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Things to See in the Languedoc:   Historic Towns:   Alet-les-Bains

The Town

Alet-les-Bains is an attractive town in the Aude département nesting to the east of the River Aude. It lies on a relatively flat area, off the D118, in the Aude valley surrounded by mountains. It calls itself the gateway to the Haute Vallee de l'Aude (gateway to the upper Aude valley). It is 33 km away from Carcassonne to the north, an hour away from the Mediterranean Sea to the east and another hour from the ski resorts to the south west. Located in the Razés between Limoux and Quillan, 26 km in the heart of the "Pays Cathare" (Cathar Country).

Alet-les-Bains was once a walled city with its own abbey - and later its own bishop and cathedral. In 1197 the abbey and the town were fortified by ramparts and a moat. Now it is little more than a village of just over 500 people but you can still see vestiges of the city walls and ruined Cathedral. There is even a medieval Jewish ghetto.

There are natural springs here and the water is bottled and sold commercially. Alet has been renowned for its thermal waters since Roman times. A thermal centre and swimming pool are open in the summer season.

Alet's centre is unusually well preserved and the ruins of the Cathedral are worth a visit. There are numerous "belles demeures à colombages" - half timbered houses. There is also medieval square featuring traditional medieval houses, including the one where Nostradamus was believed to have lived. There is a small restaurant in the square. You can also still see the ruins of the 12th century cathedral, the 14th century Chapter House, the Episcopal Palace, the Medieval town and many 12th and 14th century Colombage mansions.

The name Alet is not pronounced "Alay" as the unwary generally assume, but "Alette" - apparently a remnant of its earlier name Aleth - the local valley is still called the "val d'aleth".

 

The Abbey and Cathedral

In 813, Alet was the seat of a Benedictine abbey founded by Béra, Viscount of Razés. The Abbey was made into an Episcopal see by Pope John XXII in 1317. The new cathedral church was built next to the Abbey.

The cathedral choir was sold by the last bishop of Alet, Charles de la Cropte de Chanterac, in 1776, a few year before he was deposed during the French Revolution. The choir was then demolished to allow the road to be widened (this road, Alet-les-Bains' main street, is now named after Nicolas Pavillon.) The Cathedral itself continued as a Cathedral church until it's dissolution on 29 November 1801 when the Diocese of Alet was absorbed back into the Diocese of Carcassonne

Click on the following link for more on the Abbey and Cathedral at Alet-les-Bains Next.

 

The Evêché

The old Episcopal Palace survives - it is called the Evêché ("Bishopric"), now the Hostellerie de l'Evêché. L'Evêché and its three hectares of gardens occupy the site where the abbey used to be.

Roger [or was it Charles ?] de la Cropte de Chanterac, the 35th and last Bishop of Alet built an extension to the oldest wing of the building dating from the 12th century.

After the Revolution the Episcopal Palace passed to owners who sold off the bishops' furniture, used the buildings as henhouses and sheds, and built a pigsty in the park.

It languished for years until, in 1951, the Hostellerie de l'Evêché was opened in the old Episcopal Palace. The Episcopal apartments had been converted into hotel rooms rented by the day. A major rehabilitation project was undertaken in 1953 when the Orangery was torn down - with the exception of the stone framework and the bottom part of the north wall. In April 1955, the Orangery was re-opened. The palace has undergone several restorations since, and now has a decent restaurant featuring regional cuisine. A stone staircase from the old Abbey leads to the first floor, where visitors can view the old synod room as well as a trompe-l'oeil library. The building and the grounds, bordering the river Aude, are well worth visiting. You can eat outside in the summer.

 

Alet Spa Water

Natural springs here were known an ancient times and attracted the Romans - who always homed in on natural springs in any newly acquired territory. According to local tradition both Charlemagne and Nostradamus favoured the water here. In 1886 The French Ministry of Health acknowledged its virtues and granted official authorisation to bottle it. Water here has been bottled and sold for more than 120 years, putting it among the oldest brands in France.

As so often in this part of the world the commune has sold the bottling rights, but locals (and tourists) are still able to fill containers for free from a communal water spout near to the bottling plant. Other sources in the village are now marked "non-potable" ("non-drinkable") - which is probably the result of creeping officialdom rather than any genuine risk.

The spa at Alet Les Bains is open from the 1st of May to 30th of September from 7am to 1pm, closed Sunday. There is an outdoor swimming pool and an indoor one both fed by natural spring water.

Spa waters here are reputed to be good for the treatment of digestive disorders and metabolic afflictions - obesity, diabetes, gastritis and colitis. Some say that it was his digestive problems that brought Charlemagne here.

Contact: Les Thermes d'Alet les Bains, 11580 Alet les Bains
Telephone: 00 33 4 68 69 90 27 - Fax: 00 33 4 68 69 93 4

A slow filtration process during the water's subterranean journey from the mountains to Alet provides trace elements and mineral salts containing potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It is claimed that the physicochemical properties of Alet mineral water come from the Pyrenees. According to the firm responsible for the bottling the water, it possesses wondrous properties explained by its very particular composition of trace elements and minerals. Its ph is 7.4. It is recommended for everything and pretty much everyone - including pregnant women, children, the sick, and top French athletes in order to enhance their performance. Furthermore, as their website (http://www.alet.fr/) helpfully points out, Alet spa water "does not overload your loins in superfluous elements".

 Minerality mg/L
Bicarbonate : 300
Sodium : 13
Calcium : 63
Potassium : 1,8
Chloride : 11
Iron : < 0,02
Magnésium : 23
Nitrate : 2
Sulphate : 14
Nitrite : < 0,05

 

Further Information

The Tourist office is adjacent to the abbey ruins.

Abbey and Cathedral: Click on the following link for more on the Abbey and Cathedral at Alet-les-Bains Next.

Guide vert Michelin Pyrénées page 61

Festival of water sports: first weekend in June each year. The water sports festival celebrates these and the village also throws a repas (public meal which people can buy tickets for), hosts a antique come flea market and various other attractions.

The Casino: In the early twentieth century many spa towns in the South of France built casinos to entertain their visitors from the cities. Some of these survive. The original casino in the town of Alet closed some years ago, but a new one was built on the outskirts of town just off the N118.

The Casino d'Alet-Les-Bains is located at: Avenue des Pins. Contact the Casino d'Alet-Les-Bains at +33 4 68 69 91 68. Neither the modern pink cement building, its flashing blue neon lights outside, nor its dozens of slot machines inside do much to enhance the charm of the town, but at least it is well out of the centre and provides something for the town's more philistine visitors to do. On the positive side, it also puts on art exhibitions for the non-Philistines.

Rennes-le-Château: Alet lies 8 km north from Rennes-le-Château.

Rennes-le-Château: Alet lies 8 kms south from Limoux.

Le Hameau de Saint Salvayre (Hamlet of Saint Sylvester) lies 6 km away, offering a panoramic view of the Pyrenees and the Corbières. There of a pretty little chapel dating from the twelfth century. There is also a prehistoric standing stone here, referred to as a Druid stone.

Spa Towns: Click on the following link for more local spas

Cathar Castles: Nearby are Pieusse , Puilaurens,  Puivert, Coustaussa, Montségur and Le Bézu.

More abbeys in the Laguedoc-Roussillon: including the Abbey at Saint-Papoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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