Travel in Languedoc-Roussillon France: gite vacation rentals, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles

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Travel Article on Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Three Cathar Castles - Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Excerpt from Ockham's Razor - Part 6
by Wade Rowland

From the Quèrebus parking area, we sweated out a half-hour climb, much of it on steps hewn into the living stone, before reaching the entrance gate, where a sturdy length of chain has been bolted to the stone wall. It is there because when the wind pipes up it can funnel through the gate with enough force to blow people off their feet, preventing them from entering even on all fours.

Southern France Languedoc region Cathar castles In this exclusive excerpt from Ockham's Razor: A Search for Wonder in an Age of Doubt, author Wade Rowland, his wife Christine, and their two teenagers explore the romantic ruins of Cathar castles in southern France's Languedoc region.

The chain keeps them from being swept right off the mountain, an occurrence once common enough to have encouraged the local site managers to post wind warnings and to close the site completely if a storm threatens. Thankfully, it was dead calm for our visit as Hilary and Simon, giddy with the altitude and the spectacular vistas of ribbons of road and spaghetti rivers far below, terrified Chris and me by gamboling along the ramparts, oblivious to danger.

There is, in the heart of the massive castle keep, a Gothic chamber supported by a single stone pillar which breaks out into eight ribs across a vaulted ceiling. Three arrow slits, an elegant Gothic window and the remains of a fireplace high on one wall show by their placement that this was a chamber with a cellar, the wooden floor having long since rotted away. The peculiar arrangement of these architectural elements - the fireplace seems high above any probable floor level and the supporting pillar is off-centre with respect to both the windows and the rest of the room - have led to much speculation as to the chamber's original purpose.

Legends naming Quèrebus as one of the Cathars' hiding places for the Holy Grail have further fired imaginations. The historian Fernand Niel studied the chamber and its keep and arrived at the fanciful conclusion that due to the way in which the sun shone through each of the slit windows to hit the central pillar in different seasons, the room was somehow connected with sun worship.

Sun worship or no, the Cathar fortress, with its many dank passages and dark chambers illuminated only by arrow slits, is undeniably magical. When the four of us stumbled out of the gloom of one windowless passageway into the dazzling sunlight of the courtyard and looked up, there was a paraglider suspended from a huge wing of yellow hi-tech fabric drifting past perhaps a hundred metres overhead, lifted on the thermals rising from the valley. He was with us for the remainder of our visit, circling the peak silently, effortlessly, like a phantom from an opium dream.

We stopped for a leisurely lunch in the French hilltop village of Cucungnan far below the gaunt walls of Quèrebus, in a family-run auberge named for the town. In deference to Hilary's incipient vegan sensibilities (chicken or fish is tolerated), we ordered coq au vin rather than civet de sanglier or lapin au saupiquet, and it was delicious, the rich brown sauce given a unique tanginess by the robustness of the local red wine called Maury.

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World Travel Guide .com - Travel article about travel in Languedoc France: long-term vacation rentals in France, gite rentals, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles, and essential advice for travel in France and worldwide travel.

In this World Travel Guide .com exclusive excerpt from Ockham's Razor, the author Wade Rowland and his family explore the romantic ruins of Cathar castles in southern France's Languedoc region.

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