cities in france

Cities in the southwest France: history, tourist sites, activities.

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france tours suggestions

Eight suggestions for touring the southwest of France.

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french gastronomy

Traditional dish recipes from southwest part of France.

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french trivia

France in facts and figures! Interesting less known facts about France

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UNESCO Listed Sites

Besides the sites designated by themselves as belonging to the UNESCO's World Heritage there are the sites that are part of a group of sites, group that is itself included in the UNESCO's list.
Such groups are formed by the landmarks on the "Saint James of Compostela Ways", the "Vauban Network of Fortifications" , the "Canal du Midi" and the "Prehistoric Sites on the Vézère River Valley".

Bayonne Fortifications - Grand Bayonne

Bayonne Fortifications - Grand Bayonne Bayonne is a fairly large city, a "sous-prefecture" of the department of Pyrenees Atlantiques.
It was already a fortified city during the roman occupation of the Aquitaine.
During the reign of Francois I the city’s fortifications were overhauled (between 1520 and 1528) according to the new principles of the artillery of the time.
Begining from 1680 Vauban starts the reorganization of the defense system of the Spanish border and modernizes the Bayonne fortress and builds on the right bank of the river Adour a citadel called Chateau Neuf (it can be visited only on special occasions like the National Day of...
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Blaye Citadel

Blaye Citadel The Blaye citadel is one of the fortifications that together with Fort Medoc and Fort Paté formed a defense system built on the Gironde estuary for the protection of Bordeaux.
Built on the Roman military fortification that during the Middle Ages became a medieval fortress the 34ha citadel is the work of the engineering genius Vauban and represented at its time, at the end of the 17th century, an example of state-of-the-art military architecture.
As a part of the so called "Vauban network" of forts spread all over France the Blaye citadel is listed since 2008 in the UNESCO's World Heritage.
The citadel...
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Cadouin Abbey

Cadouin Abbey Cadouin Abbey was founded in 1115 initially as a simple hermitage by Géraud de Salles. The church, the sacristy and the foundations of the rest of the convent building date from that time.
In 1119 the hermitage becomes one of the first monasteries affiliated to the Cistercian order as a new branch springing from the Pontigny abbey, the Cistercian order being a tree like organization.
The Cistercian order is a Catholic monastic order, which originated with the foundation of the Citeaux abbey by Robert de Molesme in 1098. It is an order that preaches the living rules of Saint...
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Cirque de Gavarnie

Cirque de Gavarnie The little village of Gavarnie in the Hautes-Pyrénées department of south west France – situated at 1365 meters altitude, the highest village in the Pyrenees - is the place of not one but two UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments.
The first one is a natural monument and more known: it is the Cirque de Gavarnie.
The Cirque of Gavarnie is one of the most beautiful sites of the Pyrenees. It is a 6km in diameter and up to 1500 meters high natural amphitheater produced by a glacier.
The territory of Gavarnie is part of the Franco-Spanish UNESCO recognized site of "Gavarnie-Mont...
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Collioure Castle And Village

Collioure Castle And Village The Royal Fort of Collioure was built initially by the earls of Roussillon starting in the 11th century.
Between 1276 and 1344 the castle was the residence of the Kings of Majorca. During this period the castle is extended and enhanced. In 1345 the castle is taken by the king of Aragon Pedro IV starting at that moment until 1642 when the Spanish occupation ends is little by little changed from a royal residence into a fortress. In 1642 the Collioure fortress along with Salses and Perpignan are surrendered to the French armies (their surrender makes way to the...
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Condom and Flaran Abbey

Condom and Flaran Abbey The town of Condom is situated in the department of Gers in Midi-Pyrenees region, on the banks of the Baise river.
While it has 18 buildings listed as historical monuments by the Ministry of Culture of France the most important are the Saint Pierre Cathedral and its cloister.
The town of Condom, named in the ancient times "Condatomagus" was inhabited since roman occupation of Aquitaine.
The first Christian church of Condom was built by Benedictine monks in the beginning of the 11th century, and was as it is still dedicated to Saint Pierre.
This first church was replaced in the 14th century by...
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Conques

