French Wine Regions - Minervois in Languedoc Roussillon
A Day out in the Minervois - South of France
The Languedoc-Roussillion region of Southern France produces approximately 30% of the countries wine and an important part of the region is the Minervois which generally sits to the North East of Carcassonne and reaches out towards the Mediterranean coastline where the wonderful city of Beziers is located.
What I love about this area is not only can you get a really good glass of red wine at a very reasonable price, but when you go and look where it came from you pass through some of the most beautiful scenery that you will find anywhere in the world and you can visit some of the most gorgeous little towns that are steeped in the medieval history of the area.
So whether you are a wine connoisseur, interested in the or just love beautiful scenery then the route I am going to propose to you will be worth a few hours of your time to visit Minervois for another glorious day out sightseeing in Southern France. history from the Cathar period
Taking a Drive Through the Minervois
The road to Mazamet
To make this trip a little more interesting I am going to take you through the Montagne Noire National Park region on a circular route that lets you pick it up at a place convenient to your location. You will of course have realised by now that you will need a car for this trip, so you either have to be ready to jump on a ferry to France or you can hire a car from the airport when you get here.
If you haven't done it already on a day out in Carcassonne you can set off from the little village of Issel, head for St Papoul and then Saissac. From there you can make your way via St Denis on the D103 to pick up the main route D118 to Mazamet and the Black Mountains (Montagne Noire) where you will pass through a part of the Parc Naturel de Montagne Noire which covers an area of some 2605kmÂ²
It is on this road that you will see a sign for the Lac des MontagnÃ¨s which is a reservoir that has a beach and leisure facilities plus things for kids if you wanted to spend a couple of hours relaxing by some water.
Just on from the Lac des Montagnes you will come across a viewpoint where you can look down the valley to the town of Mazamet or across to the hillside where you can see the medieval village of Hautpoul who's castle became another victim of the Abigensian crusade led by Simon de Montfort when it was destroyed back in the 13th centuary.
Given its position perched on the side of the mountain it would probably be worth a trip to the village just for the views over Mazamet, although you will see from the pictures that the views from the main road are pretty spectacular.
***one of those little 'did you know' notes: - the Simon de Montfort that did the Cathar crusades is not the same one that died in the battle of Evesham in Worcestershire fighting for democracy, he was in fact the father of the Simon de Montfort who died in Evesham, getting killed in battle must have run in the family, because Simon de Monfort Snr. died at the Battle of Toulouse. Anyway I expect you already knew that, but I bet you didn't know I lived in Evesham before moving here to France, life can be very confusing and SPOOKY.
The Journey to Minervois - Starting in Issel and St PapoulClick thumbnail to view full-size
Next Stop on Route to Minervois is the Viewpoint for Hautpoul and Mazamet - A quick stop above Mazamet for the views, definitely worth it before carrying on to
Time to put your foot down a bit
Now we need to crack on to wine country so continue on into Mazamet and then head towards Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres (D612) and don't hold the horses.
From there you can travel south towards Minerve (D907) which is a delightful medieval city that you must visit. It is the centre of the Minervois region so this part of the route is where you really start to see the vineyards and will get plenty of opportunity to visit a degustation or two as you wend your way through the rolling hills and gorges that make up the Minervois.
Minerve itself is a significant site in Cathar history being the first place to host the burning of the parfaits that refused to renounce their faith. There were to be many more repetitions of this act of burning the Cathars over the years as each of the Cathar strongholds were attacked and gave way to either De Montfort or one of the other leaders of the Albigensian Crusade; one of the last being Montsegur some 34 years later.The final military battle of the crusade was at QuÃ©ribus in 1255 some 46 years after the crusade started in July 1209 when the Albigensian Crusaders under the command of the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury captured Servian, a hilltop town to the east of Beziers.
It is much more peaceful these days and Minerve sits on the river with deep gorges carved out of the landscapes that surround the town. The gorges of Brian and Cesse are 2 of the better known ones.
A new car park has been built recently that overlooks the town which you can get to by first driving past the town following the signs to Gorge de Cesse and then following the road around to the right, behind and above the town. You have to pay in this car park but it is very convenient and close to the town center.
You can soon eat up an hour or two wandering around the quaint little streets, getting an ice cream or maybe taking lunch in a restaurant that overlooks the gorge and the river.
There are a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore and if you are feeling adventurous you can take a path into the gorge down by the river, water level permitting or go along the rocky paths and get out into the countryside a bit, not for the faint hearted though.
Minerve - Centre of Minervois
Minerve in the Minervois - A medieval city and the capital of MinervoisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lets go and look at a bit more of the Minervois - Carcassonne or Castelnaudary the choice is yours?
When you leave Minerve you head for Aigne and on to Olanzac then La Redorte where you can take a right turn and head for Rieux-Minervois, Peyriac-Minervois and Villeneuve-Minervois.
You should be getting the point by now, the clue is in the names, every one of the little towns and villages along this route has a degustation where you can get a taste of the wine of the region or outlets where you can select a bottle or two that you fancy.
You will also see the Montagne Noire again as you head towards Villeneuve-Minervois, not a bad little backdrop.
You can enjoy the scenery, do a bit of wine tasting or both before you turn towards Bagnoles and Carcassonne where you can pick up the D118 again and decide whether you want to return via Saissac and St Papoul or just head into Carcassonne or somewhere else for the evening.
Your choice and there are plenty of options depending on where you are staying, for me I would head into Castelnaudary and after a day out like this you might just fancy a cassoulet to finish off the evening, but be sure you are hungry before you order this local dish.
There are plenty of restaurants in France with lots of different choices for food, whether you want a snack or something a bit more substantial and in this area you will typically find the meals are very good value.
Minerve Medieval City - The Capital City of the Minervois
A wine tour of the Minervois in the south of France, fabulous scenery, steeped in history and as much wine tasting as you can handle.
Includes the Cathar persecution by Simon De Montfort, the German occupation and much much more. There was a lot of action in the Lauragais.
French History Books - The Lauragais Story
Living so close to Castelnaudary, the capital of the Lauragais, this French history book really grabbed my attention. A chance to find out about and understand the history of the region, admittedly in English, where we live. It really is a chequered history, the region has had more than its fair share of heartache and misery, but has risen to be one of the most important parts of France. Toulouse is the centre of aerospace and the home of Airbus, but in days gone by it was wheat and wode that were the main generators of wealth in the region and where the funding for many chateaus was found.
More Resources for France and the Minervois
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