One of my favourite beaches, Plage de Mateille, is at Gruissan Plage in the Aude department. However, instead of spreading my towel on the Mediterranean beach as usual, I felt like it was about time I went to go and see the actual village of Gruissan itself. Its 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.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France has quite a few ‘circulades’, mostly dating from the 11th and 12th century. These medieval villages have been built in concentric circles, with a church or castle in the centre. Gruissan is a perfect example of one of these circular villages, built around the remains of a castle. I parked my car at the (free!) Parking L’Étang and decided to walk towards the remarkable Barberousse tower. The advantage of a circular village is that the tiny little streets automatically led me to the castle. Without me getting lost!
The Château de Gruissan is accessible every day of the year during set opening hours. I think the Mairie closes the site in the evenings because they don’t want people going up at night. The only time when the gate closes during the day is when the tramontane wind blows too hard. The entrance is free by the way :). There are many informative signs explaining the historic site both in French and English. The castle itself is nothing more than a ruin, and, according to their informative plaques, it has been since the 17th century. It was originally built in the 11th century to defend Narbonne from pirates.
The Tour Barberousse still has the outlines of a tower, although it is not complete anymore. Barberousse translates as ‘Redbeard’. Which surprised me, because what would the notorious Turkish pirate have to do with a small seaside village in the South of France? Well, it is thought that a local buccaneer, Gaspar Dot, nicknamed ‘Barberoussette’, is the namesake of the tower. After he was put in charge of a fortress 10 kilometres south of Gruissan, his name changed to ‘Barberousse’, after the famous Turkish pirate.
Pirates or not, the view from the top of the ruins is beautiful! On my right side, a seagull and I gazed over the Étang du Grazel. In front of me, I had a gorgeous view over Gruissan and its charming centre filled with narrow streets and fishermen’s houses. As the day was bright, I could clearly see the harbour with a hint of pink from the saline of Saint-Martin Island in the background. And to my left, I looked over the Étang de Gruissan and a bit further to the Clape Natural Park.