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Review: Between Pamiers and Mirepoix

City/Town/Region/Island

Ariege, France

Small settlements and fortified churches

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2244 reviews

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  • May 2013
  • Husband

32 people found this review helpful

Off the tourist beat, this is just north of the foothills of the Pyrenees and tends to avoid the mist and drizzle which can plague the mountains. During a wet and damp week spent at Montferrier, this was one good reason to head north….

Our first stop was LES PUJOLS a pleasant village of well kept stone an plaster houses built round the fortified church of St Blaise. This was part of a feudal château, now long gone. It is a Romanesque building which was fortified in the 14thC. There is a very tall flat bell cote at the west end with space for four bells. The top is crenellated with a small stone cross and there is a row of machicolations below the bells. There is a small round west window. There is a long plaster covered nave with stone buttressed and narrow lancet windows. The south door was locked and has pillars with very eroded capitals and pointed arches above. There is a small window above the door and three small shields. The east end is flat, but looking at the angle of the three windows, the inside must be apse shaped. A small hexagonal tower with no windows adjoins the south east corner.

In the main square is a war memorial and a huge brick and plaster fountain in the shape of a truncated square with water taps at two corners and a basin between them.

LA BASTIDE DE LORDAT is built at the top of the hill around a rather nice but plain church with a two bell clocher peigne, long nave and lower east apse. The houses are a mix of stone and plaster and some have attractive well kept gardens. It still has the feel of a working village.

There is a small gravel area with seats and an orientation table to the north with views across to the Pyrenees, still hidden by low cloud. A neat tree lined street leads to the marie at one end and a splendid fountain at the other, dated 1912 and providing water for the village.

To our surprise, the church was open, one of the few we found open during the week. It has a large, light and airy nave with huge wall pillars forming side chapels each with marble altars and painted statues. There is a rather nice statue of the Virgin and child on the wall above the high altar.

LAPENNE is another small rather workaday settlement built on top of a ridge around a massive fortified church. You won’t find this in the guide books or internet. The church looked interesting, so we stopped to have a look. Unfortunately it was locked so we could only admire the outside.

Église Saint Jean-Baptiste dates from 12-15thC. It has a clocher peigne steeple with four bells and buttressed sides at the west end. Steps lead up to the west doorway which has pointed arches The capitals of the pillars have been recarved. Above the east end is a massive but low square tower with narrow lancet windows. The nave is very tall and is lit by three small square windows along the top. At the back of the north wall is a smaller chapel and at some time a barn has been built against the church.

The settlement had close links with the Cathars in the 13thC and there are records of it being a fortified town in 1680.

Our next stop was St-FELIX-DE-TOURNEGAT which is a fascinating example of an ecclesiastical fortified village. At the centre is a massive late 12thC fortified church with a very tall nave and battlemented clocher peigne. Again it was locked and there was no-one around to ask about a key.

The church is surrounded by a narrow road with a drain in the centre and a ring of well cared for houses, each with a barn attached. There is a gap at the east with shallow steps leading up to the church. A larger gap was made later to the west to allow car access.

To the east of fortified settlement is a large square with the graveyard at the far end. There are two carefully renovated houses on one side and a working farm on the other. There is another large farm to the west of the fortified settlement.

TEILHET is a pleasant village on top of a hill still with working farms and some quite large carefully renovated houses. Eglise St Jean l’Evangelist, in the centre of the village , is 14thC and was built on the site of an earlier church. It has a fortified clocher peigne steeple over the west door with low round tower on either side. Steps lead up to the door which has pillars with foliage, grapes and animal heads. The outer round arch has two entwined dragons at the top. Above the arches is a row of carved corbels with heads and animals supporting a small porch over the door. A metal gate leads into a churchyard on the south side. On the north is a large barn. Again it was locked, but the west front is supposed to be the best bit.

It is a short drive from Teilhet to VALS, a small village in a delightful setting amongst fertile farmland. At the start of the village is a very large and splendid manor. There is a small square with well, marie and museum and a limited amount of parking. This is on the tourist tick list for its sensational église rupestre, a semi rock church built on three levels. This is open daily between 9am-7pm and receives a steady stream of visitors.

Steps lead up through a cleft in the rock to the 10thC crypt carved out of the rock. Steps lead up into the 11thC chancel decorated with frescoes. Above, reached by more stairs is the nave. It is a most unusual church and definitely a ‘must see’.

We had planned to stop at Mirepoix. It was Monday, market day and cars were parked on both sides of the roads leading into the town and car parks were full. We decided to give this a miss.

This had been an enjoyable morning driving through pretty countryside with some nice little villages. Apart from Vals (and Mirepoix) the only people we had seen were a few locals going about their daily business.

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