Lagrasse is the only officially declared ‘Most Beautiful Village‘ in the Aude department in the South of France. When meeting this queen of Basses-Corbières, she will enchant you with 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.
When entering Lagrasse, once the cultural capital of the Corbières region, you cannot miss the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ sign. And, like many other Most Beautiful Villages of France, signs will automatically direct you to a paid parking lot just outside the village. The village itself is surprisingly well signposted, there is even a route you can follow to see all the highlights. I have visited Lagrasse several times during different periods of the year and I always wonder where all the tourists are. You will see a few wandering around the cobbled streets, but nothing like Carcassonne for example. Which is a good thing, as it means you can take your time to enjoy this little gem.
Maison du Patrimoine
I usually start my visit at the Office de Tourisme in the Maison du Patrimoine. Besides being an information point, it also houses a small but interesting exhibition on medieval ceiling paintings. These interior decorations display coats of arms, portraits, proverbs and sayings and even little jokes. The house owners took great care to show visitors who they were, who their family and friends were, and what they did for a living. Almost like social media ‘avant la lettre’.
Beautifully covered market
One of the highlights of Lagrasse is the beautifully covered market, dating from 1315, at the Place de la Halle. Until the First World War, this square played an important economic role as a commercial centre. Along with the pretty houses dating from the 14th-16th centuries, you will feel like you have taken a plunge back in time. Lagrasse certainly is ancient! In the 8th century, the Archbishop of Narbonne, Nymphidius, founded a monastery in the valley where the rivers l’Orbieu and l’Alsou meet. Lagrasse was then created between the 11th and 13th centuries. Although the long history of the village has known bad times, it has always struggled back to prosperity. Agriculture, arts, crafts and the renowned weaving and cloth preparation made it a thriving borough. Even now, you can find many artists and potteries dotted around.
The old bridge, built in 1303 and remodelled in the 17th and 19th centuries, finally brought me to the river l’Orbieu. During the summer, this is a good swimming spot. The kids and I have tested it several times, jumping off the (low) rocks under the bridge right into the clear water. The first time we visited, it made me wonder why there weren’t more people around, as it is such a magical spot for a dip! It is a bit of a drive for us, but whenever I take the children with me, our cheeky monkeys don’t want to come out of the water.
If you continue your stroll from the old bridge, it will lead you to the impressive Sainte-Marie l’Orbie Abbey, known as one of the most prestigious in France. Today, it hosts a library and a café, and you can visit a part of it. A bit further on I crossed the river again, over a dam this time. And this is where everybody is during the summer! Entire families are having a blast in the cool water of the Orbieu. On one visit, I spotted an otter on the other side of the dam. I think it was trying to cool down as well…