Lagrasse

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Lagrasse abbey
A view which has hardly changed for centuries

Officially ’one of the most beautiful villages in France’, Lagrasse is a small town nestled at the confluence of two valleys, and linked to the Benedictine abbey to which it owed its original prosperity by two graceful bridges spanning the river Orbieu.

The view of this classic scene from the winding road that descends into the town from the direction of Narbonne is the subject of endless postcards and holiday photographs (there is a conveniently wide grass verge where you can pause to take this picture).

A new museum opened in the village in 2009 : The Museum "1900 AD" (at the bottom of the main street)

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Cobbled streets and market hall
As well as the abbey, Lagrasse has many old buildings and cobbled streets

The town has become a haven for potters and artists and many of the attractive medieval houses (some dating back to the 14th century) have been converted into studios and exhibition spaces. In the centre of the town, the cobbled market square with its covered central section plays host to craft fairs, bric-a-brac sales, and produce markets during the summer; for some years there has also been a literary festival of a somewhat philosophical bent (Le Banquet du Livre) at the abbey during August. The broad main boulevard, shaded by the inevitable (but beautiful) plane trees, offers ample opportunities for dining al fresco, or the classic French holiday activity of sitting in a café watching the world go by.

For the more active, there is a botanical trail in the garrigue above the town and a pleasant, safe bathing and picnic spot on the river just below the abbey. And of course no visit to Lagrasse is complete without a tour of the abbey itself, one of the oldest and richest in France. It was founded in the 8th century, allegedly by Charlemagne after seeing seven hermits reproduce the miracle of the bread and fishes. Charlemagne is also less nobly commemorated in the name ascribed to a hollow in the nearby hills: ’Charlemagne’s buttocks’ — the illustrious knight apparently fell from his horse and left the imprint of his august posterior on the rocks.

On the main street (Boulevard de la Promenade) you will find the Tourist Office (Syndicat d’Initiative — tel. 04 68 43 11 56; fax. 04 68 43 16 34), and the Maison du Terroir de Lagrasse (tel. 04 68 43 11 43), a showroom for local produce — including of course wine, but also honey, olives and goat’s cheese. A similar establishment, ’Vins Corbières Haute Expression’, in the Place de la Halle, represents a grouping of local wine producers.

Ribaute

You could stop off to view the waterfalls in the river at Ribaute, dammed by the local council to provide a pleasant spot for swimming (at your own risk), fishing and picnicking. A narrow stone bridge hangs over the deeply incised gorge; looking at the 8-metre drop in summer it is hard to believe that the winter floods rushing down from the high Corbières can bring the water foaming up to — or even over — the parapet.

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Ribaute
Waterfalls © CDT/Davy

Fabrezan

Fabrezan, another village on the river but less suitable for swimming since floods destroyed the dam in 1999, is very attractive with a broad, shady main street, a couple of good restaurants, a café, and all the usual shops, plus a museum dedicated to Charles Cros, poet and inventor of the phonograph; the local winery takes its name from him.

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Camplong d’Aude
The village square and fountain

Camplong d’Aude

On the way from Lagrasse to Fabrezan is the village of Camplong d’Aude, on the flanks of the Montagne d’Alaric and set back from the main road. It has a charming village square which combines all the essential elements of a Midi village: the spring-fed fountain with its statuette of Marianne, symbol of the Republic; the plane tree; the stone clocktower over the gateway to the former château; the group of elderly villagers sitting on a bench in the shade discussing the ways of the world. Camplong also boasts a restaurant, Authentis, serving local food in a friendly atmosphere, and a cave cooperative and several other winemakers who all produce award-winning wine. In the summer months it offers numerous free events in its open-air amphitheatre — visit the village website to see the programme.

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