Last bastion of peace in the South of France

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‘Where are all the people? ‘ is the question I am asked almost every time I run a vineyard tour in the Languedoc-Roussillon. It’s so quiet and not at all touristy with no traffic jams and sleepy little villages. It’s like stepping back into the 1950’s with shops closing long hours for lunch and never open on a Sunday. Its takes some getting used to but this pace of life is so good for the soul. It gives you time to take stock, to listen to the birds, enjoy the sunshine, walk amongst the vines and just chill…

I spend 7 months of the year in the village of Caunes-Minervois located at the foot
of the Montagne Noir in the department of the Aude. It’s a lively village in comparison to some in the area and you will find almost everything you need here. A good meal at one of the eating places such Hotel d’Alibert with its renaissance courtyard or perhaps just a beer and a sandwich at the local bar. Many of the ancient buildings are related to the abbey which stands in the centre of the village and here in July classical concerts are performed every Friday.

Close by is the village of La Livinière with its beautiful domed church tower. The village is not only one of the prettiest in the area it also gives its name to the cru wine ‘Minervois La Livinière’ which is a rich, complex and elegant red wine grown on the limestone and clay of the region. I recently joined some friends on a walk in the hills to the west of the village where we discovered some very impressive dry stone walls built to stem erosion caused by strong winds and rain storms. We also saw a great many capitells which are stone huts built by wine growers in previous centuries to store implements and to take shelter during storms.

I can’t talk about the villages of the Languedoc without mentioning the village of Minerve which is in the Hérault département. The village’s antiquity is evident from its name for a temple to the goddess Minerva once occupied the site. In 1210 during the Cathar Crusades, Simon de Montfort held a 10 week siege at Minerve to capture a group of Cathars who had taken refuge there after the massacre of Béziers. The village was protected by a double curtain wall, and overhanging natural ledges; but this did not stop Simon de Montfort’s crusader army. They set up four catapults around the fortification; three to attack the village, and the largest, called Malevoisine (“Bad Neighbour”), to attack the town’s water supply. Lord Guilhem of Minerve and the 200 men of his garrison could not resist for long and Minerve was surrendered to the Crusaders on 22 July 1210. The defensive walls were breached by St Rustique’s well, and Guilhem was obliged to negotiate the town’s surrender. He saved the villagers but he could not save the Cathars and some 150 to 180 Cathars were burned alive when they refused to recant their faith. A sad history but still I love to visit the village and walk across the limestone causse that surrounds it. I also visit the neighbouring village of La Caunette which also dates to before the Cathar crusade and was once a fortified village as can be seen by the entry gate which dates back to the 13th century.
These days its main attraction is an annual fête to celebrate the orange and other fruits. It’s called the Fête de la Bigarade – Bigarade is another name for the Seville Orange.

There are so many beautiful villages here and I revel in the fact that they are so quiet and undisturbed by tourism at the moment. I hope I have tempted you to come and see this last bastion of solitude and peace in the South of France.

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