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Captivating and gourmet encounters in the Corbières and Minervois region

PUBLISHED: 13:47 13 October 2016 | UPDATED: 15:04 19 October 2016

Alaric in Aude © Gilles Deschamps

Alaric in Aude © Gilles Deschamps

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The Corbières and Minervois region is situated in the south of France, in the Occitanie region, in the heart of the Cathar Country. A region inviting you to do some gentle roaming while discovering the local wines and heritage

The Corbières and Minervois region is a wine tourism destination situated between Carcassonne and Narbonne, in the heart of the Aude Cathar Country. A stay in the Corbières and Minervois will guarantee you visits to several exceptional cultural sites, gentle strolls or sporting hikes in a countryside made up of vineyards, garrigue scrubland and pine wood forests as well as gourmet encounters with our local wine growers and restaurant owners. A wine tourism destination to be savoured step by step …

Getting here:

By plane: the Carcassonne, Perpignan, Toulouse, Béziers, Montpellier airports

By train: the Lézignan-Corbières, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Perpignan, Béziers railway stations

By car: the A9 (Montpellier/Espagne) and A61 (Narbonne/Toulouse) motorways

Cultural Places to visit:

Lagrasse

You might want to stroll through the lovely streets of Lagrasse, one of “The most beautiful villages of France”. You will discover several gorgeous houses of medieval origin as well as arts and crafts shops. Once you have crossed the medieval bridge over the river Orbieu, you can visit the abbey and its ancient monastic buildings.

During the season, the village and the abbey come alive! Do not miss the following: philosophical encounters and debates at the Café-littéraire (abbey) or classical music at the “En Blanc et Noir” (piano) and the “Pages musicales de Lagrasse” (chamber music) festivals. A more contemporary and convivial atmosphere can be found at the “Abracadagrasses” (pop, rock, reggae…) and “Les Petits Bals” (folk music) festivals.

Lagrasse is also an interesting place for gustatory surprises. Try out the numerous restaurants, the boutiques selling local products, the olive oil and honey producers and the wine retailers or cellars proposing wine tastings in the heart of the Corbières vineyards around the village, all waiting to be discovered by you.

The village and the abbey of Lagrasse © Gilles DeschampsThe village and the abbey of Lagrasse © Gilles Deschamps

Villerouge-Termenès

Villerouge-Termenès, or how to travel back to the Middle Ages… After passing through the village’s narrow streets, you’ll come to the fortified gate of the ancient castle which belonged to the Archbishop of Narbonne. Step inside, and be his guest during a visit of this medieval architectural gem, which has been completely restored.

In this castle, in the year 1321, the final page of the Cathar tragedy was turned when the last parfait, Guilhem Bélibaste, was put to death. You’ll be able to revisit this episode of history by means of an audio guide, “The world of Guilhem Bélibaste, the last ‘Cathar parfait’”.

After this visit, you will have to take a break at the Rôtisserie. While enjoying your lunch, you will feel like the lord or lady of the manor! Young and old will enjoy local dishes with freshly baked bread, based on 13th and 14th century recipes and served on a chopping board and with medieval crockery http://restaurant-medieval.com.

The Villerouge-Termenès castle © Gilles DeschampsThe Villerouge-Termenès castle © Gilles Deschamps

Termes

The Termes castle shares its vestiges and history with every inquisitive hiker passing by. A 15-minute walk will allow you to discover this archeological site which, year after year, yields more of its secrets.

Termes was a hotbed of resistance during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics at the beginning of the 13th century. This tragic page of history is unveiled to you during the visit of the castle. Termes also became one of the strategic fortresses which protected the borders of the kingdom of France, and were also called the ‘five sons of Carcassonne’. It is the remains of this royal castle, deliberately destroyed in 1654, which continue to impress to this day http://castle.chateau-termes.com.

All along your visit, you will be invited to admire the forests and mountains of the Hautes Corbières and the spectacular gorges of the river Termenet. The more courageous ones among you may want to try canyoning down the gorges, accompanied by a fully qualified guide (by reservation: https://www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com/eaurizon-60979.html.

Termes castle © mairie de TermesTermes castle © mairie de Termes

The ‘Canal du Midi’, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic… it seemed an impossible adventure were it not for the determination of Pierre Paul Riquet. From 1666 onward, he invested his personal fortune and put himself in charge of the task. For the next 14 years, he supervised some 12,000 labourers and overcame all possible difficulties by creating 328 works of art: locks, bridges, aqueducts, tunnels... over a total distance of 240km.

To enjoy the canal to the full, you should take your time: by bike, by boat or simply hiking along the towpath. Travel on a traditional scow, or, if you’re more adventurously inclined, you can take the helm yourself! No need for a license, you can steer a small boat and enjoy the smooth waters of the Canal at your own pace https://www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com/sports-et-loisirs-174.html.

You could also opt for a peaceful bicycle ride along the canal by renting a bike at Homps or Paraza and discover the wonders of local architecture (locks, Répudre aqueduct) or just stroll amidst the Minervois vineyards.

