The Razès is a canton (rural area) in the Aude département of the Languedoc Roussillon region. It's about 90 km inland of the Mediterranean coast and 90 km north of the Pyrenees and just 25 minutes south of Carcassonne.
Diversity within walking Distance
It is a beautiful, rolling landscape decorated with hills and dales, valleys and peaks, rivers and streams. There are vineyards, woods and old villages dotted throughout. Copses of oak and pine are dotted everywhere contributing to an ever-changing annual show of deciduous versus evergreen. Depending on the time of year, walkers will typically pass alongside vineyards and fields of sunflower, poppies and barley and over rocky garrigue (scrub) outcrops, through country lanes and woods, past farms and crop fields, hamlets and villages.
Most walks afford their own spectacular views of the Malepère Massif and the Corbières region to the East, the spectacular Pyrenees to the South and the Montagne Noire and the Minervois to the North.
A popular Place for Wildlife
Also seasonal is the appearance of deer and wild boar, rabbits, hares and foxes crossing these same trails. Butterflies are everywhere, no matter what the time of year, thriving on the apparently random but certainly abundant fruit trees on these walks: apricot, apple, plum, cherry to name but a few. There are also many walnut and almond trees and blackberries hiding in the bramble-lined paths. Wild orchids thrive in this climate as do wild thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary, chives and juniper.
We do not claim to be birdspotters ourselves but we know that avid observers come back year after year to this area because of the sheer variety of birdlife here. Many types of birds of prey are always present soaring overhead.
The nearest airports are: Carcassonne (25 mins), Toulouse and Béziers (1¼ hour), Perpignan (1½ hour). It's advisable to hire your holiday car at the time of booking your tickets. Each of these airports provides car hire facilities.
We have put this brief guide together in response to the many and varied questions we have had from guests. It is drawn from their and our experience and attempts to pull together the variety of attractions that are available in or close to the Razès.
The Razès extends north to Fanjeaux, west to Caudeval, east to the Malepère Massif, and south to, but not as far as, Limoux. For detailed topography take a look at the IGN Map 2246E (Montréal). The Razès comprises undulating and unspoilt countryside, peppered with villages, hamlets and the odd, small market town. It is largely unknown, generally driven through or around, and totally undescribed in the tourist literature. This is a shame because it is great for walks, bike rides, peace and quiet, great vistas of the Corbières and Pyrénées, and fresh air.
Our selection of things to do could easily fill three weeks. We have not listed them in order of preference but rather to provide choice. They do, of course, include many of our favourites and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. We hope, however, that you’ll find something of interest to you on your holiday in the Razès. The Razès is largely a wine-making and agricultural area and so we have also included categories of things to do which extend further afield but which are within easy reach of the Razès. The things to do are listed under the following headings:
We hope you enjoy the discovery!
1 Domaine Gayda (Brugairolles)
The nearest restaurant to Escueillens (9km away) with superb views of the Razès and Pyrénées from the terrace. Great for smart lunches with a weekday €26 business lunch and gourmet evening meals served in style à la carte. Excellent service from English-speaking waiters; supply of wines from the region and their own vignoble which are also supplied to The Savoy Hotel and bought by the likes of Jamie Oliver.
2 Le Commerce (Mirepoix)
Traditional French restaurant with wide-ranging menu to suit all tastes (2* Logis de France). Good, honest food and service; the interior lacks atmosphere but the terrace is warm and cosy from June through to September.
3 La Table Cathare (Fanjeaux)
Great traditional French food once again. Excellent for value, quality and price – especially the midday menu. Wonderful, friendly service in a small but tasteful restaurant. In our opinion, the best resto in the Aude!
4 L’Abbaye de Camon (Camon)
In our customers’ opinion, one of the best restos in the Aude offering a choice between à la carte or the great ‘value for money’ menus where the latter comprises four to five courses for around €40 per person. Really cosy & classic atmosphere, great service and a good choice of quality food to suit all tastes.
5 L’Akotee (Cailhau)
A simple and small but delightful restaurant which specialises in Belgium cuisine. They offer a daily special menu (with rump steak always as a back-up) - the service and atmosphere are lively and warm for both snacks at lunch-time or evening meals.
