If you are also a reader of French Property Insider, then you know that on Thursday, I trained down to Carcassonne to assist one of our clients in signing the “Acte de Vente” (final deed) on a house in a nearby town — the town of Couiza. It could be that you’ve never heard of any of these towns. Even Carcassonne, with a population of about 48,000, may not have been on your radar. This part of France doesn’t get too much attention from Americans who have centered their visits to France on Paris, the Riviera, Provence and Normandy. The region, Languedoc-Roussillon, is well-regarded by those who have second homes in France — primarily the British, for its warm weather, sunny days, beautiful landscape and casual lifestyle.
The fields of grapes and sunflowers are abundant. The landscape is a little rockier than Provence, but beautiful nonetheless and the old stone villages are picture perfectly stunning. This is the country’s largest wine-producing region with 700,000 acres of vines responsible for more than one-third of France’s total wine production and more than the entire United States.
The history here is profound, beginning with the Cathars, a religious group that emerged in the 11th-century who are thought of as Christian heretics. Their religion took hold in the Languedoc because of its “high culture, tolerance and liberalism.” War raged by the Catholic church against the Cathars over two generations and eventually the Kings of France took over as leaders of the crusade against them. During this period in the early 13th-century, about 500,000 people of different religions were massacred. This was the beginning of an economic decline and Languedoc became the poorest region in France. The language, Occitan, later became a regional dialect, regarded by the French as a ‘patois.’
Property here is less expensive than its Provencal counterpart. The home our client has purchased is a four bedroom/two bath home on two levels with two kitchens (one on each level) and a large living room surrounded by 4,000 square meters of land purchased for under 200,000! The property is the kind one lives in, although rentals could be possible during the summer season, particularly if it were to be equipped with a pool (at present, it has a large patio, but a pool would be possible). The views from the living room of the hills are impressive and life here is serene.
Languedoc-Roussillon has an interesting history with its government having been created in the 16th-century. It covers an area of approximately 16,490 square miles between the Rhône and the Garonne Rivers. Couiza is a small commune of only about 1,200 residents at the foothills of the Pyrenees, on the road between Limoux, going towards Carcassonne and Quillan and Perpignan. “The Château de Couiza,” a 16th-century castle built by the Dukes of Joyeuse is now a hotel and restaurant (Les Ducs de Joyeuse).” (Wikipedia.org)
Our client had rented a house in Limoux. Limoux is an ancient town on the Aude River with a population of about 10,000 about 30 kilometers south of Carcassonne. The heart of the town is Place de la République, a wide square with a stone arcade and a number of half-timbered houses. Every Friday a large market takes place here to which people from all over the region come. This is a town that likes to party, evidenced by an annual carnival with parades and a torch-lit evening procession, and a free concert in the square Friday evening where its summertime residents danced without reserve. Along the square and on the tiny streets are several more-than-respectable restaurants.
One such restaurant is at the 16th-century 14-room Grand Hôtel Moderne et Pigeon where we dined to celebrate the signing of the deed. Initially a convent, and then the private residence of the Souvigny family (parents of the Comptesse du Barry), it became a noted hotel at the end of the 19th-century. Frescoes from the 17th-century, a preserved stained glass panel and a remarkable stair case remain the highlights of the building. With a regional menu of 39, this one of France’s best gastronomic bargains. The fare was extraordinary and copious, the service impeccable and the setting on their patio absolutely divine.
Limoux is also well known for “Blanquette,” the oldest sparkling wine in the world, first produced in Limoux in 1531 by the monks at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire. Why it’s not more well known is a mystery, although over the course of the weekend, many mysteries of the region became more apparent. We tasted our fair share of Blanquette’s fine bubbles along with a very memorable meal. When Chef Jean-Luc Desmoineaux came out to greet us after having enjoyed the “repas,” we gladly accepted a tour of his beautiful kitchen as he glowed with pride, rightly so.
Alets-les-Bains was another spot of particular interest. This a natural hot spring with a formidable ruin of an Abbey from the 8th-century. By the 12th-century, the abbey became a bishopric in order to continue the fight against the Cathars. In the 16th-century, the Huguenots burned and destroyed it and while it could have been repaired in the 17th-century, but wasn’t “given the poverty of the people.” Instead, their budget was used to build a bridge that spans the Aude River to improve their system of irrigation.
Our client has a particular affinity with an artist in this town and with the region in general. This is one of the main reasons she settled on Couiza. The artist, named Lorrie Coffey, is an Irish woman whose personal story “can inspire, uplift, and sometimes bring comfort to others and give them hope.” At a young age she suffered an athletic injury that changed the course of her life. At the bottom of despair, believable or not, she claims to have had an unexplainable experience — a vision of an angel that gave her the inner strength to renew her excitement about life. Since that time, Lorrie has wanted to share her experience and help people.
In 2001, Lorrie started to paint, even though she had no previous artistic leanings. What she felt compelled to paint, using pastels and her fingers, over and over in different colors, appear to resemble angels — what she calls “beautiful messengers.” In a dream she imagined a room in her house in Ireland filled with her paintings and open to all those who wanted to visit. This is how her ‘angel sanctuary‘ was born, now in Alets-les-Bains, a place, as she states, “where people could come to search for meaning in their life, a place for reflection, a grieving soul in need of comfort, a person in need, needing to be uplifted or inspired, just as I once did.”
I visited with Lorrie, her husband, her children…and her angels. The angel paintings are beautiful and the sanctuary is serene and meditative. To earn a living, Lorrie has created a boutique to sell books, cards, candles and gifts, but she doesn’t sell the paintings. Then Lorrie showed me her newest endeavor in a medium she’s never worked in before until now — a series of sculptures in clay — busts of seven women. At present, five of them sit together in a small room on two tables, one after another. She uncovered them from their damp cloth protectors, and I gasped!
I can’t explain it. They fill with room with intense energy and I felt as if I had been knocked over, rendered speechless. They are all alike, but all different. Their eyes are closed as are their mouths. They don’t speak, but they speak loudly. They are serene, yet tremendously powerful. And they are stunningly beautiful. They also have no ethnicity — they don’t look like any one nationality or race with which I am familiar.
I know this makes no sense. My mathematician and scientific friends will tell you I’ve gone nuts. My spiritual friends will rejoice in learning I’ve discovered something they understood long ago.
I will confess that the night before I awoke in the middle of the night with all the windows of the old house in Limoux open, saw a bright midnight blue sky and felt a strange chill come over my body in spite of the intense heat. It was if I was shaking internally. I realized I had been dreaming about spiritual or alien kinds of beings and felt as if I had been possessed. It took a long time before I was calm enough to doze off again, but sensed that something really different had taken place — no ordinary dream or nightmare — not one of the usual kind, but it wasn’t frightening.
My client said, after telling her of the experience, “Now you understand why I am here. This region is filled with spirituality — the kind I am drawn to study and understand.” For myself, after 42 hours there, I will never be the same.
And if you don’t believe me, look what David Yoder had to say in the New York Times about “The Besieged and the Beautiful in Languedoc” (Published: May 6, 2010, nytimes.com)
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
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