Mirepoix is a picturesque little town about 30 minutes from Carcassonne. It sits amid the rolling foothills of the Pyrénées, in the department of Ariège. We like it because of its half-timbered buildings and central square. In most villages and towns in this region, building facades are either sober stone or plaster. Mirepoix’s expressive character transports us back into medieval times. And offers a charming setting for a nice lunch.

We’ve learned that the earliest mention of Mirepoix dates to the 10th century. While the buildings we see today probably were built no earlier than the 16th century, they replaced prior buildings that were first constructed in the 14th century. At that time, the delegated leader of the town constructed a Bastide on the left bank of the local river. A Bastide (like the one in Carcassonne) is a fortified town, generally with gridded plan and rectangular central square. One of the stone gates remains.

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Wood houses and shops ring the main square. Structural frames of vertical, horizontal and diagonal timbers form the houses. Bricks and cob (clay, straw, sand and lime) fill the spaces between the wooden members. The result, with contemporary colors, is charming lively faces to the square.

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The structural timbers sport fanciful carved faces and characters.

These buildings generally have two stories, with the upper floor projecting into the square, creating protected arcades and market spaces. Merchants sold their wares on the lower level, and lived above their shops. Today, cafés and market stands animate these covered areas.

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Every Bastide includes the community’s church, which in the case of Mirepoix was, up until the French Revolution, a cathedral. Built in the gothic style, the construction of the cathedral began at the end of the 13th century.

An airy covered market hall connects the church and the main square.

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No French town square is complete without a nostalgic carousel.

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I particularly enjoyed the whimsical storefront signs throughout the town.

Finally, the colors and forms of the old houses are attractive and light-hearted, especially on a sunny summer afternoon.

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