Monday, May 3:  Lastours, Minerve

We slept a bit later than yesterday’s early start, recovering from a busy day. Around 10 PM, we departed for Lastours, a Cathar site. The Cathars were a heretical sect, active around the 12th or 13th century. Baptism was the only sacrament they recognized, and the believed in a duality between Good and Evil. Eventually, the Catholic Church saw them as a threat and launched a crusade that wiped them out. Many of their castles remain, distributed all around this region. Lastours is not the most impressive of the sites, but is extremely close to us, and very representative. (Photo 90)

A thirty minute drive brought us to the town. We paid the modest admission fee and started up the trail. The trail gained elevation quickly, offering impressive views up to the four ruined castles, and down to the river coursing along the abandoned textile factory in the town.

The castles were impressive, and the boys were able to scramble up into some of the towers. The weather was threatening, but we mostly hiked in short sleeves. There were only a few tourists around to share the site with us.

Back to the car, we then headed in the opposite direction to the town of Minerve. Rather than follow the tourist road signs back through Caunes-Minervois, we tried to follow a route suggested by the map, only to cause some route-finding difficulties part way there. Eventually, we parked in the lot above the town, looking down at the canyons and natural bridge formed by the river. Across the modern bridge and into the town, we checked out the two possibilities for lunch, eventually settling one a spot with a variety of crepes. Robert, our adventurous eater, came up with a disappointment, when the egg in his ham and cheese crepe was severely under-cooked. By now, the rain had really begun, so we passed on the hike into the canyon and headed home for homework and journal-writing.

Terry made us reservations for a late dinner in Homps (“Oooomps”) along the Midi Canal. I’d hoped to spend a little time walking along the canal, examining some locks and checking out the boat traffic. Instead, we had the drive from Hell. Just outside Caunes-Minervois, the engine light came on, a steady beeping began, and the display panel said “Abnormale Antipollution.” This was not of a great concern except the oil temperature gauge was on stone cold. As it turned out, it took a few minutes to come up (the water already had though), and I just wasn’t familiar enough with the car yet to know the time lag. Along with this, it was clear we were very low on gas, with the display panel reading 90 km left to go. However, after about 10 minutes, and a restart, the warning indicators stopped.

Not many service stations had been open during the long weekend, and we’d been on the very rural backroads all day besides. I located two automated stations on the way to dinner, but neither my VISA or cash card were acceptable. We found Hoomps, and the canal, but no locks and it was raining pretty hard, so the whole idea of a thirty minute exploration of the canal was moot. Dinner was in a suspicious looking place from the roadside, but delightful inside. The boys had a value menu enfant meal, while Pat and I had the cheapest (33 Latini units each) menu. The main course was duck leg and was very good. The artichoke pate entree was very different and delicious, while the regional specialty, creme goat cheese smothered in honey, was a nice interlude before dessert.

Dinner was planned late, so we could drive to Carcassonne to see the city walls illuminated. During dinner, I realized we could get gas on the tollway, so after dinner I consulted the road atlas, and there looked to be a roadside stop along the tollway on our way back to Carcassonne. So we set out in the dark and the rain, as the display panel slowly chipped away at the km’s remaining. Onto the tollway with the trucks in the dark and the rain, and the low gasoline light came on with a beep. Thanks. Then Robert fiddled with his watch and it beeped. 20 kilometers later, the service area appeared and the bright yellow “Shell” signed came into view like a beacon. The Peugeot drank up 73 euro worth and the panel restored to a 1000 km range.

Onto the old city of Carcassonne, where we approached on familiar roads (second time), then around the other side of the city to find a bridge across the river (Pont Neuf) with a great view of the fully lit city walls. We spun a wide U-turn, parked, grabbed our umbrellas and walked out on the bridge for a better view. It was indeed a stunning sight, and Robert commented that he could not decide which was his favorite, the ruins at Lastours, or the restored and maintained marvel of Carcassonne. That accomplished, back in the car, and I opted for the long route home, since it was the only route I was confident in. Once onto the small roads at Trebes, we ended up behind a fully-loaded semi-truck, taking every narrow turn slow and easy, consuming more time and patience. Eventually, we made it home at about 11:30 PM, exhausted.

Photo 90  Lastours Castles
Photo 91  Lastours Castles
Photo 92  Villepigue House
Photo 93  Galaruss Oratory, Dingle Peninsula