Discover the Upper Valley of the Aude in southern France
- Credit: Archant
In a patchwork of landscapes, the Upper Valley of the Aude boasts unspoilt countryside and a protected natural environment, which is perfect for hikers and nature lovers looking to escape the crowds of Carcassonne
To reach the Upper Valley of the Aude you need to leave Limoux, with its world-famous Blanquette vineyards and countless festivals, behind and head out into the unspoilt countryside.
All around Limoux are circular villages, called circulades, built for defence during the long troubles the Languedoc experienced in the times of the Saracens, Cathars and Huguenots. Reminders of former times, from the Crusades to the Resistance, are bound up with the land and with the elements which govern daily life.
The protected natural environment of the Upper Aude Valley
The Upper Aude Valley, a land of family farms of crops, livestock and vines, has a wide range of natural heritage shaped by the combination of several factors: the climate, landscape, geology and, above all, human activities. These factors make the Upper Aude Valley a rich and varied region where nature can be enjoyed and where humans make every effort to respect and protect the environment.
Flowing down from the Pyrénées on the horizon, the River Aude has been carving out this valley with its luscious vegetation. The river, with its natural streams and waterfalls, is accessible for rafting, kayaking, canoeing or canyoning every day from the beginning of May until the end of August.
The water which thunders through the Pierre-Lys defile (a gorge two-kilometres long, gouged out of the limestone) and the vertiginous canyon of the Gorge of Saint-Georges are a dream for white-water sports enthusiasts.
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Walking in the Upper Aude Valley
Those who wish to explore the great outdoors of the Upper Aude Valley have 780km of trails over plains, valleys and hills to choose from.
The Pyrénées Audoises area is perfect for hiking and trekking while also discovering the beauty of the local villages. You will be amazed by stunning landscapes: gorges, golden vineyards, shaded fir tree plantations, magnificent forests, verdant hills...
The hiking trails of the Pyrénées Audoises area are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes such as the Pic de l’Ourtiset and the Forêt d’En Malo; by historical monuments such as Puilaurens Castle and Puivert Castle; and by magical atmospheres such as the Green Labyrinth and the forests of giant fir trees.
You will have the choice of 70 walks along a total of more than 300km of hiking trails. To these walks must be added transversal trails such as the Cathar Trail (GR 367), the Voie Verte (Green Way), the Route Vauban, the Route des Sapins (Fir Tree Route)...
The Cathar Trail
The Cathar Trail takes you back in time as you explore the famous citadels of the Cathar Country: Quéribus, Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Puivert, Montségur, Foix... It is a 12-step trek between Port-la-Nouvelle – on the Mediterranean coast – and the city of Foix – famous for its castle. On your way you will discover the history of the area through small churches, chapels and oratories. Two steps of the Cathar Trail are within the Pyrénées Audoises area. From the little villages of St-Just-et-le-Bézu and St-Julia-de-Bec to Quillan, you will find Mediterranean landscapes and atmospheres. Then, from Coudons and Nébias to Puivert, fir tree plantations stand alongside mountain pasturelands.
You will find more information on the Cathar Trail here: www.lesentiercathare.com
The end of the path could offer a superb reward in a sight of the abbeys of Saint-Polycarpe, Alet-les-Bains or Saint-Hilaire or that of the Tour Magdala in Rennes-le-Château which will delight lovers of history and all things spiritual.
In the distance the famous Pech de Bugarach looks down from 1230 metres on those taking the waters in Rennes-les-Bains. The thermal baths offers a welcome respite after all that effort.
The quiet peaceful atmosphere of the Pays de Sault nearby will win the day for those who want relaxing holidays far from the madding crowd. Great stretches of beech and spruce forest surround Axat, the last stop in a journey rich in contrasting landscapes and climates. Somewhere else indeed.
How to get to Aude: Daily direct flights from London Stansted to Carcassonne have opened up south-west France, making it a perfect destination for short breaks all year long.
For more information visit: www.audetourisme.com