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On the road

OCCITANIA REGION

Departments: Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Hérault, Lot, Lozère, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénées-Orientales, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne
Population: 5.9 million
Prefecture: Toulouse
Area: 72,724 km2
Specialities: foie gras, cassoulet, aligot, tielle sétoise, brandade de morue (cod brandade), haricots tarbais (beans), garbure (soup), sweet onion, Céret cherries, wines (Pic Saint-Loup, Corbières, Cahors, Costières de Nîmes, blanquette of Limoux, Minervois, Tavel, Madiran). Perrier spring water.
Sports clubs: Stade Toulousain, Castres Olympique, Montpellier HR, USAP Perpignan (rugby union), Montpellier HSC, Nîmes Olympique, Toulouse FC (football), Dragons Catalans (rugby league), Montpellier Handball, Fenix Toulouse, USAM Nîmes-Gard (handball)
Competitions: Tour de France, Open Sud de France (tennis), Route d'Occitanie (cycling).
Economy: aeronautics and space (Airbus, Ariane, Toulouse), defence, information technology, nuclear, agri-food, agriculture (wines, cereals) tourism, pharmaceutical industry. Universities (Montpellier, Toulouse).
Festivals: Nîmes and Béziers férias, Rio Loco (Toulouse), Radio France Festival Montpellier (classical music), Comédie du Livre (book fair, Montpellier), Electro Beach (Port Barcarès), Jazz in Marciac, Cinémed (Montpellier), Circa Auch, Noir Novel Fesrtival Frontignan.
Sights: Cité de Carcassonne, basilica of Lourdes, Toulouse (Capitole, Saint-Sernin, ville rose), Montpellier (place de la Comédie, Écusson), beaches, Pont du Gard, Nîmes ampthitheatre, Cathar castles, Canal du Midi, cathedrals of Albi, Castres and Rodez. Millau Viaduct, Niaux and Maz d'Azil caves. Valentré Bridge in Cahors. Villages of character. Beaches in the Aude, Gard and Hérault. Ski resorts in the Pyrenees and Ariège.
Website: www.laregionoccitanie.fr

AUDE (11)

Region: Occitania
Population: 374,070
Prefecture: Carcassonne
Sub-prefectures: Narbonne, Limoux
Number of municipalities: 436
Area: 6,139 km2
Specialities: cassoulet from Castelnaudary, bourride of eels, lucques (green olives), limos (brioche), fricassee from Limoux, oysters from Leucate (shellfish), truffles, rice and apple from Marseillette, écu du Pays Cathare (goat's cheese), Limoux nougat (confectionery), Aude wines (7 AOP), Limoux blanquette (wine), micheline (liqueur), cartagène (liqueur), Caunes-Minervois marble, boudegue (Occitan bagpipes)
Sports clubs: rugby union RCNM Narbonne and USC (Carcassonne), rugby league (Lézignan-Corbières, Limoux, Carcassonne), volleyball (Narbonne, Gruissan), women's handball (Narbonne).
Competitions: Mondial du vent (Leucate), Défi Wind & Défi Kite (Gruissan), Junior Kitesurf World Cup (Saint-Pierre-la-mer), Grand Raid des Cathares, Cross de la Cité (Carcassonne), Grand Fondo l'Audoise (Villeneuve Minervois), VTT Cap Nore / Déval' Nore (Aragon), Criterium of Quillan (Cycling) Abbey
Culture & heritage: Les citadelles du vertige, Canal du Midi, Lagrasse Abbey, Fontfroide Abbey. Carnival of Limoux, Montolieu book village, Scènes d'enfance (all the department), Artistes à suivre, Cassoulet festival, Limoux brass Festival, Jazz in Conilhac, Festival d'été (Lézignan-Corbières), Barques en Scènes Festival (Narbonne), festival de la Cité (Carcassonne), Temps de cirque (Circus Time, all the department), Sortie de case (all the department).
Economy: viticulture, fishing, agriculture, livestock farming, maritime trade, seaside tourism, mid-mountain tourism, thermalism, cultural tourism, wine tourism and truffle tourism
Websites and social networks: www.aude.fr / www.audetourisme.com / www.payscathare.com / www.payscathare.org / citadellesduvertige.aude.fr / www.facebook.com/departementdelaude / www.instagram.com/citadellesduvertige /

