When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Society

Expecting The End Of The World? Run For The Hills ... In The South Of France

Its picturesque surroundings aside, what's bringing crowds to the French village of Bugarach are rumors that it will survive world destruction. A craze that is pushing up property prices, annoying inhabitants, and worrying the authorities.

Could the idyllic French region of Aude be home to an Apocalypse-free-zone? (Photo by Surimage)
Could the idyllic French region of Aude be home to an Apocalypse-free-zone? (Photo by Surimage)
Angélique Négroni

BUGARACH – On this rainy spring morning, the Pic de Bugarach in southern France is completely shrouded in mist. But though the 1,230 m (4,000 ft) high peak is invisible today, its rugged outline is known all over the world. Hundreds of websites are claiming that after an Apocalypse on December 21, 2012, only the small village of Bugarach, at the foot of this rocky citadel, will be left standing.

Apart from the free publicity, one of the first effects of the end-of-the-world prediction was a boost to the village's real estate market. "Fifteen houses are currently on sale. I have been mayor of Bugarach for 34 years, and I have never seen this before," says Jean Pierre Delord. The prices asked are four to five times higher than usual.

Not a day goes by without someone asking for information about Bugarach, located in the county of Aude, and about its capacities for accommodation and supplies. "Everyone knows that there might be snow and freezing temperatures in December, and that sleeping bags might not suffice. So people call us to rent rooms and ask us to stock food for them for the last two weeks of 2012," says a local saleswoman from behind her stall filled with foie gras and sausages. "We always tell them no," she says, visibly exasperated by all the "lies' circulating on the Internet.

The mayor of Bugarach is also worried about this planetary publicity, which has been attracting more than the usual number of esoteric workshop organizers (at exorbitant prices), therapists of all types, survivalists counting down the days left to go, or new age followers meditating to connect to the cosmos. Some of them stay in the youth hostel owned by Sigrid. Originally from Paris, she rather approves of the groups who discuss mysterious matters behind the closed doors of the conference room she provides. "They are very nice, calm clients. I have never had any problems with them," she says.

Combatting Cults?

Dressed in white, these peculiar tourists can be seen strolling around the town or taking refuge in the nearby caves for long contemplative retreats. Some of them gather in supposedly magical sites, and others attempt to climb the Pic de Bugarach. The automatic counters installed in the mountains are showing record numbers of hikers: 10,000 last year, and an estimated 20,000 this year. In some cases, lack of training has proved lethal. Two weeks ago, one of these hikers reached the peak only to succumb to a heart attack. "The end of the world came earlier for him," says the mayor with a touch of irony.

But Mr Delord does not hide his concern about the possible consequences of his town's extraordinary renown. Several months ago, he contacted the council, the police and Miviludes (the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances), a French government agency that monitors potentially dangerous sects. The town is under guard.

This is because the Apocalyptic prediction is only the latest in a long line of crazy theories about Bugarach. "This place is bubbling with activity!" admits the mayor. It seems there are a hundred reasons to come to this town in the middle of nowhere. Ufologists often visit, convinced that the peak is a garage for UFOs. None has ever sighted a vessel here, but believers say this makes sense because they travel so fast. Other visitors are eager to benefit from the magnetic waves emitted by the "magic mountain," and find its "vortex," or the secret passage towards a lost civilization. And yet others come looking for a treasure that an abbot is supposed to have hidden more than a hundred years ago.

Around a year ago, yurts started springing up in the middle of the forest, inhabited by tree huggers wanting to go back to a more community-based way of life through Indian singing and non-violent communication. They don't think that the end of the world is near… just the end of our world as we know it! Hippie clothes and dreadlocks now mix with perfectly white togas. But Bugarach is also attracting nature lovers who simply come to enjoy the great outdoors, and they have accessories of their own: back-packs and hiking boots.

Read the full article in French.

Photo by Surimage

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Searching For Marianna, A Pregnant Doctor From Mariupol Held Captive By The Russians

We’ve heard about the plight of the soldiers-turned-prisoners from Mariupol. Here are some traces of the disturbing fate of a young female doctor who’s been taken away.

A paper dove reads "Mariupol" at a shelter for displaced children in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine.

Paweł Smoleński

"Wait for me, because I will return…"

Marianna Mamonova wrote these words to her family, among the text messages and short phone calls that are the only remaining fragments used to piece together her recent past. We also have a photo of her, posted on Russian websites, where she looks into the lens, gaunt and exhausted, signed with a number like a concentration camp prisoner.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Until the Russian-Ukrainian war, Mamonova’s biography was available to anyone who wanted to know. She was born in 1991, studied at the Ternopil Medical University, and later at the Kyiv Military Academy. After completing her studies, she was sent to work in the coastal city of Berdiansk. Her mother says that this is where her daughter's dream came true: She’d always wanted to be a military doctor, and worked in Berdiansk for three years, receiving the rank of officer in the Ukrainian army.

Beginning in 2014, she’d worked stints as a front-line doctor in the Donbas region, and when Russia invaded Ukraine in February she went to war again. This time in Mariupol.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