•Aude (11190) • Population: 113 • Altitude: 435 m
Rennes-le-Chateau is a small Medieval village perched on a hill overlooking the valley of the Aude and the village of Couiza. Wonderful views of the surrounding countryside from the village, including a couple of ancient stone watch-towers, forests, fields and vineyards.
The key interest here is the Romanesque Sainte-Madeleine church, only somewhat interesting if it stood on its own merits, but there's a wonderfully mysterious story behind it all that has drawn crowds from the end of the 19th century to this day.
Although there isn't much to the village, if you're interested in more than mysteries, the few narrow streets are worth a wander. This is, after all, home to its residents and not just a tourist attraction. Some of the buildings are old, if not ancient, and there's the remnant of the old chateau, with its towers jutting up behind the trees.
A down-side of Rennes-le-Chateau is the small strip of tourist shops, including glass-blown trinkets, that gives part of the village a sadly commercial look.
Abbey Berenger Saniere is the source of the mystery, and the principal reason for the popularity of Rennes-le-Chateau.
If the treasure of Abbey Berenger Saniere isn't enough mystery for one lost, little village, there's the mystical story of the [Jesus Bloodline]; enough of a story that the local bookstores (in a village too tiny to support any commerce at all, normally) have a large range of mystical and mysterious titles, with claims of Holy Blood, Grails, Messianic Legacies and Maary Magdalene.
At the place de le mairie is a large, hollowed out stone with shallow carvings dating back over 4'000 years.
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History of Rennes-le-Chateau
Gallo-Roman: The Antiquity town of Rhedae, just south of the current hilltop site, was the capital of the Visigoth Razès, with 30,000 inhabitants in the 5th century. The town was razed by the troups of the King of Aragon in 1170.
Carolingian tombstones were found next to the church.
• GPS: 42.927451, 2.264399
IGN (1/25,000) #2347 OT "Quillan, Alet-les-Bains"
Local PR (petite randonnée) hiking trails are good, but could be better marked. One trail links Rennes-le-Chateau with the village of Couiza in the valley below.
Another, longer trail (2-3 hrs) from Couiza goes eastward to Coustaussa, southeast across river and south over the high, forested hill to the farm at La Cabanasse, but isn't marked very well as it approaches the farm, so you'll need a map. (white beef cattle), golden eagle flying away, from nearby, across field to left, crying over and over; From Cabanasse the trail follows country roads west past Jaffus and Pas du Loup to Rennes-le-Chateau.