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When one evokes the name of Corbières, the first image which comes to the spirit, except its renowned wine, is the universe of pebbles which covers this part of the country. Because, it seems that the mineral reign which is imperative itself here in a debauchery of cliffs and cliffs, grits and stones, cliffs and loose stones, pierriers and pebbles, supplanted the vegetable world. It is not of stones that are established(constituted) vertiginous castles perched on rocky fish bones or the magnificent abbeys decorating with flowers our valleys and which make(do) the fame of the " Cathar Country "! And nevertheless, speak about forests in front of these apparently desert areas to the eyes of the pressing traveler do not absolutely recover from the heresy. This Mediterranean forest, in spite of the multiple attacks which it underwent during the last centuries, possesses a surprising biovariety and a wealth faunistique and floristique remarkable through all the met circles (green oak groves or pine forests, scrublands and undergrowth, etc.). Furthermore, she(it) doubtless represents a place of constant delight for the nature lover been in love curiosity. So, you are invited to discover Corbières without moderation, this country of stone, wind and sun …


Patric VALETTE, National Office of Forests, January, 2004






BIT MEDITERRANEAN IN CORBIERES Some local data … Completely singular entity, Lagrasse is situated in the region of Corbières Orientales, that is a zone limited to the North by the plain of the Aude, in the East by the littoral fringe, in the South by the department of Oriental Pyrenees and on the West by Corbières Occidentales (influences of the Atlantic and mountain climate). Installed(settled) on natural grounds limestone mainly , often superficial, affected and degraded, she should face a very contrasted Mediterranean climate which one can qualify as climate of all the extremes in spite of appearances: been very warm and dry (deficit hydrique pronounced typical of the Mediterranean climate), autumns in the diluvian rains, periodically rigorous winters and passionate winds breaking out on plains and hills. In Corbières, this passionate wind sweeping(annihilating) gaily reliefs, frequent and sometimes very violent, of sector the West in Northwest, is called Cers. All these elements confer on the whole this zone of the limited forested potentialities, in term of production. Some additional data to end: the height varies approximately from 100 to 600 metres and the river of Orbieu, crossing Lagrasse, establishes(constitutes) the chief detail(room) of the river system.

A little of history … 6500 years ago, following upon the last würmienne glaciation (-10.000 years), the holm oak (Mediterranean essence par excellence) and especially the downy oak should occupy the quasi-totality of Corbières Orientales until Roman time, dividing up according to the climatic factors, édaphiques (nature of the ground) and topographic of the place. As for Alep's pine, autochthon of the region according to analyses recent palynologiques (study of fossil pollens), he should remain in islands. Of an economy of prepayment in kind (crop, hunting and peach(fishing)), the man passed gradually in an economy of production (culture, breeding, etc.) and sédentarisa. Hanging some thousand years, this primitive forest paid a heavy levy to the needs of the man, and was strongly ruined in the last centuries:

__ Paissance, even " surpaissance " of the animals on already very poor scrublands (the tooth of the cattle saved(spared) nothing),

__ Use the best plots of land for different cultures (wheat and the other cereal, vineyards, oliveraies),

__ Continual clearing and clearing to warm or feed lime kilns, glass factories(glass-making) and forges, etc. (the coalwomen smoked gaily),

__ Added to this human pressure, the fire ended to annihilate the forest (nowadays, the fire remains the biggest enemy).

Since age-old times, the pastoral economy was imperative itself in Corbières. The continual development of the pasture was always made to the detriment of the forest. The clearings made good progress to increase the surfaces of route(course) of crowds of ovinés as far as the fire, often used, became an effective ally. Dozens thousand animals with wools (sheeps) and some thousand horned animals (goats((tackles)) measured the bare Mediterranean hills. One finds in certain names of village or places, the importance of this livestock: Lanet for the wool, Val de Dagne for the sheep either still Saint-Laurent de la Cabrerisse for goat(tackle). Besides the milk and the meat, the industry of the prosperous wool represented the essential resource of Corbières. as it was not either called the road of the wool, the road between Carcassonne and Lagrasse! Furthermore, the development of the abbeys of Fontfroide ( Cistercian) and Lagrasse ( Benedictine) was only stressing this superiority of the breeding.

In quoted(esteemed) by the breeding, an additional polyculture still decreased the forested surface before the vineyard also comes to reduce to " a shagreen " the forest of Corbières. Finally, at the same time, the exploitation of different ores, the forges, the glass factories(glass-making), the tanneries (harvest of the bark rich in tan to return rotproof leathers), etc. contributed strikingly to the impoverishment of the forested surface of the region.

