The long shadows cast in the late afternoon sun on the ancient stones of the medieval city of Alet Les Bains are nothing short of magical. This is the town where Mr V spent many a summer holiday growing up and where we stayed over the long weekend.
Alet Les Bains started life as the seat of a Benedictine Abbey in 813 and has a source of natural spring water. Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees next to the River Aude, this tiny village of five hundred or so inhabitants was once a highly influential town in the history of the Catholic Church. In the twelfth century it was where church meetings were conducted and the town attracted pilgrims. Nostradamus is even rumoured to have either lived or at least regularly visited Alet.
During this time the Languedoc region was home to the Cathars, a religious sect who were persecuted and eventually wiped out by the Catholics. Many legends and religious conspiracy theories about the area have sprouted up over the years on the basis of this dark history. This is the area which features in the controversial book "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" whose authors tried to sue novelist Dan Brown for plagiarising their work in his novel The Da Vinci Code.
These days there are just whispers hinting at its immense history and the bloody religious wars it has endured in the architecture, the ruins and the layout of the town, as well as in the surrounding area which is peppered with the majestic ruins of Cathar castles.
Life is quiet in Alet now. In fact the silence is almost deafening.
Alet used to be a walled city and above you can see the remains of the old city wall. This is a place which is still steeped in the old ways of doing things. Life is still in many ways carried out at a pace far from that of the modern world.
The newly paved road you see in the picture above and below was laid using manual labour. We watched fascinated as one man hand sprayed sticky black tar onto the road flanked by two others wielding wooden boards to prevent the houses on either side being splashed. They were followed down the road by another man tossing the gravel out over the freshly laid tar with a shovel in well practiced arcs.
Many of the original villagers are ageing and there are several foreigners who have chosen to retire here. Whilst we were there we heard the cathedral bells tolling to mourn the passing away of a villager. There is also an old tannoy system that announces when market sellers come through the village offering their wares.
Many of the locals take pride in keeping their neighbourhood looking pleasing to the eye from the street.
Up until recently this building below was a convent housing an order of elderly nuns.
If you stay in the town on the eve of the First of May as we did this year you could witness a very particular Alet tradition in the spirit of April Fool's Day. On this night the local youth get up to mischief and collude to take any loose lying or detachable objects around the town and pile or hang them up in the main town square as a bit of a joke. In the morning the bewildered and disgruntled owners of the missing objects will make their way into the square to retrieve their belongings. This year with all the roadworks going on they had a ball moving all the barriers and witch hats into incongruous locations in the square as well as peoples bins, pot plants, bicycles and even window shutters and gas meter lids. However this time, the older locals were suitably scandalised, complaining angrily that they had taken things too far as some people's flowerpots had been damaged, bemoaning what had become of the youth of today and demanding that the Mayor intervene and put a stop to it all.
Mr V. happened to walk by the young scoundrels as they were moving things about in the late evening and they stopped to wish him "Bonsoir Monsieur!"
Shearling biker jacket: Oasis; Draped silk print minidress: Kaylee Tankus; Black Rat leggings: Sass and Bide; Biker boots: Gap; Bag: Marc by Marc Jacobs