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Environment                                            at the bottom of this page an impression of the environment

Flora and fauna

This area is a paradise for birds and bird-watchers alike. Bearded vultures, griffon vultures, golden eagles, kites, buzzards, goshawks and sparrowhawks can all be seen. There are many different types of amphibian. The clouds of butterflies which swarm in the Gorges de la Frau in July and August are a truly marvellous sight: they include swallowtails, southern scarce swallowtails, apollos, scarce coppers and many varieties of blue.

In spring and autumn you can spot the incredibly agile chamois leaping and climbing on the steep cliffs. Orchids, wild gentians, wild foxgloves, willowherbs and autumn joy are just some of the 3300 varieties of plant found in the Pyrenees.

Caves

Over millions of years, water seeping through the limestone mountains has created many magnificent caves. The best known is the Grotte de Niaux, where you see drawings of horses and bison dating from almost 11,000 years ago. The footprints of some of the artists are also visible. The Grotte de la Vache, the Grotte de Bédeilhac en the Grotte de Lombrives are well worth a visit, too. The superb Parc pyrénéen de l’Art préhistorique near Lacombe is entirely devoted to cave art.

Villages in the wide surroundings

Ax-les-Thermes (famous for its thermal springs), Mirepoix, Quillan, Limoux, Foix, Espéraza.

Andorra

Approximately one hour from the campsite by car.

Climate

The region has a mountain climate. The long summers can be very warm, but the elevation means that the heat is never oppressive. The evenings are usually pleasantly cool. Between November and February it can snow heavily.

For the weather click on this link: www.meteofrance.com

The Cathars

The history of the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians, has left an indelible mark on this region since the 12th century. The ideas of this religious sect clashed with those of the Roman Catholic church. Papal attempts to convert the Cathars failed, resulting in bloody crusades and an inquisition against them during the 13th century. The massacre at Montségur in 1244, when 225 Cathars were burnt at the stake, marked the beginning of the end. Only in and around Montaillou did the Cathars hold their faith, until the Inquisition finally destroyed them in 1320. The inquisitors kept very detailed records of their interrogations of the people of Montaillou and its environs. So detailed, in fact, that in the 1970s they formed the basis for a fascinating and widely translated reconstruction of daily village life at the time (Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294-1324 ). Les Sapins offers an enchanting view of Montaillou. The remains of the ancient bastion are illuminated at night, as is the restored chapel by the old churchyard. As the names on the tombstones reveal, many of the current residents are descended from the Cathars…

The strongholds

Carcassonne was the most important base for the Cathars, and later for the crusaders and the Inquisition. A visit to the town is like returning to the Middle Ages. Its ancient ramparts dominate the skyline for miles around. Thanks to careful restoration, the town with its narrow streets, high towers and massive walls, is one of Europe 's best surviving examples of mediaeval architecture.

After the fall of Carcassonne, the Cathars retreated to more inaccessible fortresses on unassailable hilltops. The breathtaking ruins of these strategically located castles remain a permanent feature of the local landscape to this day. The most spectacular of all is the Cathars' last stronghold, Montségur. But Quéribus, Puivert, Puylaurens and Peyrepertus are all impressive sights, too


Click on a photo to enlarge

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Lia Jonker & Jos van Doorne   CAMPING LES SAPINS   11340 CAMURAC   France   Tel: 0033 (0)4 68 20 38 11   E-mail: info@lessapins-camurac.com
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