Courniou les Grottes - English translation
Between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, at the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc, the village of Courniou, population around 600, reposes, with its surrounding commune, upon a mountain made of marble and riddled by numerous caves. The most magnificent of these is the cave named La Devèze, sometimes called le palais de la fileuse de verre, the palace of the glass spinner.
On this website you can visit Courniou's cave, as well as the French museum of caving, and you can follow various discovery paths. You will also fmd the names and addresses of local professionals offering comfortable lodgings and local cuisine.
Full information about Courniou, including travel details, is given here. (See the Home and Access pages). You can also, of course, contact the town hall, (phone number at the foot of the Home page). Mainly this site exists to display the attractions of the locality for those who might one day come in person to enjoy life in our green hideaway.
As everybody knows, no word can capture the reality. Thus we strongly recommend that you come to us and spend a few days - or the rest of your life! - in our genuine, lovely countryside.
Courniou-les-Grottes, to give the village its full name, is proud to be part of a notably welcoming region, a region away from the populous resort areas. The village and its commune are typical of what we call here le tourisme vert or green tourism, the kind featuring the offerings of nature, including outdoor activities and authentic, local food. Well away from the bustle and noise of town, but still sufficiently close to essentiel facilities, Courniou permits you to taste flashy urban pleasures from the calmer, more secure base of a rural setting.
Courniou is less than one hour by car from Castres, Béziers, Bédarieux, Narbonne and Mazamet. It's less than two hours from Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and Montpellier, and only one hour from Mediterranean seaside resorts. In half an hour you can be beside the locally famous lakes of the Haut Languedoc: la Raviège, le Laouzas and les St. Peyres.
All these treasures are within reach from the Courniou valley, nestled between Somail and Montagne Noire. Those who come once, come back.
La Devèze: how the cave was discovered and prepared for public visiting.
The first entrance to the cave was revealed when the Bédarieux/Mazamet railroad (now closed) was being constructed in 1886-87. Today, it appears as a circular hole above the northeast corner of the railway station, a kind of up-tilted chimney opening seven meters above the station yard in the side of the cliff.
In his book les Abîmes, E. Martel wrote that the rail workers had already poked through the cave, devastating the concretions, when on January 9th, 1893, Martel, Bourguet and Armand made their exploration. That same evening, Bourguet drew the first map of the cave, including a vertical cross-section. These initial attempts, while achieved quickly, were not highly accurate. Exploration was recommenced in 1928-29 by Milhaud and his team. In 1930, a beautiful discovery rewarded their efforts: they found the upper rooms of the cave, including the hall named Les Bijoux.
The most spectacular portion of the cave was prepared for the public in 1932-33 by the Spéléo-Club de la Montagne Noire et de l'Espinouse, a grouping of speleologists , (cavers or spelunkers) from Mazamet and nearby Saint Pons. The halls through which visits start these days were provided with steps and electric lighting and later officially opened in 1939 by the famous French speleologist Norbert Casteret. The tour makes a complete circuit of the cave and allows visitors to experience the richness and the diversity of the concretions. The hall to watch out for as the most magnificent is the one called the Salle G. Milhaud.
The French Museum of Speleology.
This small building at the side of the station yard houses the most important collection of documents, devices and original samples from the conquest of the underground. Visitors see how cavities and concrétions were formed, learn the origins of chasms and the now-extinct wildlife that inhabited them. During the entire visit several themes are repeated: the history of caving, the great cavers, underground geology, underground wildlife, the protection of caves and local caving. What amounts to an initiation to modern scientific caving is available to all visitors.
This is an association created in 1998 to undertake an inventory of the patrimonial riches of the commune in order to preserve them better and to make best use of what man-made resources exist bearing in mind the development of tourism. There are fifteen or twenty active members or sympathizers who contribute, each in his or her own fashion, to helping restore the vestiges of the past.
In 1999 the association created a path of the capitelles. In the course of an hour and a half walk in the shade, visitors can see a variety of historic dry-stone constructions designed to shelter the winegrowers and shepherds of yesteryear from bad weather.
The word capitelle refers mainly to constructions with a vault and corbels. Each stone overhangs the one which supports it by less than half its length and is wedged in by larger stones which serve as counterweights. Most capitelles date from the first half of the 19th century, a period when there was a spurt in population growth and a return to farming and shepherding. The shape of the capitelle and of its door depend above all on the imagination of its builder who was usually more of a farmer or shepherd than a builder.
Also on view along the path are the dry-stone walls supporting the once-cultivated faïsses or terraces, the cabanes de vigne or winegrowers' hutches, and their clapas or mounds of stones, all vestiges of our local heritage giving a real sense of how life was in those days.
Local members of ASPIC have also created a botanical path along which walkers can make the acquaintance of the main plants which grow in limestone soil. Emerging from the cave, visitors find themselves on a limestone massif rich in plant species which prefer dry, rocky, sunny conditions, plants characteristic of the Mediterranean garrigue, just one part of our local, natural patrimony.
In addition, ASPIC organizes numerous discovery outings with differing themes, such as geology, mushrooms, local history and so on.
A concise History of Courniou-les-Grottes.
The area covered by the commune of Courniou (pronounced coor-new) comes out of the break-up of the commune of St. Pons in 1884. The area's human history goes back much further, right back to Neolithic times when the first human traces were left by the inhabitants of local caves.
The first mention of Courniou in manuscripts dates back to the 1Oth century in the charter creating the abbey of St. Pons by Raymond Pons, Count of Toulouse. At that time, "Cornon" was nothing more than a Villa, a large farm. For several centuries its history was very closely linked with that of St. Pons, a bishopric until the French revolution and a sub-prefecture until 1926 and an important mountain city.
Until 1705 the inhabitants of "Courgniou" were buried in the cemetery of "Prouillho", today called Prouilhe, which was, at the time, the largest hamlet in the commune. On that date "Courgniou" became a parish after having built the present church on the site of a chapel dating from 1692. Deeply affected by the Wars of Religion, the countryside still bears marks of them, such as "Io paret dals catolics", the field of the Catholics, near the border with St. Pons. Then in 1886 railroad workers discovered an entrance to the cave, la grotte de la Devèze, and local tourism began.
Special thanks to the English translator