A car pulled up in front of the house on September 30th, "We've arrived," and in came my "cousins" Kay, Tony, Steve, and Mary from the USA.  Was I ever happy to see them!  I was just starting to feel a bit homesick and missing friends and family so a visit from the Wernert/Pero gang was very welcome.  They were staying with us for 5 nights and then we were heading off together for Nice, France and then Tuscany.  I got lots of enjoyment showing them some special sights here in the south of France and introducing them to our friends here and to our life in this village.  Of course the weather didn't much cooperate so we had little sun and lots of rain.

On Tuesday we headed north to show off two beautiful small villages.  The first, Villanavette, was founded by Louis XIV with the purpose of making flags and tapestries.  It was a "factory town" with homes for the workers inside the town wall.  It continued to be a factory until 1953.  Now a few artists and other arty types live quietly in the tiny village.  Few tourists seem to know it and you can wander the grounds in silence except for the gentle breeze that always seems to blow.  However, on this day there was a commercial photo shoot with pretty models showing off very high trendy heels that seemed very out of place among the cobblestones.
Breakfast of croissants in our garden.
"Honor Work" marks the entrance.
Steve, Mary, Kay and Tony but the center fountain.
Next we went further north to the Millau viaduct.  The bridge was built above a very wide and deep river canyon about 10 years ago.  It is famous for its engineering and its awesome architectural design.
My friend Linda had suggested that we visit La Couvertoirade, an old village not far from Millau.  Since her suggestions have always been outstanding we decided to check it out even though it was late afternoon by the time we got there.  Once again she was right!  I couldn't believe we'd never visited it before.  It is beautifully preserved, peaceful, and hardly a soul was there (except you could almost sense ghosts nearby).  We were sorry we didn't have more time to just sit quietly and absorb the quiet beauty of this place.
Remains of the old castle at La Couvertoirade.
Wednesday was also beautiful (very lucky as rain was predicted).   Everyone must go to Carcassone at least once, in my case its been about eight times but I still enjoy it (more at off-peak season like now) than during the summer.  The "cite" was the center of "The Midi" in medieval times.  This region was very tolerant of other religions and the Cathar religion grew.  I told my cousins the tales of the Cathars, the Crusade launched by the Pope and the French king to rid The Midi of this pesky religion that was Christian but believed the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was not needed in order to communicated with God.  The crusade was successful and the crusaders slaughtered thousands (20,000 in Beziers alone).  

Carcassonne decayed over time but some years ago it was fully restored and is a world heritage sight.  In the summer it is hard to appreciate due to the throngs of tourists and all the knick knack shops.  In October it is not crowded and you can really appreciate its beauty and history.  We even had a pleasant lunch inside the Cite.
Entrance to Carcassone.
Still in a Cathar state of mind we continued north to the deserted village of Minerve.  It was one of the last hold outs for the Cathars who had escaped Beziers and Carcassone.  They were killed here instead.  Minerve stands at the confluence of two rivers and had the reputation of being easily defended - but not from thousands of blood thirsty Catholic Crusaders.

Today it seems a lonely monument to those tragic times.  In summer there are a number of small restaurants and craft shops.  Now only a few are open selling sodas and ice cream.  It feels deserted and lonely but with awesome stark beauty.

This was a good day.
The next day looked like rain was threatening but that wasn't going to stop "cousins" wanting to see all they could of our little corner of the world.  Off we went to the south.  First stop was Abbaye Valmange, one of many in the area where monks built beautiful buildings in which to pray, meditate, eat, drink, and ???   Most were destroyed by peasant protestant uprisings, in the case of Valmange the uprising was led by one of the monks. 

The abbaye eventually became a winery and has been owned for 100 years by the same family.  It is still a winery and you can rent it for a day or evening with 700 of your friends for a steep price I'm sure.
Abbaye garden on a dark and rainy day.
Abbaye garden fountain in the rainy gloom.
Kay & Tony gazing at the Monk's garden.
After the abbey Tony insisted that we find the beach he visited last covered with shells and rocks.  That was the only description he could provide.  This was a bit baffling as ALL the beaches here are wide and sandy - not like the rocky craggy beaches along the Cote d'Azur to the east.  We tried to find it anyway, and drove to a lot of very sandy beaches in the rain.  We finally gave up and found a lovely restaurant in Bouziques where the oysters and mussells are farmed in the huge inlet from the Mediterranean just north of the town of Sete.

Here we are before dinner in Bouziques.
Their last evening here we had another dinner party - yes and it rained of course.  It was so much fun to introduce the cousins to some of our friends here - lots of laughs and interesting French/American/English conversation.
We left the next day to head to Nice and to Tuscany with the "cousins".  It was fun to share our friends with them and vice versa.  A lot more than a tourist gets to experience.  Ooh la la Languedoc.

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