The South-East of France is such a diverse region. Of course, there is the Mediterranean with its gorgeous beaches and crystal-clear water. However, it’s also worth exploring the inland areas. When you drive up the winding roads to the historic village of Minerve, the stunning nature will overwhelm you. No wonder this charming village is officially one of the most beautiful villages in France!
Minerve is perched on a high ridge, which offers naturally strong defensive protection. The surrounding dramatic canyons eroded at the place where the two rivers, La Cesse and Le Brian, come together. Access to this rocky peninsula was difficult, so it was the perfect location to build a citadel. It made Minerve a powerful Cathar city during the Middle Ages. The tower at the village entrance is the only remnant of the viscount castle, and you will see this ‘Candela’ when entering Minerve by foot after having parked in the designated paid parking lot.
Minerve is remarkably well-preserved and will bring you straight back to the Middle Ages with its curvy and cobbly streets. The village itself is an absolute joy to visit. There are two small museums: the history museum Hurepel and the Archaeology and Paleontology museum. And a few restaurants and shops that are mostly open during the summer months. However, Minerve has seen some dark periods. Back in the early 13th century, the French crown wanted to incorporate the Cathar regions. Therefore, many crusades were organised in the name of the pope. Minerve’s geological position couldn’t stop the military leader of the Crusade against the Albigensians- Simon de Montfort- who paid a memorable visit in 1210.
You can still see traces of this visit when following the signs to the belvedere and ramparts, on the left from the Grand Rue. Here, you will encounter a bad neighbour, ‘Malevoisine’ in French. In 1210, Simon de Montfort encircled Minerve for six weeks by placing four catapults around the ramparts. The largest catapult, named ‘Malevoisine’ – meaning bad neighbour – was set up to destroy the most important water supply: the San Rustic well. In the end, Viscount Guilhem of Minerve and most of the villagers surrendered. Except for the 140 Cathars, who refused to give up their faith and were burned to death at the stake. It is said that they walked through the Rue des Martyrs to the stake at the point where the two rivers meet. To remember the Cathar martyrs, there is a memorial stone with a dove carved into it near the church.
Fortunately, there is more to Minerve than this tragic history. You could go on a little adventure by exploring the ‘Pont Naturels’. Millions of years ago, the water of the Cesse and Brian rivers gave shape to these naturally formed bridges. The largest one is right at the entrance of Minerve, near the man-made bridge, and measures 228 metres long and 6 to 28 metres in height. To get to it, just follow the signs, either from the Rue de la Calade or the ‘Poterne Sud’ – the South Postern. Or from the San Rustic well, if you’ve already descended the remparts. The small bridge is a bit further up the Cesse river and is 126 meters long with an average height of 15 metres. In fact, the bridges are more tunnel-like. In the summer you can walk through them when the water of the river Cesse has dried up.