NB.The French love their lunch-time menus (set meals) and so the best value meals for all these restaurants will be at midday rather than in the evening. Good news so long as you have a healthy midday appetite!
You’ll find leaflets detailing all of these routes in your gîte. They’re our favourites for spectacular views of the rolling Razès, wildlife, wild orchids and, of course, the further afield Pyrénées and Montagne Noire.
1 Le Lac de la Pène (4 – 6kms)
A pleasant 2kms stroll from Escueillens on the gently rolling (D463) with good views to gain a brilliant flavour of the Razès and Montagne Noire. Add another kilometre if you choose to tour the Lac before returning on the same road home (linear trip 5kms). For a circular route, head left of the Lac to Bellegarde and return via the old railway line (6.3kms).
2 Le Sentier de Montgradail (12kms)
Leaving the back of the village through the fields, Montgradail is just 1.5 kms away. Follow the route up to Hounoux for spectacular views of the rolling Razès, village and Pyrénées. From there, follow GR7 signs to the Sentier des Crêtes for yet more views and a chance to see the birdlife in action. Follow orange VTT signs back down the slope into the village.
3 Le Sentier des Crêtes d’Hounoux (5 – 10kms)
From behind the church, head on the D463 to Hounoux descending past a house on the right with an old mill in the garden (700m). Take the next road on the left directly after and follow orange VTT signs (denoted by a triangle & 2 circles) up the hill to get the most spectacular views of the Pyrénées. For a linear short walk, turn around at the top where GR7 signposts signal the Sentier des Crêtes d’Honoux (5kms) or, for a longer circular, follow the Sentier des Crêtes signs until you rejoin the D463; direction Hounoux/Escueillens (10kms). Great views of the Pyrénées!
4 Le Sentier de Lignairolles et Seignalens (13kms)
Passing through nearby villages, there’s a chance to see the Black Madonna in Lignairolles, open fields of horses, local woods and copses as well as panoramic views from the Pech Agute at 453 metres.
5 Le Col du Razès, Courtauly (3kms)
The only walk we recommend where you have to drive (not far!) to the RD626 to start. Peace and tranquility abound as do the opportunities to examine the local flora and fauna. The views of the Corbières and Razès are wonderful from up there.
5 Wine Domaines
1 Le Château de Belvèze (Belvèze)
One of our favourites because it’s local and sells the best 5 litre boxes of red wine in the world for €12. Aside the boxes, Guillaume MalaFosse has a small but succinct offering of Chardonnay Blanc, Alban Rosé and Merlot Rouge. Well worth a visit, especially if travelling back to the UK by car!
2 Le Domaine Le Fort (near Montréal)
With a range of 18 wines to choose from, you can’t fail to find one you like here. Our favourites are their dry Muscat, the white Viognier and red Domaine le Fort (oak casked), La Tour du Fort and Malbec. It’s so hard to choose an absolute favourite among these! We find the rest of their range tends to suit particular tastes which should intrigue the more discerning wine lover.
3 Le Domaine Gayda (Brugairolles)
Another complete range of great wines: from the top quality Chemin de Moscou, through the mid-range Archet series and down to some great general swigging T’air d’Oc, (sorry to repeat ourselves but) you simply can’t go wrong. Combined with a luncheon or evening meal, a trip to their Cave is absolutely worth a visit. These are the folk who supply to London’s famous Savoy Hotel and a variety of celebrity chefs.
4 La Cave du Razès (Route de Limoux, Routier)
If you want to sample from a range of about 40 wines from a one-stop cooperative of local suppliers, then the Cave du Razès is situated just 12kms from Escueillens on the road to Limoux. In order to compete with New World wines, the French Cooperatives have become popular and well respected marketers and distributors which allow smaller suppliers to exist. You’ll find some great Côtes de Malepère wines delivered with professional and impartial advice at a wine-tasting session.
5 Antech (Limoux)
There are three major producers of local ‘champagne’, Aimery, Sieur d’Arques and Antech. Antech has a superb range of dry, medium and sweet Blanquettes and Crémants to suit all pockets and occasions.
