For book lovers not yet converted to e-readers who find themselves in the Aude, Montolieu is an ideal spot. It’s an idyllically pretty little village of 800 residents situated 16 kilometres from Carcassonne in the heart of the Cabardès vineyards. Built on the top of the ravine that separates the Alzeau and Dure rivers at the foot of the Montagne Noire, Montolieu has some spectacular views (best seen from the Place de l’Esperou) but what also makes it special is that it’s known as The Village of The Book.
This title is thanks to Michel Braibant, a bookbinder from Carcassonne who in 1989 gave the village a new identity by making it known as a centre for books and book production. He created the association “Montolieu, Village du Livre” and founded the Arts and Crafts Museum of the Book in Montolieu, which contains lots of ancient printing presses and old documents. Bookshops, bookbinders, calligraphers and artists all followed and set up shop so that there are now fifteen bookshops, seven artists’ workshops and galleries (illustrators, designers, glass blowers, photographers, sculptors) and seven calligraphy and bookbinding shops in the village. Cultural events such as “Le Printemps du Livre” and “Lire en Fête” take place throughout the year.
Michel’s enterprise certainly gave life to the village as nearly fifty buildings have been renovated and fifteen bed and breakfasts opened. 52,000 people visit each year, including 2,000 school pupils on trips to the workshops.
Even if lots of second hand books don’t do it for you, the village is lovely to explore. The best place to park is in the main square with its fountain and café and 14th century church of St André de Montolieu. The narrow streets leading off the square take you past ancient village houses and then if books do interest you, to the workshops and bookshops. The rule with the second hand bookshops seems to be that the cheaper paperback books are placed in boxes outside the shops, which makes them easy to browse through, while the more expensive antiquarian books stay inside the shops.
Montolieu may have 52,000 visitors a year but the day we were there in early September the whole place was very quiet and peaceful and not at all touristy. I had an unhurried time searching through the boxes of books and bought two paperbacks in French for two euros each (my New Year’s resolution is now to read them). Bang on midday the shop assistants took all the boxes of books inside the shops and closed the shutters for the two hour lunch break. We ended up eating large plates of salad on the terrace of the Café du Commerce opposite a charming little school that looked like something out of a Marcel Pagnol novel.
With the coming of e-readers no-one is sure what the future of print books will be but as long as Montolieu exists, there should always be a place for them in the Aude.