Conques The village of Conques is nowadays listed as a "Grand Site de France". Its abbey together with the other sites on the road to Saint James de Compostelle is recorded in the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
The abbey of Conques is dedicated to Sainte Foy and once housed this saint's relics - now exposed in the treasure next to the ancient cloister.
Saint Foy - or Sainte Fides - was born in Agen in 290 AD. Being raised by a Christian nurse she became a believer and was baptized in the Christian religion by Caprais - who later became Saint Caprais -...
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Episcopal City of Albi

Episcopal City of Albi The Cité épiscopale d’Albi - The Episcopal City - with its crown jewel Sainte Cecile Cathedral is listed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2010.
The complex includes the Cathedral, the Berbie Palace, the Saint Salvi Church, the Old Bridge and the old residential area of downtown Albi and covers a surface of 63 hectares.
Sainte Cecile Cathedral - 113 meters long, 35 meters wide and with a 78 meters high bell tower - is the biggest brick made Cathedral in the world.
Built between 1282 and 1480 and consecrated on the 23rd of April 1480 - the cathedral’s magnificent size stands...
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Fort Bellegarde

Fort Bellegarde Bellegarde Fortress was built by Vauban starting in 1668. It sits on top of a hill overlooking the pass of Pertus an ancient communication route between France and Spain.
The strategic location was used since 1285 when the King of Majorca built of fortified tower to protect himself from his powerful neighbor the King of Aragon, who manages however to conquer the region in the 14th century.
Like the rest of the Roussillon the area becomes French at the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 and its strategic importance increases so much that in 1668 Vauban decides to built a stronghold in...
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Fort Lagarde

Fort Lagarde After the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 Louis XIV decides to reinforce his kingdom new border with the Spain.
In this context in 1674 Louis XIV decides to build in Prats-de-Mollo, a little border village on the left bank of the river Tech, a new fortress.
The construction work is undertaken by Vauban who builds Fort Lagarde (or Fort De La Garde) between 1677 and 1682 - on the place of the watch tower of the old medieval castle.
It is typical example of a bastioned fortification, adapted to the relief with terraced layers of fire walls. It has on the...
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Fort Liberia

Fort Liberia Fort Libéria was built between 1681 and 1683 for the protection of Villefranche-de-Conflent, town that the fort overlooks from a steep hill. It was a part of the plan of King Louis XIV to reinforce his border with Spain after the Treaty of the Pyrenees.
The little fort was meant to accommodate up to 100 soldiers and artillery of 10 cannons.
Being on a steep hill the fort takes advantage of the relief and is built on 3 levels separated by thick wall, that were meant to provide a tight compartmentalization in case of enemy occupying on of the levels.
The first...
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Fort Louvois

Fort Louvois Situated now at the foot of the bridge that links Oleron Island with the continent Fort Louvois is the last fort built during the reign of King Louis XIV.
This horse shoe shaped fort is an island accessible by a free shuttle boat during the high tide and by foot during low tide - a 400m paved pathway links it to the continent. The summit of the tower offers an incredible panorama of the bay of Marennes.
The construction of the fort was ordered in 1690 for the protection from the South side of the arsenal of Rochefort. The...
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Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc Fort Medoc, Fort Pate and Citadel de Blaye were the three Vauban fortifications designed to protect the Gironde Estuary and Bordeaux from attacks from the water. Fort Medoc is the second in size after Citadel de Blaye. It consists of four bastions connected by walls, two turned to the river (bastions of the Dolphin and Sea) and two on the Médoc (bastions of the King and France). It is surrounded by ditches that are connected to Gironde via a system of locks that allow the water to be maintained regardless of the tide. The fort was built starting from 1690 and its...
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Fort Vauban Fouras

Fort Vauban Fouras The fort is located on the site of a former roman stronghold.
Throughout the centuries it knew many changes - the tower was rebuilt between 1480 and 1490 by Jehan de Brosse, chambellan to king Charles VII of France - but the establishment of the arsenal of Rochefort in 1666 makes it a centerpiece of the defense system of the Charente estuary.
From 1689 to 1693, Francis Ferry, engineer of King Louis XIV, works under the leadership of Vauban - then General Commissar of Fortifications - to adapt the medieval ramparts to the new needs and military...
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Fortified City of Saint Martin de Re

