Driving up the Vallespir, before Ceret, on the right, set in beautiful gardens rising out of its own vineyards in all its Belle Époque glory is the imposing Chateau d’Aubiry, on sale at present (2015) for a cool 21 million euros!
The interior is as spectacular as its exterior, and although the huge glasshouses have greatly deteriorated over the intervening century, the music room, billiard room and library are as grand as ever.
It was Joseph Bardou and the fortune he made from inventing JOB cigarette papers that, at the turn of the last century, enabled his son to commission the popular and fashionable Danish Architect Viggo Dorph Petersen to build each of his three children a Chateau: Valmy at Argeles for one daughter, Ducup de St Paul in Perpignan for another and Aubiry for his son Justin.
The Bardou family had become fully paid up members of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Perpignan, owning beautiful town houses and large amounts of land.
In the Riuferrer valley near Corsavy they would hunt boar, deer and lesser game. Their hunting lodge, l’Andreu, stands there to this day. Just beyond Arles sur Tech on the D915 a turning to the right leads to Corsavy.
As the road climbs you are aware of dramatic cliffs plunging into a deep ravine: the Gorges de la Fou, at a width of less than a metre the narrowest gorge in the world! (It is possible to visit from April to November and, indeed is an exciting experience.) Access from the D915 a little further on than the Corsavy turn off.
Soon, the village of Montferrer is visible on the mountainside opposite. Small but charming it contains a XII century church and a museum devoted to General de Gaulle, Napoleon and the history of local highwaymen and brigands. On the right, just before Corsavy itself is the recently restored chapel of St Martin.
A little farther on, again on the right, a bunch of signs include one to L’Andreu and the road goes directly to the Bardou family hunting lodge. They were waited on by the good farmer’s family from the stone Mas behind it.
The Riuferrer tumbles over a waterfall in the extensive grounds and the old farmhouse has been restored to a state of comfort unknown in the days of the Bardou family. In those days, less than a century ago, the poor farmer’s wife would occasionally have to take supplies on foot all the way to Chateau Aubiry, arriving once so exhausted the maids of the chateau gave her a pair of shoes and a meal before sending her back.
It is worth visiting the village of Corsavy built around the ruins of the XII castle fort before driving on up to the remains of the mines, past rocks of almost pure iron and the fantastic 360-degree views from the Tour de Batere.