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The Aude departement of the Languedoc Roussillon region of France is the heart of Cathar country. It's also the home of the mysteries of Rennes le Chateau, where a parish priest seemed to become rich overnight after finding some ancient parchment documents, leaving a plethora of enigmatic "clues" to his own mysteriously acquired wealth.
The Aude is also part of the Corbieres wine region, one of the largest wine appellations in France. You can taste and buy a great selection of them (over 900 regional wines represented) at Le Cave du Palais ( Rond-point de la Liberté, 11100) in Narbonne.
A visit of a week or more in the Aude won't leave you bored.
Map of the Aude region of France © 2012 by James Martin, Licensed to About.
One of my fondest rememberances of my first trip to Europe in the 1970s is of visiting the walled city of Carcassonne, "La Cite." Even though La Cite is jammed with tourists these days, especially in the summer, the Gallo-Roman architecture and medieval walled city is a compelling place to visit. Even when viewed from as far as the neighboring autoroute, La Cite stands out like a fantastic mirage in the Aude countryside. Carcassonne is easily reached by train, but you'll need a car to visit the smaller Cathar Country chateaux we'll discuss next.
The Aude makes up the heart of Cathar Country, where the persecuted Cathar sect built strongholds in remote locations. Despite their care in building location, Cathars were declared heretics by the Catholic Church and slaughtered by crusaders in the 12th century.
The best Cathar Castles to Visit in the Aude - A guide to the most accessable and the most complete castles.
Peyerpertuse Pictures - Pictures of one of the Aude's best Cathar Castles.
Chateau de Arques Pictures - Very easy to visit castle.
La Maison de La Riviere (Moderate - Bed and Breakfast) Esperaza
Esperaza Gite (Moderate - 2 bedroom apartment in Esperaza to rent weekly)
L'Hostellerie de l'Eveche (moderate - hotel and gourmet restaurant in a park in Alet les Bains)
Ducs de Joyeuses (moderately expensive historic hotel in Couiza)
Hotel des Trois Couronnes (moderately expensive Three star Hotel in Carcassonne, overlooking the old city (great location!)- reviews, Telephone 04 68 25 36 10. In summer of 2004, a single was priced at 80.50 Euros and a panoramic double at 96 Euros. WIFI internet available.)
The haunting beauty of the Aude countryside and the many attractions of the area make a self-catering vacation quite compelling. HomeAway offers over 1200 vacation rentals in the Aude, many in the Carcassonne area.
Aude Festivals (Fêtes) - a list of festivals in the Aude.
Music and Dance - Where to go in the Aude.
If you are interested in well-preserved medieval cities, Both Alet le Bains and the village of Mirepoix (just outside the Aude region) have fine medieval centers, most notably in their central piazzas. Mirepoix hosts a huge market on Monday morning.
Limoux is known for it's Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wine, and you can taste it at tasting rooms right in town. St. Hilaire and Lagrasse have fine abbeyes to visit, and you'll be traveling through the famous corbieres wine region. To get a good idea of how people lived in the time of the nearby domination of the Puivert castle, visit the Musee du Quercorb - Puivert in the village of Puivert . They have some interesting exhibits of the mode of living at the time. There is also an exhibit of the musical instruments that were built by master craftsmen from the sculptures found at Puivert castle. There is also a marionette shop in town by the river; you can buy hand crafted puppets there.
The first Sunday of December, Castelnaudary, the capital of the regional classic bean dish called Cassoulet celebrates with a "Goose Fat Fair." There is usually a Cassoulet festival at the end of August or the start of September.