In the heart of the Occitanie region, Aude is a territory with varied landscapes. Between mountainous massif, plains and coastline, the department is undeniably one of diversity.
The cultural and environmental variety is marked by medieval castles, these "citadels of vertigo", the Romanesque abbeys and cloisters, the medieval city of Carcassonne, Narbonne la Romaine, the prehistoric caves or the Canal du Midi planted with hundred-year-old trees. Aude also has a rich natural heritage as regards plants and wildlife... It has one of the richest biodiversities in France, which the department protects and promotes through 17 sensitive natural areas and trails and two regional nature parks. In the field of sports, this translates into a wide range of outdoor activities which are both an element of quality of life for the population and an undeniable tourist attraction.
Aude is a territory where the locals and visitors cultivate an art of living, a taste for authenticity. Prosper Montagné's homeland still asserts itself as a land of choice for Languedoc cuisine. The great chefs of Aude remain in the wake of this gastronomic tradition. It is not by chance that, with 11 Michelin stars, the Aude is the most starred department in Occitania! The diversity and richness of the products and wines of the Aude department are based on the authenticity of the land on which they are rooted; here, food and wine are at their best.
Aude Pays Cathare, the South has its history!

Km 4.8

LEUC (Pop: 870)  

Castle of Leuc

Construction: 14th and 15th centuries.
Style: medieval castle 
History: in the Middle Ages, several lords from families in the province shared the castle. In the middle of the 15th century, it passed with the seigneury to the Dax family, a very old family from Carcassonne, who gave several consuls of the town. In the 17th century, the castle and the seigneury belonged to the Lévis family. A fire ravaged the castle in 1791, and it was remodelled inside in the 19th century.
Characteristics: The castle used to consist of five towers, four at the corners of a large rectangle, with the fifth serving as a keep in the centre of a large side. Today, only the south-western half of the rectangle and three towers, including the keep, remain. The other part has been refurbished, transformed into farm buildings, but there are still important remains of the old outbuildings.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1948.

Km 11.3

SAINT-HILAIRE (Pop: 710) 

Abbey of Saint-Hilaire and its abbey church

Foundation: 8th century
Style: Romanesque
History: a former fortified Benedictine abbey, founded at the end of the 8th century and dedicated to Saint Sernin. In the 10th century, in accordance with the wishes of the Count of Carcassonne, the abbey was dedicated to Saint Hilaire, the first bishop of Carcassonne in the 6th century. The monastery enjoyed a certain prosperity until the 13th century, but from the Hundred Years' War onwards it suffered devastation, the ravages of the plague and famine. The abbey closed its doors in 1748.
Current destination: the abbey hosts numerous painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions throughout the year. The association Les Amis de l'Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire regularly organises concerts, mainly of classical music, in the abbey church or in the cloister.
Trivia: in 1531, the monks of Saint-Hilaire discovered the world's first sparkling wine, blanquette.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1840 (church), then 1846 (cloister), 1990 and 1993 (buildings)

Km 20.5

PIEUSSE (Pop: 970) 

Castle of Pieusse

Construction: 11th to 13th centuries.
History: the castle of Pieusse was built around 1140 to 1145, under the reign of King Louis VII the Younger by the Counts of Foix. In 1225, it housed the Cathar Council, bringing together a hundred or so perfects presided over by Guilhabert de Castres, Bishop of Toulouse. During a meeting at the castle, they decided to create the bishopric of Razes. Benoît de Termes was ordained bishop of this new diocese. In 1229, Bernard Roger, son of the Count of Foix, ceded his fief to King Louis IX, who united it to the bishopric of Narbonne. From 1764 to 1790, the castle belonged to Monseigneur Dillon, the last President of the States General of Languedoc and Archbishop of Narbonne.
Characteristics: only a few buildings are visible from Pieusse. Several parts have been converted into living quarters. The northern wall is still visible as well as a massive and elongated keep.
Current destination: private.

Km 22.6

LIIMOUX (Pop: 10,400)

Limoux has been used three times recently as a starting point for stages of the Tour de France, in 2011, 2012 and 2019. In the latter year, the stage started in the direction of Foix, where Simon Yates won and Thibaut Pinot made his mark.  Each visit is an opportunity to taste blanquette, the first sparkling wine in the world, which has made the town and the region prosper. Although sparkling Gaillac and Clairette de Die claim equally ancient origins, Blanquette led the way and was undoubtedly the influence on the creation of Champagne. The effervescent property of this wine was discovered in 1531 by accident by the monks of Saint-Hilaire. And the famous Dom Pérignon, on his return from Spain and a pilgrimage to the Saint-Hilaire Abbey in Limoux, brought the sparkling recipe back to Champagne. The city's fame is also due to its carnival, the longest in the world, which gives rhythm to the life of the city every winter. Marked by Catharism and the Wars of Religion, it was also affected by the French wine crisis in 1907. But Limoux has always risen anew, sparkling like its local speciality.

