Bugarach … AKA 'the doomsday destination'. Photograph: Reuters
Up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in a tiny village nestled amid breathtaking landscapes and eagles in flight, a man in a woolly hat pushes a wheelbarrow up a narrow street whistling to himself as the smell of woodsmoke drifts out of chimneys. The only sight slightly out of place are 20 zombies, staggering wild-eyed and bleeding, down the mountain path. But, unlike most of the bizarre things said about this place, the zombies at least make sense. "We're making a pastiche film about the apocalypse for our university leaving do," says Joel, 23, a pharmacy student from Montpellier dressed in a torn grey suit with two black eyes and a dribble of blood from his mouth. His student friend, a dwarf in a cow suit, adds: "Bugarach was the perfect setting. Everyone knows this village as the world centre of armageddon, we couldn't resist."
Bugarach, with its two narrow streets, 176 residents, little agriculture, scores of wild orchids and virtually no pollution, was barely heard of a few years ago. Now, it's arguably the most famous village in France, known variously as "the village at the end of the world", the "chosen village", or as CNN put it, "the doomsday destination".
According to a prophecy/internet rumour, which no one has ever quite got to the bottom of, an ancient Mayan calendar has predicted the end of the world will happen on the night of 21 December 2012, and only one place on earth will be saved: the sleepy village of Bugarach. The mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, a farmer in his 60s, first spotted the apocalyptic forecast online two years ago after being alerted by a villager. He mentioned it at a council meeting, suggesting special security measures, perhaps army logistics, to handle an influx of visitors in December 2012. Someone at the meeting told the local press and before long world news agencies and Japanese TV crews were pacing the cobbles asking baffled villagers their views on armageddon.