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Do you know Villefranche-de-Conflent?
Villefranche-de-Conflent is an ancient mediaeval town which dates back to the 11th century. It became established through the counts of Cerdanya, then of Conflent, each of whom made it their regional capital. To do so, ramparts were built and strengthened through the centuries.
Following this, Villefranche would be tied to other regions. First of all Roussillon, from the early 12th century, which would turn it into a stronghold in the northern Kingdom of Aragon. There is evidence that the town was besieged by France in 1654. This turned the town into one of the centrepieces of the Thirty Years' War, and more specifically of the Franco-Spanish conflict. Villefranche finally fell into French hands in 1659, with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which acknowledged Roussillon's unification with the French crown.
In 1681, Vauban changed the layout of the town. This engineer rebuilt the fortifications, so as not to retain the ramparts as the Spanish had known them. Most importantly, though, he built Fort Libéria, seeing Villefranche as being too vulnerable. Thus it was that an imposing monument emerged from the ground, 150 metres higher than the village.
Little by little, the town returned to its calm and peaceful ways, becoming a pretty town in which life was good. The authentic setting, testament to its rich history, rendered it inspirational and just the environment for craftsmen. The arrival of the legendary Yellow Train, connecting the plain to the Pyrenees, would give rise to a surge in businesses and tourism.
These days, Villefranche-de-Conflent has managed to retain its style of yesteryear. It is one of the top tourist destinations of the Pyrénées-Orientales. The unusual, flower-decked little streets, the UNESCO-listed monuments and the craft stands draw many visitors. And on top of all this, it is listed as one of France's loveliest villages.
Did you know?
Fort Libéria served as a State Prison during the reign of Louis XIV. In 1682, the Affair of the Poisons caused a scandal. The Court was afflicted by a number of poisonings, forcing the authorities and the government to react. The affair revealed that certain aristocrats were to blame, including the Marquise de Brinvilliers and La Voisin.
During the hearing of those under suspicion, accusations were brought against various women. The only problem was that some of them were close to Madame de Montespan, the king's favourite. Madame de Montespan herself would end up being the focus of accusations. The rumours, never proved, swelled to the point at which the king became involved. A number of people who had accused the mother of the king's children were imprisoned, some of them in Fort Libéria. Louis XIV has instructed that they should not be audible from outside, so that nobody would hear their "nonsense".
On the programme?
Walks, antique fairs and tours will form a part of your visit to Villefranche. Don't miss all the fortifications either, which were created by Vauban. The ramparts that encircle the town continue as far as the Cova Bastera cave. This was formed during the Ice Age, and was fortified by Maréchal Vauban so as to create an underground network. Then you can head upwards, and once you've climbed the 150 underground steps, you'll find the awe-inspiring fort. The various rooms reveal the location's secrets and history. Outside, meanwhile, the views are stunning. You'll be able to see the valley as well as Mont Canigou, the department's iconic mountain.
And why not make the most of it all by going for a stroll beneath the sunshine of the Roussillon. Lose yourself in the village streets and find the King's Bastion, the French Gate and the Devil's Tower. The latter is also right beside the lovely church of Saint-Jacques (also known as Sant Jaume in Catalan), which blends Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
And you can carry on your day in the mountains, the perfect opportunity to take the Yellow Train from its departure point.