Le Moulin à Papier, just a stone’s throw from Carcassonne, is one of the last working paper mills in Europe. Situated in a beautiful green setting along the banks of the river Dure, a visit here will make you take a step into the magical world of artisan paper-making. At Brousses-et-Villaret this art is still being practised everyday. Follow the guide and learn all about the history of paper.
Before coming to Le Moulin à Papier, I had already made a reservation via the website for the kids and me. A smart thing to do, as you can only visit this site with a guide. After parking the car, a 5-minute walk led us along a botanical path to the entrance of the paper mill. Even before entering the mill, this peaceful place pleasantly surprised me. The sight of the picturesque building in the middle of abundant nature had a very calming effect on the kids and me.
Once inside, we followed the passionate guide. She brought us through the early days of paper-making-from papyrus and parchment to the smooth sheets of paper we use today. The first ‘papetier’ or paper-maker of Brousses-et-Villaret, called Polère, installed himself in 1694. Although textile factories dominated the region of Carcassonne, paper was also needed to wrap these fabrics. At the end of the 19th century, Brousses-et-Villaret alone had 6 paper mills in operation! Via the bucketwheel and the turbine, we could see the Dutch pile and the millstone grinder. These robust machines created a thick paste of old paper or rags, and the Dutch pile is still used today.
Next stop was the actual paper-making workshop. The guide showed us how Le Moulin à Papier still makes its sheets of paper, now in its seventh generation of paper-making. To make white paper, the paper-makers use a paste made out of the skeleton of flax, hemp or alfa grass, called cellulose fibres. For coloured papers, coloured rags of cotton are the main ingredient. After diluting the paste with 97% to 99% water, the paper-maker scoops it up with a sieve. This sieve removes most of the water and leaves a sheet of paper behind. Of course, this sheet of paper is still too wet and needs pressing and drying. This process takes a few hours during summer or even a few days during winter.
As it used to take 6 to 8 months to make paper, it was understandably very costly in the old days. Nowadays, Le Moulin à Papier still produces paper on-demand. Their objective isn’t to make a lot of paper, but instead to make perfect sheets. Therefore, the paper mill can produce up to 200 sheets of paper per day. In summer, they even make 2 to 3 giant sheets of paper 3.4 meters long and 2.2 meters wide. And every year, artist Catherine Cappeau makes a collection of paper dresses, which you can see dotted around the paper mill. After our informative tour, we crossed the suspension bridge and had a lovely picnic on the bank of the river. To conclude our visit, we walked for about 15-minutes to admire the view at the lookout.