5 Châteaux en Pays Cathare
1 La Cité de Carcassonne
The largest fortified castle in Europe boasting 3kms of walkable ramparts. Inescapable features: views of the Pyrénées, Corbières and Montagne Noire; good restaurants; inevitable touristy bric-à-brac. If you’re there on Bastille night, watch out for spectacular fireworks. The Cité has plenty of musical events, fêtes and jousting tournaments throughout the year; an absolute must with something for everyone to enjoy.
Our best-loved château about 1½ hours drive from Escueillens offering what most of the others can’t: great views of the surrounding Corbières, many remaining internal structures of historical interest, and relatively easy access without a strenuous steep climb up - a good 3-in-1! Best combined with a trip to Quéribus and/or the Gorges de Galamus. Like so many of the mountain-top châteaux in the area, Peyreperteuse is not for those who suffer from vertigo.
A steep 20 minute ascent, amidst an incredible diversity of trees, to discover a château with charm and character on the inside and occasional views of the former kingdom of Aragon from its vantage over 700 metres high. Puilaurens’ fairytale towers and structure are generally in a good state and it’s easily accessed via the equally impressive Défilé de Pierre-Lys, a gorge towered over by absolutely vertical cliff faces.
The final outpost where surviving Cathars took refuge after defeat at Montségur. A 1/2km ascent from the nearest car park which although not demanding delivers stunning yet dizzying views of the Med, Pyrénées and Corbières. Beware – it is desperately unsafe on windy days and not for those who fear heights.
Perhaps the most famous of the Cathar châteaux, Montségur challenges the relatively fit to an exhilarating climb (30 mins) to view the majesty of the Pyrénées. We often feel it’s a little disappointing due to lack of information on-site of its true historical value, coupled with the anti-climax of a relatively bland set of remains at the top. Best loved for its views!
Our favourite medieval town, just 15kms from Escueillens, and host to all sorts of fêtes throughout the year, not to mention a wonderful array of restaurants matched only by Carcassonne. The Monday morning market is a must for all who still enjoy the hustle and bustle of the traditional French markets.
The Cité boasts wonderful shops, restaurants, bars and bric-à-brac for all. It gets far too busy for us in the peak July/August months, but is great for drinking and dining any other time of the year. Plenty of non-touristy shops to be found in Carcassonne centre ville for varied shopping at a more leisured pace (36kms).
Home to the famous Cassoulet (fête of the cassoulet throughout August), it also boasts a wonderful basin on the Canal du Midi. Great for walking, cycling, taking a boat out or simply walking through the quaint town shops (33kms).
Bob’s favourite for its classic French town square with plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from while you watch the world go by. Not as touristy as Mirepoix but some interesting shops off centre, as well as the larger LeClerc on the outskirts. It also gives good access to the Aude river for walking, hiring pedalos and canoes and boasts three open air swimming pools in July and August (21kms).
An excellent stopping off point if on your way to Andorra for lunch or coffee although worth a visit in its own right on market days (Thursdays) for the cable car into the mountains and dipping toes into the outdoor thermal spring bath just off centre from the church (approx. 70kms).
A 15-20 minute drive from the gîtes, Camon is rightly proclaimed one of the most beautiful fleuri villages in France. The main street is one huge wonderful splash of colour when the roses are in full bloom. There are some small shops, a café and a picnic area near the pretty bridge bordering a stream and the walkable old railway line to Lagarde.
2 Loupia, Donazac et Pauligne
Half way to Limoux, these small villages are situated in a triangle on the right. Worth a visit if you like to see quaint and decorative houses in the circulade style as at Pauligne, the notre-dame style church in Donazac and 100 year old houses accessed over a small stream in Loupia. Life seems to have stopped still in these places and the peace can be quite eerie.
Famous for Abbé Saunière’s discovery of hidden treasure with which he financed several buildings and entertained the good and the great of Europe on a lavish scale at the beginning of the 20th century, Rennes is a remote and spooky hilltop village surrounded by spectacular views of the Pyrénées, the Devil’s Armchair, lots of red clay soil and…so much mystery.
20 minutes north east of Carcassonne in the Minervois, Caunes is a charming medieval market town with narrow, winding streets and artisanal shops selling many locally produced marble sculptures. Old King Louis XIV’s marble quarry is 5 minutes further up the road, boasting lovely views reaching out over the Minervois, and you can take what marble you like if you can carry it!
