|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE FIVE|
|FEATURING Languedoc- Roussillon - Part Two continued . . .|
Follow the N116 southwest from Saillagouse to the small border town of Bourg-Madame, and you can cross the border into Spain and take a leisurely drive along the N260 into Andorra, a haven for tax-free shopping. At La Seu d'Urgell go north on the N145 to the principal city and capital, Andorra La Vella, which is decidedly unattractive ~ one gets the feeling that architectural style was not a municipal priority. However, we have been told that had we entered Andorra from France along the scenic and more rugged N22/CG2, we would have been quite impressed by Andorra's beautiful small towns along that route.
Back in France: Perpignan, the capital and only city of any size in the département and just eleven kilometers from the coast, has a vieille ville with buildings constructed in the regional reddish bricks often seen in this part of France. Visit the Catalan museum, Musée d' Arts et Traditions Populaires du Roussillon, at one time in use as a prison. Local folk dances called Sardanes, take place twice a week all summer long in the place de la Loge. On place Gambetta you will find Cathédrale de Saint Jean, in a style known as Southern Gothic. Also in red brick, it has two stone towers; it was under construction for 185 years, completed in 1509, and incorporates a Romanesque chapel on the site since 1025. The Palace of the Kings of Majorca is in the center of Perpignan and was built in 1274 when the King of Majorca, James II, ruled the region.
Also in the Pyrénées-Orientales is the small city of Prades, home in exile of Pablo Casals and still producing a music festival in his name nearby in mid-summer. You will also find the Catalan town of Céret, considered the capital of Cubism by the art world and often a place modern artists gathered (see the Museum of Modern Art), and the delightful fishing village of the Côte Vermeille, Collioure. Its lovely harbor is protected by sea walls with a 14th century fortified church on one side and a 12th century castle on the other. Henri Matisse and other artists made it popular at the turn of the century, and you will see a display of reproductions of their work along some winding streets of town. There is also an abundance of good beaches on the coast here and if you ski, hike in the mountains or enjoy sports such as rock climbing, the Pyrénées of Roussillon offer you both opportunity and location.
fortunate to spend a week along the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon at
Port Leucate and, despite much overcast weather, we strolled the beaches
at Argèles-sur-Mer with a view of the Pyrénées where
they reach nearly to the sea, and visited the coastal towns of Canet,
Leucate and St Cyprien. One of the most enjoyable was St-Cyprien
port and plage, with a pleasant marina and fine, sandy beach.
WHERE TO STAY in the HÉRAULT
WHERE TO STAY in ROUSSILLON
(click on names or photos to access web site)
Office de Tourisme
Office de Tourisme
Office de Tourisme
Office de Tourisme
of accommodations: respective property owners. All rights reserved.]
Walking French History ~ The Régordane Way
by Scott Anderson
For those of you with a penchant for themed walking, there are few French-based experiences that can touch the excitement of discovering an ancient and forgotten route. That's the thrill you can get from trekking the Régordane Way from Pradelles in Lozère to Alès in the southeastern foothills of the Cévennes.
The Régordane is a 100-kilometer section of the historical route that links Paris to Lower Languedoc. It forms approximately half the length of the longer Saint-Gilles Way that runs from Le Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, a 140-mile walk that was Christendom's fourth major pilgrimage around the early Middle Ages.
While records first mention the Régordane around the middle of the ninth century, it was the pilgrimage that launched it as an important thoroughfare, en route to the tomb of Aegidius in Saint-Gilles abbey and beyond ~ as a point of departure for St-Jacques de Compostelle, the holy land (Saint Gilles was a Mediterranean port at the time) and Rome.
Régordane welcomed some illustrious travelers along its course during
its golden age: King St Louis, in 1254, who departed
There were many reasons for the decline of the Régordane, perhaps the key one being the eastward expansion of Gaul from 1308 which saw the Rhône Valley supplanting the Régordane Way as France's main eastern frontier route. Nevertheless, there was a renaissance period during the early industrialization of the 'Alèsian Basin' as capitalists sought an alternative and faster route to Paris and northern markets for Languedoc's coal, iron and steel, wine, salt and silk. Eventually, the natural geological fault line through which the Régordane passes experienced major investments in both road and rail, and once again the original path fell into disrepair or was forgotten.
