SO MUCH WITHIN EASY REACH
In a country of the size and diversity of France anyone’s candidate for being regarded as an ideal base for visitors is always going to be subject to debate and rival opinions. Few could dispute however that Couiza is a great location for exploring a region of the south of France notable for its outstanding natural beauty and grandeur.
Deep gorges carved out by rivers fed from the ‘Haute Pyrenees’, or from the mountains of the Corbieres cut across the region creating sheer drops and soaring rock faces. Perched on seemingly inaccessible mountain ridges can be seen the outline of medieval Cathar castles and fortresses. These landmarks to a fascinating, turbulent and often bloody history of both the Aude itself and the Languedoc generally, illustrate why Couiza offers so much within such easy reach. Not just sites of historic significance and breath-taking beauty either. Added to the mix are those places which have associations with local myth and legend – one of which is a short, but steep walk from our home. The hill top village of Rennes le Chateau which has generated intrigue and mystery – notoriety some would argue, world-wide.
The small town of Couiza is on the D118 which makes its way south from Carcassonne and Limoux before connecting a little further on at Quillan with the D117. From Quillan the D117 heads east towards Perpignan and the Mediterranean. Or in the opposite direction towards Foix, onwards to winter sports resorts and thence to Andorra via the N20. Just beyond Quillan the Perpignan direction takes the D117 through the awesome ‘Defile de St Pierre Lys’, just one of the spectacular ‘Gorges de l’Aude’. At the eastern end of this gorge taking the Axat road will lead you to another gorge (‘Gorge de St George’) and thence to other ski destinations such as Aix-les Thermes, Font Romeu and Les Angles.
Following the D117 towards Perpignan through the valley of the Fenouilledes it is practically impossible to turn off the main road without encountering spectacular vistas, gorges, mountain streams and the occasional Cathar castle. It is fair to say though that some of these twisting roads are not suited to those of a nervous disposition. On the plus side they are very quiet, and like almost all French roads; impeccably maintained and well sign-posted.
Taking the D117 from Quillan towards Foix provides many stunning views of the peaks of the Pyrenees. Situated between Foix and Andorra is Tarascon sur Ariege, itself an attractive river-side town, but particularly noted as the turning-off point to the ‘Grotte de Niaux’ where you can view 14,000 year old cave paintings. These are not facsimiles – they are the real thing; a must-see experience.
Road links from Couiza are not just about a single main road. Starting from its junction with the D118 in Couiza, at the traffic lights adjacent to the excellent Tourist Office and the ‘Mairee’ (Town Hall) is the D613 which will take you into the rugged, sparsely-populated and fascinating Corbieres. This is an area of hamlets and small villages and especially of changing vistas and wide sweeping views. Sangliers (Wild Boar) may break cover, particularly at dusk and early evening – try not to hit one; they are BIG! The Corbieres is a particular delight in spring. Exquisite wild flowers abound; miniature narcissi which are small enough to be mistaken for buttercups at even a small distance; orchids by the field-full and lots, lots more.
NEARBY PLACES OF INTEREST
RENNES LE CHATEAU: Perched above Couiza this hill-top village is the focus of much speculation surrounding the allegedly fabulous wealth of its turn of the 19th/20th century priest, Berenger Sauniere*. You can learn more by reading one or more of the books we have on the subject here at Maison du Pont Vieux or a ‘Google’ search on either the village itself or its priest will yield lots of information.
RENNES LES BAINS: This small spa town on the D14 will be familiar to the readers of the novels of Kate Mosse. Much of her writings feature Rennes and the surrounding area. Founded by the Romans, it is still possible to bathe in the naturally slightly warmed mineral water source where it cascades into the River Salz, or to visit the modern-day resort and spa.
BUGARACH; A few kilometres further down the D14 lies this village set against the backdrop of the ‘Pech du Bugarach’, the highest point in the Corbieres region. Notable for its upside-down geology wherein the upper rock strata are millions of years older than those at its base. The mountain attracted world-wide attention in December 2012 when it was mooted as being a refuge from the supposed approaching end of the world.
CARCASSONNE: Only 45 minutes or so drive from Couiza, this is a must-see destination. Its crowning glory is its ‘World Heritage Site’ Cite. Renovated in the late 19th century it occupies what was originally the site of a citadel of the Gallo-Roman era. For a city of such small population (48000) Carcassonne offers surprisingly good shopping with many of its stores located on the Commercial Zones centred largely near the airport which offer the added bonus of free parking.
LIMOUX: Heading north form Couiza the D118 heads to Limoux, famous for its sparkling Blanquette wine, said to pre-date Champagne. Limoux is a delightful small town situated on a quieter stretch of the ever-changing River Aude. It has many places to eat plus museums and galleries and a seemingly endless list of events, carnivals and fetes.
ALET-LES-BAINS: Another spa town; this one is a few minute’s drive from Couiza in the direction of Limoux. It features an open-air pool alongside the ancient Roman spring source where you can fill water bottles with the pure water; or even do the weekly wash! Alet is also notable for its beautiful ruined abbey; oh, and a Casino alongside the D118.
CATHAR CASTLES: The area within easy reach of Couiza is noted for the Cathar strongholds which are dotted around the Languedoc. At Maison du Pont Vieux we have compiled our own guide to these notable landmarks as well as lots of information on the sights, legends and history of this fascinating region, which you can consult at your leisure. A copy is provided in each room.
*Our neighbour, whose family have lived in Couiza for several generations tells us that both our houses, plus another at the far end from Maison du Pont Vieux were all constructed by one of Berenger Sauniere’s brothers.
DISTANCES FROM COUIZA
Andorra 125km Barcelona 280km Carcassonne 31km Collioure 114km Foix 70km Limoux 13km
Gorges de Galamus 22km Mirepoix 35km Montsegur 35km Paris 658km Quillan 10km
Perpignan 90km Rennes les Bains 6km Rennes le Chateau 3km Toulouse 116km
HOW TO FIND US
Couiza is less than 40 minutes from Carcassonne Airport. The main through road through Couiza is the D118 and we are just 100 metres off it. Look out for ‘Place St Anne’ which is easily recognisable by the two cafes facing each other across the main road – ‘Café St Anne’ and ‘Café de France’. Turn into Rue du Parc which is between ‘Café de France’ and the ’Aviva’ office. 100 metres later the road turns sharp right in front of the entrance to the Municipal Park. We are the three-storey house with the pale blue shutters and the grape vines growing over the patio area; right on the corner (no. 2 Rue du Pont Vieux)