Fortified City of Saint Martin de Re Surrounded by Vauban fortifications and thus recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site St. Martin de Re is one of the most beautiful towns on the Atlantic coast of France and the biggest town in the Island of Re.
It is a fortified town surrounded by more then 14 km of ramparts. The star shaped fortification was built in 1681 - in only 40 days- on the ruins of an old fort built during the reign of Lois XIII.
The purpose of the structure was the protection of the military port of Rochefort, of the commercial port of...
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Hopital de Saint Blaise

Hopital de Saint Blaise Hopital de Saint Blaise is a tiny village - population 80!- situated in the middle of a wooded area, some 5 km (3 miles) from the national road that links Oloron to Navarrenx .
The Hopital de Saint Blaise 12th century church is listed in the UNESCO's World Heritage along with the other monuments on the route to Santiago de Compostela.
The church's unique architectural style mixes Romanesque and Moorish traits.
The two most outstanding features are the cupola with its 8-pointed star - a Hispano-Moorish characteristic - and the simple but beautiful entrance door tympanum presenting Jesus Christ surrounded by the...
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Interesting Sites of Narbonne

Interesting Sites of Narbonne Beside the Saint Just Saint Pasteur Cathedral and the Archbishop's Palace Narbonne, has several other interesting sites.
The most accessible one is the "de la Robine" channel that runs through the centre of the city. Robine channel is part of a bigger structure called "La Nouvelle branch" which is a waterway that links the "Canal du Midi" to the Mediterranean Sea.
La Robine channel was built in the late 17th century by Vauban and is listed together with the rest of the Canal du Midi in the UNESCO's Heritage list.
One interesting site on the channel is its Merchants Bridge. This bridge replaced the...
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La Romieu

La Romieu The La Romieu little village - population 550 - was founded in 1062 by to Benedictine monks after their pilgrimage to Rome.
In the 14th century Arnaud d'Aux de Lescout, a native of La Romieu who later became Cardinal and Chamberlain to his cousin Pope Clément V, decided to built a religious college in his village.
Arnaud d'Aux, called by Clément's successor Pope John XXII "one of the pillars of the Catholic Church" is mostly known for his presiding over the process of the Templars that started in 1307 and the process of canonization...
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Lascaux Caves

Lascaux Caves Lascaux Cave was discovered in September 1940 by a mechanic apprentice called Marcel Ravidat.
He and three other youngsters from the village of Montignac descended in the cave on the 12 of September 1940 and were the first visitors of the modern times to see the paintings left by the Cro-Magnon human (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) - the anatomically modern humans - who came to Europe between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago in an age called Upper Paleolithic!
In 1950 Lascaux Cave was one of the first archeological sites to use the new - at the time! - dating technique of Carbon...
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Les Jacobins

Les Jacobins The Jacobin Convent - Les Jacobins - is a jewel of Occitan gothic architecture.
It was built in stages throughout the 13th and the 14th century by Dominican monks. The first building was erected between 1229 and 1234. It was a humble structure 46 meters long, 22 meters wide and only 13 meters high, in accordance with the Order’s modest living preaching.
Due to the popularity of the Dominican preachers - who play also an important role in bringing into the fold of the Catholic Church the Cathar heretics - the church becomes too small to accommodate the believers who come to...
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Mont-Louis

Mont-Louis If Vauban rebuilt more then 160 strongholds throughout his long career as the King's Louis XIV military engineer, Mont-Louis is one of the only 9 fortified places-towns that he himself founded on previously clear area.
It is Vauban who suggested to Louis XIV, after the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 that established the border between France and Spain at it's nowadays location, the reinforcement of the kingdom's newly acquired territories by means of reinforcement of the already existent forts of Colliure, Bellgarde, Prats-de-Mollo, Villefranche-de-Conflent and the building of a brand new fort.
The new fortress location was chosen by...
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Oleron Citadel

