The pleasures of owning a home in the rugged hills of the Corbieres
People often refer to the Corbieres but always have trouble defining its boundaries. It’s easiest to think of it as the part of the Aude department of the Languedoc-Roussillon south-east of Carcassonne that is contained by the A61 to the north, the A9 to the east, the D117 to the south, and the D118 to the west. This may not be exact but it’s close enough. The Corbieres area provides an ideal location for those looking for proximity to the airport at Carcassonne, whilst still getting away from modern life. The Corbieres is the least populated area in the Aude – 220 hectares of hills, valleys and mountains covered in garrigues (scrub), vines, and forests. It’s a land of small villages and hamlets, stunning views, rivers and cascades, and lovely wine. It has a wild rugged beauty that softens in village squares and beside shaded riverbanks. On warm spring days the sun releases the scent of the wild rosemary and thyme and turns a walk into aromatherapy. In October the smell of crushed and fermenting grapes wafts through the wine-producing villages.
If you want nightlife, bars, cafes, and restaurants all within easy walk, the Corbieres probably isn’t for you. A majority of the villages and hamlets are without amenities, the populations just don’t warrant it. Having said that, the nearest café, bar, grocery, or bakery is usually no more than about 10 minutes away and there are villages with nice restaurants. And even the tiniest hamlet is usually served by the marchants roulants, the vans that make the circuit of villages selling just about anything you could need. It’s a great way to meet locals, waiting in line at the van. People are always ready to explain how to prepare meat, fish, chicken and vegetables. In fact people are always to help you figure out what you need to know. As long as you make an effort to use at least some basic French you’ll be fine.
The Corbieres is a wonderful area for anyone looking for easy access to outdoor activities, walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, fishing, and hunting. Everything is literally right outside your door. Life is slower, more peaceful. Children play in the village streets. Their parents gather in the square and chat. Men (mostly men) of all ages spend the evening playing boules on whatever flat space there is. There are village meals and fetes. The fetes are always the highlight of the summer calendar with native sons – and daughters – returning to visit family and friends and to attend the outdoor community dinner and then dance the night away.
The area is also ripe with historical sites and places of interest. In the upper Corbieres, there are the medieval abbeys of Lagrasse and Fontfroide, and in the western Corbieres there is the abbey of Saint-Hilaire where local wine historians believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced in 1531, a tradition still practised by the many local vineyards who produce the region’s sparkling wine, Blanquette de Limoux. The Corbieres is home to several sites which have been linked to the Cathar tradition and are open to the public for visits; these include the chateaux of Aquilar, Peyrepertuse and Queribus in the south Corbieres, the chateaux of Termes and Villerouge-Termenes in the north-east Corbieres and the donjon of Arques in the west Corbieres. The Corbieres is also where you will find the mystical sites of Rennes-Le Chateau and Bugarech which have been linked to many different legends and beliefs, and the European Prehistoric Centre at Tautavel on the south-east edge of the Corbieres – home to Tautavel Man, the oldest man discovered on French soil, exceptional archaeological collections and the Caune of Arago cave complex, one of the largest prehistoric excavation sites of the world.
Thanks to its relatively remote location, property prices in the Corbieres can be a little lower than in other areas of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Prices increase in those more popular villages such as Lagrasse, Monze and Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse, as they are nearer to the main road links and the A61 motorway. However, property is still very affordable here in relative terms. As in the rest of the Languedoc-Roussillon, it isn’t always easy to find a house with a garden but there are small villages where you wouldn’t actually miss one, nature is so close. You can find 2 bedroom village houses – very basic but habitable, no outside space – for anywhere from about €50,000. In the middle of the Corbieres – an hour from Carcassonne, Narbonne, or Perpignan – it’s easier to find houses with a garden or a little bit of land. Sometimes with a big bit of land! Houses with small gardens start at about €135,000 and you can find 2 – 3 bedroom houses with some land for between €200,000 – €350,000. With larger budgets of around €350,000 and over you can find some exceptional farmhouses in stunning locations with large amounts of land, often a swimming pool and outbuildings.
In conclusion, the Corbieres is definitely an area worth exploring for the south of France idyll. If you can find the right location close enough to the motorway and the airport at Carcassonne, you will also find that your property is more marketable for holiday rentals of for conversion into gite complex or bed and breakfast. Likewise if what you’re looking for is a peaceful holiday home where life has an outdoor focus the Corbieres is a perfect choice.