Petiet Museum
The museum is housed in the Petiet family's painting studio and is steeped in a late 19th century atmosphere. It displays a great diversity of works. Visitors can discover different pictorial trends of the 20th century: orientalism, academicism, including the works of Marie Petiet, an artist from Limoux, paintings by impressionist artists, the pictures of Aude-born pointillist painter Achille Laugé or the military painting of Dujardin Beaumetz. The museum also exhibits works by well-known painters such as Le Sidaner, Du Gardier, Lebasque.  

Piano Museum 
The church of Saint Jacques, on Place du 22 septembre, houses the only French public museum dedicated to the piano and its manufacture. The chronological tour, from 1822 to the present day, reveals the secrets of great French piano makers such as Pleyel, Erard... Today, the museum has around one hundred instruments, some of which are unique in the world. The hall, which has undergone major work to improve its acoustics, hosts quality concerts in an auditorium with 120 seats.  

Km 48.2

CHALABRE (Pop: 1,200)

A pretty village with corbelled houses, situated in the valley of the Hers-Vif, at its confluence with the Blau and the Chalabreil. At the beginning of the 20th century, industry was very active here, particularly in the manufacture of hats. Founded before the 12th century, the village belonged to the house of Trencavel, who protected the Cathars. In 1350, the ramparts were completed, forming a complete fortification around the village, the centre of which is a 13th century bastide. The church of Saints Peter and Paul was built in 1552. The bell tower dates from the end of the 15th century, and a beautiful Merklin and Kuhn organ was installed in 1943.  

Chalabre Castle 
Construction: 13th, 15th and 18th centuries.
History: The castle of Chalabre was built in three phases: 13th century (including the keep), 15th and 18th centuries. The castle was entrusted by Simon de Montfort to Baron Pons de Bruyère le Châtel in 1210, and was subsequently altered several times over the centuries.
Current destination: the Knights of Kercorb (association under the law of 1901) through the historical and participative leisure park, hold workshops allowing visitors to step into history, by becoming, to the extent of their abilities, actors in the life of the castle. Also equestrian show in the chivalry ring, knighting of a child from the public, javelin agility (balloon bursting), medieval dances...  

Km 59.9

LA BASTIDE-SUR-l'HERS (Pop: 720) 

This charming village has built its reputation since the 18th century on the work of horn, particularly for the manufacture of combs. A workshop, Azéma Bigou, founded in 1820, remains in the hamlet of Campredon. The beautiful 19th century village hall is particularly remarkable.

Km 68.4

LAVELANET (Pop: 6,000)

A rugby stronghold, Lavelanet is ironically the birthplace of one of France's most famous soccer players, former French national goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, as well as of 2018 Olympic freestyle skiing champion Perrine Laffont. Its textile past has left its mark on the town, which is now refocusing on other activities, notably tourism. Even if Lavelanet is positioned on nature tourism, the town honours its reputation as the textile capital of Ariège. Its museum, housed in an old factory, was renovated in 2008. Weaving, spinning, vegetable dyes... Various workshops help visitors to experiment, touch and visualise everything that makes up the history and current status of textiles, from the Cathar era to the high-tech fabrics manufactured today in Lavelanet. Lavelanet has hosted two Tour de France stage starts, in 2002 and 2008, the latter won by Mark Cavendish in Narbonne.  

Intermittent fountain of Belesta (10 km away)

By a geological fantasy that has given rise to beautiful legends, the Fontestorbes fountain flows and then stops in a cycle of about 40 minutes. This is a unique phenomenon to be seen in summer when the water level is low. Every summer the site becomes a meeting place for storytellers.

Km 93.9

MERCUS-GARRABET (Pop: 1,200)

In Garrabet stands a bridge known as the Devil's Bridge, to which many legends are attached. Long thought to be a 13th-century bridge, it was in fact built in the early 19th century and then abandoned.

Saint-Louis Church

Construction: 12th century
Style: Romanesque.
Characteristics: it is a Romanesque church with three naves, an apse and two apsidioles, and a 19th century square bell tower. The porch, on the south side, is remarkable for its double archivolt with a moulding supported by four columns with leaf capitals.
History: a bull of excommunication mentions as early as 1097 the church of Mercus then dedicated to Saint Genès and dependent on the abbey of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse.
A special feature: an inventory of the furniture and possessions of the churches of Mercus, Arnac, Malpas and Miglos dating from 1246 is a calligraphic masterpiece preserved in the departmental archives of Haute-Garonne.
Listing: Historical Monument since 1910.

