During the eight years that I have been living in the South of France, I have extensively explored the Aude department. And I have come to the conclusion that this part of France has a lot to offer! From incredible natural sites to fine sandy beaches and from history drenched towns and villages to Cathar castles, there’s something for everyone. Let me help you discover this amazing region with a top ten of must-visits when you’re in the area. As always, you can look for more inspiration on the blog by searching for ‘Aude‘. Enjoy!
When visiting Carcassonne, you get to see two cities that both merit a visit. On the north side of the river is the citadel, called Cité in French, of Carcassonne. On the south side of the River Aude, you will find the Bastide, also known as the “Ville Basse” or the lower city. Like Carcassonne’s citadel, La Bastide is a medieval town, built in 1247 under the reign of Louis IX.
If you’re a bookworm, the charismatic village of Montolieu is where you should go. Perched in the Montagne Noire’s foothills and overlooking the river Alzeau, this village is entirely dedicated to books and art. You will find secondhand books in every corner of Montolieu, displayed inside some lovely village houses and even on the streets!
3. Cathar castles
When visiting the Aude department, you will notice that the local history is closely interwoven with the Cathars. A good way to learn more about this fascinating historical period is to visit some of the fortifications. The ‘Five Sons of Carcassonne’ are the most well-known castles, including Peyrepertuse, Quéribus, Termes, Aguilar and Puilaurens. The Four Castles of Lastours are also worth visiting.
Although Rennes-le-Château is only a small village with less than 100 inhabitants, I spent an interesting few hours exploring it. Reading the astonishing history of Father Bérenger Saunière and his mysteriously gained fortune in my guidebook was enough to lure me there for a visit. Just like the other 120,000 visitors that drive up the winding road each year.
Lagrasse is the only officially declared ‘Most Beautiful Village’ in the Aude department. When meeting this queen of Basses-Corbières, you will be enchanted by her beautiful medieval streets and houses. Calmly meander through the picturesque village and cross the old bridge over the Orbieu river to visit the Sainte-Marie Abbey to enjoy some well-spent hours.
It’s always a pleasure visiting charming Narbonne, which claims to have 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. That shouldn’t be your only reason to visit this lovely town though, as you can easily spend a day happily roaming the historic streets. Every street corner reveals interesting remnants of its 2,500 years of history. And all this at a leisurely, walkable distance.
Gruissan’s location is just amazing: in the heart of the Regional Natural Park of Narbonne and flanked by two lakes with the ruins of the Barberousse tower proudly standing over this circular village. One of my favourite beaches, Plage de Mateille, is here as well. Or you could go on a tour to learn more about the salt producer of the Salin de l’Île Saint Martin.
8. Notre Dame des Auzils Chapel trail
The area between Narbonne and Gruissan is home to an impressive natural site of over 70,000 hectares: The Massif de la Clape. This small limestone mountain chain stretches from the Corbières to the Mediterranean Sea and hosts some excellent hiking trails. One of my favourite hikes is the Notre Dame des Auzils Chapel trail.
9. Gouffre de L’Oeil Doux
The Massif de la Clape hides another treasure. Right in the heart of this unique landscape lies a mysterious phenomenon called the Gouffre de L’Oeil Doux, literally translated as the “Sweet Eyed Sinkhole”. This emerald-green lake, surrounded by 40-metre-high cliffs, lies in the middle of scrubland and pine forests. Keep in mind that swimming is forbidden.
10. Sentier du Guetteur in Leucate
In Leucate, you can do several easy walks around 7 kilometres in length, like the Sentier du Guetteur. Guetteur means watcher in English, and this trail takes you from the beach of La Franqui over the cliffs to Leucate’s lighthouse. Or the other way around, as you walk back along the same path. Be careful at the edges of the cliffs, as there are no barriers.