Gorgeous Gorges, gigantic castles and grilled martyrs
May 17, 2018
|'What should I wear'? I probed of Annie as we headed off for our afternoon excursion to fill in the time after our main event of the day. 'Will we be walking in mud filled hills or strolling through the town?' Annie's comforting Septuagenarian velvet voice reassured me that we would just be going on a drive looking out the window, so specialist clothing was not required. After all we had already scaled the mountain up to Château de Puilauren, a must see for any visitor to the Aude region of South France, and viewable from across the road of our apartment.
As we passed through Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet, the only town with a supermarket open later than midday in the region, I wondered if Annie had forgotten the route; one trip along the left side of a divided road in the middle of the town cemented this view. 'Errr, the supermarket was back there..' I offered from the back seat of the car, but it appeared Annie had other plans, and started to ascend the hills, where the streets narrowed and the descent to the valley of death (I mean the ground below) increased.
For those of you who like to scare yourselves silly, you may like to read these two websites, which show very realistically the what and where of today:
Here's an excerpt:
'In France there are a few balcony roads, which are hair-raising lanes cut into the sides of sheer cliffs. It’s a kind of road not for those who fear heights. There is little room for error on these roads. It's normal for your palms to sweat looking at those photos, imagine what it must have been like before the barriers.
Balcony roads are beautiful roads with stunning views. These tortuous routes should not be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse. Some of them are so narrow that if two vehicles have to pass each other, one vehicle might have to reverse for anything up to 3 kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. There are not many roads like this in Europe, if you can handle the height and the prospect of a very long freefall this road absolutely has to be on the list of any road connoisseur.On the narrow balcony roads your wheels will be astounded at the wonderful view of the valleys spread out before you! They are terrible for drivers who are prone to vertigo. The balcony roads are carved into the mountainside. It’s incredibly disorienting to look over the edge, or even just to see the valleys a couple thousand feet below you. The roads cut along a cliff face where there is only a foot high wall separating you and a sheer, base jumps wet dream, drop to the valley below. They run as a single track road along the mountainside for some distance with nowhere to pass another vehicle. Here one says a prayer that nobody is coming towards you until the road widens a kilometre further.'
The picture used for this article depicts the scene we experienced exactly today. Annie appears to be a gentle type, but paradoxically, she loves to surprise and shock her travel partners. My first experience of this was when we got to meet the delightful Jean-Jacques and Dominique and experience their amazingly decorated house, garden, views and forthcoming gallery yesterday. Today, the experience was more about fear. Confidently but not recklessly, Annie drove around the narrow roads of gorges-de-galamus, which Carol and I (and the various pedestrians) wondered if were even made for cars. Did I tell you Carol and I are a tad scared of heights?
Oh, anyway, did I tell you we passed by a lovely church where martyrs were 'grilled' (French translation I hope) in medieval times. And yes, at last, the Chateau de Puilauren was delightful to ascend and visit. If you are reading this, you probably have seen enough of my photos to prove it. Eventually we'll stop pinching ourselves that we are everyday witnessing such timeless beauty, narrow laneway roads and a lifestyle so different to anything in Australia. In two days we head towards Arles, land of Van Gogh and flamingos. And next time Annie says we're going for a light stroll or picturesque drive, I'll pack extra underwear. Stay tuned.