Canal du Midi in Argens-Minervois © Gilles DeschampsCanal du Midi in Argens-Minervois © Gilles Deschamps

Things to do:

Travel through an exceptional vineyard and some marvellous scenery

The local geography has spawned two quality wine varieties: Minervois and Corbières. To the south, the Fitou wines have also managed to establish a solid reputation for themselves in the rich Hautes Corbières massif.

On foot, by bike, in a Citroën 2CV or accompanied by a mule: discover the vineyards thanks to the many marked hiking paths. On display is a rich and varied countryside, made up of plains, hillsides, secret combs... A sea of vineyards stretches out as far as you can see, slowly building up till it reaches the hillsides, where pine woods and scrubland (garrigue) hide away, swept by the winds.

It is amidst this scenery of vineyards, garrigues and pine woods, with its breathtaking panoramas, that we invite you to enjoy the hiking and MTB trails, consisting of 541km of ‘Petite Randonnée’ walking routes, 120km ‘Around the heart of the Corbières’ hike as well as 212km of MTB trails starting off from the various Wine Cooperatives. Download hikes, MTB tracks and cycling tours for free and find out all the activities at www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com

The Corbières vineyard scenery © Gilles DeschampsThe Corbières vineyard scenery © Gilles Deschamps

Relaxed wine-tasting sessions with ‘Vineyards and Discoveries’

A national label of excellence

The national Vignobles & Découvertes label, which was created in 2009, is managed by Atout France. Its aim is to promote the territories and the local service providers who have committed themselves to a number of qualified wine tourism activities. Services provided include wine-tasting cellars, accommodations, restaurant trade, site visits, events and activities allowing tourists to get acquainted with the territorial viticultural identity.

For more information: http://atout-france.fr/services/le-label-vignobles-decouvertes and http://int.rendezvousenfrance.com/fr/vignobles/

Getting together over a glass of wine

You’ll be able to meet and chat with our wine producers. Over a glass of wine, let yourself get carried away by their stories. All of this peppered with the sometimes raw yet nevertheless invariably poetic accent of our lovely Occitan language... to indulge in a moment of history you are allowed to enjoy without restraint...

Cooperation is a great tool which makes modernization of equipment possible, while allowing the villages to preserve their wine-producing character. They opted for appellation and produced many an award-winning wine.

Several family-run estates also stand out, some of these dating back to the early modern period or even before. While visiting these exceptional sites, you will be welcomed with the phrase, “Here, we are wine-growers from father to son... or daughter”. But there are also similar family histories being created at this very moment. “Nutcases” who replanted while everyone else was grubbing up ... and some are still setting up business. Here as well, personal and intimate stories are related.

Tasting session © Celine DeschampsTasting session © Celine Deschamps

All of these people are driven by the desire to believe and even more to act. Find all of them out, visit www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com/cellars-regional-producers-and-regional-shops.html

Staying at the wine-producer’s or on the estate

A great many wine-producers welcome you on their estates or in their villages. They offer you the comfort of their bed & breakfasts or gîtes, often tastefully converted wine cellars or mansions. They will make you feel at home and may propose cooking workshops, wine tasting sessions as well as visits of their wine cellars and vineyards.

They will talk to you about the influence of the climate on wine growing, their personal choices of grape varieties, the importance of the soil in the expression of the wine’s flavours and they’ll arouse all your senses during the wine tasting.

They’ll also give you interesting information for your activities and visits as well as some worthwhile addresses for you to enjoy during your stay www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com

Visiting the vinyeard © Celine DeschampsVisiting the vinyeard © Celine Deschamps

Interested in a stay at the wine-producer’s? Rendezvous on www.holiday-southfrance.com

Savouring local products

The garrigues constitute a wonderful playground for the goats and sheep, not to mention the labouring bees who take great delight in gathering nectar from the Mediterranean flowers. Garrigue honey should be enjoyed with some fresh cheeses. Wherever you see vines, you can be sure the olive tree is not far away. Simple and tasty products to accompany your picnics or which you’ll find served by our restaurant owners, prepared in their own personal fashion.

With their wines and local products, the traditional recipes and the modern creations, the ginguettes and the gourmet restaurants… all of our restaurant owners do their best to make you discover the tastes and colours of the Corbières and the Minervois. You’ll meet those who buy from the local farmers … The green-fingered who tend to their own vegetable plots and make sure you can enjoy what they produce all year long … Last but not least, many people find the garrigues to be places of inspiration and 100% local gathering.

A stay in our region would be incomplete without a visit to the weekly Lézignan-Corbières market, held every Wednesday morning. In a convivial, Mediterranean atmosphere, the local producers await you to chat and to taste and buy their products.

The Lézignan-Corbières market © Gilles DeschampsThe Lézignan-Corbières market © Gilles Deschamps

All of these addresses can be found on our website www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com

To find out more about Corbières Minervois and prepare your visit on www.tourisme-corbieres-minervois.com

To find out more about the Cathar Country: www.audetourisme.com

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

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