Take the Time to Smell the Roses of Camon

When driving through the borderlands of the Ariège and Aude districts, you may come upon a charming little village called Camon.

In Gallo-Roman times, the meander, formed by the river Hers, was an ideal spot for a fort. It was called "Cambo Dunum", meaning: 'Fortress of the Meander".

In 778, Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, was on his way back from Spain to Germany, when he ordered the construction of many abbeys, chapels and convents in these parts. It is said he himself founded the abbey of Camon in 778. For sure, we can say that the abbey already existed in the year 923, as it is mentioned in an act. The abbey was following the very popular rule of St. Benedict.

In 943 it was subject to the abbey of Lagrasse (Aude). Around this period, the abbey also started to develop agriculture in the nearby countryside, and the monks of Camon, who owned quite a lot of land, offered protection to their villagers. They started to cultivate vines and various cereals. The income was important, because the abbey of Lagrasse demanded royalties from the abbey of Camon.

Rose hedges were often planted as an early warning system to protect the well being of the grapevines, because early detection of disease on the roses could alert winemakers to take necessary action to protect the vines from damage. Roses also provide food for bees and offer habitat for beneficial insects preying on those other insects that can damage the grape. Also in Camon this ancient method is still used.

Camon was a productive and happy little village, but on June 18th, 1279, disaster struck when the dam that was holding Puivert Lake broke, and the entire region flooded. Along with all the other villages in the area, Camon was very badly damaged. The villages and fortresses were rebuilt between 1280 and 1316, adapting to the architectural fashions of that period.

A crenelated enclosure was erected around the abbey of Camon during the 100 year war between England and France, which actually lasted 116 years (1337 to 1453). But even this new protection was not enough to keep the abbey and the village of Camon safe, for in 1494, the church and abbey were almost destroyed by highwaymen, who set fire to Camon.

For 8 years the village was all but deserted; even the monks had abandoned Camon Abbey. Fortunately, Philippe de Lévis, Bishop of Mirepoix, decided to rebuild the village (1503-1535). Most of the town we see today dates from this period, but when you walk around the ancient walls of the old abbey buildings, you can spot some of the ancient walls and fragments of buildings from a much older period, perhaps even the remains of the late Carolingian era, creating an almost unreal, enchanting atmosphere.

Philippe de Lévis decided to live in the large rectangular tower, now called 'the castle', and secured the safety of all the villagers of Camon by building a large, stone wall around the village.

Between 1560 and 1570, Cardinal Georges d'Armagnac, then prior of Camon, strengthened these fortifications, enlarged the battlements and drilled loopholes. The Cardinal also created a small round tower at the west corner of the village wall. All these measures were taken to protect themselves against the hatred and violence during the Religious Wars (1562–98), an epic battle between Roman Catholics and Protestants that raged throughout Europe. Because of this horrible and violent period, many towns and villages in southern France were forced to create extra fortifications to keep its inhabitants safe.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the priors who were living at Camon Abbey added many elements of decoration and wealth to the abbey and the church. This symbolic Athena mural with the 'John Gesture' of Divine inspiration, probably Freemason, dates from this period.
In these 200 years, Camon blossomed economically and its population grew to 860 inhabitants.
However, when the French Revolution happened and Church and State were separated here in France, the monks abandoned the abbey without any resistance.
In 1791, the abbey was sold as a national property, and today it is still privately owned and kept in a wonderful state as a luxury Chambres D'Hôtes, restaurant & wedding venue (www.chateaudecamon.com).

Nowadays, the village of Camon is especially popular during the Spring and early Summer months, when the roses are in bloom. Not having a proper front garden, people started to grow climbing roses right in front of their houses. People come from all over the world to enjoy the roses of Camon during the annual Rose Festival (late May or early June, depending on the weather).

It was on a wet Spring day that I had the chance to walk around the village of Camon and take a few photos of the roses, which are now in full bloom. The air was pregnant with the gorgeous smells of old roses and wet earth.

