Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ariege part deux - caves, castles, cheese

All that XC skiing really had us rethinking our skiing plans for the day. Perhaps a bit more leisurely pace, exploring the remnants of castles perched on the rocks. Most had some association with rather horrific tales of religious persecution of the Cathars.

On to Montsegur ruins perched up high on a hill. Quite a view from up top. The fortress housed, at times, nearly 600 Cathars seeking refuge from Pope Innocent III's persecution for heresy. When they came down, they were burned unless they renounced their "heretic" faith. Hard to imagine all that on a sunny peaceful day a few hundred years later when you can climb up without much of a struggle to snap a few photos of what's left.

SJD is standing inside the walls. You can just make out the foundation of a chamber to the right of her head. Best guess is that the structure was at least two stories high, as evidence of beam pockets can be seen. Still, how did 600 people manage to live here?

On up the road to Roquefixade. Another short but bracing hike to the top.

This castle is more ruin than castle but, again, the view over the valley and the coming dusk made the scene seem like a painting...almost.

We continued our historical tour on subsequent days. About an hour from Foix is Carcasonne - an assertively restored medieval city. Well, restored in the sense that it is now chock full of shops selling plastic coats of armor, foie gras and post cards...and the windows now have caulk sealants. I mean, we only popped into a few, but just to get out of the pouring rain.

Carcasonne in the rain -- no doubt it is more appealing when the sun is shining and the flowers blooming....
Going back even farther in time, we visited the Niaux cave - a deep, dark and cool cave with stalagtites and paintings of horses, buffalo and dating back 12-15,000 years. It is one of many caves in the area, which has yielded a rich trove of pre-historic paintings and artifacts. As the tour was conducted completely in French, I am very likely completely wrong on some of the facts. I can assure you it was very dark inside though and there really were paintings -- along with names scrawled on the walls by visitors from as far back as the 1600s. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the cave so no photographic evidence.
Fearing we might break some bones on one of our skiing expeditions (OK, that was just an excuse...), we'd been upping our dairy intake - mostly through the consumption of goat cheese. We followed signs for a good 30 minutes over the river and through the woods to pay a visit to Wyon fromagerie. It was noted in some tourist flyer we picked up someplace. Seemed interesting. Why not pop in for a tour? Mr. Wyon and his goats were a bit puzzled but pleasant enough to show us around a few minutes. My guess is that most people give up the hunt long before SJD and I do. Twenty goats produce milk for many thousands of kilos of cheese per year. The goats produce new goats every 14 months. We just missed a birth by an hour.

SJD and Mr. Wyon

The girl goats.
After that we visited a farm where goats were raised for mohair wool. On a drizzly day, the temptation to buy a lwarm, soft blanket was strong but given our present home in the tropics, good sense prevailed and SJD settled for a couple of small skeins (SJD's Zia may be getting a knitting request). We stopped in at a few small out of the way crafts galleries before heading home for a relaxed evening in front of a warm fire.
Had enough? There's more!

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