By a warm Sunday of July, I wished – led by my favorite Cathar guide tour and his brunette princess – to reconnect to my beloved travelling sensations by exploring the nearby unknown. I decided nothing, I was held by the country Wise Man’s wisdom, so prone to share his land with me. And for my first Cathar escape, I went to Minerve, in between Hérault and Aude, edged with Cesse and Brian rivers, looked upon by vineyards, curved in the Haut Languedoc Natural and National Park.
Close to prehistorical sites, the city’s known history only starts during Roman Antiquity, archaeological excavations has proven occupations as early as before AD 9th century, and then became a legion camp in AD 1st century. Has this warship fonction given its holy name, in order to praise the proud and serious Roman Goddess of War and Wisdom, Minerva? Or does it originate from the combination of a Celtic word Men, meaning stone or rock, and from the derivatives of herbech, meaning refuge: Menèrbà, and therefore a reference to its geographical situation? All depends on who you want to praise for your French roots… As for me, I think my Irish heart has chosen older Gallic origins and claims to be Celtic.
But the real and dramatic spotlight of History belongs to, like often over here, Middle Age during Crusades against Cathars, punished for their pure interpretation of Christianism. As a matter of fact, you might wander by Rue des Martyrs, the only medieval streets through which the Perfects have walked towards the stake intended for them in 1210.
A detailed article about the Albigensian Crusade is soon to come but, in the meanwhile, let me tell you more about how this religious war has transformed the powerful medieval town…
In the middle of the Cathar torments, Simon de Monfort, the military chief of the Crusade, decides to take the city known as inaccessible, where a bunch of Perfects were hiding. Armed with catapults (only one remains today: La Malvoisine or “bad neighbor”), the chief dreams of destruction. Besieged, deprived of water and food, burdened with heat, people soon don’t have any other solution than surrender, Cathars soon don’t have any other choice than abjure or stake. 140 will choose devotion and sacrifice flames and the place will lose a lot of its power and economical influence.
This historical place – that you might learn more about at the Musée Hurepel and the Museum of paleontology and archaeology – is a beautiful jewel on the top of moats, which might take you a tiny hour to visit and will surprise you even more since its romantic streets are not its only treasure…
Indeed, stopping by offers you a perfect blend of History and Nature, Culture and Untamed; since a few hikes surround the place, promises of beautiful scenery along Brian canyons and Cesse’s meanders, both waters telling you immemorial tales.
Paths are well marked, you can start “up here“:
* follow D147 up hill and by foot, and after 20 mins, take the graveled trail on your right. After 10 more minutes, down hill this time, leave the clean path in favor of the tree trail on your right.
Or “down there“:
* simply follow the stairs.
All this by trusting yellow painted dashes on rocks. The hike last more or less three hours.
But if you want to get off the beaten track, you should go to Paroli bookshop (where you might also get a smoothie and a book after the walk) where you should ask the owner about water mills, natural pool, waterfalls and unexplored path to Vélieux….! The bookseller will be very happy to share his tips with you if (and only if) you promise not to throw your garbage away on the nature. Say I sent you, he doesn’t know me 😉 If you choose this option, it will take you the whole day and you will need picnic and bathing suit.
As for me, I started at the parking lot (free for now), following my Cathar guide and yellow dashes of course, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier and prettier the other way around, starting at La Malvoisine. I definitely think it was nice to start with nature and end with the village though, you should do it this way.
In the already scorching morning warmth, I initiated this escape through wooded canyons. And I actually flied further than Cathar corners, I left to North America, I went to Colorado State. Those green gorges reminded me of Mesa Verde National Park where I discovered ingenuous people prints from one thousand years ago both on cliffs and canyons. No dwelling houses here but rocks might have been a perfect haven. Let’s check, I challenge you to say who is what:
Grasshoppers were out as early as 8 am and I don’t know if their song or the water have really given their name to the stream: the Bruyant (means loud in French), now shorten in Brian, shinning indeed in summer light. We were almost the only people on Earth and I realized, so keen of giant spaces and across the world journeys I am, I didn’t need to go that far to explore my imaginations.
I was in heaven for a few hours, connected to all the Earth’s layers, both similar and opposite on each piece of land, carrying paradoxical energies but always supplying 3D getaways.
* In summertime, 8 am is already too late to hike, start around 6-7 am! You will truly enjoy the cool loneliness in a place which starts to fill up around 11 am.
* You should linger and push further to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois in order to taste the best Muscat in the world, or stop by the Château de Fauzan for colored tastes, the wine is very good I have been said…
* If you drive to from the West, you
may must follow the ridge road, the D182, the most beautiful of the region…
* You might then have an unnecessary detour to the famous Curiosité de Lauriole: a road going down when it looks like you are going up. Let me tell you, it is way less amazing than it sounds! I had pictured a long road down hill, it is only a 500 meters road in the middle of nowhere (you might even pass it without noticing so lost in the middle of nowhere it is!) and it is mostly flat to me… But there are even signs leading you there! Proving how well-known the place is. If you do go there, the game is to park your car at the beginning of the road, leave it neutral and see where it is driving you…
Enjoy your own explorations!