Alet-les-Bains Abbey

A medieval village just above the water

Back to sites

Surrounded on either side by steep hills, the village of Alet-les-Bains is nestled in a bend in the river Aude. The imposing remains of the abbey's church-cathedral, (one of the biggest in Languedoc), dominate the town. You will be amazed by the timbered arcades and façades, secret gardens and water springs.



At the end of the 10th century, both the abbeys of St Hilaire and Alet belonged to the parishioners of St Michel de Cuxa, in the realm governed by the counts of Carcassonne. The counts favoured the Saint-Hilaire Abbey, to the detriment of the one in Alet. Following a period of prosperity during the 12th century, the monastery fell into decline due to poor management by certain abbots and the consequences of the Albigensian Crusade. In 1318, Alet became the seat of a new diocese.  The Abbey's Romanesque church was transformed into a Gothic cathedral, whilst the village was enriched with well-heeled buildings. During the Wars of Religion, the town was besieged multiple times; at times, it was controlled by the Catholics, and at other times by the Protestants. The damage was so severe that the cathedral was abandoned in favour of a temporary church, which then became the new cathedral. It wasn't until the arrival of Prosper Mérimée in the 19th century that a restoration project for the old abbey was organised.

The abbey

The remains of the abbatial church and the cathedral of Alet enthral visitors due to their size and elegance. The Gothic nave and choir stalls, which encompass the Roman apse, are impressively high. Go to the chapter house to see preserved remains from the Roman period. Three openings reveal typical examples of Roman art: magnificent sculpted scenery of the Annunciation and a bear hunt.

Seminary road

Beautiful façades line this road which links the village square to the abbey. Houses lean against the arcades. Another timbered house has a beautiful Renaissance-era door. The Seminary was built during the 14th and 15th centuries, and today it overlooks a garden where a gurgling fountain livens up "La Buvette". This institution was established by Nicolas Pavillon, who was the bishop of Alet for 40 years, between 1637-1677. This demanding prelate (a high-ranking member of the clergy) demanded that he be called bishop of the village. A close friend of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and close to the Jansenists due to his ideas regarding the bishop's role, Nicholas Pavillon has shaped history far beyond his diocese. A huge supporter of education, he supervised the teaching of his priests by founding the Seminary, as well as providing education for young girls from poor backgrounds by founding a community of female teachers. He went personally to the Capcir mountains to defend women accused of witchcraft. This well-informed man was devoted to the village of Alet; for example, he organised the rebuilding of the bridge, which we still walk on to this day...

The square

The square is like the centre of a star, connecting all the main roads in Alet. It boasts a remarkable collection of timbered houses, arcades and covered walkways. The overhanging buildings rest on beams, whose ends are often sculpted. Following the rue Calvière, you can see an excellent example of civil architecture from the 13th century.

Water springs

In Alet-les-Bains, water is everywhere Two cold-water springs, as well as hot-water springs, have shaped the town's history. From the 19th century until 1966, the spa would treat digestive illnesses using these famous thermal springs. The mineral water, one of the oldest sources in France, has been bottled since 1886. Although the water is not bottled today, many people freely enjoy its refreshing taste in the dedicated fountains close to the wash house. Next to this attractive wash house, where people frequently bathe their children, the public swimming pool is also supplied by mineral water. The building of this open-air swimming pool is typical of the 1950s.

A tour of the village

Alet-les-Bains is a medieval village. Protected from excessive traffic, it provides an intimate stroll. The tour of the village passes along the river Aude, where various large sycamore trees meet, as well as small gardens, wash house and ramparts. Two town gates break up the ramparts: Cadène Gate and Calvière Gate. An example of the fourteenth-century southern Gothic style can be seen in the Church of Saint-André, where recently-discovered frescos tell the story of the life of St. Benedict.

Things to explore

As you walk


A large waterway shipping industry developed around the transportation of timber in the Upper Valley of the Aude. To transport logs from the forests of Fanges, Picaussel and Capcir, the people of the Aude used timber rafting, a technique that dates from the Renaissance, or even earlier. The timber was transported to the Port of Quillan by land. 10-15 logs at once were tied together using hazel branches. The men that operated these rafts (or 'carras'), were highly sought-after because many years of experience, strength and courage were needed to overcome the obstacles in the surging and busy river. These men were known as the 'carrasiers'. Their journey took them from port to port until they reached the sea.

The journey of wood