When we were first considering where in the Languedoc Roussillon-Pyrenees area to spend our three months, I spent many (many) hours googling for information and inspiration. Among my finds was a post by a British writer on her experience of putting her young son in the village school at Mosset.
It looked amazing. It sounded amazing. At the time we thought we would probably need to put Oliver in a college though, so Mosset seemed a bit small. I got in touch with the woman for advice, and she suggested Prades would be the closest spot with a college and a Lycee as well as primary schools So, we quite seriously considered Prades as a destination.
Prades is much further south into the Pyrenees than Quillan, and, consequently, has a much stronger Spanish feel. The environment is noticeably rockier and more arid. There are views of the Pyrenees proper. The roads are paved in pink marble, quite distinctive.
The town is famous for being home at various times to artists and musicians like Pau Casals. There is a significant events programme, which includes a summer music festival, on now, in Casals’ name. There’s a summer ‘Catalan University’,
The church has the most incredible altarpiece in sculpture and gold leaf.
The shortest path – though arguably not the fastest – from Quillan to Prades is ridiculously beautiful. Through the Defile St Lys, into Axat and on through the narrower (single lane, alternating traffic) Gorges St Georges, then bearing left and up on a narrow country lane to the Col de Jau. It’s real mountain territory, but while narrow and winding, is neither particularly steep, nor treacherous. There is very little traffic – even now, at the height of summer.
On roads fringed by grasses, wildflowers and woods, you stumble upon another of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’ – Ste Colombe sur Guette, stone houses perched high on the hillside above the narrow river. An arched stoe bridge gives passage through the village.
At the Col de Jau (1500m), all foliage disappears giving way to open mountain vistas, with cows feeding on pasture. The air is fresh. The views are spectacular.
Down from the pass on the other side, navigating narrow hairpin bends on a sequence of switchbacks, there’s still no traffic and good visibility as the road edges are just grassy banks. The remains of an old stone settlement or refuge lie beside the road. Someone has carefully mown the pasture around it.
On down to Mosset, which I was keen to see. It was as I had pictured, but I had not realised that it is also among the plus beaux villages. Well deserved for the integrity of its preservation on a hill top among wooded peaks. Narrow, cobbled lanes wind their way up to the church at the top. It’s beautiful. It would be quite something to spend a year here.
Just below the village we encountered roadworks, necessitating a long detour, which unfortunately meant we missed the section of road below Mosset where the British writer has her restored abbey. I did catch a glimpse of it across the valley though.
The wonders of the road were not quite over yet: we rounded a corner to arrive at Molitg-les-Bains, a pretty village, and the site of the most extraordinary, grand spa complex, still in all its hardly faded splendour, with arched wrought iron entrance gates, framed by bougainvillea and rhododendron, giving access to the complex of spa building, hotel, artificially dammed swimming lake, acres of pathways around the hills, planted with Italian-style trees and other foliage. It’s quite something to behold. It must have been splendid in its day. It appears to still be operational, as there were plenty of people walking along the promenades.
Back to Quillan via the shorter main roads through Ille sur Tete, Millas and Estagel and the familar route through the Fenouilledes and Axat. There were numerous other sites we could have visited in this area, but did not have time for.