The town of Limoux is the home of our base, Hôtel Le Monastère. The medieval streets of Limoux offer every amenity while maintaining the simple charm of a traditional southern French town, unspoiled by tourism. The central square is ringed with cafés, pastry shops, a book store, a variety of specialty food shops and other merchants. Throughout Limoux are restaurants, shops, banks, markets, and a cinema to serve its population of about 10,000. Limoux is a safe and interesting place to stroll on warm summer evenings when families are out in the squares and men play the game of boules on sandy courts under canopies of ancient chestnut and platane trees.
Geography and Climate
The French know the region as “La Petite France” because its relatively small area contains nearly every type of geographical feature existing in the rest of the country. Limoux is located in the Aude River valley, about 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean beaches to the east, the high Pyrenees frontier with Spain to the south, the Toulousean plain to the west and the Cevennes forests to the north. In the nearby Corbières is the semi-arid garrigue where the scents of wild thyme, rosemary and lavender fill the air. A “must visit” is Carcassonne, the largest restored fortified medieval town in Europe, just 25 kilometers to the north.
The weather is pleasant and sunny. Rain is an exception. April through October temperatures generally range from 18° to 30° Celsius (65° to 85° Fahrenheit), with occasional days of 35° C (95° F) in mid-summer.
History and Culture
Known history starts in the caves and prehistoric grave sites (dolmens) of both Neanderthal and Cro-magnon man, scattered throughout the region. Before the arrival of the Romans around 100 BC, the Languedoc was an important center of Celtic culture and industry, as evidenced by recent archaeological finds around Limoux of pottery kilns, iron foundries and artifacts such as statuary and decorative metal buckles. The Romans built bridges, mineral baths, aqueducts, roads and vineyards, some of which are still in use. The Visigoths inherited the region from the Romans in the 5th century and left behind the earliest parts of the castles and abbeys you will visit. The Franks from the north began to exert their influence after ending the short-lived Moorish occupation of the 700s. Charlemagne subsequently visited the area, as evidenced by a commemorative signature rock carving serving as an altar in the Abbey of St. Polycarpe. Architectural features of the region embody the influence of all these cultures in a stunning array of Romanesque and Gothic churches and abbeys.
But the area is best known for the Cathars, who led one of the first effective reform movements against the excesses of the Roman church from the 11th to 13th centuries. At the time, the Aude and surrounding regions of the South were richer, more progressive and just as powerful as other parts of France. It was only in the 14th century that the combined power of the papacy in Avignon and the northern French nobility through crusade and inquisition subdued this grass roots religion, but not the medieval spirit of courtly love and the Troubadors who gave it international expression. Reform movements were subdued but not eliminated, for later, the Huguenots thrived here in the 16th century. Limoux was always known as an important center of dissent and even now is a magnet for numerous researchers and authors worldwide interested in theories of hidden Templar treasure, including the Holy Grail. Dan Brown garnered many of the features of his book The Da Vinci Code from the area around Limoux.