Thursday, August 07, 2014

Rennes le Château at dusk

Trip to Aude: Day 3 (Late Evening)

It was nearing 6 PM when we drove into the town of Couiza, at the foot of the bewitched hill. Fireworks were going off in my head and goosebumps were crawling up and down my skin. This was it, the highlight of the trip to Aude; probably the highlight of my trip to France. I'd been looking forward to this day ever since I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, many years ago. We were just meters away from the mysterious village of Rennes le Château, and the mystic mountain of Bugarach.

If we turned left and drove up what a French writer has called la collien envoûtée (the bewitched hill), we would land up at the village of Rennes le Château with its dark secrets. If we instead took a fork and drove the other direction, we would land up at that hippy El Dorado, the upside-down mountain of Bugarach.

We did neither. The first thing we do is search for a B&B to stay the night, said Blandine caustically. She seemed distinctly unmoved by the surroundings. I dutifully complied. I popped into a tourist information booth and made inquiries for a suitable place in Couiza. Minutes later, I was running screaming back to the car. There was an amazingly pretty B&B not far off -- and guess what, it was not in Couiza, but in Rennes-la-Château itself. AND it had a magnificent view of Bugarach.

In the event, that proved to be only partly true. We took the winding road up the bewitched hill. Shortly before the village, we came to a fork, pointing left to Buarach. There was also signboard that said 'Lavaldieu'. That was the name of the B&B we were going to. I was a bit disappointed. It seemed it was not in the actual village of Rennes-la-Château, but in the postal district of the same name. But we took the road anyway.

We took a short drive through fairly spectacular countryside. Looking back, we could see the village of Rennes-la-Château perched on its dark hill. Looking ahead, we could see Bugarach gleaming in the sun. Scrubby pastures rolled off on all sides, populated with just the odd cudster.
Rennes-le-Château perched on the bewitched hill

Bugarach - not glistening in the sun  (I took this pic the following day, when it was enveloped in clouds)
About halfway between Bugarach and Rennes-le-Château, we landed up at a rustic hamlet. This was Lavaldieu. Run by Patricia and Russel Cooper, a pair of Brits. It consists of a set of farmhouses and 51 hectares of land with organic gardens, stables, orchards and pastures.The Coopers run a B&B in one of the farmhouses, and a camping site in one of their pastures. They also serve up fine vegetarian meals with organic produce from their land.  I have noted elsewhere the number of B&B's we came across that were run by Brits. The English seem to make rather a hobby of coming over to the South of France, buying up attractive properties, and running Bed & Breakfast joints in them. I don't blame them. If I had the money -- and a long term visa -- I'd do the same.
From the front

The garden at the back, with the kitchen and breakfast rooms opening on to it. Our room was the one covered in ivy. See pic below for the view when you turn your head, standing at that spot
Patricia showed us our room. It was a generously large, charming room done up in a warm orange. It had a view of their spacious garden.
Pic from the hotel website. This was not the room we took. Ours was even better. But forgot to take a pic.

The breakfast room with its stone floor, opening out on the garden where we had our breakfast the following day
It was probably the nicest place we'd stayed in on our entire trip. We dumped our suitcases and walked into the garden. I was blown away. Flabbergasted. Knocked head over heels. Miles of open hills stretched out to the horizon, and floating above them, Bugarach. This was the 'spectacular view of Bugarach' mentioned in their classified ad, and by gum, it was spectacular all right. I can't imagine living all my life on a farm like this, with a scenery like that in my backyard. It boggles the imagination.
View of Bugarach from the garden of Lavaldieu. Too bad I did not take it the first evening, when it was bright and sunny. But it looks even more enigmatic wrapped in the clouds like this.

Another pic, because one was not enough.
After we'd payed for the rooms, we hopped back into the car to drive back to Rennes-le-Château. Patricia said it looks marvelous in the setting sun. It was too late to see the Saunière Home or Museum, or the church of Mary Magdalene, the central attractions of Rennes-le-Château. But we did stroll about the village, looking at the medieval houses.

We had an early dinner in a quaint restaurant to one side of the small château which gives the village its name. The restaurant sports the rather interesting name 'Le Dragon de Rhedae'. That was one of the reasons that led us to choose this restaurant. The other was the small matter that Patricia had given us a card that entitled us to a free glass of wine with the meal at this place. I don't exactly remember what we ordered -- some kind of fish, I think -- but it was excellent. The free glass of house wine that we got with the meal was even more excellent. I do remember their range of desserts. It was to die for.
The château of the village, and the restaurant Le Dragon de Rhedae nestling up beside it
The château itself is in private hands and not open to visitors.
Shot of the château taken from the alcove of the restaurant, where we were seated

Later, we walked over to the bluff overlooking the surrounding countryside, where the Saunière Home is located. Looking left, we could see Bugarach in the distance. To the right, the Tour Magdala, an important part of the Saunière Home. Right ahead, the gorgeous, rolling pyrenean landscape. I took a video of the view.

The sun wound up for the day. We got the promised magnificent view the Tour Magdala in the setting sun.

Later, we zipped back to Lavaldieu for a restful night's sleep. For the following day we were coming back to explore Rennes-le-Château and Bugarach more thoroughly. More in the next post.

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