Steeped in history, present-day Languedoc-Roussillon is spectacular.
Its outermost portion, known as the Eastern Pyrenees, consists of the valleys formed by three rivers - the Agly, Têt and Tech - which cut across the mountains and spread out onto the Roussillon plain before plunging into the Mediterranean.
Covered with orchards, vegetable patches and vineyards, this land is renowned for its sweet wines.
Both the lowlands and hillside are dotted with quaint little villages basking in the hot summer sun or dozing through the mild winters where snowfall is virtually unknown, except on the nearby peaks.
Under Louis XIII and Cardinal de Richelieu, France took over this region, in exchange for giving up what is now Spanish Catalonia.
Despite its historical upheavals, this land was able to preserve its magnificent heritage, rich and varied in language (Catalan and Occitan), architecture (Romanesque in particular) and Baroque art.
The monasteries tucked away into the hillside and the village churches containveritable treasures of baroque and Romanesque art:
- The Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Saint-Martin-du-Canigou abbeys, the Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet chapter house and the Serrabonne priory are architectural gems in themselves.
- Churches abound: Sainte Marie at Baixas, Saint André at Rivesaltes, Saint Julien at Vinça, Saint Etienne at Ille-sur-Têt and the treasury in its hospice, Sainte Marie at Espira de Conflent, Saint Pierre and its treasury at Prades, Saint Juste and Sainte Ruffine at Prats de Mollo, Sainte Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech, Notre Dame des Anges at Collioures and Notre Dame del Pratt at Argèles-sur-Mer.
Military architecture is likewise well represented here: the spectacular Salses and Villefranche-de-Conflent fortresses are historical landmarks, the latter vaunting an amazing 1000 step staircase hewn in the rock.
In short, there is a wide variety of sites well worth visiting, not to speak of the mountains covered in vineyards and moonlike stony ground, or crowned with castles in ruin but still standing proudly, giving off the splendour of their historical past.
En Pays Catalan