I first saw this magnificent fortress from the train and I was delighted when the train stopped at a nearby station, which meant I could easily visit the castle on public transport. The reason I saw the fort is because it’s situated in the ideal spot between the Corbieres mountains and the Leucate lagoon. The fort was constructed between 1497 and 1503 to a design by the Spanish architect Francisco Ramiro Lopez, who had just completed the reconstruction of the Alhambra in Granada.
Ramiro introduced some innovations such as “sinking” the whole fortress into the ground to protect it as far as possible from artillery fire. The only part of the wall visible was used to fire artillery pieces back at the attackers. The masonry was massively enlarged to withstand attack by heaven cannons and the moat was increased in width. All the corner towers were turned into artillery placements allowing the guns to be manouevered into different firing positions. The wallwalks were widened to allow for the movement of guns and forward defences were advanced to keep artillery further away.
The stone used in the construction were from the nearby Corbieres mountains, the reddish-ochre limestone was taken from the site itself, and the “white stone” was from the Ampurdan area in Catalonia. The limestone was used to feed the many lime kilns. All the bricks and tiles were manufactured locally.
The fort was completed in 1503 and straightaway the defences were put to the test by a French army who were invading Roussillon. Around 1,000 foot soldiers and 350 elite cavalry defended Salses against 15,000 foot soldiers and 1,000 lancers. The attackers reduced the northern ramparts to rubble with heavy gunfire, but the defenders obtained revenge when they blew up the remains of the bastion with a mine, killing 400 of the attackers.
The sport of Donkey Jousting has taken place under the walls of Caernarvon Castle in North-West Wales since 1300 when King Edward I was building the castle that’s seen today by thousands of visitors. The original jousters were Welsh soldiers who were trying to tempt the English knights into a skirmish. As all horses had been commandeered by the English the jousters had to use donkeys instead and this just drew ribald comments from the knights who found the whole scene comical. To compound matters, the Welsh had to use willow branches instead of lances.
Realising that the English weren’t going to be tempted into a fight, the local Welsh people decided to enjoy themselves. To further parody the English knights the Welsh jousters dressed up in highly coloured garments and decorated their donkeys with rags and flowers. Some of the animals spent more time trying to eat the flowers than trotting around the jousting ‘field’ specially created for the occasion.
The tournament was run on a round robin basis where each jouster took on every other opponent over the best of three jousts. A point was scored if the willow branch touched either the shield or the armour of their opponent.
The biggest problem that riders had was making their donkey gallop at any speed; most donkeys trotted at best and often decided to nuzzle the opposing animal rather than running by. This led to the jousters hitting their opponents many times rather than just once, so quite often the counting judges had a problem counting the blows each had scored. Quite often one donkey would chase another donkey out of the field and in this instance both riders would be disqualified for failing to control their animals.
I travelled to Trencin on the train from Bratislava – it took 1.25 hours each way and the whole trip cost 12 Euros. The final destination of the train was Kosice.
Trencin was hot – about 34 degrees C, which made the slog up to the castle quite difficult to do all in one go. The castle has a magnificent setting and, for the photographers, is best seen after 3pm. In the town, there are two squares full of interesting buildings and the former synagogue is now an arts centre. There’s a Roman inscription on a rock face, which can be seen in the Elizabeth Hotel. The castle dominates the town and lovely pictures can be taken from the very quiet main street.
The last tip for my trip to France is a recommendation to visit Salses-le-Chateau near Perpignan. The town of Salses is about 12 minutes away from Perpignan on the train. The fortress is about 5 minutes away from the station and coming from Perpignan you do have to cross the track to get to the exit! Then walk down Rue Laurent Colman and follow the road round to the left. Then turn left and be careful as there’s a narrow tunnel back under the railway. The fort is then visible to the right.
The fort was originally constructed by the Spanish in the 15th Century to guard the Roussillion border from attack by France. Salses withstood four sieges before being taken by the French in 1642. The defences are massive and sit low down within what would have been the moat. To look at the ramparts take the guided tour of the fort.
As with yesterday’s tip, this is an easy recommendation. Queribus is one of the most famous ‘Cathar Castles’ in the foothills of the Pyrenees and along with Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse, Termes, and Aguilar formed the five sons of Carcassonne defensive line.
Queribus is visible on its rock pillar many miles away. It’s bigger than it first appears as some of the interior is below ground level. It’s a 10-minute uphill walk from the car park and the views in all directions are magnificent. It can be very windy up at the castle and make sure to wear shoes/boots with a good grip, especially in wet weather.
After the fall of Montsegur in 1244, many Cathars came to Queribus and would have stayed here until the fall of the castle in 1255, however unlike at Montsegur, the Cathars would have had chance to escape when the castle fell.