Another hilltop circulade village you can access from Belvèze (3kms south) or Bellegarde with wonderful views of the rolling Razès. The pretty church and square are both hidden in the centre of the circulade. Like Mirepoix, a favourite of many of our guests.
5 Water Attractions
An unlikely place to find a beach, but many of our visitors have enjoyed the sandy beach and pontoon and swimming in the plan d’eau. Snacks are available in season as are pedaloes. The town is less than 1 km away as is the celebrated Cathar castle.
2 Le Lac de Montbel
A huge, man-made lake offering services not unlike Puivert but on a much grander scale. It can be very busy in season and has a muddy lake floor so water shoes are advisable.
Built up around its thermal springs, a pretty village where thermal spring water feeds both outdoor and indoor swimming pools (to 35oC). Its neighbour – Rennes le Château – is the hilltop village where Abbé Saunière came into a mysterious fortune – some say Knights Templar gold - in the 19th century. Dan Brown borrowed his name for the Curator of the Louvre in the Da Vinci Code.
4 Le Canal du Midi
Linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, this engineering marvel is worth a visit if you like to walk, cycle or take a boat along classic French plane tree-lined avenues in all their splendour. The closest stretches for access are: Castelnaudary, Bram and Carcassonne. All give good access to bars and restaurants but many of the écluses (locks) also provide their own food, snacks and/or bed and breakfast if required. Some of the écluses are truly spectacular, the best stretches stemming from Castelnaudary all the way to Sète.
The beautiful rose pink remains of a 12th Century Abbey are surrounded here by a quaint little spa town of character and interest. Wonderful for a picnic by the Aude, a dip in the thermal waters just next door, or for the more adventurous canoeists who wish to tackle the rapids back to Limoux. Well worth a visit.
5 Places on the Mediterranean
One of Rick Stein’s favourite fishing harbours about 1hr 45mins via the motorway from here. Plenty of good restaurants to choose from serving great fish and seafood; many boat rides available; a cute little town for shopping; and not far from some of the less crowded Med beaches. Drive along the open causeway towards Cap d’Agde to catch some of these beaches or simply to spend an afternoon there. The return journey from Cap d’Agde is about 1hr 15mins.
A round hill-top village – characteristic of the region – overlooking the Mediterranean. An inland lake provides fishing for the locals and the few shops are worth a couple of minutes. The major attraction is the wonderful setting, the circular alley-ways of well kept houses and the panoramic view from the top. Narbonne plage is right next door if you fancy a quick dip or the town has a beautiful cathedral some may wish to visit.
A beautiful and quaint old fishing harbour not far from the Spanish border (about 2¼ hours from here) with its own small beach, restaurants, bars and curio shops. A wonderful atmosphere emanates from this lively little place with lots of character. A long day trip from Escueillens but worth combining with a visit to Perpignan for some good town shopping.
4 Port La Nouvelle (Les Etangs)
It may appear to be a bit of an industrial nightmare as you approach the front but if you like seafood then this is a must with plenty of good restaurants to choose from. A good place to gain sustenance for, or gourmet reward after, a wonderful ramble around the salt lakes.
5 Canet Plage (St Cyprien)
The beach closest to Perpignan – great for kids of all ages. Whether it’s simple sunbathing on the beach you’re after or more active water sports, you’ll find the facilities good here – but terribly busy in July & August!
5 French Extras
1 Local Fêtes & Boules
Escueillens holds various fêtes during the summer and autumn months. They take place at the Lac in La Pène (or village foyer in inclement weather) and are noted for their music, dancing, eating and drinking well into the early hours for those who have the staying power. Over the same period, the villagers turn out fortnightly on a Friday night for a BBQ and game of boules. Everyone is welcome, guests and locals alike; it’s a great opportunity to experience the friendliness of the rural community.
2 Vide Greniers
These translate as ‘attic-emptiers’ and are more diverse and perhaps more up-market than the traditional English car-boot. The nearby villages of Hounoux, La Prouille, Alaigne and Belvèze all have their own vide greniers which are well worth a visit and a spot of bartering. Our favourite is the one hosted at Montréal in September which is combined with a celebratory festival of the Malepère wines and food.