Oleron Citadel The building of the citadel started in 1630 during the reign of King Louis XIII. Later during Louis XIV in 1666 when the decision was made to build the biggest ship yard of the kingdom in Rochefort the need came to reinforce its protection and therefore the need to reinforce the citadel. This task was handed first to Louis Nicolas de Clerville - a famous fortification engineer of the time mostly known under the name of Chevalier de Clerville. When in 1677 Clerville died the project was taken over by Vauban. Vauban had different ideas from Clerville and his project...
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Port de la Lune - The Port of Moon

Port de la Lune - The Port of Moon Port de la Lune is the largest urban ensemble in the world -1810 hectares- recognized in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
It is the old port of Bordeaux and the name "Lune" that means in French moon comes from its location on the crescent-shaped meander of the Garonne river. The ensemble, running from the Quai de Bacalan on the north side to the Quai de Paludate on the south side, is an outstanding example of the architecture of the 18th century preserved in mint condition....
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Prehistoric Sites of the Vézère Valley

Prehistoric Sites of the Vézère Valley The prehistoric sites on the Vézère River valley are, due to their outstanding historic and artistic value, listed in the UNESCO's World Heritage list. For more the information and a map of the most important sites please go to: Prehistoric sites of Vézère River valley...
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Royal Citadel of Brouage

Royal Citadel of Brouage The first name of the citadel was "Jacopolis" after the name of its founder Jacques de Pons, Earl of Hiers, who built it in 1555. At the time of its birth the citadel was an ocean port, in one of the most beautiful harbours of France.
A rich and prosperous port, with more then 4000 inhabitants (as opposed to 150 today!), the town was attached to the Crown by King Henri III under the new name of Brouage. During the reign of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu became the governor of the place and used it as a Catholic base...
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Saint André Cathedral

Saint André Cathedral Saint André Cathedral was initially built in the 12th century - when it replaced the former seat of the Bordeaux diocese that was there since 4th AD century - and then extensively renovated in the 16th century.
It is listed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The cathedral was consecrated on the 1st of may 1096 by Pope Urban II, the champion of the First Crusade.
Saint André cathedral witnessed throughout centuries many events that marked the history of Europe. On the 27th of July 1137 it is here that the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and future Louis VII takes place...
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Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion Saint Emilion and its jurisdiction - located in the department of Gironde - was added in 1999 to the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
While the region has been inhabited since the Neolithic era - more then 10,000 years ago - the name Saint Emillion comes from a Breton hermit named Emilian who settled here in the 8th century. Not many things are known about Emilian. We know only that he lived the cross-shaped cave - cave that can still be visited - until his death in 767 AD.
Being situated in the Aquitaine region Saint Emillion came under...
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Saint Front Cathedral

Saint Front Cathedral Saint Front Cathedral is a UNESCO listed monument (together with other sites on route to Santiago de Compostela) and a major landmark of Perigueux.
The church was reconstructed in the middle of the 19th century by the famous architect Paul Abadie - the architect of Sacré-Cœur basilica of de Paris (that he wanted to build by the model of Saint Front de Périgueux).
The church is dedicated to Saint Front who brought Christian religion to Perigord and who was buried on the hill that the church sits on.
The first place of worship on the hill was built where the present entrance is...
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Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port Saint Jean Pied de Port citadel is a part of the network of forts built or rebuilt by Vauban. It sits on top of a hill overlooking Saint Jean Pied de Port town. The name is deceiving for a town close to the mountains and more then 50 km away from Atlantic Ocean. The word Port means in fact "Pass" in the local language and it meant the Pyrenean Mountains pass for the pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela .
The town - former capital of the Basse-Navarre - has two parts the high fortified older part and the lower...
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Saint Lizier

Saint Lizier The little town of Saint Lizier in the department of Ariège, region Midi-Pyrenees is listes as one of the most beautiful villages of France ("Plus beaux villages de France") as a major site of the region ("Grands sites de Midi-Pyrénées") and has its ancient church listed in the UNESCO's World Heritage along with all the other sites and monuments on the road to Saint James de Compostella.
This outstanding little town - population 17,000 - is situated at the feet of the Pyrenean Mountains in the picturesque valleys of Couserans. Its name, Saint Lizier, comes from the name of the...
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Saint Michel Basilica

