Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Aude Valley, France: Limestone Vistas

Last view of the Pyrenees as we go over hill and valley.
 To acquaint us with the country where we planned to spend three months, we both read “The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography” by Graham Robb.  The book describes the disperse tribes and languages that existed in the mid-19th century and the forces up until World War I that unified the country.  Highly recommended.  Mr Robb did much of his research for this book traveling the rural landscape by bicycle.  He is also a geologist, so when he writes of the Pech de Bugarach and the landscape around it in glowing terms we trusted his credentials and planned our route to pass through the area on the way to Carrcassonne.
John descending.

Old vines and new flowers.
The  wind was still blowing in the morning we left Perpignan but we were soon shielded by the topography of hills and valleys on little winding roads.  We arrived early in a sweet little campground that just opened -- they were still hosing the place down.  We did some much needed laundry and settled in for an afternoon of quiet.  Late in the afternoon the calm was interrupted by multiple cars parking and the sound of voices and laughter as a couple of dozen young adults descended on the remaining tent sites and instantly set up their pop-up tents.  Worried about their proximity and volume, John strolled over to investigate.  He immediately engaged a few who spoke English, and asked if they were on a geology field trip.  With  amazement they said yes, how did he know?  They were geology students from the university in Toulouse on a paleontology trip to find and age fossils in the limestone formations in the vicinity.  So with our geological past we became people of interest, and we chatted with several of them throughout the night, learning about their country, how it is to attend university in France, how old the rocks around us were, and that we were one hour behind the rest of France for the last three days because they just switched to daylight savings time.  They respectfully kept the party noise down as we went early to bed. 
A glorious morning descent.
The next day the wind was still blowing, not as hard, but still present.  We decided wind around here is the default condition.  We cycled west and threaded around the high tilted beds of limestone.  The focus of the morning were the ruins of the ancient fortress of the Peyrepertuse Castle still perched along the ridge where the Cathars made their last stand in the 13th century.  When we got to the north side we could see light coming through openings in the fortress walls.  By afternoon the castle was in the rear view mirror and Peche de Bugarach was in our sights.  It was a deceivingly steep grade, but with fine views of the peak at the pass and a glorious downhill to the campground.
A fortress ruin guarding our path.

It is hard to discern the castle ruins from the rock formations, but it is up there.

Approach to Peche de Bugarach

Vistas from the pass means no more uphill!

As close to Peche de Bugarach as we can get.

And, once again, we arrived on opening day.  In fact, we were the first visitors of the season!  The proprietor was cheerful and welcoming.  We inquired about a place to buy groceries, and he said the market in town was closed for the afternoon of Good Friday.  The disappointment of realizing that we might have to cycle to the next town, nine kilometers downhill and another nine back up late in the day must have been apparent.  He said he was driving there anyway so he offered to buy us food, just give him a list.  The views were great that day, but we remember that act of kindness the most.

Our new friend Victor!

Old growth vines every way you turn!
Rain delayed us the next morning for an hour and a half.  We retreated to a clear plastic tent, maybe left standing from some family reunion last year, and cooked breakfast.  When the skies cleared we left our bubble of opportunity and started our descent and approach to Carcassonne.  We rode through miles and miles of vineyards, old and gnarled.  We met Victor, from Portugal, who cycled the last week from Bordeaux, taking an unladen day to bike into the city.  We cycled together and chatted until we saw the towers Carcassonee on the horizon.  And there was a sign to a campground on the left, within walking distance of the old city.  And so another day of bike touring ended with only pleasant surprises.
First glimpse of the towers of Carrcassonne

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salviadorii said...

Hi you guys
Have been following along.Great to see the countryside. I have looked at the Aude dept as an interesting place for a village to village walk.
I am expecting lots of goat pictures and even more of cheese and gardens and vegetables.Only folks from the East side would recognize geology students. Way to go. Dori

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