If you are looking for fresh market produce, organic food, healthy fruit juices, local olive oil etc., try the Lagrasse market every saturday morning. Located in the centre of the village, place des Halles, it is a wonderful play to go. The "halles" date back to the Middle Ages. Don't forget to buy a drink at the fresh fruit juice stall. It is 100% fruit and the shopkeeper is lovely!
The place is littered with arts and crafts shops, as indicated in an earlier tip. Unfortunately, during the time I was there (late afternoon), only one was open.
However, from this sampling you can hopefully get some idea of what the place is about.
"No visit to Lagrasse is complete without a tour of the abbey itself, one of the oldest and richest in France. It was founded in the 8th century, allegedly by Charlemagne after seeing seven hermits reproduce the miracle of the bread and fishes. Charlemagne is also less nobly commemorated in the name ascribed to a hollow in the nearby hills: ’Charlemagne’s buttocks’ — the illustrious knight apparently fell from his horse and left the imprint of his august posterior on the rocks."
The preceding is the tourist blurb, the reality, for me, was something different.
For starters, there is a two stage entry fee. First the government run part (with gift shop) and then the part that is still in use by the monks. I only made the first part because the second was shut the day I was there but it would have to offer a lot more than what I saw.
Based only on the first section it was disappointing and I would recommend you spend your money at nearby Fontfroide which is in a wonderful state of preservation.
Having said that there is more to the story; see tip in other section
For some years there has also been a literary festival of a somewhat philosophical bent (Le Banquet du Livre) at the abbey during August. The broad main boulevard, shaded by the inevitable (but beautiful) plane trees, offers ample opportunities for dining al fresco, or the classic French holiday activity of sitting in a café watching the world go by
The market place is tucked away in square in the centre of the old town. Despite much research I can't get a date on its age but I would guess around the 14th or 15th century judging by other I saw around France, such as the one at Nolay.
The town has become a haven for potters and artists and many of the attractive medieval houses (some dating back to the 14th century) have been converted into studios and exhibition spaces. In the centre of the town, the cobbled market square with its covered central section plays host to craft fairs, bric-a-brac sales, and produce markets during the summer.
By the end of my walk around Lagrasse I was more infatuated with the humpback bridge than anything else. At around a thousand years old it predates any architectural thing we have in Australia by a considerable margin.
It also has an air of authenticity about it that I loved.
You can walk across, around and underneath it, although the latter isn't for those who aren't sure of foot.
You can see the church of St. Michel from the Abbey across the river. After you've visited the Abbey, cross that lovely bridge again and follow the tower to the Church of St. Michel, a gothic-style church in the Old Town section of Lagrasse.
It is large, lovely, well kept and very interesting. You will pass the tourist office on the way so stop in for maps and brochures . . . or that Cathar Pass you will want for visiting other nearby sites.
Leave Old Town Lagrasse via the medieval stone bridge. You get beautiful views of both the Old Town and the Abbey on opposite sides of the Orbieu River. Cross and walk along the river to the easily visible Abbey.
The Abbey is in the process of restoration so visiting hours are somewhat limited. The more modern part of the Abbey was closed the day we visited and their hours were listed as:
June to September open every day except Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30 PM with closing at 6 PM
October to May open Sundays and holidays from 3:30 to 5:30 PM
Mass on Sundays at 10:30 AM
You can telephone to verify openings at +33 (0)4 6858-1150
The historic Abbey (also being restored) is open longer hours listed as:
July through September from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
The rest of the year it is open 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM and again from 2:00 to 4:00 PM
This is the part we visited and it was very nice. Much of the abbey is open, including rooms that are in the process of restoration. There is a brief film about the abbey and a small museum featuring the Master of Cabestany with many of his carvings.
You may wish to purchase a Cathar Pass for discounts to 20 sites in the area. We have gotten it several times and it gives information, maps and a small discount. If you visit 6 sites, you are eligible for a prize.
The first thing we always do when we arrive at a new town is take a walk. It's so much easier to see things and get a feeling for the place when you are on foot. You can peek into gardens, visit churches, stop for a coffee . . . even talk to people you see on the street.
It was a cold rainy day so there weren't many people out and we had the lovely little town nearly to ourselves. On a warm sunny day, even out of season, there will be lots of fellow tourists. Walk through the town, admire the market square and then cross the medieval bridge to the abbey. The walk along the river is lovely.