Saint Michel Basilica Saint Michel Basilica of Bordeaux with its UNESCO listed, free standing bell tower was built between the middle of the 15th century - during the reign and at the order of King Louis XI - and the beginning of the 16th century in a flamboyant gothic architectural style.
The constuction was initially entusted to architect Jehan Lebas who started church's building in 1462. The bell tower was built between 1472 and 1492. It is 114.6 meter tall , the tallest church bell tower in Aquitaine and the second tallest in France, second only to the...
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Saint Pierre Abbey - Moissac

Saint Pierre Abbey - Moissac The Saint Pierre Abbey of the town of Moissac is a Romanesque art masterpiece and part, since 1998, of UNESCO's World Heritage List.
In his famous novel "The name of the rose" Umberto Eco describes in details the tympanum of the church's south side portal. (In the novel the monastery is placed in Italy. The church was also used for taping some scenes in the homonym movie!).
While the legend says that the monastery was founded by the king of Francs Clovis, it was most probably founded during the reign of Louis I (778-840) also known as Louis le...
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Saint Sernin Cathedral

Saint Sernin Cathedral Saint Sernin Basilica - the biggest Romanesque style church in the world - was dedicated to the first bishop of Toulouse - Saturnin or in the Occitan language Sernin - who died a martyr death in 250AD. The construction of the present cathedral started in the 11th century on the site of a modest church erected in the 5th century above the Saint Saturnin’s tomb.
The events surrounding the death of the saint are described in the "Booklet of passion and the betrayer of St. Saturninus, bishop of the city of Toulouse and martyr" a religious work written in the second...
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Saint Seurin Basilica

Saint Seurin Basilica For its local importance Saint Seurin was conferred the title of "basilica" in 1823 but the church existed since 11th century.
The church bears the name of Saint Seurin or Saint Severinus, according to tradition the 4th bishop of Bordeaux, who was buried in the cemetery that used to surround the location.
In the 11th century the community of monks that already existed on the site took to the construction of a church to accommodate the influx of pilgrims that were stopping here on their way to Saint James de Compostela.
In the 13th century this church is added the monumental gothic style...
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Saint-Ferreol Lake and Revel

Saint-Ferreol Lake and Revel Saint Ferreol Lake is at the heart of the complex water supply system of the Canal du Midi, alongside with which is included in the UNESCO's World Heritage list.
This lake that has a surface of 68ha is an artificial body of water that contains 6 millions cubic meters of water. It is formed by the Laudot and Sor Rivers whose waters are collected by a dam built between 1667 and 1672 by the engineer Pierre-Paul de Riquet. The idea was to build a system that will collect enough water from the Montagne Noire to allow the navigation on the...
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Sainte Marie Cathedral

Sainte Marie Cathedral The first stones of the new Auch Cathedral were laid on the 14th of July 1489, but the cathedral was consecrated only on the 12th of February 1548 while not yet completely finished.
The construction will only conclude almost two centuries after its start in 1680 with the completion of the façade decoration.
As a result of its construction extending over a long period of time the cathedral mixes the Gothic, Renaissance and Classic architectural styles.
The cathedral, a massive 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 44 meters high building, is the symbol of Auch and due to its emplacement...
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Sainte Marie Cathedral, Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Sainte Marie Cathedral, Oloron-Sainte-Marie Sainte Marie Cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie is listed since 1999 in the UNESCO’s World Heritage along with all the religious monuments on the route to Santiago de Compostella.
It is a monument that combines Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.
The cathedral was built starting from the beginning of the 12th century on the order of Gascon IV, Viscount of Bearn on his return from the Holy Land Crusade.
The building was partially destroyed and rebuilt in the 13th and 14th century and was considerably enlarged in the 18th century.
In the 14th century the cathedral was added the chevet (part behind the altar) composed of...
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Seuil de Naurouze

