St Julia de Gras Capou – between Revel and Caraman in the Lauragais, about 50 km south of Toulouse bears the name from the Occitane language for ‘capon’, the oversized cockerel traditionally eaten at Christmas time and ‘Julia’ from a Languedocian form of the Latin, ‘Julianus’ from St Julien, dating from around the 5th century.

The village rises to a point 295 meters above the flat plain of the Lauragais – in the “Pays de Cocagne” famous during the middle ages for the blue dye that made the region very, very rich. A local expression talks about “La vie de Cocagne” which means an easy and luxurious life, which although life may not have been that easy at the time, looking around it is clear, from the buildings dating from the middle ages that there was definitely a lot of money, at least in the hands of some of the population.

St Julia is the sort of village that sets the imagination racing. It isn’t that difficult to imagine how things were 5 or 6 hundred years ago as you leave the rolling countryside dotted with huge fields of yellow sunflowers and golden wheat with views from one side of La Montagne Noire and in the south to the Pyrenees mountains, to climb the hill up to the fortified village of Ste. Julia.

If the village looks like it is steeped in history, it is no accident, it was first mentioned in writing in 1226, when the village was part of the gift offered by Raymond VII, count of Toulouse, to Roger Bernard, the count of Foix, including St Félix de Lauragais and 15 other villages, including St Julia. However, records and oral history point to a settlement at Ste Julia dating much further back, including a Roman settlement calles Fanum Julii.

The village was fortified during the middle ages, the walls and gate, including the ancient drawbridge that was once encircled by a moat, is still visible today.

The streets are typically medieval, half timbered houses huddled together around narrow streets, lift your eyes skywards and there is always a glimpse of the church belfry to be seen.

The church in the centre of the village dates from the 12th century and has recently been restored and is well worth a visit, with it’s ‘wall’ bell-tower, typical of the region, with one of the bells dating from 1398, which was carefully hidden during the Revolution to prevent it being smelted into cannons.

There are two notable days in the calendar of celebrations in Ste Julia – the “Foire au Chapons et produits régionaux” which takes place the last Sunday before Christmas and the “Peintres dans les Rues”, Artists in the streets, the first Sunday in July.

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The day of the artists in the street starts at around 08h30 in the morning and ends at around 4 O’clock.

There is really no shortage of subject matter in and around the village, whether it be the old half-timbered buildings, the narrow streets or the views across the surrounding countryside.

The styles of the artists, the mediums used and the interpretations of the scenes are very diverse, from pastels to oils, watercolours to acrylics, professionals to hobby artists.

One of the good things is that it almost forces the visitor to take time out and appreciate the scenery and architecture with the eye of an artist, to look up and actually see what is all around us and so often taken for granted.

It is a really motivating experience and I really felt raring to go, to get my paints out – although I am not as brave as these artists and don’t like showing off what I paint to the public.

Even if you have missed the day, have a look around the beautiful village of Ste Julia – I am sure that you will fall in love with it.

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