The Priory of Serrabone - the Pyrénées' best kept secret
For some reason, the foothills of the Pyrenees seem to host some of Languedoc's most beautiful historical sites - the walled village of Villefranche le Conflent, for example, the gorgeous (at least from afar) Abbeye de St Martin de Canigou, and the very picturesque castle and village of Castelnou. But almost hidden amongst all of these brighter stars is a little gem - the Priory of Serrabone.
It's a tiny, unimposing place. Supposedly, a priory is one notch down from an abbey, and Serrabone is but a Mini next to the Bently of St Martin de Canigou. A rather drab, unimpressive one at that, from the outside at least. It's spartan design and dull grey stone give no hint of the delights to be found within.
You reach Serrabone by driving up a rather trecherous mountain road that twists and turns forever, revealing superb Pyreneean scenery on every corner. The mountains here are carpeted with green oak, and soar and plummet around you like waves.
We eventually reached the priory car park, and passed a very pretty and well-manicured garden of box hedges and supposedly interesting plants (I'm no botanist). From the 'acceuil' (paying €1.50) you enter a cloistered hall (see above) with some of the most beautifully carved pillars I've ever seen, of animals and plants.
The views from here are magnificent - with the mountainside dropping sharply below and then rising again in the distance. Stairs from this hall lead up to the roof of the priory, from which the veiws are even more impressive.
This leads to a strange and unique indoor cloister - beautifully carved out of pink marble which seems totally out of place in so stark and simple a church.
Supposedly, much of the original priory was also constructed of carved pink marble (when the building was first founded in the 12th century) - and the more spartan elements of the priory were built later around it.
Carved columns with gardens below. The views from here are terrific.
We think the Priory of Serrabone is a definate must for anyone visiting or living in Languedoc. It is, however, quite small, and your visit won't last that long.
So we'd recommend combining a trip here with lunch at Villefranche le Conflent and perhaps an afternoon trip to the Abbey of St Martin du Canigou or the strange rock formations of Les Orgues de Roussillon.