The view from our friends' house near Carcassonne. Imagine looking out on such tranquil scenery every day!
A typical French tree-lined provincial road. The flickering effect generated by a low sun shining between the trees when driving along these long, very straight, roads in early morning or late afternoon can be disconcerting, as we can testify!
The hill-top village of Rennes le Chateau is featured in Dan Brown's blockbuster novel "The Da Vinci Code" and its extensive and fascinating history goes back to the 10th century and beyond, into pre-history and Roman occupation (far too much to relate here - I suggest you use the search engine on your computer if you want to know more!!). The history includes rumours and fanciful theories of hidden underground chambers, buried treasure, links to Mary Magdalene, lost religious artefacts and a host of other mystic conjecture! Why did important political figures like former French presidents Chirac and Mitterand, plus former German chancellor Schroeder all make a point of coming here? Is there really something of substance behind the rumours???!!!
The first of the two restaurants we came across in the village, Le dragon de Rhedae, was closed. Perhaps too early in their season to bother opening? We picked a quiet day, and were thankful that we were able to look round the village before the main holiday season, when hordes of tourists will arrive! When the Da Vinci novel was very popular, upwards of 100,000 people visited the village every year, and it's only a very small place!
Detail of the restaurant sign. "Rhedae" is the name for Rennes le Chateau in Oc, which is the regional language . Not at all being an expert, the written words of this separate language look like a mixture of French and Spanish. Oc speakers are spread around the south-west of France, not just close to Spain. In fact, our neighbours up here in the Charente speak it at home, but it's hard enough learning French, without taking on Oc as well!
Simple but effective sundial used by the populace long before more complicated timepieces injected time constraints and deadlines into our lives!
Above and below, four shots of the last, and now ruined, chateau Hautpoul, built in the 17th or 18th century. Nothing remains above ground of all the earlier structures built during the preceding 800 years.The village was originally called plain Rennes (or Rhedae in Oc) and castles were built there from the year 1002, but the "le Chateau" suffix was only added to the name at some later time. The French are fond of long village names!
You can judge the height of the walls by the size of the people walking below! Lots of stone and lots of people needed to construct this monolith! Impressive!
This spooky Devil sculpture, standing about 3 feet high, is just inside the entrance to what has been described as the "garish" interior of the village church, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.
This strikingly elaborate, decorative (and very expensive) alcove in the church is an example of the "money no object" interior. It seems inappropriate to spend so much money in a humble village church on top of a mountain, but this is another puzzle in Rennes le Chateau. To make a long story short, the humble and low paid 33 year old parish priest named Berenger Sauniere, arranged renovations to the church between 1887 and 1897, the cost of which amounted to 660,000 francs - €2,500,000 in today's money. Sauniere earned only 900 francs per YEAR! His bosses, the parish bishops, demanded that Sauniere reveal, at trial, the source of the funds. He refused to reveal this information and the secret is buried with him! Some say he discovered buried treasure! You can read more HERE (many other sites are available!!) but all conclusions drawn are merely possibilities!
Nice mural at the other restaurant in the village - the Queen of the Castle; fortunately it was not only open but had plenty of empty tables!
Above two photos, the spectacular views we were privileged to enjoy from the terrace of our "elevated eating eyrie". You can see snow on the Pyrenees on the horizon - and that was May. There was still some to be seen in the TV coverage of a Tour de France mountain stage held there yesterday!
Walking back to the car after lunch, we gained a distant view of the 4,000 feet high Bugarach mountain, the so-called "Mountain of God". It is very unusual in that the rock strata at its top are OLDER than those at the bottom! It's also France's answer to the Bermuda triangle - UFO sightings reported, unexplained happenings, disappearance of climbers, planes are not allowed to overfly it, etc. When the "end of the World" was said to be predicted by the Mayan calendar last December, this mountain was reported to be the only place to survive! The French police had to close all the roads leading to Bugarach village (population 179) and keep many anxious travellers away until the deadline had passed!! The only restaurant there was advertising a 4 course "end of the World" dinner at €30 a head. What marketing!
Finally, the cute little stone marker we saw when driving out of this spell-binding place.
My thanks to Nigel for all his research and writing this post for me to go with my photos.