Show Notes for Episode 449: Exploring the Aude Department

Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Montolieu
  • Lastours
  • Fanjeaux
  • Lagrasse
  • Villerouge-Termenès
  • Rennes-le-Chateau
  • Gruissan
  • Leucate
  • Port-la-Nouvelle
  • GR 367 between Foix and the coast
  • Abbbaye de Fontfroide near Bages
  • Carnaval de Limoux
  • Alet-les-Bains and its Benedictine Abbey

The Aude Department: Occitanie – A chunk of the southwest of France 

Surface area: 6,139 km2 

Population:    375,000 

Main cities and towns: Carcassonne, Narbonne, Castelnaudary, Lézignan-Corbière, Limoux, Quillan 

France is divided into departments (the equivalent of counties in the States) and they are named after a geographic feature of the area: a river, a mountain, a coastline etc. They are numbered too, in alphabetical order of their names.  

Today we are going to talk about a big department in the southwest of France, in Occitanie, called the Aude (named after the river). It stretches from a little east of Toulouse all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. It is relatively big in size and is very varied in its geography. It is also filled with famous sites and many things to visit and do, as well as being a popular place for people to own or rent vacation homes. 

The Geography of the Aude 

The geography is so varied in the department that you can go from the Black Mountains, in the northern part; a dense forested area that gets a lot of rain and has lots of lakes and hiking, and green mountains, to the extreme southern part of the department that enters the foothills of the Pyrenees at Axat.  

On the western edge of the Aude it is still a temperate zone and around Castelnaudary, famous for its cassoulet, the hills are wheat country. As you approach Carcassonne, the land becomes drier, there is more limestone and the vineyards and mediterranean vegetation begin. From there on, and going south, across the Corbière mountains, (that go over 1,000 m) it is stone country. This is where most of the famous Cathar castle ruins are located. 

And the Aude continues out to the sea – past Narbonne, one of the most ancient cities in France, with its Roman ruins and medieval city center, out to the coast with lagoons filled with flamingoes, and tiny villages and beaches.  

When people talk about the Aude department, they could be talking about its famous Cathar chateaux, its beautiful, ancient stone villages, its historical sites like Carcassonne or Narbonne, the Canal du Midi that runs through it, its mountain ranges which are very varied, its natural sites like grottoes and caves, its coastline with lagoons and windy beautful beaches, or its wines.  

The Wines of the Aude 

The Aude is one of the biggest wine producing areas of France. For a long time the wines produced here had a reputation for being poor quality, basic table wines. Not any more. For the last 50 years the wines of this area have gained a reputation, and are of much greater quality. They are often called ‘sun wines” because of the amount of sun this region gets all year long. Mostly reds, but with a few nice rosés and whites, they are rich, full bodied but less tannic than Bordeaux wines. And many winegrowers have started doing organic or “raisonné” wines, careful of the chemicals they use 

Some of the areas with good wines – (note that wine does always vary by the producer but there are certain varieties of grapes used in each region of France) 

The Cabardès wines from the region just north of Carcassonne: a smaller, high quality area 

The Minervois: There are many excellent, award winning wines from the Minervois area which stretches from the north and east of Carcassonne, going into the area of another department too 

The Corbières: This is the largest area of wine growing, essentially south from Carcassonne going all the way to Narbonne on the coast. Many wines, with excellent reputations: mostly reds 

Massif de la Clape: This small area just east of Narbonne on a peninsula overlooking the sea produces a small quantity of a rich red wine 

Limoux : The area just around this small city produces one of the most ancient bubbly whites in France – the Blanquette of Limoux.  

Some Villages  

The Aude is also famous for its beautiful old villages. Some of them have become famous for specific activities or events. 

Montolieu is a lovely stone village perched on high, north of Carcassonne. It has become famous for being the “Village of Books”: with more bookstores per capita than anywhere else and for having book festivals, book readings and other cultural events. Officially “Village de Culture et des Livres’, it is a fun place to visit. 

Lastours: Not far from there is the tiny village and the impressive ruins of the Cathar castles of Lastours perched on a hill. Less known than the Cathar ruins further south,there are the ruins of three castles, and it is climbable too. 

Fanjeaux, southwest of Carcassonne, not far from Castelnaudary, is a village  that has a lot of history in connection with the Cathars, and is right in the middle of some lovely rolling hill country. 

Lagrasse, closer to Narbonne, is famous for its ancient Abbey and for its lovely, tiny village, where there are also literary festivals every year under the central market . 

Guissan, on the coast, on a tiny peninsula, is a pretty ancient village built in a circle on top of a hill to protect it from the waters in case of storm. Below, on the beach, are  strange houses built on stilts that are summer/vacation homes and now a preserved historic area to visit. 

Leucate is on the Mediterranean coast and is a resort town famous for wind surfing and surfing. 

Natural Sites 

Gouffre Geant de Cabrespine – about s30 minutes north of Carcassonne, in the area of huge limestone cliffs, is the famous Gouffre of Cabrespine which is one of the deepest and most complex underground spaces in the world. 

Grotte de Limousis – even closer to Carcassonne, is the largest grotto visitable in western Europe and hans an underground lake as well as gorgeous formations 

The Massif de la Clape is a small wonderful area of Mediterranean forest, hills overlooking the sea and paths for hiking and biking. In the middle is a famous “Blue Hole” a sinkhole that is very deep,uo very impressive, and swimmable 

The Gorges of Galamus and the Gorges near the village of Axat in the southern part of the Aude are impressive to hike, to drive through and to visit in general. All of this part of the Aude is porous limestone and there are many areas filled with interesting formations and small rivers 

The Canal du Midi runs from Toulouse and goes across all of the Aude department emptying out into the sea after Narbonne. Besides taking a barge ride or renting a boat for a few days, you can walk, run or bike the paths that go along the canal and stop at one of the many locks or one of the auberge/cafés that are still on the canal.  

Tourism in the Aude 

Almost all of the Aude department is filled with second homes and there are many many tourists who come here all year round. 

The coast and the villages nearby attract a major part of the tourists as do the small villages not far from  Carcassonne or Narbonne. But there are really tourists everywhere. The parts of the Aude where there are the least are the extreme north near the Black mountains and the tiny villages in the extreme south part as you go up into the foothills of the Pyrenees. But because there are tourists everywhere, there are tourist services everywhere as well.  

It is a department that is largely in the sun most of the year and  has everything from sea to ski and all kinds of ancient ruins, villages, specialty foods and wines and lots and lots of hiking, biking, walking, swimming and just enjoying the surroundings 





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Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area