One of the first things most people ask us when we tell them our plans is: Where are you going in France? When we tell them we are going to a small town called Quillan, about 40km due south of Carcassonne, the next question is Why?
So why Quillan? And why back to Quillan? On the one hand it’s a thoroughly researched choice. On the other hand, there’s something entirely random. And then, there’s the chance that fate has a hand…
One of our earliest European holidays as a couple was a week in the Pyrenees in late winter. We flew in to Biarritz, hired a car, drove east, and fell in love with what we saw. We enjoyed sunny weather, snow-capped mountains, friendly people, beautiful countryside, numerous cathar castles and fabulous food. We experienced the sheer variety of Pyrenean cultures, and managed to avoid the Pyrenean vultures.
As it happens, we had first been introduced to the idea of visiting the Pyrenees by a chance acquaintance I made when teaching in Dunkirk 20 years ago. A teacher I happened to sit next to in the canteen one day turned out to be a mutual acquaintance of a family friend. He suggested we visit the beautiful hamlet of Bedous in the Pyrenees mountains. And that may very well be where our path to Quillan unknowingly began…
When initially looking to live here for a few months with the children in 2014, the first step was to get out the maps of the area and start trawling for likely towns. We ended up with a list of about a dozen candidates, which we then googled and narrowed down further based on population size, what the schools seemed like, how appealing the town was to look at, and what accommodation was available, that seemed livable, and at a price we could afford.
And so we lived for three months in a first floor apartment above the Cafe du Fleuve, in the old part of Quillan.
And now we’ve come back for a second long stay, still in love with Quillan and the Aude region, its people and places.
So why back to Quillan? Is it the inevitable result of comprehensive research? Is it pure chance, or could the unseen hand of fate have payed a role in the decision that saw us end up here of all places?
Earlier in the year, chatting at a bar in California at the end of a conference, I joined in conversation by chance with a British woman who turned out to have spent a year living in Quillan within months of me. Of all the bars in the world. And all the towns in France.
On announcing that we had decided to return to Quillan, a former colleague of mine then informed me agog that one of her current Auckland colleagues had just coincidentally bought a house in Quillan – we met in Wellington for the first time on the day she settled on the house.
As my new acquaintance was told by the estate agent she met in Perpignan, who turned out to have lived in Quillan for 15 years, in the same house as my friend was considering: ‘No-one ends up in Quillan by chance; everyone is there at the right time and for a reason.’
And then I was told the great story behind the local tobacconist – ‘L’Alhumetur’.
The original owner of the business was a match maker – making matches in his basement by hand. When the regulations were changed to stipulate matches were only to be made by the authorities, M. Chaubet simply continued making them.
Eventually he was discovered, arrested and taken off to Carcassonne, where he was duly imprisoned. So the story goes, the townsfolk of Quillan offended, took up pitchforks, promptly busted him out of jail, and accompanied him home, where he resumed his business. His name remains over the door and his profession informs the name of the business: ‘L’Alhumetur’ – match maker.
Suddenly, it all makes sense. It’s a perfect match. And I can’t wait to find out the purpose of our match.