About 1.6 km high above sea level, at the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees, the town of Mont-Louis-La-Cabanasse is the smallest hilltop town in French Pyrenees. Founded in the 17th century, the French town didn’t look so attractive as other old towns in France when we entered the town.
But soon, we discovered many unique characters that other French towns don’t have. It is truly a must-see place if you are around the French Pyrenees. You could also combine the visit with Villefranche-de-Conflent. The Mont Louis is unique because It is:
- the smallest hilltop town in French Pyrenees.
- also the highest walled town in France.
- a UNESCO site.
- the birthplace of the the first modern solar furnace.
- a main stop of the famous Yellow Train.
The entrance of the town is the Porte de France.
The history of Mont Louis
Initially, Vauban planned to build Mont Louis to host traders, artisans, middle-class persons, and a barrack. After the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in 1659, Vauban built the defense functions in response to King Louis’s order to secure the area.
Because of Vauban’s fortifications, the ancient stronghold is also on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. As a military engineer, Vauban has built many fortifications in his life.
The Citadel (the National Commando Training Centre)
The Citadel was the defensive element of Mont-Louis. Since its creation in 1679, Mont-Louis is a place hosting the Army. Behind its ramparts are several unique architectural components, such as the Forçats well and the enormous wheel. Because of this military fortification system, Mont-Louis is never besieged.
According to the plans established by Vauban, the Citadel is a square flanked by four bastions. Its ramparts are surrounded by a ditch. In the South, the Porte Royale, topped by a bell tower and a clock, communicates directly with the town. While in the North, it opens an emergency exit towards the road of France.
Since 1964, it hosts the CNEC Centre National d’Entraînement Commando. The mission of CNEC is to provide the land army with the qualifying training. The local tourist information center offers guided tours of the Citadel. So visitors have the opportunity to discover the history of the place and its architecture.
The first modern solar furnace
If I have ever seen this furnace, I would never imagine that France is one of the pioneers in developing solar technology and applying it for industrial and manufactured products.
The Pyrenees has more than 3000 sunshine hours, and it was the perfect condition for professor Felix Trombe to conduct his solar energy tests. Therefore, he built the world’s first solar furnace with dual reflection in Mont Louis. The total construction of 1420 mirrors provides a thermal power of 50kW.
In the beginning, this solar furnace was within the Citadel. Later it was sold to Mont Louis and moved to its today’s place. You can learn about solar energy and its effects on everyday life on a guided tour. During the tour, visitors can learn how the furnace works and demonstrate some experiments, for example, the melting of the metal.
At the time of construction, the town planned two churches: one at the Citadel, the other in town. The military chapel was built first for the soldiers. In 1721, the construction of the new church started.
Located in the center of the village, the facade of Saint-Louis church opens to a small square. On each side of the door, there is a bull eye. Over the centuries, people donated many altarpieces to the church.
Walking at the foot of the ramparts, I grew a feeling of strong protection. The town has a strong stone presence. A few shops were open, welcoming countable customers.
Where to stay
Mont Louis is also a base for summer hiking and winter skiing. During the peak season, during the ski season or summer holiday season, the hotel prices tend to be very high. Some great suggestions are, for example:
How to get there
If you come from Barcelona, you can take a train, bus or drive a car. For the connection, please check this website.
But if you are coming from Perpignan, the easiest way is to drive a car. The driving route is via N116 and then N116.
Or, you can take the Yellow Train in the Pyrenees to go there.