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Geography of the Languedoc: Areas of Special Interest: The Corbières   

The Corbières is one of the wildest areas of France with one of the lowest population densities. It is picturesque with wine growing areas alternating with garigue and mountainous countryside. It is located mainly in the Aude département  and partly in the Pyrénées-Orientales département.

The River Aude borders the Corbières to the west and north. To the south is the River Agly and to the east the the Mediterranean Sea.

The name Corbières comes from "cor" a pre-Celtic word meaning "rock" and "berre" from the River Berre which runs through Durban.

The eastern part of the Corbières with its Etangs, borders the the Mediterranean Sea and is called the Corbières maritimes. It has its own distinctive climate and characteristic vegetation known as thermomediterranean vegetation.


The Pic de Bugarach

The highest point of the Corbières is the pic de Bugarach (1230 m). It stands far away from the nearby Pyrenees to have its own microclimate.

The geology of Bugarach is notable. Its top layers are older than bottom ones.

Bugarach is easily climbed: A classical route (called "voie de la fenêtre" referring to a big hole in a cliff) climbs the South face. One may walk down the easier route, to the North, to join the Col de Linas.

In certain climatic conditions clouds form above Bugarach in the form of halos. The mountain is also claimed to be so magnetic that aeroplanes never fly over it. This may help explain why the peak has become wound up in various mystical movements in the area and associated with the mystery of nearby Rennes-le-Château. According to various "mystics" in the area the peak is a landing site for UFOs. According to others it hides a great treasure, or a huge cavern. Yet others say that earth "waves" or "radiations" (whatever they are) are particularly potent on the top of Bugarach. Many people climb to peak to spend the night on the summit, in the hope of experiencing its mystical power. (At the turn of the Millennium the place was packed with mystics expecting to be airlifted away by UFOs and so miss the End of the World, but they walked down again the following day. A mixed blessing).

When the peak is covered in localised clouds the locals have a traditional saying: "When Bugarach has got his hat on, you should put your hat on too".

More on Bugarach and the Pic de Bugarach  




Corbieres Wine

Corbières is the largest AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) in the Languedoc-Roussillon, encompassing a variety of soil types and microclimates. Wines from the region are as varied as the Terroir . The region also experiences widely varied winds. The dry vent Cers brings cold weather from the Northwest while the vent Marin brings warm, humid air from the Mediterranean Sea.


Corbieres Terroirs: Terroir de Montagne d'Alaric

This terroir is dominated by the Montagne d'Alaric, along the Aude valley between Narbonne and Carcassonne. On damp days, a halo of cloud sits on top of it and the locals say "Alaric is wearing his hat" (c/f Bugerach). The mountain is named after the Visigothic King Alaric II who fought the Franks in the 5th century. Local tradition has it that he left a huge treasure buried in the caves beneath the mountain. It is possible to drive up to the summit by a rocky track from Moux.

On the south-east slope, overlooking the Gorge du Congoust, is the ruined chapel of St Michel de Naruze. In dry years, pilgrims from surrounding villages came up here to pray for rain up until the 1940s . The valley below the chapel is full of wild flowers during the spring.

Most of the villages in this terroir are on the N113 which running along the Aude valley from Lézignan to Carcassonne, parallel to the motorway.

Fontcouverte lies just off the N113. It has all you expect of a Corbieres village: a square with a fountain, a café, a church, and a château. A municipal open-air swimming pool is fed by a natural spring.

Moux was the birthplace of the poet Henry Bataille (1872--1922). His tomb is surmounted by an interesting skeletal statue.

Floure is another village tucked away off the N113. It also has its own poet: Gaston Bonheur (1923-1980). He founded a surrealist magazine, Choc, and was director of Paris-Match. His home was in the château, originally an abbey in the middle ages. It was converted to a house during the Renaissance. It is now a hotel and houses a restaurant called Le Poète Disparu (The Dead Poet)

Capendu is the largest village in this terroir. It is a circular village distinctive of the region and called a circulade. At the centre is a rock. On it stands the ruined choir of the 13th century chapel, all that remains of Capendu's medieval castle. The nineteenth-century church which replaced it can be seen to one side, making the village elliptical rather than circular.

Clicking on the following link to a page dedicated to Circulades .

Douzens is a village notable for its windmills. There is a museum of birds, butterflies and other insects here.

Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Serviès

This is a damp, fertile valley sheltered on the south and west sides by the Plateau de Lacamp and on the north by the Montagne d'Alaric. This is one of the few places in the Corbières where you are likely to see sheep. Vines have largely been replaced here by other crops, so the valley floor is a patchwork of different colours.

