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.
Virpasar is a village by Skadar Lake. The favourite pastime here is a boat trip to see some of the 270 species of bird who live on and around the lake. My recommendation is to walk over the bridge and take the road that runs behind the Hotel Vir. After about five minutes of uphill there’s a sign to the right saying ‘Besac’ indicating the 15th-Century fortification being restored with the help of EU funding even though Montenegro is not part of the EU. I was assured by the advertising at the entrance the 1 Euro entrance fee helps the restoration too. For this small amount, the visitor will see wonderful views of the lake with reed beds in the foreground and the mountains of Albania in the background. The fortification itself, built by the Turks in 1478, is tiny, with one central watchtower situated within the outer walls. There’s a circular staircase, made from metal and wood, which leads to the top of the tower.
From the Park of Letters the road to Amberd is not in great condition and it’s just as well there’s not much traffic around as drivers have to avoid large potholes and large cracks in the tarmac every few hundred yards. Amberd Fortress is one of those old places where visitors can climb all over the ruins without their being any warnings, in any language. The walls are mainly, but not all, in good condition and I enjoyed scrambling along one wall to a corner tower where I enjoyed tremendous views towards the mountains along a river gorge. If you suffer from vertigo though, don’t attempt this route as there’s a long drop on all sides.
The present Amberd fortress dates from the 12th Century although there had been a stronghold at this site 500 years prior to this date. The fortress withstood the Mongols invaders in 1236, but was eventually abandoned in 1408. The church beneath the fortress, referred to as either the Vahramashen Church or Amberd Church, dates from 1026 and is worth a visit to see the umbrella-shaped cupola and the views the church enjoys.
Ardvreck Castle was a MacLeod stronghold from 1597 until it was destroyed by the Seaforth MacKenzies in 1691. The castle is on the shore of Loch Assynt. The mountain called Quinag can be seen in the distance. The waters of the loch, the jagged remains of the castle, and the elegantly shaped mountain behind made a vivid impression. I saw some independence supporters wearing kilts and sporting t-shirts saying “Aye” flying the Scottish saltire through a ruined castle window as their friends took pictures from below.
Dunrobin Castle was modelled on a Loire chateau by the architect Charles Barry. This castle is the seat of the Sutherland family who once used to ‘own’ 1.3 million acres of land in the area although I was unable to ascertain how much of this land came at the expense of evicted crofters. The gardens are fairly small and do show the visitor how beautiful the castle looks from a distance. The gardens have many fine examples of Gunnera plants also known as the giant rhubarb. Falconry displays take place during the day and the birds of prey are kept outside for visitors to take pictures of although you are advised not to get too close. The day I was at Dunrobin the temperature in the garden was around 20 degrees Centigrade. A lawn sprinkler had been placed next to the Steppe Eagle and was slowly soaking the bird, which was spreading his wings out slightly as if enjoying the experience. The Bengal Eagle Owl had its own little garden shed and was sitting on the front step looking quite glum.