3 Birds of Prey & Wild Orchids
Whether driving, cycling or walking through the Razès, you’ll be sure to spot a number of birds of prey hovering above fields, perched on fences or camouflaged in neighbouring trees. The area is renowned for its diversity, some of which are: golden eagle, honey buzzard, kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels and harriers. Not everybody’s delight but spectacular nonetheless. The Aude is also known as the Pays d'Orchidées so if you don't like looking up, try looking down. They abound in the fields locally. A small booklet is available from La Poste in the village which helps you identify the many different varieties.
4 Vignobles & Tournesols
Mid-July is the best time of year to witness field upon field of sunflowers in all their glory. The vignobles and grapes are equally impressive and abundant lasting through to harvesting in October. Both crop types provide for spectacular scenery, the likes of which you’d never see in England.
5 Mobile shops
The nearest supermarket of any size is 15kms from Escueillens and so the local inhabitants enjoy a series of visits throughout the week from the baker, butcher, fishmonger, grocer, etc… Timings of these visits are listed in your gîte – if you want to meet the locals and enjoy the concept of a marketplace on your doorstop, try them – they all pride themselves on offering good quality produce.
What is the Razès?
The Razès is a naturally rich, rural area in the Aude département of the Languedoc Roussillon region. It's about 90 km inland of the Mediterranean coast, 90 km north of the Pyrenees and just 25 minutes south of Carcassonne, buried in the heart of Cathar country, offering spectacular views of the Malepère Massif and the Corbières region to the East, the mighty Pyrenees to the South and the Montagne Noire and the Minervois to the North.
The Razès boasts a beautiful, rolling landscape decorated with hills and dales, valleys and peaks, rivers and streams. There are vineyards, woods and old villages dotted throughout. Copses of oak and pine are dotted everywhere contributing to an ever-changing annual show of deciduous versus evergreen. Depending on the time of year, walkers will typically pass alongside vineyards and fields of sunflower, poppies and barley and over rocky garrigue (scrub) outcrops, through country lanes and woods, past farms and crop fields, hamlets and villages.
You may want to build in some of your holiday time to get a flavour of what else the local area has to offer. Here's a brief list of what we think you may also enjoy while staying here in the Razès. If there's something you fancy and it's not on our list, simply let us know and we'll be sure to get you the low-down.
There are some great restaurants in the neighbouring towns of Mirepoix, Limoux and Carcassonne offering a complete range from 5 star gastronomic experiences to honest and hearty food offered by family-run restaurants.
Whether you're looking for outdoor dining, in town or up a mountain, there's plenty to choose from within a 25 km radius. We are happy to make recommendations for our favourite restaurants and reservations wherever you may need them.
For those who wish to gain a flavour of the region's Cathar heritage, then Roquefixade, Quéribus, Peyrepeteuse, and Montségur (among many others) offer some spectacular panoramas. The majority of these castles are situated on the top of steep hills and so sensible footwear is recommended. Of course, the largest fortified cité in Europe is in Carcassonne itself and is an absolute must for the historian or sight-seeker.
We have many books to lend on both the castles and the Cathar history should you be interested. Bob is also a fount of all Cathar knowledge if you are seeking a quick historical synopsis!
Markets in France are alive and thriving and Mirepoix on a Monday morning attracts traders and bargain hunters from miles around to one of the most popular markets in the heart of a beautiful medieval town. Each of the neighbouring towns hosts its own market on different weekdays and Carcassonne is itself host a huge market on Wednesdays. For those who like to sample the local produce, there's plenty of opportunity.
From Easter through to the end of September, there are many Vide Greniers (car boot sales) taking place in local villages. They tend also to provide food and drink and make a real day off it for all who care to visit.
The Malepère region (of which Razès is a part) is home to more than 350 of her own wines. There are a huge number of local producers here producing a amazing variety of reds, whites, rosés and champagne (blanquette and crémant as it's known locally). Needless to say, the majority are tremendous value for money.
For those wishing to indulge in some of the local wine then we can arrange local wine-tasting tours at: Château de Belvèze, the Cave du Razès, Domaine le Fort and the Domaine de la Blanquette de Limoux - each offers an unparalleled wine-tasting experience.