Saturday, 2 July 2011


Walking up to the castle

In the land of the Cathars, there are ruins of Cathar castles dating back to 13th Century, perched high on vertiginous peaks, dotted all along what was until 1659, the border with Spain.  Driving past Cucugnan, towards the little village of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, we parked up at an aire and walked the remaining couple of miles through pineapple-scented broom, and past a profusion of wild flowers, dianthus, carnation, cornflowers, camomile and dozens of others.

The previous night had been full of lightning, thunder and pouring rain, oh and high winds!  It was a relief to waken to a half-decent day!  As we picked our way through the boxwood, towards the entrance to the castle, it became much cooler and cloudier, so the tour around the castle wasn’t as relaxed as it might have been.  A stunning castle which rambles along up the rock summits.  Must have been tortuous to build. The views over the surrounding countryside, vineyards of the Pays d’Oc, across to the intriguing castle of Queribus, the last Cathar stronghold to fall, and far into the distance to Perpignan and the sea, make you appreciate the motivation behind building these fortifications!

A plat du jour at a local tavern (11euros each), and we were off north and east towards the Rhone Valley.  We overnighted at a great spacious aire at Chusclan, just off the motorway near Nimes.  Great spot, with water, individually-shaded bays, with picnic tables, but sadly no toilets!

Within 5mins of parking up, our French “neighbours” came across and asked if we would like to join them for an aperitif.  Henri, Solonge and Henri’s mother, Odile, are from Nimes and were on their way back home.  It was Odile’s birthday today, 80, and clearly thrilled to be enjoying it with her family.  We talked of where we’d been and where to next.  Henri had cycled in the Pyrenees too.  He had worked for 32 years on the railways, and his wife had been a nurse.  They loved their new Hymer van, and talked of travels to Italy, Florence, Spain and Portugal.  They hadn’t been to Britain because of the poor weather.  (From what we’ve heard, this summer’s shaping up to be a bit of a Wimbledon-wash-out!)  They recommended various parts of France for the food, particularly Auvergne.  They too had been to Beaufort and loved the beaufortain bread and cheese, which I’m really looking forward to!  We made our excuses and went back to the van to make a meal, and for me to re-charge, after having to concentrate on understanding and responding in French for a good hour!  Exhausted!!  Later I remembered a cake I’d bought in Luz-St-Sauveur, peculiar to that area, a “broche cuit au feu sur les pendilles”, which seems to be a cake cooked over an open fire daubed onto a large wooden skewer.  I tried it first and then took our hosts a few slices, saying that it was like a birthday cake for maman.  They seemed delighted,  but I hoped they liked the cake!

Later we walked into the little village of Chusclan, with a couple of lively bars by the river, and a lively one in town.  It had more life than we’d seen so far in a small place.  Historical fact-  the locals were divided into culs-rouges and culs-blancs (red-arses and white-arses) depending upon their revolutionary or patriotic politics, and they met in different bars in this tiny hamlet!

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