Sunday, August 1, 2010
Day seven - Cathar country
Today’s plan was to drive south into Cathar territory and explore some of the hilltop ruins dating back to a time when Cathars broke away from Catholicism and did their own thing for several hundred years until finally exterminated in the 1200s. We started out with coffee in Pomas. Our attempt to order cappuccinos resulted in the café owner disappearing down the street to buy a can of whipping cream. We could tell two locals who showed up were wondering where she had gone. I expect by now the whole village knows that the café was abandoned because two tourists wanted whipping cream in their coffee! El really doesn’t like whipping cream at all but she made a brave face and drank the coffee. From now on we just order coffee.
I had planned a clever cross country route that began with the hilltop town of Rennes-le chateau, famous because a strange priest in the late nineteenth century had mysterious access to enough money to build not only a beautiful church but also a fancy chateau, guesthouse and gardens for himself. Some still believe a secret treasure trove exists, and it is a popular spot for da vinci code types. One bizarre Englishman who appears to have made his home there accosted us with talk of all the interesting things that people didn’t see. As an example he pointed out that nobody ever notices the inscription on a small stone bench. We took a look. It appeared to be the letters X S L X. It is quite obvious to me that this simple means extra small people sit on the left side of the bench and extra large people sit on the right. I have found that most conspiracy theories can be explained in this way.
Not far away is the small spa town of Rennes-le bains. We soaked our feet in the cool waters that run through the centre of town followed by an excellent lunch of omlette for me and chevre salad for El. At this time a bus pulled up and out got the same folklore performers who had abused us in Limoux two nights ago. Obviously on some kind of tour. It was only mid afternoon but we left quickly just in case they decided to have a rehearsal!
Now we took a back country route through parts of the rugged and remote Corrbierre region. We followed a lovely winding road with high slopes and rocky outcrops on either side before climbing up to an incredible hilltop fortress called Chateau de Peyrepertuse, where Cathars took refuge from their persecutors. To get to the very top we had to follow a ghastly rocky trail and countless uneven and really slippery steps. El’s knees did a semi scream all the way up but once there the view was breathtaking. Getting down was not as bad as El expected and we were soon on our way again.
That alone would have made the day a complete success but there was one more treat in store for us as we threaded our way through the Gorges de Galamus. One stretch of this cliffside road is regulated by traffic lights for much of the day as it is too narrow for two cars to pass. It was short but spectacular drive with towering hillsides and sheer drops to the gorge below. This brought us back to the main road from Perpignan on which we could speed our way home, with hopes of finding dinner along the way. As we slowed down to pass through Lapradelle-Puilaurens we spotted a restaurant and doubled back to check it out. As soon as El saw “lapin” on the menu we were in. It was a perfect little spot with a backyard patio overlooked by a railway viaduct. El ended up having duck breast which turned out to be the biggest duck breast she had ever seen, double-D for sure! We would have been fine with the starters. I had an excellent chevre salad and El’s salad included a huge amount of foie de lapin. Delicious!