The countryside is so green that it almost hurts your eyes. This is a very wet Spring indeed and you can see that the roses have grown very fast. Long branches, weighed down by heavy, rain-soaked flowers, are bending over deeply, almost breaking. Being a lover of roses all sorts, I have been tying up my own rose bushes at home to save them from the effects of the wind and rain.
Other roses with smaller flowers are courageously reaching for the skies; they can keep themselves upright. It is amazing to witness how even the roses that are drooping and hanging down are magnificent in their presence, colour and grace.
A wise lesson in accepting circumstance, whatever the proverbial weather.

Halfway through the village it started to rain again. After the drought and heatwaves of 2017, the wet Winter and Spring is so very beneficial for nature, and it is obvious that also the roses enjoy the abundance of water. The tourists I met didn't seem to mind the weather much, for they walked up and down the picturesque streets, photographing one rose after the other. I covered my camera with my scarf, but refused to go back to the car just yet.

The best way to discover the streets of Camon is to just get lost. Go around a corner; if it's a dead end you won't have to walk far to get back to where you came from. Half-timbered houses are hidden in alleys and the closer you get to the abbey, the older the buildings. Explore the area behind the town, where it ends, and where the fields begin.

Walking back to the car park I passed the Rue Charlemagne, remembering the amazing story of this legendary ruler of Europe, who was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany in the year 800. His empire was huge, and he and his ancestors tried to keep Europe from being overrun by the growing Arab Empire, which had already spread to Spain and the Pyrenees in the 8th century. There are many heroic stories about Charlemagne and his Frankish military leader, Roland, fighting the Moors and pushing them back over the Pyrenees, but Charlemagne was also a man of honour and it must not be forgotten that he often tried to solve matters by debate, rather than force.

Back in the main street, and happy to have taken the time to smell the roses of Camon. So, next time when you head out towards Chalabre and Mirepoix, do not forget to stop briefly in the village of Camon with its rich history and gorgeous roses. Get lost. Walk around the abbey and stroll through the medieval streets. Give yourself an hour, and do not forget your camera.

© Anneke Koremans


25th Anniversary Special!

This month I am celebrating my 25th Anniversary as a certified travel agent! ♥
It all started in the early 1990s in Dordrecht, where I lived and worked at that time. Tired of boring office work I decided to change my profession to become a travel agent, and I really went for it!

In May 1993 I passed my exams and from that moment on, my new career in the travel business took off.

I worked 5 years in travel agencies in Holland and have very happy memories of the agency I worked for longest, Star Travel. I worked there until 1996.

In 1996 I had the opportunity to work with Peter van Deursen, who was my boyfriend at that time, to start a company around writing travel information booklets for large tour operators. By 1997 our biggest solid client was OAD travel (Holland). We worked for several tour operators, building up a huge data base as the years went by. We were hard working and very successful, and in the year 2000 we were able to buy a small cottage in our beloved Occitania, one we could rent out during the Summer months. The house was lovely, but after a few years we found that the location was a little too high up in the mountains for comfort, so we decided to sell it and buy another house in the high valley of the Aude. After a long search we found our perfect home, stretched our budget to buy it and moved from Pradelles-Cabardes to Belvianes in 2005.

But then in 2006, after 10 years of hard work, OAD Travel decided to cancel the booklets and put all the information online on their website. With this decision, we were suddenly almost out of work. Having already bought the house in France with a heavy mortgage that was based on the income from OAD Travel, and being unable to sell it again so soon after the purchase (which is heavily taxed in France), Peter and I decided to leave Holland and emigrate to France in 2007. It wasn't a decision taken lightly, for we left behind our family and friends and were about to plunge into an unknown, insecure future, but once we had our heads and hearts set on it, we really went for it!

Our French adventure
And so, in June 2007, Peter and I got married, and two weeks later we emigrated to France. Within 6 months we had not only moved to another country, but we also renovated the double garage into a holiday cottage, so we could generate some income. This renovation, however, had taken up all our savings, and in January 2008 we started the new year with absolutely no money in the bank, so we sold our car. We taught ourselves to create websites, so we could generate some income while helping others in this region build up their business marketing. I became the marketing manager and created our own websites. We even looked after dogs, whose owners were on holiday, just to be able to pay for the firewood for the winter.

I created a holiday info website based on our database that actually generated some much needed money in the first few years, and, following the advice of a friend, I started doing guided tours for a fee, rather than for free.

