You do not have to venture far for wonderful sights, great experience, pure nature or history icons. All these gems are close enough to be reached by (longer) walks or bicycle rides, or even on horseback.
Agly River & Reservoir
Next to the legendary Pech de Bugarach, the Agly river has its source. Having forced its way through the steep rocks of the Gorges de Galamus, the young river flows south to feed the Agly Reservoir, erected to avoid flooding and to provide irrigating. Today, the impressive dam is a tourist attraction, and the artificial lake a paradise for fishing. Before ending its short course in the Mediterranean sea near Torreilles, the Agly river boasts a handful of gorgeous rock pools, most of them well hidden from the road. If you see locals parking their car in the middle of nowhere along its valley, then you’ve found most likely one of the treasured gems.
The Roman aqueduct is still in use today – and transports the waters of the Agly river to vineyards and orchards nearby. Erected by the end of the Roman empire, the 170 metre long aqueduct with its 29 arches, some as much as 15 metres tall, is a wonderful spot for a picknick.
Bugarach & Pech de Bugarach
Cathare castles/Châteaux Cathares
Perched up high on spectacular mountain peaks and rocky ridges, the Cathare castles are stone witnesses of the struggle between the Catholic Church and the apostates in the independent south. In 1210, the feudal lord Raymond de Termes withstand four months of siege. Only the lack of water forced the Cathars hiding in the Château de Termes to give up. Château de Puivert was the castle of the troubadours in the 12th century. Today, actors and singers follow in their footsteps in the open-air theatre during summer. The formidable fortress Château de Peyrepertuse dominates the village of Duilhac on a rocky thorn 790 m high wit a lower and upper castle. The 220 Cathars, who had entrenched themselves at Château de Montségur were burnt as herectics at the stake when the fortress was taken in 1244. The last pocket of Cathar resistance was Château de Quéribus, which was taken in 1255 – it’s the closest castle to your gîte and only a walk or short ride away. If you feel like a longer hike, follow the 200 km long Sentier Cathare that runs from the Mediterranean coast through the rocky vineyards of the Corbières to the Pyrenees south of Toulouse.
At the foot of the hill dominated by Quéribus castle, you’ll find a quaint little village with cobbled stone streets, a wonderful bakery, a handful of quaint restaurants and a picturesque wind mill: Cucugnan, setting of the novel „Le curé de Cucugnan“ written by Alphonse Daudet. The story tells how the priest in the village, worried by the lack of faith of his parishioners, turned his sermons into terrifying stories of hell. Originally told in Occitan by Achille Mir, one of a group of 19th-century writers known as the „Félibres“ that tried to keep the Occitan culture alive, the story is now enacted in the Théâtre Achille Mir.
Estagel, a busy winemaking town on the banks of the Agly river, is the birthplace of François Arago (1786–1853), astronomer and politician remembered by a statue and an annual festival at the end of August.
The traditional Occitan speaking „comarca“ Fenolheda/Fenouillèdes has been part of France since the Treaty of Corbeil of 1258. With Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet as traditional capital, the area is home to the oldest European, the homo erectus of Tautavel.The name Fenouillèdes derives from fenouille or fennel, and refers to the abundance of fennel covering its hillsides. In the Agly valley, AOC wine making of the Côtes du Rhône is dominating the local economy, with co-operatives working along with increasing numbers of independent producers.
A wonderful panoramic route – D 19 – leads to the tiny village of Lesquerde 5 km southeast of St-Paul-de-Fenouillet. Before exploring the village, stop at the lookout at the village entrance to enjoy great views of the snow-capped Canigou mountain. In the village, the winemakers‘ cooperative invites to taste some of their AOC reds that are blended from Grenach, Syrah, Carignban, and Llandoner Pelut grown on a sandy granite plateau at 320 metres above sea level.
8 km east along the D117 lies a winemakers‘ village of Maury that is highly reputed for its naturally sweet wine: Maury. Each spring, the festival „Fromage et chocolat“ invites to explore the local wines, accompanied by artisan cheeses and handmade chocolates, when strolling through the village from cellar door to cellar, with a wine glass hanging around the neck.
In the cave of Arago, hundreds bones of Homo erectus were found – the most important finds are displayed in the Musée de Préhistoire in Tautavel. A second show at the Palais de Congrés is showcasing the first people of Europe. The town is also well worth a visit with its picturesque town hall (and adjacent office staff building), the old stone houses and the many winemakers inviting to taste their wine at open cellar doors.