Hmmm, what to do today? So many yet so few options to choose from. I mean this is not London where one has an exposure to thousands of activities, events, bars, concerts, exhibitions, etc, etc. This is a serious nature, unconditional beauty and immense history. On a schedule today was a hike to la table d’orientacion (observation deck) in the altitude of just over 1000m but circumstances did not favour that decision (but I will spill the beans, we tried another day and it turned out a disaster!) Instead, for today, we opted for the touring of the close by villages and we started with Olargues, L’Un des Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of France’s most beautiful villages, officially), less than 15min drive away from our home base in Vieussan.
As it became a good habit by now, we picked up un plan de ville in the Office de Tourisme to figure out the best things to see, spontaneously. I have never been the best planner and this trip has not changed much of that. Considering the size of the village, it would be quite easy to just walk around for couple of hours and we would end up seeing it all (or it would have seemed so) but it does feel more organized to have some sort of a target, l’objectif. Couple of walking tracks were marked on the map so we took off following the one through the old part of the village leading to the top of the hill and this is what we encountered along the way.
As you can see, Olargues is a typical French medieval hilltop village with a familiar maze of stone houses rising above cobbled stone streets, steep stairways and narrow alleys, family restaurants, art galleries, ceramic or local produce shops, occasional gites, old church and of course a museum of art. Baby blue, light green or faded coloured window and door shutters with climbing vine like flowers or unknown fruits could be seen everywhere and of course cats and dogs, but very very few people! With that I mean locals. Being it out of the high tourist season, it was quite pleasing to encounter very few foreigners around but I was rather eager to speak to the locals (or interact with, considering my lack of French) which proved challenging. No luck yet to properly practice my [non existent] French but whenever I do, the locals enjoy it very much, to the point when it becomes the subject matter of the conversations happening in the back of the kitchen of restaurants visited.
Once at the level of the house chimneys, the village’s landmark, la tour clocher (an old bell tower) emerges, belonging to a former le château médiéval of a Romanesque style (a combination of the Roman and a Byzantine architectural elements.) The tower was originally a dungeon belonging to the castle but converted to a bell tower centuries later. We initiated the exploration of the ruins and simultaneously embraced the high reaching tips of the Mont Caroux on one side and the luscious hilltops on the other. I could only imagine the sight of the Pyrenees just beyond the hilltops, far far away, but they are not visible from here.
From what I have read, there is an annual archaeological dig happening around the ruins that exposes more and more of the castle’s foundation only revealing the massive extent of the original construction. At the same time, the excavated stones are today used to build or repair houses in the village. Efficient! But just imagine having a bedroom wall made out of stones belonging to a former dungeon from centuries ago. Sweet dreams! Not suitable for superstitious people!
From here, one can also better appreciate le pont Eiffel (the Eiffel bridge) completed in 1889 by the one and only Gustave Eiffel, as you surely figured out. Being famous not only for the construction of the Eiffel Tower but also many important viaducts around France, this is certainly not one of his master pieces but locals are proud of it. It spans the river Jaur that wraps around Olargues like a horse shoe. As indicated, originally it served as a railway bridge but is only a footpath by now.
On a way back down, we bypass just another remnant, this time of the former church to which the bell tower belonged, a small chapel hiding underneath overgrown trees and posterior the walled rocky path. It looked truly ghostly.
Next stop, le Pont du Diable (the Devil’s bridge.) While descending, however, we kept hearing a dog’s haul but just could not find that beast until we looked up once more to notice that fearless creature balancing on the very edge of a high wall with a very steep fall. My stomach would be upside down in his position.
We reach the river level and enjoy the sight of the gracefully arched stone bridge. Built in the 12th century, it is claimed to be haunted. The legend has it that it was the place where the people of Olargues and the devil conducted hellish transactions. This would so fit into the fairy tales of my home country!
Finding a hidden pathway leading down to the river bank through a narrow cobblestoned stairway adjacent to the charming Fleurs de Olargues hotel, we made our way to the river beach, took more photos, and relaxed a bit.
Climbing back up, we decide to have some café latte, once again avec beaucoup de lait, in a lovely restaurant of the same name and owner as the hotel. The service was really friendly, the views from the terrace were amazing, and the toilet was the loveliest! I am yet to try their food but it looked delicious when served to others. Right next to the restaurant was a vegetable garden and I wonder if it belonged to them. It could not get any fresher!
Walking back to the car, we cross another bridge with couple of beautiful homes and gardens on each end that we wished were ours. We pass by more cosy shops, unfortunately closed till late afternoon, more local cats, former hotel/restaurant, people carrying dogs instead of walking and make it to the parking lot. We take off for another stop but that’s coming in further posts. Hope you enjoyed the reading and photos and one day you might happen to be here yourself! This village is certainly more busier in the peak months of July and August with many festivals and events of which you can find here. Other than that, there are plentiful opportunities for moderate walks around the country side or through the vineyards or more demanding hikes through the Mont Caroux. All possible hike and walk maps can be easily obtained in the Office de Tourisme, either free of charge or for a small fee.