Monday, April 26, 2010

TGO - the Corbières

Hotel Château des Ducs de Joyeuse, Couiza
Keen to make use of the last boy-free weekend, my TWDB and I jumped back on the bike and headed down to Cathar country to explore it further.

When we'd been there the previous week, the temperature had been around 14°C and a bit chilly for me. This time it was over 20°C and yesterday even got up to a sweltering 30°C outside Beziers.

The idea was to take as many green roads as possible, not difficult as it's a stunning region, the Corbières. You get these lush mountain meadows undulating over the lower slopes, then rising starkly behind, grey rocky crags with scrub clinging to every nook and cranny. The contrast is pretty amazing and very picturesque.

There are several gorges down there too, the road cut out of overhanging rock, wending its way along the same path as the river below, but higher. Speeding crazily is not advised...

One of the most dramatic roads we took was the road from Barbaira down in the flats of the dried lagoon of Marseillette which climbed steeply and single trackly up to 507m along the north face of the Alaric Mountain. As we climbed we got a more and more impressive panoramic view of the flatlands north-east of Carcassonne. On this side, there was green vegetation protected by shade and damp. On the south side it suddenly changed to dry and scorched garrigue scrub.

From there we drove to Lagrasse, stopping for a coffee and then in and around the routes of the Corbières mountains, in the sun, looking down on the basking little villages with their higgledy piggledy roofs and old stone walls.

We stayed the night at the hotel Château des Ducs de Joyeuse at Couiza, near Rennes-le-Château. It's a 16th century castle in a style midway between medieval and renaissance, with 1-metre thick stone walls and spiral staircases at each tower. It's set next to the river Aude which originally protected its west side and offers a charming music to wake up to if you keep the window open at night. Dinner was fabulous there too, with Pompadour wine to bring out the best in all the flavours. We just had to start with an apero of Blanquette de Limoux, the town being 16km up the road.

Yesterday we rode up to the castle of Puylaurens but didn't go in because climbing up the path carrying bike helmets is no fun. We did get some spectacular photos though of it set against a very blue cloudless sky.

We had a quick lunch in Cucugnan and then a snooze along the banks of the Torgan river - another one with a gorge to its name. Driving on, up and over various passes, the views totally breathtaking, we got back to Lagrasse and then took the road to Lezignan Corbières. That's where it started hotting up, and by the time we had reached Béziers we were melting! Amazingly, from there to Sète, the temperature took a nose dive back down to 17°C and it even rained along the beach of Les Aresquiers! The air was fragrant with the wetness of it all - flora, tarmac, earth.

Once home, we rounded off a perfect weekend with three bottles of rosé from Listel, including our favourite, the Flamingo bought at the cave on another of our jaunts. We'll definitely go back!

The boys are also back having spent the last couple of days guess where... around Carcassonne!! It's a small world!

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