This morning I visited the historic site of Roquefort (no connection with the cheese!) while on a run with my wife in our local mountains. The earliest written reference to this fortified village dates from 1035, and for the next couple of centuries it was the home of the Roquefort family.
And Bruno showed us his field of pastel, or woad, and demonstrated his ancient dyeing skills.
The start line was on the shores of Saint-Ferréol, a reservoir created by Pierre-Paul Riquet in 1667 to feed the Canal du Midi. It’s the oldest dam in France, and when it was built, it was the biggest dam in the world.
The first few kilometres passed through the Forest of the Aiguille where you can see rusting kilns once used by the charcoal burners. Then we passed through Durfort, a pretty village where the charcoal from the surrounding forest was used by 600 cauldron-makers to heat up the copper vessels they were hammering into shape. They started in the 15th century, and one or two are still banging away today.
Next came a vertiginous ascent of the Berniquaut. Near the summit, we passed along the earthworks of an Iron Age hill fort, through the ruins of a medieval mountain village and past natural rock shelters used by our Stone Age ancestors. Incidentally, on a trail run like the Desperado, even the winner has to walk up many of the inclines. More modest runners like myself were grateful for the fixed ropes which in places allowed us to take some of the strain off our legs.
From there, we were subjected to several kilometres of painful switchbacks through the forest before dropping down to the Castrum de Roquefort, which is featured on the cover of my book ‘Lauragais: Steeped in History, Soaked in Blood’. This was built in the eleventh century by a family that was heavily implicated in the Cathar heresy, and at one point during the Albigensian Crusade, 300 Cathar priests sought refuge on this rocky knoll. Curiously, this was exactly the same number of people who finished the race (twenty others abandoned due to exhaustion).
Historical research may not be the most exciting activity, but when you are trying to get to the bottom of the legends surrounding the world’s oldest sparkling wine, it bubbles along rather nicely!
Yesterday, Bruno Bouché explained why he moved from Champagne to Limoux, while I sampled his production.
As for the legend, sometime around 1531 the Dominicans of Saint-Hilaire accidentally invented the world’s first bubbly in this cave. A century later, the lucky monks welcomed one of their brothers from the north. Naturally they served him their sparkling wine, and the good Dominican Pierre Pérignon returned to his monastery in Champagne with the recipe hidden in his habit.
Did Bruno say any of this was true? I can’t remember!
It lasts longer than Rio. It follows stricter codes than Venice. And performers and spectators are never further than a confetti-throw from a bar offering bubbly Blanquette de Limoux.
This year the carnival runs from 27 January until 7 April. Three times a day every weekend - plus Mardi Gras - the medieval arcades around the central square resonate to the beat of the drum and the sound of brass and woodwind.
But preceding the band are the dancers - different groups every day - wearing a dazzling array of costumes from the traditional to the downright ridiculous. Whatever they are wearing, they love confetti!