February 23rd, 2017 / posted by paularath

Puilaurens, one of the Cathare Castles

Today was one of those perfect days that will always live in my memory.

To begin with, the weather broke and it was a gloriously sunny spring-like day. We decided to take a drive and have a picnic in the direction of the Pyrenees and the Spanish border to check out some of the Cathare Castles.

On the drive, the atmosphere was so clear that we could see the snow-capped Pyrenees beyond the rolling hills and vineyards of the Aude region.

We drove past vineyard after vineyard and winery after winery – but none were open for degustation (tastings) during the winter. Sigh!

The Routes du Pays Cathare was simply beautiful, beginning with vineyard after vineyard, seguing into a dramatic gorge, then climbing about 2,000 feet to our first castle: Puilaurens.

We found the perfect picnic spot. Lots of picnic tables and a clear view of the castle – our preferred view, from this angle, provides dramatic light and shadow.

Jerry at our plein air watercolor “studio” at the foot of Puilaurens Castle.

We were the only people there, so we had absolute quiet and our own private time with this 12th century Cathare Castle. It was heavenly.

Here is what Puilaurens looks like from the road – a very different view and not nearly as interesting from a painter’s point of view.

Another view of Puilaurens, a Cathare Castle

The road was often a bit scary. It feels so unfinished, and like the cliff may come down upon you at any moment. Jerry is such a great driver, he took it all in stride.

It runs through the Gorge St. Georges and its towering canyon walls. So dramatic!

An unusual way to construct a road.

We then visited another castle, called Puivert. It was once owned by a wealthy landowner who kept his farm workers in quarters that looked like dark dungeons. While you can wander through more of this castle, it didn’t have the quiet beauty of Puilaurens. And, hey, it was crowded – there were four other people there!

A tower at Puivert Castle


Living quarters of Puivert Castle

It would be a wonderful vacation, especially for an artist or one who loves to hike and camp, to spend a week or two (or four) exploring the Pays du Cathare and the many castles and vistas it provides. We hear so much about Provence, but the Languedoc Region has its own remarkable charms.

Carcassonne is at the heart of this country and now Carcassonne has taken a little piece of my heart.

  • Paula Rath
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