You head south from the town and soon discover the first granite rock of the sacred path just south of La Ribeyre. Part of the trail that had been lost until recently has been miraculously resuscitated after Pestel. Further on, past Lesperon, you walk the 'Royal Route', the name given to the 18th century paved surface. You then wade carefully across two streams and pass through several charming hamlets before arriving in La Bastide and your first overnight stay.
Your second day is a master class in hill walking as you discover 'montjoie' (stone waymarks), dolmen and mule drivers' cart wheel tracks engraved deeply into the granite rock pavement, testament to the trading importance of this route in bygone times ~ deep incisions are visible from both the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as well as the eighteenth, distinguishable by the differing wheel gauges of each epoch.
Thereafter, the path follows the hill crest before descending spectacularly into the Chassezac Gorge. It resurfaces on the southern bank (several bridges were washed away by torrents) and heads due south across the volcanic plateau into the spectacular scenery of the Gorge and the medieval village of Garde-Guerin perched beside its steep slopes.
You are likely to catch your first site of other 'local walkers' here before you continue southwards on the remarkable 'Bayard coast' path to Villefort, past a lake, a magnificent stone railway viaduct and over a dam ~ all under the watchful eye of Mont Lozère, the region's most imposing mountain.
On day three, you follow the important fault line down through the low-lying Villefort, pass the source of the River Cèze and experience a change of vegetation with the presence of the Cévennes first green oak trees. You alternate between ancient trail and tarmac routes as you descend into the valley through linear settlements toward the Huguenot stronghold of Genolhac and its mercantilist 'Grande Rue'.
Your fourth day's trekking takes you over the Cèze via the Pont du Mas, where the local Protestant 'Camisard' chief was shot in 1710. You continue through the countryside of the Cévennes' most famous writer, J-P Chabrol, pass the impressive industrial architecture of the stone viaduct at Chamborigaud, and arrive at the site of Portes Castle, whose strategic importance as the northeastern tollgate for the Cévennes is for all to be seen.
The final day sees you descend along the watershed between the Cèze and and Gardon valleys, through villages and hamlets to the industrial heartland of the Cévennes ~ Alès. Your walk across the enormous open caste mine en route is a salutary reminder of the region's industrial heritage that sadly destroyed the original path taken by the Régordane. The local tourist board plans to resuscitate it as part of a larger tourist project. Such plans are met with a certain cynicism by the local walking fraternity.
Arrival at Mas Dieu, 'God's House', saw the pilgrim or merchant leaving the chestnut, oak and pine of the Cévennes mountains and arriving at the fringes of the garrigues and its unmistakably Mediterranean flora of vine, olive and fig trees.
Walking south from Pradelles along this ancient path fills you with innumerable conflicting emotions. You commence your journey on ancient tracks and the paved 'Royal Route' across the splendid isolation of a granite volcanic plateau where the only signs of human life are those of the occasional farm hand. You stumble upon your first sizable settlement only at the end of your second day's walking.
The dissected valley into which you plunge on Day Three is replete with the history and vestiges of France: from Roman times, through to the upheavals of the Camisard Uprising (the Cévennes' own bitter chapter of the Wars of Religion) and onwards until the height of the Industrial Revolution. The linear settlements have seen no growth since. On the contrary, most have stagnated due to industrial decline and rural exodus and remain ossified in the architecture of a bygone era. It is not until you arrive at the edge of Alès that you discover what the whole 'idea of progress' was supposed to be about.
In this practical French history lesson par excellence, you learn what it must have been like to travel on the crude surfaces of the Middle Ages, be it alone as a pilgrim, accompanied by mule and laden cart, or eventually on horseback. The closer you get to modernity, the more frequently you find yourself walking on macadam roads, as the ancient path has transformed itself into a modern artery. Such are the inevitable forces of human advancement. However, whether on granite path, schist stone or tarmac, the authenticity of this heritage is never compromised. Moreover, as modern road building has chosen to reduce the steepness of ancient slopes by the use of winding roads, the straight and southern-bound Régordane is often found parallel to or dissecting the main roads of today.
The story chronicled by the Régordane provides a rich and fascinating insight into the origins of Modern France. The tale so far has taken over twelve centuries to write. You can get the gist of the novel from a five-day trek, but expect to find yourself researching something that has captured you interest in a library or bookshop near home upon your return.
operates The Enlightened Traveller from his base in Languedoc's
for this article: Scott Anderson/The Enlightened Traveller.
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