Low clouds, but high spirits

Today was forecasted to be hot, dry and cloudless, but actually it has been cool, wet and with clouds covering the top of all mountains. The morning was reserved for a thorough visit at the Tautavel Musée de Pre-Histoire, but first we simply had to play mini-golf the original way using clubs.
The museum's exhibits were information-heavy but generally well done and providing in-depth presentations about the Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe, especially in France, during the past 450,000 years.
Despite their very distant ancestry to me these first Europeans seemed almost familiar as they lived the hard but free life among caribou and muskoxen (and other great wildlife).

After Tautavel, we tried to visit and see one more Cathar fortress. However, it was veiled in clouds.
Soaring just beneath the cloud level were four amazing and giant birds: Bearded Vultures.
Driving south towards the distant Marquixanes, we passed through the gorgeous Gorges de Galamus, a shortcut that is absolutely stunning in all aspects and that calls for some daring driving. 
The Ermitage Saint Antoine clings to the sheer rock wall in the middle of the gorge. A seemingly impossible place to settle and live, even for a dedicated hermit. Natural caves in the gorge have offered living spaces for hermits since the 7th century and until 1930!
South of the gorge we encountered a genuine Roman aqueduct, still in great shape.


Chansons, Cathars and Cavemen

A visit to the museum for the French troubadour Georges Brassens had long been on our wishlist. So, being in Séte, we simply had to go and see Georges.

Around noon, we drove south right along the sandy beaches and then headed southwest into the wild Cathar countryside with caves in the mountains and fortified chateaux on the promontories.

We took a closer look at the Cathar fort at Aguilar that was besieged and partly destroyed in the 1200's during the downslaughter of the Cathars by the Vatican crusaders.
Nowadays, the area has many intensely cultivated vineyards with grapes of high quality and famous domaines. These particularly old and neatly shaped vines attracted my interest:
My guess is that these vines will eventually carry grapes for the Cru Fitou.
Thence, we spend the rest of this warm and beautiful day in the tiny and quiet village, Tautavel,
where we've settled for the night in the B&B L'Abri sous Roche.
Tautavel is the renowned location for the earliest Europeans, our ancestors (by a 3% DNA donation, anyway): The Neanderthals.
Tomorrow, we will go and say hello to this guy and his fellow cavemen and -women.



Today's trip went to Montpellier to deliver 60% of the party to return to CPH on Air France. Thence, we drove to Sète to enjoy the canals and the proximity of the Mediterranean sea. We were surprised to find the city complete cramped with people and cars. The reason was a multi-days festival for the harbour that had its 350th anniversary.

The French Air Force made a couple of fly-bys to apply some extra tricolore flavour to the party.
We strolled alongs the canals and enjoyed the pleasant evening with a lot of local folkloristic life celebrating the harbour and the history of the city Sète.
We ended up in a restaurant hoping to have some bouillabaisse (local fish soup) but it was all sold out. We settled for something less spectacular, that was almost OK, –
and window-shopped for an extra dessert...
... as we walked back to our Hôtel de Paris, seen across the canal on the photo below.
The Belgian flag was at half mast on the bridge, commemorating the victims in Bruxelles last week.
– and night has fallen on Sète, the Venice of France.



High up in the Pyrénees en route to Andorra lies an old border fortification; a true star-shaped castle: Mont-Louis, built around 1660 on the order of Louis XIV (the sun king).
Inside Mont-Louis is also the world's first solar oven.
Constructed in 1946, it is still in operation and produces concentrated sun rays that heats objects in the "oven" to 3500°C. Pure and clean energy that is used for high tech purposes.

Mont-Louis also sported a "Place de la République" one of many, many thousands of that sort in France.
After enjoying a café visit and the stunning vistas from the castle, we proceeded to negotiate the downhill and hair-pinned road back to our valley.

A couple of train bridges caught our attention because of their impressive forms and daring construction.

Above is the Gisclard bridge built in 1907-09.
Below is the Séjourné bridge of exactly the same age, but the bridges do look ages apart.



A fairly cool, calm and overcast day, but – anyway – some of us went to Molitg le Village to hike along an old and quite rocky mule trail.

The rest of the day has been dedicated to household activities and preparing a good dinner with a local lamb dish as the main course, with local red wine!
Bon appétit !


Marquixanes Maquisards

Hiking into the mountainous maquis shrubland again today, I realized that the maquisards got their name from this place: The maquis; the dry, dense, thorny and almost impenetrable vegetation that covers most hills in southern France. The maquisards were the small groups of men and women who formed La Resistance during WW2 and fought the Nazis in this region of France. Our village, Marquixanes, has its own maquisard hero, Roger Roquefort, who paid the ultimate price.

Up in the mountains above Marquixanes, there are still lots of stone walls and tiny rocky shelters for shepherds; – all relics from a bygone era when sheep were feeding on the sparse food resources high above the valley floor.  Now all has been reclaimed by the maquis and the occasional tower with cell phone antennas on remote hill tops seem to be the only human activity here.