Km 97.5

TARASCON-SUR-ARIEGE (Pop: 3,000)

Tarascon has an exceptional prehistoric heritage. You can still admire some of the mural paintings in the Niaux cave (the black room), or visit the largest cave in Europe, that of Lombrives, where Pyrene, with whom Hercules fell in love, is said to rest. During Antiquity, the iron mines of the region were dearly coveted, while Tarascon underwent successive invasions by the Franks, the Vandals, then the Visigoths and the Saracens. The history of Tarascon really began in 778, when the town was the scene of a battle in which Charlemagne's troops repelled the Saracens. The Chapel of Our Lady of Victory was built to celebrate the battle. Once the region was pacified, it came under the control of the Counts of Foix from the 11th century onwards. The Count's castle was built three centuries later. In the 16th century, the wars of religion bloodied the town. Protestants and Catholics took turns to seize the castle and massacre their enemies. The castle, as well as the other two citadels of the town, were demolished under the reign of Louis XIII, while Tarascon was ravaged twice by fire, the deadliest in 1701. In 1775 the Castella Tower was built on the site of the old keep. The stone bearing the arms of the Counts of Foix, salvaged from the old castle, is still visible above the Castella gate. After having lived from agriculture and the exploitation of its gypsum quarries, Tarascon today draws its income essentially from green tourism. Tarascon hosted a stage start in 1998.  

Eastern Pyrenees Regional Nature Park

The park covering approximately 40 pc of the department, over 2,468 km² (in the mountain economy zone) and 138 communes was created in 2009. It is under the shared jurisdiction of the State and the Region. From north to south, it stretches from the Pyrenean foothills to the Spanish and Andorran borders. Its territory is at the confluence of three climatic influences: oceanic, Mediterranean and mountainous. The Ariège does not cross the park, but its left bank forms its eastern limit. It includes 69 high altitude lakes and ponds, 33 peat bogs and 133 ponds, several major rivers including the Arize, Lez, Salat, Vicdessos and Volp. It should also be noted that its underground resources are quite important. Several summits, the highest of which is the Pique d'Estats, at 3,143 m. Pastoralism is still very present, even though in 20 years the park has lost 51.8 pc of its farms. Its major industries are food processing, paper production and hydroelectric power. Tourism is present through its short hiking trails and its two ski resorts. As for its human heritage, it is particularly rich with prehistoric and historical sites such as the decorated caves of Niaux, Bédeilhac, the Mas d'Azil and the ancient city of Saint-Lizier.

Km 103.3

NIAUX (Pop: 175)

Famous for its huge decorated cave, Niaux also houses a beautiful Pyrenean museum, opened in 1982.  

The Niaux cave

It has more than 200 entrances and some of its halls are huge, such as the Cathedral Hall, which is as large as Notre Dame in Paris. Four kilometres from the entrance, the hall of the Empire of Satan is three to four times larger. The cave served as a refuge for Cathars and priests during the Revolution.

 

Km 112.3

VAL-DE-SOS (Pop: 660)

Former editor of rugby magazine Midi Olympique, former president of the Ariège departmental council and friend of the Tour de France, Henri Nayrou was born in the village in 1944.

Km 125.8

PORT DE LERS (1,517 m)

At an altitude of 1,517m and rated as a first category mountain pass on this side, the Port de Lers, a classic of the Ariegeoise Gran Fondo race, has been ridden six times by the Tour de France between 1995 and 2019. Marco Pantani led the way over the pass in 1995. In 2019, it was Romain Bardet who was in the front.

Km 141.7

MASSAT (Pop: 690)  

Church of the Nativity of the Virgin

Foundation: built in the 18th century.
Characteristics: located at an altitude of 650 metres. Rebuilt in the first half of the 18th century. With its octagonal bell tower from the 15th century, as well as rows of ogival windows topped by oculi on its sides.
Listing: Historical Monument since 1985.  

The Ker caves

The caves of Ker de Massat are listed as Historical Monuments and are partially accessible to the public. They are particularly popular, especially La Campagnole, a magnificent ornate cave which is, however, closed to visitors from March 1 to September 30.

Km 152

MUR DE PEGUERE (1,375 m)

On paper, the Péguère pass is 9.4 km with an average of 7.9 pc. In fact, if we only take the final part, it is 3.6 km with an average of almost 12 pc. The Pèguère “wal”l, which was first included on the Tour route in 1973, has been a Frenchman's dream since Sandy Casar in 2012 and Warren Barguil in 2017 led the race at the top. In 2019, Germany’s Simon Geschke reached the pass in the front.

Km 169.6

SERRES-SUR-ARGET (Pop: 720)

Since 1991, the commune has been home to a Benedictine abbey, Notre-Dame du Pesquié, which is housed in former agricultural premises. The first stone of an abbey church inspired by the Cistercian architecture of the abbeys of Sénanque de Silvacane and Le Thoronet was laid in 2010.  It is also the birthplace of the deputy to the National Convention Joseph Lakanal (1762-1845), who was also a philosopher and a pioneering activist on educational issues at the time. He gave his name to a street in Paris and to the high school of Sceaux.   

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