Seuil de Naurouze Seuil de Naurouze was one of the 3 important parts _ besides the canal itself and the water reservoir - of the system called Canal du Midi. The water from the Saint Ferreol lake was channeled to this specific location "Seuil de Naurouze" that was established by Pierre Paul de Riquet as being the highest point - 189.43 altitude - of the Canal.
Water spilled on one side of the threshold flows towards the Atlantic while spilled on the other side flows towards the sea.
The threshold is physically represented by the water between the two locks called significantly "Ocean"...
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Sorde Monastery

Sorde Monastery The Saint Jean de Sorde monastery, that we can see today, was built in the 17th century on the place of an abbey founded by the Benedictine monks in the 11th century – or as some believe by Charlemagne in the 9th century - , abbey that was a stop for the pilgrims on the “ Turonensis” road to Saint James de Compostela, in Spain. The abbey was in its turn built on the remains of an even older Gallo-Roman villa dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The monastery is now listed in the UNESCO’s World...
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The Cathedral of Saint Bertrand de Comminges

The Cathedral of Saint Bertrand de Comminges Saint Marie Cathedral of Saint Bertrand de Comminges is referred to as the Mount Saint Michel of the Pyrenees as a reference to the famous Mount of the North of France or as the Cathedral of the Pyrenees
The cathedral situated in the village of Saint Bertrand de Comminges - member of the "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" organization - on the top of a steep 515 meter (1700 feet) hill that dominates the valley that the Haute Garonne cleaved between the central Pyrenean peaks.
The village of Saint Betrand de Comminges has a long history dating from the roman...
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The Fortified City of Carcassonne

The Fortified City of Carcassonne Carcassonne citadel "Cité de Carcassonne" is the crown jewel of the southwest of France medieval fortified towns. It is the real fortress that Disneyland's or any other amusement park's castles (or the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas!) take as model. It belongs to UNESCO's World Heritage list since 1997.
Standing on a hilltop overlooking to the north the Aude river and to the south the vineyards of the Languedoc region, the "Cité of Carcassonne" is, with its 3kms of fortified walls and 52 towers, the largest Middle Ages fortified town of Europe.
The oldest traces of human settlement in the...
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The Seven Lock Water Stairway

The Seven Lock Water Stairway With more then 300,000 visitors every year the Fonserannes locks are one of the most important tourist attraction of the Canal du Midi and a marvel of the hydro technical engineering of the 17th century.
Built in 1697 the lock complex is 300 meters long and has a difference in level of 21.50 meters.
From the initial 9 locks there are in use only 7 now....
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The village of Rocamadour

The village of Rocamadour Rocamadour is a medieval village and a pilgrimage location declared in 2008 one of the Great Sites of Midi-Pyrenees ("Grand Site Midi-Pyrénées"). The Sanctuary is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Perched on a cliff above the canyon of the little river L'Alzou, Rocamoadour is together with Eiffel Tower, Mount Saint Michel, Carcassonne fortified city and the Versailles one of the most visited tourist sites of France.
Rocamdaour is described in a local Occitan language saying as "Lous oustals sul riou, las gleisas sus oustls, lous rocs sus las gleisas, lou castel sul roc" a colorful yet exact description...
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Valentré Bridge

Valentré Bridge Valentré Bridge is the most outstanding fortified bridge of France.
It is listed as a historic monument since 1840 and is now a part of UNESCO's world heritage. The 6 arches, 3 square towers bridge was built between 1308 and 1378. In 1870 it was restored by architect Paul Gout. It is Gout who added a little sculpted devil hanging on the upper part of the central tower of the bridge, a reference to the legend that recounts the pact between the bridge medieval builder and the demon.
The story goes that in order to erect the bridge the builder accepts to...
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Villefranche-de-Conflent

Villefranche-de-Conflent Villefranche-de-Conflent town is a member of the « Les Plus Beaux Villages de France » organization.
The place was inhabited since prehistoric times as attested by the drawings found in the nearby caves of En Gorner, des Canalettes and Cova Bastera - which Vauban transforms into a casemate.
The town, fortified, was founded in 1095 by Guillaume-Raymond earl of Cerdagne as a barrier against the moors invasions. It is also the time when Saint Jacques chruch is built.
During the next 6 centuries Villefranche-de-Conflent belongs successively to the earls of Barcellone, kings of Aragon and finally to the kings of Spain...
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