The road from Céret to Serrabone winds its way upwards at a slow pace for 600 meters, through a thick oak forest, stands of cork, olive groves, and an occasional cactus. We pass crumbling farmhouses and solitary villas and, surprisingly, through the trees spot a couple of hamlets, where we stop to stretch our legs and ask locals what people do with their time in such isolated places.
Then we are back on the narrow road, darkening as it plunges deeper into the forest, hoping not to encounter any cars from the opposite direction.
While today we are embraced by the quiet and solitude of the wilderness, the presence of an 11th century Priory as our destination speaks to a time when important regional events took place here. Communities sprang up around the convent that monks were establishing. In turn, Catalan lords propped up the convents, buying favor from God. Power struggles between church and state broke out again and again. Later, in the 17th century, as France negotiated with Spain to incorporate all of northern Catalonia within its borders, the fight to retain Catalan culture began.
The natural beauty we are enjoying from the car indubitably makes the excursion to the Priory worthwhile on its own. However, the topper for me waits here, at the medieval site at the end of the road. We have visited some lovely abbeys and churches in Occitanie, but Serrabone is worth all the others put together. Austere, somber, and dark — Romanesque architects hadn’t mastered the Gothic trick of thick walls and buttresses supporting large windows — the solemn mood is offset by the joyful sculptures of medieval monsters, demons and angels on the cloister capitals and the facade of the exceptional Tribune.
All this, perched on a mountaintop, overlooking waves of green mountain ridges, is almost more than I can absorb. I recall that “Serrabone” means “good mountain.”