Through Mountsegur to Gruissan

Gruissan Travel Blog

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I thought it exciting to be headed for Andorra as we left Foix. It just seems to me to be one of those exotic places, but it was not for us this time and we turned off the road to head for the mountain bastion of Mountsegur. Actually, the last bastion of the Cathares. The short history of the place was that it was the last refuge of Catholics that decided among other things, to pursue the religious beliefs without the aid of the priests. The Pope rustled up a thirteenth century crusade led by Simon Montfort and he came down and slaughtered as many as he could find. Montségur was the last killing ground.

As you climb up, you pass a wheat field that was the burial ground.

We climbed to the top, a forty-minute trek, stopping at the ticket booth to pay our Euros, and then have lunch. I practiced carrying a load in my pack by bringing a bottle of wine along with our bread, sausage and cheese. We sat with our backs against the ramparts and took in the view of the valley and the snow-capped Pyrénées Mountains. The road was far below us. The parking lot with space for 15 or so tour busses was empty except for a few cars. There were about fifteen or twenty tourists scattered around the mountaintop. In season, it will be a different place. Now after lunch, we walked around it and then inside. It was quiet out of the wind; also, it made us quiet for awhile.

We went on to the museum, probably because our tickets gave us admission to both. Artifacts abounded. I wondeedr how many centuries of global warming it will take before we have underwater tourists visiting the great abandoned drowned coastal cities of the world wondering what it was like to live there.

Before we leave Montségur, I must mention that in looking for a photo of the chateau, I found a website that said that the ruined castle that we visited was not the one that was besieged, but one built later. Also, that the siege was instigated because of an assassination of ten Catholic monks by members of the Montségur community. The French government keeps quiet about the fortress in order to keep the tourist business strong. I am feeling a little gypped. We think we are time traveling back to the 13th century, to a momentous location when we have, in fact, fallen a century short. I guess better to lie about a war eight hundred years ago than about one that you are about to launch.

The Mediterranean coast was our next destination. We were having some cloudy weather that seemed to be clustered around the Pyrénées so I made a navigational decision to head north to find some sun. We succeeded and spent a couple of hours driving across a dry, sun soaked upland of rugged beauty, a small version of the American West. We kept coming over rises expecting the sea, but getting only more dry rocky landscape. It was a beautiful drive but came to an abrupt end when we hit the coast and were thrown into the maw of the French Mediterranean tourist industry. We emerged a couple hours later, enduring a rising mistral that threatened to blow away anything that wasn't nailed down.


Hotel du Port in Gruissan was where we ended up after having been through facsimiles of towns in Northern New Jersey and Southern Florida and any other honky-tonk place you might think of. Beaches with cement factories, short cuts that had been cut, traffic rotaries that we visited four or five times were all part of a hectic afternoon/evening that led us to Gruissan. In the morning we would discover its considerable charms but this evening we were left with a view of a yacht basin that on closer inspection turned out to be a parking lot for boats. We ate dinner where the receptionist sent us, le Bistrot du Port, an international style place, perhaps more comfortable in New York or better yet Miami. After dinner we walked arm in arm around the dark, slumbering vacation spot. The thousands of condos all waiting in the pre-season for their appointed clientele, a few emitting the blue light of TV's from their darkened interiors.

Friday, June 4

Since we were not in a town, I risked having breakfast at the hotel rather than getting in the car to go find a breakfast place. On the good side, the room was bright and sunny and decorated in those provençal colors that are so cheery. On the downside, we could hardly drink the coffee even after mixing in some cocoa. We charged up with some granola and muesli and then sat down with our guidebooks and decided where to go next. Isabelle had told us that we must see Chartreuse, a renovated Abbey in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, just outside of Avignon and as the Mistral was still blowing and our first take on the Mediterranean was unfavorable we decided to pass up the Camargue and head for the environs of Avignon and spend the afternoon visiting a domain or two in the world famous Chateauneuf du Pape area. With the aid of the receptionist, we made a reservation and headed out, first to see the beach and then to get on the autoroute and speed our way on.

The beach was hard to find. The signs were unclear. We kept driving through more and more resort suburbia until finally we reached the edge of town and once we crossed the town line, all human construction abruptly stopped. We continued driving, the road surface becoming sandy until we reached a parking lot for a three-mile long beach maybe half-mile wide with one car in it. We were so far from any building that we needed the binoculars to make sure that they were buildings. The reason for the absence of cars was evident once we got out. The wind had not abated and we were in the middle of mild sandstorm. But we were here so we did walk out over the dunes to the water, a truly gorgeous beach. Looking back the way we came, what we thought were clouds on the horizon, were in fact the Pyrénées.

The wind drove us back to the car, and we took a twenty mile coastal drive through and around resort towns, vineyards, farms, marshlands, a truly beautiful area.

It was hard to believe that adjacent to Gruissan Port et Plage with their zillions of identical, pink cement condos, there could be such lovely farm and vineyard country. Yet happily, there it was. That curvy, coastal drive made up for the Disneyland feel of the place where we stayed the night before. - Dawn

The road took us inland, pushed us onto the autoroute, and two hours later we were approaching Avignon. At the last minute we decided not to find our hotel but to go directly to the wine country.
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photo by: sonicwalker