilos and are eaten as part of the Christmas festivities, replacing the traditional turkey.

Castelnaudary cassoulet: Made exclusively from Lauragais produce, cassoulet is traditionally cooked for more than two hours in a pottery dish called a ‘cassole’, made locally at Issel. During the cooking time in the oven, a thick skin forms over the top. This must be pushed into the mixture so that a second skin forms. This procedure is followed 7 times.

Cassoulet, a staple in the Aude region of France

Millas: This thick soup made of boiled sweetcorn, cooked in the juices made when preparing blood sausage, is traditionally made by the peasants in the Aude at pig-killing time. ‘Millas’ is eaten hot, fried in a pan, as an entrée with apples or as a dessert, fried and dusted with sugar.

Contemporary Aude provides visitors with rich cultural and historical links to the Roman empire as well as the 12th century Cathar movement. Don’t miss it!

Written by Terri Fogarty for

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