Nowadays a sleepy little place atop a hillock where even the sound of a car is an intrusion, St-Lizier was, in its time, a force to be reckoned with. It's easy to see why as you look up from the valley below. There, lording it over all, is the massive pile of the Palais des Évêques, the Bishop's Palace, its very presence making clear to all around where power lay. From the 5th century until its suppression after the French Revolution, St-Lizier was the seat of the bishopric of Couserans. Its second bishop, one Licerius, was canonised by Rome and gave his name to the town.

The Tourist Office ( % 05 61 96 77 77; www .ariege.com/st.lizier; S 10am-7pm daily mid-Jul—mid-Aug, 10am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat rest of yr) is on place de l'Église, opposite the church. In summer, it arranges guided visits that take in the church, its treasury and cloister, and an authentic 18th-century pharmacy.

At the time of writing, the 17th-century Palais des Évêques, within which are elements of the original cathedral and the Musée Départemental de l'Ariège, was closed for extensive renovations.

The church, downgraded from its former status as cathedral, is a quirky little number. With its brick and stone octagonal tower and unadorned brick main portal it looks conventional enough from the outside. But once within, you sense how its transept and apse are decidedly out of kilter with the alignment of the nave. Head for the apse and its faded 12th-century frescos, above which a decidedly glum 14th-century Christ in Majesty peers down. In the interconnecting two-storey cloister, the capitals are carved in particularly intricate geometric designs.

Within the original town perimeter wall (much of which remains, having been incorporated into later structures, rather than simply demolished), the cobbled streets and lanes, bordered by half-timbered houses, merit a brief stroll.

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