Monze has a medieval packhorse bridge over the Bretonne on the outskirts of the village.

Mayronnes offers a "Sculpture walk" during most of July and August. The path through the garrigue is dotted with modern sculptures by local sculpturs; In June, there is an event called De Ferme En Ferme, (From Farm to Farm) organised by farmers in the Val de Dagne. You can sample local organic produce and join a picnic which includes a spit roasted ox

In Villar-en-Val, you can visit the 11th-century church which houses an exhibition on yet another local poet (Joseph Delteil, 1894 -1978) during the summer season.

The Cistercian abbey of Sainte Marie de Rieunette is currently being restored. It is in a remote, wooded valley typical of the sites favoured by the Cistercians.

At Rieux-en-Val there is a medieval footbridge, a few hundred yards off the D42. This is a popular film set.

Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Lagrasse

Lagrasse. Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France (Les Plus Beax Villages de France), Lagrasse is a small town at the confluence of two valleys. On one side of the river Orbieu is the town and on the other the abbey, linked by two bridges spanning the river. The cobbled market square with its covered central section hosts craft fairs, bric-a-brac sales, and produce markets during the summer. The town has become a centre for potters and artists and many of the medieval houses have been converted into studios and exhibition spaces.

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Ribaute. There are waterfalls in the river at Ribaute. The river has been dammed by the local council to provide a pool for swimming, fishing and picnicking. A narrow stone bridge spans the gorge.

Fabrezan also has a place for swimming; broader and shallower than at Ribaute, better for those with children. The village has a broad, shady main street, decent good restaurants, a café, and shops, also a museum dedicated to Charles Cros, yet another local poet, but also notable as the inventor of the phonograph. The local winery takes its name from him. In August there is a '1900 weekend' which recreates Fabrezan as it was during the Belle Epoque. It features street stalls, demonstrations of vanished crafts such as blacksmithing and lacemaking, and dancing in the streets during the evening.

Camplong d'Aude lies on the flanks of the Montagne d'Alaric, set back from the main road. It has a village square which combines all the usual elements of a Midi village: the spring-fed fountain, a statue of Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic and plane trees. There is also a stone clock tower over the gateway to the château.

Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Lézignan

Lézignan-Corbières has a long history. It is mentioned in a Carolingian document of 806, under its then name Licinianus. Today it is a market town, a focus not only for the Lézignan terroir but also the neighbouring Minervois. The Wednesday morning market invades the main street. Major road and rail links running along the northern part of the Corbières connect Lézignan with Carcassonne to the east and Narbonne to the west. Lézignan is known as the capital of the Corbières. Important local organisations (including the Cru Fitou) have their headquarters here. There is a tourist office on the main street (tel. 04 68 27 05 42).

In summer there is always something going on here, usually involving food, wine and outdoor music. At Whitsun there is a regional produce fair ("Promaude") at the aerodrome just outside town. In the autumn there is a week-long festival to celebrate the arrival of the new wine. The Maison Gibert holds art exhibitions throughout the year. Near the railway station, there is a museum of wine-making with displays of old wine-making equipment, clothes, photographs, and documents.

Conilhac-Corbières. Every weekend in November this community of about 600 people hosts to a jazz festival. The salle polyvalent (village hall) becomes a smoky jazz club. Afterwards, the action continues at the nearby 'Cave du Jazz'. You can get information and make bookings at the Mairie de Conilhac on +33 (0)4 68 27 08 15 and on the village web site.

Montbrun-des-Corbières, like so many other town and villages here, is built around the ruins of a château, perched on a rocky outcrop. A couple of kilometres away is the church of Notre-Dame de Colombier, an example of early Romanesque architecture dating from the 11th century. The belltower is 13th century. Legend has it that the Seigneur of Montbrun went off on crusade. On his return his now adult son failed to recognise him and set the dogs on him, mauling him to death. The son recognised the body the following morning and was stricken by remorse. At that moment a dove alighted on the spot so he built a chapel there. The chapel took its name from the event (Colomier means dove).

Escales is another village with an early Romanesque church. It has three apses, a large central one and a smaller one on each side. The altar is constructed from a first or second-century Roman sarcophagus.


Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Boutenac

Boutenac is not typical of the Corbières with its wooded hills of parasol pines. This is good wine growing country. The Château in the village of Boutenac is headquarters of the Cru Corbières. Around Boutenac and Gasparets, you will find many Corbières wines. It is this terroir in the Corbières to produce great wines.

In the hamlet of Gasparets near Boutenac, in a hall above the wine cave is a collection of stuffed animals, birds and insects.