Nowadays, all these activities having unmistakably disappeared, declined or undergone a decline, the forest resumes quite slowly its rights faithfully for the natural dynamics of the vegetation. It is necessary to remind itself that the French forested surface had reached(affected) a critical threshold of 8 million hectares in the last century while today, it found appreciably its surface of the Middle Age with practically 16 million hectares. It is necessary to say also that if the pastoralisme began to decline since the French revolution, the drift from the land not to say the desertification (less human pressure in campaigns) conjugated to the era of the industrialization and to the use of new energy resources (coal and petroleum notably) also contributed to the " revégétalisation " of our Corbières.

The Mediterranean forest today … The current vegetable coverage consists of big zones of scrublands (" Mediterranean degraded forest ") resulting from anthropological actions (culture, surpâturage, excessive(unfair) exploitations, even fire), of important surfaces of protected copse of holm oak which are regularly run for the local needs (wood of stoking(fire chamber)), of some pubescentes oak groves relics supplying sporadically with some wood of heater and with little productive coniferous populatings altogether.

Pines, essences pioneers, form pine forests or pineraies which contribute to the beauty of the rocky landscapes of the region. On calcareous soil (Corbières has a dominant karstic relief), Alep's pines ( natural colonization) and pines or black pines of Austria stemming from artificial regenerations, adapt their growth to the frugality of these superficial grounds, whereas maritime pines grow exclusively on siliceous grounds. Sweet chestnut trees and oaks corks have the same requirements to broad-leaved trees. Finally, punctual plantations of cedar of the Atlas come to increase this coniferous forested surface and as for the cypress, it(he) deserves nevertheless to be quoted because it(he) counts as an important element of the Mediterranean landscape.

The forest of Corbières Orientales is mainly allocated to the general protection of the environment(middle) (cf. erosion of grounds, landscape, environment) and additionally in the production of coniferous wood of work (however modest) and of leafy firewood. Furthermore, she(it) dresses(takes on) an original role of reception of the public in this tourist region of Languedoc. Nowadays, a single threat presses dangerously on this forest: his(her) vulnerability on the fire, the real Achilles' heel of the Mediterranean region (during summer, 2003, it is 60.000 hectares of forest which burned).

In conclusion, although she(it) has no prestige of the forest of Tronçais or the other forests so famous, the Mediterranean forest of Lagrasse's neighborhood deserves however the titles of nobility which force all our admiration and our biggest respect. If Saint-Exupéry said that the main part is invisible, let us know how to be amazed simply in front of this apparently poor nature but in the unsuspected beauty. Protect her(it) so that the vegetable can pursue the reconquest of the mineral and let us hope that Prométhée's work will not burn this Mediterranean forest during an overheated summer.


 These two names are confidentially connected to the accents of Noon of France. One can not speak about the Aude without evoking these two circles which sing to the accents of Noon of France. The scrubland is more known because, except the fact that it covers more important territories, she(it) represents the essence of this country with her(its) nice-smelling spaces where from gets free a multitude of subtle flavors scattered by the wind. In Corbières, the scrubland is omnipresent whereas the undergrowth remains more discreet.

 Garigues and undergrowth

The scrubland and the undergrowth are vegetable formings(trainings) which result both of the degradation of the Mediterranean forest, mostly by fire or surpâturage. What differentiates them, besides their aspect and their procession floristique appropriate(clean) (although several sorts are common to the two circles as junipers, filaires, prunellier, nerpruns, broom scorpion and the broom of Spain " Spartium junceum ", etc.) It is the nature of the ground on which settle down these vegetable associations. In the neolithic time, the men(people) took up the forest established(constituted) by holm oaks or downy oaks mainly according to the climatic influences and the conditions of the ground of the station. During the centuries, these grounds were deforested, put in culture or transformed into meadows, sometimes burned. A specific flora became established in these places to form scrublands or undergrowths. This naming in the plural is more appropriate because there is no scrubland or no undergrowth but effectively no scrublands and undergrowths. The various facies are determined by the local climatic conditions, the length of the period of summer aridity (in Mediterranean climate, the irregular precipitation show a deficit in summer), the strong winds (in the Aude, Cers is particularly virulent), the nature and the depth of the ground, the exhibition of grounds, their former(old) destinations (meadows or cultures), the importance of the pasture, the human activities generally and the colonization or not of stratum raised (notably by pines, essences pioneers). Of more a progressive evolution (or regressive further to a fire for example), more or less slow, affect these circles unless they are the object of artificial reafforestations quickly allowing a return to the wooded state.

Scrublands and undergrowths illustrate perfectly this dynamic aspect of the vegetable associations and this constant idea of evolution.

The scrubland

The scrubland is a more or less opened vegetable forming(training), consisted largely of shrubs, shrubs and sub-shrubs, resulting from the regression of the Mediterranean forest, mostly by fire or surpâturage, on generally not acid ground. (Definition according to the vocabulary of typology of the forested stations published(edited) by the Institute for the Forested Development - on 1985)

Scrubland would come from the Celtic word " gar " which wants to say cliff. To explain this scientific definition, let us say simply that this vegetable forming(training) meets essentially on calcareous soil and that it consists of scattered sorts ( opened environment)(middle) or the cliff appears in numerous places.

