Altitude : village at 200 m above sea level
Commune: between 135 m and 552 m above sea level)
Population : 560 Montlaurais
Superficy : 33,92 km2
Density : 15 inhabitants/km2
Located in the Corbières area, in the heart of the Cathar country, the village of Montlaur is in a
valley defined at the North by Mount Alaric at South by the hill of La Coque. A spring in the
centre of the village comes to swell the stream which meets the Orbieu River some kilometres further downstream.
Three small hills overhang the village. On these, are located (from right to left on the above picture):
- the mills of the Couscouillette, nowadays transformed into dwellings (see picture). These tithe mills are the witnesses of the affluent cereal crops (wheat, rye, oats) before the wine era. According to the archives, up to four wind and watermills were operated simultaneously which showed the prosperity of the area.
- the fort of which there are only some remaining stones.
- the mills of Bissat, nowadays transformed into dwellings.
The vestiges of the fortifications of the former castle are just visible; this walking area offers splendid panoramic views on the village, the plain and the hill of La Coque. The fort consisted of 3 forts each in the other, built in the twelfth century, on an abrupt rock, by Pierre Roger, viscount of Béziers. Montlaur was taken by Simon de Montfort in 1210. There are only a few remains left of the surrounding walls and the gate of "Bissens".
The very picturesque medieval area with its narrow winding lanes, opens to some small squares such as the square of the former town hall (Place de l’Ancienne Mairie) from which you can discover the gate of Bissens.
On the main square, the town hall (mairie), an opulent building constructed during the Third Republic in 1813, provides a fine open space together with the church and the public parks. These green areas, with a picnic corner, are pleasant meeting points, with shade in summertime. A “boulodrome” enables the “boulistes” to practise their favourite sport and to organise tournaments during summer evenings. A children’s playground has been developed which is very quickly besieged by boys and girls as soon as they leave school for the day before going back home.
Alongside, the “stream” canalised in a concrete bed, there is a walking area, where children can play and where parties are organised (dinner in the stream in July).
The village hall (foyer) provides the Montlaurais with a meeting place, where shows and sport activities take place. Close by is the youth centre (maison des jeunes) which is at the disposal of and under the responsibility of the teenagers.
North of the village, next to the cemetery, the imposing building we see cooperative winery , "the MontLaurier."
The town hall
Castel Niermans : the park
Castel Niermans : the park
First constructed in the seventeenth century, the castle of Rigals has been replaced by the present castle or castle Niermans in
the nineteenth century but in a seventeenth century architectural style.
Structured around a spectacular alley of plane trees from the Orient, the romantic park of the castle opens up on a vast lawn where majestic cypress-trees evoking Italy, stretch to the sky. With box trees, lavenders and roses beds, a grove and walk-inviting shady alleys, this garden has been created at the end of the nineteenth century by the Mas family.
It is belongs to the list of the major parks of vine-growers’ castles created during the prosperous age of the wine Eldorado. Since then it has hardly been transformed, the swimming pool has been installed where a pond (never built) was supposed to be located.
Charming and full of history, the castle belonged to Edouard Niermans, famous architect of the Café Society who designed the Hôtel Négresco in Nice, the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz, the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, the Moulin Rouge, the Casino de Paris, the Folies Bergères, the theatres of the Capucines and Marigny in Paris, amongst others.
Passionate about what then a vast vine domain, Edouard Niermans spent his last years in Montlaur. His son, Jean, has realised the St Michel chapel fresco located inside the church. The park can be visited the first week-end in June or upon request (Ph : 06 08 17 12 74).
- Hamlet of Réqui, located at the foot of Mount Alaric, its origin would come from the "Ricquy" family, who used to live there.
- Domneuve, "domus nova", several residences amongst them a wine domain, the “Cellier des Troubadours”.
- Villefrancou (the term villa, country domain, is joined to a person’s name, franco): wine domain.
- La Fraissinède (comes from the term fraichi: ash-tree): former farm domain which used to be part of the domain of the provost of Saint-Michel. Currently, two private residences, one offering “gîtes” (site)
- Le Plo : farm above St-Genis, at the foot of the hill La Coque, where horseback riding is organised (site)
- La Valfrège, cold valley.
- Montplaisir : former domain transformed to a private residence.
- Les Illes : several private houses located at the entrance of the Congoust river gorges. Further down, the ruins of a square tower are the remains of a domain built at the foot of the Mount Saint-Michel in the tenth century to accommodate a monk community who could not stay at the priory which had become uninhabitable.
Maps covering Montlaur:
- Michelin 344 LOCAL “Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales”, scale: 1/150 000.
- IGN départementale n° 72111, scale: 1/125 000.
- IGN TOP100 Béziers/Perpignan, scale: 1/100 000.
- IGN série orange n° 2446 CAPENDU, scale: 1/50 000.
- IGN série bleue CAPENDU, scale: 1/25 000.