Villerouge-la-Crémade is a hamlet on the road between Ferrals and Thézan. It is dominated by the ruins of castle, from which you can see a panoramic view over the countryside. Below, is a chapel, sited on a small mound. It dates to the 9th century. Inside are the fragmentary remains of wall paintings dating from the early 12th century.

Saint-Laurent de la Cabrerisse has a church with Visigothic carvings in the porch.

At Montseret you will find a major bee keeper. The honey here is richly flavoured with rosemary, thyme, and lavender.


Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Fontfroide

Coat of arms of NarbonneCoat of arms of NarbonneNarbonne. Narbonne was founded by the Romans in the second century BC, it became the capital of Southern Gaul. At the time it was a major port, although it now lies well inland.

Click on the following link for more on Narbonne Next.

Fontfroide Abbey. The Abbaye de Fontfroide was built in 1145, on the site of an earlier Benedictine foundation. It became one of the most important and richest Cistercian abbeys in the south.

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Montredon-Corbières. Montredon-Corbières is a typical Corbières village just off the Route Nationale between Carcassonne and Narbonne.

Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Saint-Victor

This is a large and sparse terroir. Village here are isolated, generally, surrounded by vineyards. Wines from here are dark and intense, spicy with the scents of the garrigue.

The Hermitage of Saint-Victor. At 420m (1400 ft), this hermitage is the highest point for miles around. The view is spectacular with the Mediterranean Sea at Port-La Nouvelle visible on one side and the Pic de Canigou in the Pyrenees on the other. The tiny chapel, now half-ruined, was kept by monks from the Abbey at Fontfroide.

Fontjoncouse. In the village is a restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef, Gilles Goujon.

Albas. In Albas you will find a Scottish winemaker, an anthropologist who called his estate 'Domaine des Pensées Sauvages', a reference to the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.


Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Termenès

Vineyards here rise across slopes between 300 and 450m above sea-level - about the maximum that vines will produce decent wine. The name Termenès is derived from the Latin terminus, because it marked the limit of the early Roman cultivation. Villages are few in this terroir.

At Villerouge-Termenès a Cathar castle stands in the centre of the village. It has recently been restored. It offers an audio-visual exhibition telling the story of Guilhem Belibaste, the last known Cathar Parfait in the Languedoc to fall into the hands of the Inquisition. He was tricked into returning from Catalonia and burned alive here in 1321.

In the summer season, Villerouge-Termenès hosts a popular three-day medieval festival, recreating the atmosphere of the village in the Cathar period. Information is available either from the castle itself (tel. 04 68 70 09 11), or from local tourist offices.

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The Château at Termes is a ruined castle high above the modern village of Termes. Termes castle held out against Simon de Montfort for months in 1210, eventually succumbing for lack of water; Having come into the possession of the French kings later in the 13th century, it became one of the "five sons of Carcassonne", fortresses protecting the frontier with Aragon, (QueribusTermesAguila, Peyrepertuse and Puilaurens). In the 17th century it was occupied by brigands who used it as a base from which to raid the surrounding country; Consequently, the authorities had it razed.

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Château de Durfort, between Vignevieille and Montjoi.

Montgaillard a village on top of a rocky outcrop is said to be frequented by the mitouns (fairies and water nymphs).

Other towns: Vignevieille, Davejean, Rouffiac, Palairac,


Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Durban

The town of Durban is dominated by a ruined castle. It is the centre of the sparsest part of the Corbières. Small villages ere are linked by winding roads. This was once much more heavily populated. You can see abandoned terraces on the hillsides supported by low stone walls. There are also capitelles here (Prehistoric cone-shaped drystone shelters), and stone windmills on hilltops. This was once winter pasture for herds of sheep brought down from the Pyrenees, during the transhumance, the capitelles providing shelter for the shepherds.

The way of life here has changed. You will see no sheep now. Windmills without their sails are still and silent. No grain has been grown here for centuries. Agriculture has been replaced by viticulture. Only apiary continues as of old. Rosemary honey here has been famous since Roman times.

Durban is a prosperous town on the River Berre. There has been a settlement here since Roman times. The château was built by the kings of Aragon. It was reconstructed in the 16th century as a more comfortable residence. The Barons of Gléon lived here for 600 years but the family died out in 1787. The château was sold in 1873 and, like so many chateaux after the fall of the French monarchy was used as a source of building stone by locals.

Between Embres-et-Castelmaure and St-Jean de Barrou you will find the chapel of St-Felix on a small mound, surrounded by trees in the middle of vineyards. It is overlooked by the ruins of the château of Castelmaure (a Moorish Castle) and its deserted village.

