We have previously mentioned our visits to a couple of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’. Today we visited Alet les Bains for the first time, a gem of a mediaeval village and spa town, which should rightly have a place among the plus beaux hallows – but does not seem to.
There are several spa towns in this area, with varying degrees of abandonment. They clearly use to be bustling in their day, with palatial houses and grand spa hotel buildings, with beautiful grounds, now shuttered and in states of disrepair and vacancy – too expensive to maintain with the decline in patronage. Alet les Bains is no exception, but it has two other factors in its favour – it has retained a totality of mediaeval character, and it retains reasonable vestiges of a large abbey.
The mediaeval village square, with its radiating streets and low-slung, overhanging, half-timbered houses, is impossibly beautiful. It’s difficult not to take hundreds of photos.
The abbey is visitable off the main street, and looks like fun to explore, though we didn’t do so today. We will have to go back with the boys.
The village has apparently been known since Roman times for its spring water which, until recently, was bottled commercially. You can still go with your empty bottles to a spot at the lavoir to join locals in filling up on the water.
Disclaimer: The water in this fountain pictured is not drinkable!
There are also public thermal baths, open in the summer. Ladies of a certain age and station have, I suspect, been coming here for centuries, dressed appropriately. The village has all the associated trappings you would expect.
As always we found at least one house for sale, right on the main mediaeval square – wow! Bit of a job to bring it back into shape though, and the fact that the property behind it is really only a facade, that has been propped up with iron bars to prevent it toppling, is a little offputting. But at 120,000 euros for a half-timbered mediaeval house right in the heart of the village. Wow!
The river runs through the village, bordered by grassy banks, with picnic tables handily dotted, and at least one little pedestrian bridge giving access to the other side. I’m told there’s a little walking track that allows you to walk all the way to Limoux, cross-crossing the railway tracks, and following the river Aude all the way. It would be nice to find the time to do that.