Everyone wants the same South of France. It is the region and country depicted in best–sellers such as Peter Mayle’s «a year in Provence». This France has narrow streets, ochre-washed houses with shabby wooden shutters. It has a café on the corner where the waiter in white shirt bangs for Pastis on your table and grins through his Gauloise-stained teeth to let you know he treats everyone this way. Even though the real France falls short of the idealized country, there is one region that still offers that scenario. The reason why you’ve never heard (even you, busy Parisians) about this place is simple : The locals have done their best to keep this untamed region a secret. The Aude (French «département») which makes up for the biggest part of the Corbieres area, is no Parisian retreat in the snobbish Luberon style. (Sorry my friends in Luberon!). The wind might occasionally be as challenging as the Mistral -the wind one can find in chic Provence-, but ours is called «le chasse-cons» by the locals, meaning basically «the wind which blows away potential urban newcomers». No nouveau-riche Riviera atmosphere (sorry my friends in Cannes!), no shopping centers, no high-rise hotels, no 6-lane highways, no holiday-home campgrounds. Striped of all these things, your focus returns to nature.
What a thriving example of how things used to be, how things should be!? Embres et Castelmaure is a bit like if you’ve landed in a film with Yves Montand from the 50’s, with the constant clicking of the cicadas! This place is special and this doesn’t have to do with money and everything to do with romance and timelessness. The whole region looks dusty and old-fashioned in the most charming sense. Visitors are spoilt with an extensive network of hiking trails, with not so far away sensuous beaches, with very few umbrellas and reclining loungers to rent, no crowds, no shops. Embres is located on the road to the enigmatic Cathar castles which loom majestically over the region and the sea. The ideal time to visit is early in the morning when the sun is less intense and the fragrances waft gently in the breeze.
So next time you visit, everyone (including my German friends from Hamburg and Berlin), step into good walking shoes and head for the paths of the Cathar country!