The main road through Durban takes you to the inland part of the Fitou appellation (Fitou consists of two different areas, one around the village of Fitou on the coast, and the other inland).

Villeneuve-les-Corbières is the main commercial centre.

700 hectares at Château Lastours are used as a training ground for the Paris to Dakar rally.

Apart from Durban, the only other sizeable settlement in this terroir is Tuchan, on the slopes of Mont Tauch, 917m (2800 ft) high. The name comes from the Occitan word touch, meaning yew tree, popular here as elsewhere in pre-Christian times. Only a few of these trees now remain. At the top of the slope is a tower, La Tour Des Géographes. It was built 1791, in for use by a group of astronomers who had been instructed by the Académie Des Sciences just after the French Revolution to define the Paris meridian. This was part of a project to define a new unit of measurement - the metre. It was defined as one ten millionth of the distance from the Pole to the Equator along the Paris meridian. After years of work, the standard metre, cast in platinum, was presented to the National Assembly in 1799. Sadly it was later discovered that they got it wrong and the metre has since been redefined.

On the slope of Mont Tauch is the chapel of Notre Dame de Faste. Its presence in this remote spot is explained by the spring that rises here. It was almost certainly a holy place before it was Christian place. It is approached by a track.

Not far from Tuchan is the château of Aguila, a Cathar castle. From 1260 it was one of the "five sons of Carcassonne" protecting the new southern border of the French Kingdom. Aguilar has a square keep, surrounded by a wall with circular towers at the corners. There is a small, simple Romanesque chapel here dedicated to St Anne.

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Paziols is a small village right on the southern edge of the Corbières.

Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Quéribus

Peyreperteuse. Peyrepertuse. The château at Peyrepertuse dominates this area. It is visible for miles around. The name Peyrepertuse is derived from the Occitan version of pierre percée, "pierced rock". It is a Cathar castle built seamlessly onto the living rock. Even on the approach road from Duilhac it is not easy to see where the rock stops and the castle starts. The main part of the château, over 200m long, resembles the prow of a ship, running along the top of an 800m (2,600 ft) high crag. The pinnacle is so sheer that it appears inaccessible. In fact the climb from the car park to the castle is not difficult.

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Queribus. Queribus. East from Peyrepertuse, you will see the château of Quéribus perched on another outcrop. It is the best preserved of these border castles, and another of the so-called Cathar castles.

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Cucugnan. Below Quéribus is the village of Cucugnan. The church here has a statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary, but the town is more famous for a story, well-known throughout France, called Le Curé de Cucugnan. The story tells how the priest in the village, worried by the lack of faith of his parishioners, made his sermons into terrifying stories of hell. He conjured up such appalling visions that his parishioners were terrified into believing. Visitors to the village were henceforth struck by the piety of its inhabitants. Le Curé de Cucugnan was originally told in Occitan by Achille Mir, one of a group of 19th-century writers known as the "Félibres", dedicated to keeping Occitan culture alive. The story was popularised by another member of the group, Alphonse Daudet, in his collection of tales of Occitan life Lettres de mon Moulin, "Letters from my Windmill". (The misleading habit of referring to Occitan as Provençal has led people to imagine that Cucugnan must be in Provence). The village now houses a "pocket theatre", the Théâtre Achille Mir, in which the tale is regularly enacted. (A ticket for the theatre entitles you to enter to the Chateau at Quéribus, and vice versa).

Padern is a romantic ruined castle on a hill overlooking the village of Padern on the River Verdouble. The castle was destroyed in the Middle Ages, but rebuilt in the 17th century. Today it is once more a ruin. It has been called "the gates of heaven".


Corbiere Terroirs: Terroir de Sigean

The Languedoc Coast is lined with resorts and long and sandy beaches. TheMediterranean Sea is azure and unpolluted. Inland is a classically Mediterranean landscape, garigue (low-growing oak scrub, wild thyme, and rosemary, parasol pines and cypresses). Salt water lagoons (etangs) are a haven for birds. The Massif de la Clape, once an island, is now a nature reserve containing unique species. It also has its own wine appellation, and is noted for its white wines.

Gruissan This Mediterranean Port and traditional fishing village has retained its character.

Narrow streets curve around the 13th-century Tour de Barberousse, from which you can admire a view over the etang. This etang here is the setting for a firework display on Bastille day, 14 July.

Early in the morning you can go to the fish market at the port and buy some of the catch as it is brought in from the boats. Every fishmonger has tuna on display.

Beaches are popular with windsurfers and beach volleyball players. The Plage Des Pilotis, with its wooden beach houses on stilts, is the setting for the film Betty Blue directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix.

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