The most common botanical species, adapted to the dry and dry circles, and to the superficial grounds (poor men in humus), which are are there:

- The main plants aromatic as the thym, the rosemary or the lavender aspic (mellifères famous plants),
- The lifeless ciste in the big pink flowers and in the sheets(leaves) in the aspect duveteux (that one finds as well in the undergrowth),
- The juniper cade (two white lines on every sheet(leaf)) the oil of cade of which one pulled(fired) previously,
- The dorycnium, which makes(does) the delight of bees,
- The ligneous buplèvre, big ombellifère, very mellifère also,
- The oak kermès ( garouille ); it(he) sheltered formerly a cochineal ( the kermès) as which dried and treated eggs (the ponte provoking sorts of galls) served for making a red tint scarlet,
- The aphyllanthe of Montpelier of a blue so pure as the sky of azure, very appreciated by sheeps,
- charming iris dwarfs (yellow, white and blue) and Celse's elegant tulip which(who) make(do) an appearance fast but noticed in spring without forgetting any magnificent orchids,
- Dangerous Redoul (corroyère in sheet(leaf) of myrte) whose toxic black bays(berries) can be confused(merged) with ripe(mature) (poisoning),
- The omnipresent box tree on calcareous soils,
- the pistachier térébinthe which fires the scrubland in autumn ( red foliage),
- And a big number of the other sorts which it is not possible of all to name(appoint) and with whom(which) some were harvested for their medicinal virtues,
- The holm oak, the downy oak and Alep's pine which(who) develop, in the best of the cases, these scrublands towards the climacique caducifoliée forest (cf. oak grove pubescente).

In every season, the scrubland will amaze you: in spring, flowers appear everywhere in a multicolored explosion whereas many bees work continuously to amass honey and pollen; in summer, under a delirious sun, it becomes the domain of insects or resounds a concert orchestrated by the stridulatory cicadas; in autumn and in winter, she knows how to keep(guard) all her plenitude by keeping(preserving) her green finery. It is often after strong rains that she(it) exhales abundantly her(its) fragrant smells. If the flora, by its beauty and its charm, establishes(constitutes) the wealth of the scrubland, she(it) shelters as well a variety of mammals, big and small, a big number of reptiles (who(which) the magnificent ocellé lizard), a multitude of birds and a collection of insects which occupy secretly places.

The undergrowth The undergrowth is a vegetable arbustive generally closed forming(training) (often on base of Ericacées and Cistacées), resulting from the regression, mostly by fire or surpâturage, of the Mediterranean forest on generally acid ground. (Definition according to the vocabulary of typology of the forested stations published(edited) by the Institute for the Forested Development - on 1985).

Contrary to the scrubland, the undergrowth settles down on siliceous grounds mainly and numerous buissonnantes sorts often form an inextricable vegetation ("closed", the " bartas " as one says in Languedoc, expresses this idea of thick and impenetrable bushes, of buissonnantes brambles, real natural wall). The most characteristic botanical species which contain these circles are:

- The ciste with sheet(leaf) of sage and the ciste of Montpelier (foliage which sticks), both in the white flowers,
- The ciste with bay leaf, bigger than both precedents (until 1,50 m of height),
- The lavender " stoechas " in the very aromatic foliage and in the ready purple flowers of bractées mallows (called as well " lavender with quiff "),
- The treelike heath covering the undergrowth of its white flowers (of a height of one in two metres on average, the root of this sort was of use to the manufacture of pipes) and his(her) small sister the heath with broom with which one made brooms,
- The thorny calychotome, the thorny shrub, as its name indicates it, having sheets(leaves) in three sepals and yellow flowers,
- The arbousier which possesses the peculiarity to carry(wear) at the same time flowers ( whitish bells), green fruits and ripe(mature) fruits of a lively red arbouses ) delicious jams of which one makes(does); it is about a shrub which can reach(affect) 5 6 metres high in evergreen leafs and in very ornamental aspect, - and the other sorts in big number,
- Stratum raised which one can meet consists essentially of holm oaks, downy oaks, sweet chestnut trees, oak cork and of maritime pines (these last three essences are enfeoffed in the siliceous grounds).

If these grounds are not convenient to the walk outside paths and roads, the hard wild boars find discounts(deliveries) there being of use to them as pension. As in scrubland, the fauna is also very diversified. Let us indicate all the same that Hermann's tortoise is a particular host of the undergrowth. The fire and the collection of this sort almost removed him(it). In the Aude, its presence is vague and anyway extremely rare. In the massif of the Moors, a plan of protection is begun for this Mediterranean tortoise.

Patric VALETTE, National Office of Forests, January, 2004

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