Having just learned about the Via Domitia and Via Augustus, the old Roman road that linked Cadiz to Rome, we decided to see if we could find it this afternoon. We drove to Le Perthus, the first town in France, which we've passed by several times but never explored. It was one of those places that makes you ask yourself "why are we here?" It is known as a shopper's paradise with 60,000 square metres of shops, many selling perfume. There were stores selling watches, jewelry, leather and clothes. People were certainly buying but it was one of those places you just wanted to leave. There were numerous men on the sidewalks badgering passers by to buy sunglasses and watches. We made a quick exit.
Our first stop was Le Fort de Bellegarde, which sits high up on the hill overlooking the Franco-Spanish border. The fort is a jewel of seventeenth century military architecture designed by Vauban, who served Louis XIVth. The fort was built as a result of French-Spanish conflicts over the centuries. The panoramic views from the ramparts were quite stunning and you really could see everything just as Vauban had planned. As we moved around the ramparts we could see where the Wehrmacht had kept their ammunition dumps in 1943. Apparently the Gestapo had a prison for escaped prisoners of war and Spanish republicans at the fort.
We got back in the sweltering hot car to go down to Le Pannissars and the old Roman road. There are signs denoting the Via Domitia (into France) and Via Augustus (into Spain). This road usually parallels the autostrade and is about fifteen kilometres from the Mediterranean. The building of the road improved communications and attracted many new Roman settlements. The route was probably the same as followed by Hannibal and his famous elephants in 218 BC before the Via Domitia was built.
Just down the road from Le Pannissars lies a seventeenth century military cemetery. Many of the graves were marked with stones, not gravestones, but there were a few with proper gravestones. All were marked with recent white crosses.
We had one final stop to make and that was at Marti Fabra, a small family winery. Everything was locked up but one lady member of the family spotted us and got the key to the winery. In we went, being enveloped in that lovely wine bouquet. We sampled the white wine and bought a couple of very nice bottles. It was a lovely ending to an interesting and very hot day.