We had made it to the Abbaye de Villelongue and admired the charming cloister and the beautiful ruined chapel. But there was much more to this place than Medieval ruins. It is an active Bed and Breakfast, as well as the full-time home to the family that lives there.
The gardens of the Abbaye have been turned into an open-air gallery of the owner's unique obsessions: gourds and the colour blue.
This isn't as weird as it sounds - in fact, the curation here is excellent, with interesting angles and views everywhere. The gardens are lush and it seemed that everything was in bloom all at the same time.
The owner clearly enjoys puns and surreal juxtapositions:
In some places the garden seemed to be pouring right out from the architecture, like a leafy cornucopia:
This led me back into the chapel, where I noticed the quirky faces and other details in the architecture (I almost called them gargoyles here, but it turns out the proper term is Chimerae) Clearly, quirky design has a long tradition at Villelongue:
After the abbaye closed to visitors, we were invited to join the owners and some guests (and some cats) in the back garden for aperitifs - where I was gently ribbed for inadvertently having a digestif (you drink that after your meal, don't you know).
Afterwards we settled in the cloister and drank wine and had apples and some bread with olive oil.
My grandfather, who had grown up in Scandinavian North Dakota during the Depression, managed to enjoy both frugality and the finer things in life. A key childhood memory is being on the back of his 28-foot sailboat in a mooring somewhere in the Queen Charlotte Islands, eating cheap spaghetti and water-thinned tomato paste, while a gorgeous sunset turned everything around us into gold. "Well, kids," he was fond of saying, "you could go to the best restaurant in the world, and you wouldn't get a view as great as this!"
I was reminded of my grandfather as I sat in the cloister and ate my day-old bread, surrounded by flowers and gardens and gothic beauty as the southern sun slowly sank into another serene Languedoc dusk.
Soon we went to our room and to sleep. I was woken in the very early hours of the morning by a bright light in my eyes - it turned out to be the full moon shining directly in my face. I got up to close the shutters but noticed that the moonlight was shining directly into the chapel, looking like a Gothic dream. I tried to capture the moment on camera, but I didn't want to wake up Shannon by digging around for my tripod, so I wasn't able to get as long an exposure as I had hoped. I still managed to capture some sense of the moment, to at least help me remember what it was like in real life.
Villelongue, it turns out, is all about light. The next morning as we went down for breakfast, I saw the sunlight shining brightly through stained glass, leaving a virtual mosaic on the floor.
We had a chatty breakfast with some other guests from Marseille, and then headed on our way back down into the valley, to Bram and then to Carcassonne.