MINERVE – THE CATHAR STRONGHOLD [35 minute journey]
Situated between the Cevennes and the Black Mountains, Minerve perches on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Cesse and Brian river gorges where natural bridges of the Cesse Valley make it an exceptional geological location. Bearing the imprint of the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times, Minerve is best known as one of the last Cathar outposts, the place where people fled after the massacre of Beziers and the site of Simon de Montfort’s six-week siege. Today, Minerve is the unspoiled historic capital of the Minervois, with terraced gardens and charming cobbled streets, and the village is recognised as of national importance, one of the prestigious points of entry into the Haut Languedoc Regional Natural Park – and as one of France’s Most Beautiful Villages.
PEZENAS – THE ‘LITTLE VERSAILLES’ OF LANGUEDOC [35 minute journey]
Pezenas became a place of significance in the late Middle Ages and for three centuries was the seat of the lords of Languedoc, the Montmorency dynasty. The village of Pezenas displays the legacy of this past importance in its buildings – over 100 are officially classified as being of interest and over 30 are protected as being of historical importance, especially the many mansions and houses dating from the C17th and C18th - some are true small chateaux. Between 1653 and 1657 the playwright Molière and his ‘Companions of the Illustrious Theatre’ revelled in the patronage of the then Governor, the Prince of Conti.
MARSEILLAN – BESIDE SEA AND LAGOON [44 minute journey]
Over the centuries Marseillan, a Mediterranean village by the Etang de Thau coastal lagoon has gone through many periods rich in events and happenings. Once just a small fishing harbour, it became a thriving port during the C19th with the development of commercial shipping. That history can be seen reflected in the picturesque streets and in the entrances of merchants’ houses.
And now, of course, since 1813 Marseillan’s fame rests with Noilly Prat the delicious vermouth. Full in flavour and delicate in bouquet Noilly Prat is renowned as an aperitif and as one of the secrets of the greatest chefs.
SAINT CHINIAN – FAMOUS AOC WINE AND COLOURFUL MARKET [20 minute journey]
In the garrigue-scented heart of Languedoc, nestling in the Cevennes foothills, Saint Chinian village features pretty squares and alleys and basks in the renown of its famous wine. Saint Chinian, is reputed to be the oldest vineyard locality in Languedoc, producing highest quality AOC certified red, white and rosé wines. Tastings, at the Maison des Vins, are highly recommended, if not de rigeur!
In the central square, shaded by plane trees, the Thursday and Friday markets are spectacular, with many stalls of nearby growers – fruit and vegetables, cheese, olives and craft specialists, and also local oysters. Saint Chinian also has an historic Benedictine Abbey with gardens and cloisters, and an Abbey church.
ROQUEBRUN – HERAULT’S ‘LITTLE NICE’ [40 minute journey]
Arguably one of the most picturesque villages in all of France, Roquebrun is a small 1,000-year-old medieval village. In its long history it has seen cave-dwelling shepherds, roman legionnaires, Carolingian kings and Cathar lords; and the village skyline is punctuated by the stone tower, built in c.740 AD.
The peach, gold and ochre-coloured village homes are nestled above a bend in the River Orb with the mountains rising behind, protecting it from mistral winds. Locals and historic visitors alike enjoy the balmy, welcoming micro-climate, where oranges, pomegranates, agave and prickly pear cactus grow in abundance – even in winter. There is a popular Mediterranean Botanical Garden just above the village, bursting with exotic plants and succulents. In fact, the local geology stores warmth during the day, releasing it later – grapes ripen even at night!