In 2010 we had our first group tour and finally we could do what we are good at, where I have a certificate for, and where Peter had 20 years of experience in: tour managing and tour guiding!

In 2011 I also started writing my first novel under the nom de plume of Jeanne D'Août, hoping it would be picked up and generate some income as well, while at the same time attracting more people to this mysterious region. And it worked! (www.jeannedaout.com / books)

While Peter and I continued to build up Barinca Travel & Tourism year by year - promoting the Occitan culture worldwide - I wanted to stand out as an all-round guide, so I studied a lot, created an archive and I still learn new things each year, because I never stop studying. And during my tours here in this incredible region, I am trying to make people think, while explaining the different layers of the rich local history. Each place we visit is like a PowerPoint presentation in itself.

People often think that I am specialized in the Mary Magdalen legends, and that I only do tours around that subject, but that is not so. I am a passionate and serious historical guide, all-round, and available on demand to guide any person or group on any specific topic of this region. I am a fact-hunter, and I share the local legends and theories with caution, for people often think that every legend and story around certain topics is a 100% proven fact, which is not so. But I will be able to explain the underlying layers of a legend, and share with you what I have found interesting and illuminating (see: reviews).

I am learning all the time, especially to think for myself. With my theories and shared knowledge I am hoping to inspire others to think for themselves too and to do their own math, for that is everyone's Birthright. To be able to respect and cherish individual philosophies, ideas and beliefs is the very heart of a tour guide, for we are all on our own individual path. That, and having a good sense of humor and the flexibility to adapt to the wishes of the client. And I have learned all that in those 25 years. Come and discover the rich diversity of Occitania, with its stunning natural beauty, its spa and wellness possibilities, its countless historical sites, its mysteries, and - last but not least - the fabulous wines and fresh French cuisine! I would be honoured to be your guide. ♥
Anneke Koremans


The Benedictine Abbot Oliba's Quest for Peace

Over a thousand years ago there lived a man in Catalonia who was one of the most influential political figures of his time. Catalonia was in those days at the frontier between the Christian and Muslim worlds and the city of Ripoll was one of the most important centers of learning.

Unfortunately, the nobility was behaving violently; there was much aggression and warfare. It was time that the two cultures learned from one another, worked together for a peaceful world, and stopped fighting over land. Around 1010, someone finally stood up to make this happen.
His name was OLIBA.

Starting out as the count of Berga and Ripoll, abbot of the monasteries of Santa Maria de Ripoll and Sant Miquel de Cuixà, and bishop of Vic, Oliba decided to abdicate his secular possessions to his brothers in 1002, when he took up the Benedictine habit at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Within 8 years after joining the Benedictine Order, Oliba was named abbot at Santa Maria de Ripoll and Sant Miquel de Cuixà near Prades.

Oliba was a great promoter of Romanesque art and architecture, learning and conduct. Especially to the latter cause, Oliba had begun to promote a movement called "The Peace and Truce of God". His aim was to establish certain days in the week on which it was not allowed to commit violence among Christians. In the beginning, this only applied to Sundays and Holy days, but soon the rule applied to most days of the week. The rule also insisted that fugitives and refugees could find shelter and protection behind the walls of churches and other holy places. The rule protected all people, not just the clergy, from harm by violent behaviour. If this rule was broken, the guilty person or persons could face excommunication.

The amazing results of this Benedictine Movement of Peace and Truce, thanks to abbot Oliba's efforts to create a new, peaceful world based on learning, kindness, compassion and love, soon became famous throughout this part of Europe and the rules were set in stone at the Council of Toulouges (Roussillon) in 1027, two years after Oliba had founded the monastery of Santa María de Montserrat. Oliba also translated Arabic manuscripts into Latin, and wrote many works that can still inspire us today.

During his years, Oliba reformed, consecrated and patronized many other churches and abbeys and became a treasured adviser to Count Berenguer Ramon I of Barcelona. He even reconstructed the cathedral of Vic with support of the Countess Ermesinde, the mother of Count Berenguer Ramon I. In the year 1046, Oliba died at his monastery in Cuixà and even today he is remembered as one of the spiritual founders of Catalonia. At the abbey of St. Michel we find an inscription of his name, scratched into the altar stone; a reminder of his presence, his greatness and his influence.