Monday morning is when the weekly market takes place in Mirepoix! I’d been to Mirepoix once before, many years ago, when a friend wanted to show me a particularly interesting church, Notre-Dame-de-Vals, which is not far from Mirepoix. The interesting thing about the church is that it is partly built into the rock, which makes for a spectacular interior. After visiting the church, we stopped in Mirepoix for a coffee, before heading home again. On that first visit I was captivated by Mirepoix and its meandering arcades, and I vowed that I would return one day!
The town of Mirepoix is in the Ariege, an area where Catharism was well established in the Middle Ages. Of course Simon de Montfort, the well known crusader, laid siege to the town and took it in 1209, presumably killing all the Cathar heretics in the process. In 1289, when the area had probably recovered from the violent crusade against the Cathars, Mirepoix was completely destroyed by flooding. The town was immediately rebuilt in its present location, across the river from where it had been.
The prevailing style of town architecture, at the time of the rebuilding, was that of the Bastide, a fortified town with the streets laid out in a grid pattern, and with a central market square surrounded by arcades (couverts). In Mirepoix there is a Grand Couvert and a Petit Couvert, the second being somewhat smaller than the first, as implied by the name.
Street sign in Mirepoix
At some point Mirepoix outgrew the old fortifications, and the walls and moats disappeared. Most of the houses in the old centre of town are timber-framed buildings, and some of them are spectacular.
When you look closely at the timbers, you can see that some of them were sculpted.
You’ll also be able to notice that the wood has been around some time – it’s amazing to think that these buildings have stood for hundreds of years!!
The market in Mirepoix was somewhat different to the market in St Chinian. One of the first stalls I came to sold live chickens!! I have not seen that in St Chinian for a very long time!!
The old-fashioned knife grinder would be wonderful to have in “our” market – there would be no more excuses for blunt kitchen knives!!
There were colourful baskets and wonderful plants, fresh vegetables and dried fruit, cheese and sausages, teas, bread, clothes, housewares – you name it…
There was also a small stand selling beautiful pottery:
Just as I got to that stand, I saw two beautiful goblets being wrapped up. They had been bought by the lady who had gotten to the stall before me. She saw me eying the goblets with some jealousy/regret, and noticing my disappointment, suggested that I should visit the potter’s workshop, where he would have a lot more stock. She told me that it was only ten minutes from Mirepoix by car, and assured me that it would be well worth the drive. One of the friends who had accompanied me to Mirepoix is a potter herself, so we needed little convincing. We arranged to come by the workshop in the afternoon, and in the process got a recommendation for a restaurant where we could have lunch.
There was still a little time before noon, so we continued to explore Mirepoix. The Cafe Castignolles seemed to be a popular meeting place, and it boasts a painted ceiling outside:
The former cathedral has an incredibly wide nave, but is very dark, despite a fair number of windows.
Of course I couldn’t resist the door knockers:
And I came across a interesting looking second-hand shop which had the most wonderful tiled floors:
On the way to the restaurant I came across La Fromagerie Chez Lucie, a charming little cheese store on Rue Colonel Petitpied (yes, he really was called smallfoot!!). The shop was very small, but the selection of cheeses comprehensive and irresistible. If you go to Mirepoix you should make a point of trying the vieux comte, Chez Lucie!
Since we were not far from our car, we deposited all our shopping, and headed back to the Grand Couvert and the Bar Restaurant Le Cantegril, which had been recommended by the potter.
The lunchtime three course menu was priced at 15 EUR, and the next menu was at 18.50 EUR, also for three courses. Both offered good value for money. Here’s what we started our meal with: Terrine Maison (home-made pate), Piquillos Fracis (stuffed sweet peppers), Potage du Jour (butternut squash soup), Entree du Jour (gratinated seafood):
For main course we enjoyed cassoulet, grilled duck breast, fried fish and sausages with lentils:
None of us wanted cheese, so we went straight on to dessert: a cafe gourmand, a crispy wafer filled with raspberry cream, and a rice pudding with salted butter caramel:
What a delicious meal!!
Thoroughly sated, we walked around Mirepoix a little more on our way back to the car, and snapped a few more pictures. Cafe Llobet is my idea of what a typical French Cafe should look like from the outside: :)
I’m not sure why the cow stood where it did – was there perhaps a cheese shop in the arcades?
Just before reaching the car we saw what looked a little like a haunted house:
And right at the top of the facade something seemed to move.
Maybe we’d imagined it, perhaps it was just a pigeon – but wait
I’m sure it moved again! Yes, it definitely did!
The head of it definitely moved, at random intervals. I would imagine that it is a device designed to scare off the pigeons, but they didn’t take too much notice of it :)
Once we got to the car we set off on our short journey to Rieucros, where Jean Napolier was waiting for us at his pottery Le Gres du Vent. The workshop and shop were just across from the post office, so we had no trouble finding them. Jean showed us his workshop, where he works with his wife, Francoise Louste. He explained the techniques he uses, and the materials (stoneware clay and porcelain clay), and covered a fair bit of technical detail with my potter friend. I just stood by and marvelled!
Afterwards we visited the shop:
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was an wwwAladdin’s cave of beautiful pottery. Because of space limitations, only so much could be displayed in the shop, but seeing our enthusiasm, Jean allowed us the run of his store-room ! I was too preoccupied with looking at everything, so didn’t photograph any of the pots. You will just have to visit Rieucros and look for yourself!! Le Gres du Vent is on Place de la Poste in 09500 Rieucros. Do call ahead on 05 61 68 73 51 to make sure Jean and/or Francoise will be there.