The official details of the four tours have disappeared, so we have constructed our interpretations of Tours 3 and 4, and these are given below. Tour 1, essentially a wine tour, could include almost every village in the Minervois because Caves and Chateaux are thick on the ground throughout this region. Tour 2 was designed, we presume, to encompass churches and perhaps prehistoric monuments; this is a work in progress.
Tour No. 3: Olives & Muscat
24: Saint-Jean de Minervois
Saint-Jean de Minervois, between Saint Chinian and Minervois proper, is a patch of brilliant white limestone and the home of the Muscat grape. From this delicious grape a natural sweet wine, both subtle and fruity is produced. This national star in France’s galaxy of fine wines is also known and appreciated on the world stage. This luscious golden wine is light enough for an aperitif as well as an accompaniment for dessert. According to The Wine Society the best producer is Raymond Miquel of Domaine de Barroubio.
23: Argeliers (a few kilometres off the tour)
Marcelin Albert, leader of the 1907 Languedoc wine-makers uprising, was born in 1851 in Argeliers. He died in 1921 and is buried in the cemetery in the village. A village square is named in his honour.
In 1907, Marcelin Albert, a simple café-owner and winegrower in the village of Argeliers, triggered one of France’s biggest popular uprisings: the Revolt of the Winegrowers. Above and beyond any political, religious or social issue, it expressed the desire of a people who wanted to live by working their land. Marcelin Albert set out to fight the swindlers who made artificial wine cheaply, using sugar and chemicals. He launched a peaceful and modern movement with a simple motto: wine must be a natural product, made by fermenting the juice of fresh grapes.
He set off with a group of 87 protesters from Argeliers, organising events from village to village and creating a protest paper called “Le Tocsin” (or “Sound the Alarm”). After Sallèles, Bize, Ouveillan, Coursan, Capestang and Lézignan, 100,000 people went to demonstrate in Narbonne.
Marcelin Albert brought the whole department to a standstill. Units of the French army, ordered to disperse the winegrowers, mutinied instead and it took weeks of negotiation by the home minister, Georges Clemenceau, to reach a compromise
The L’Oulibo Cooperative was founded in 1942 in the heart of the Minervois region.
It was a tough start. L’Oulibo survived the devastating freeze of 1956 that destroyed all but 5% of French olive orchards. It not only survived, but emerged stronger. The Cooperative replanted the best local varieties of olive trees, the Olivière and the Picholine varieties, along with others selected for their flavoursome qualities: the Bouteillan and Aglandau. Later, under the influence of its director Pierre-André Marty, it concentrated production on the Lucques of Bize. This exceptional green olive is produced exclusively in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. In keeping with this pioneering attitude, the cooperative L’Oulibo has built its reputation in the South of France around this concept, that of being the specialists in the Lucques variety.
Today the visitor can tour their extensive displays, built around the impressive stone crushing mill, and sample the vast range of products available for purchase.
Cooperative l’Oulibo, Cabezac. 11120 Bize Minervois www.loulibo.com
The village boasts a number of fine 19th century buildings as well as St Luc’s church with the exceptional 17th century altar of gilded wood which was restored in 1962. Chateau Le Vergel is a centuries old wine producer noted for its intense reds: from €6 to €10 their deep ruby reds present fruits and spices blended with soft tannins.
In the centre of vast vineyards and at the junction of canals, this village provides the visitor with a reconstruction of village life and, in particular, wine making and pottery.
Museum of old Sallèles
In the exceptional setting of an old ramonétage ( vine-growing estate manager’s house ) the stable, wine cellar and living quarters have been restored and accommodate three collections :
– wine and winemaking
– daily life
More than 1,200 tools, machines and various objects have been restored.
More than 2000 years ago potters settled on the territory of the present-day commune of Sallèles. For three centuries they produced en masse amphorae, tiles, bricks, pipes, crockery and oil lamps.
How these potters of Antiquity lived and worked is shown in the museum that is built like a veritable bridge over the archaeological site where the dig was begun some 20 years ago. In 1997, an exact replica of a gallo-roman kiln was built with identical materials and tools. Indeed, the building in which it is housed was also built by artisans. So, there are now regular firings in this kiln.
Open from May to September inclusive
Saturdays and Sundays : 2.30pm – 6.30pm
Open every day by reservation for groups of 10 and more. Guided tours available.
Musée du Vieux Sallèles
5, av. Marcellin Albert
11590 Sallèles d’Aude
Tel 04 68 46 93 40 – 04 68 46 95 53
Tour No. 4: Romanesque Art
6: Caunes-Minervois – Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Caunes
This Benedictine Abbey was founded in 780 by Benedict of Aniane (750–821) who was born into a noble family but at the age of twenty, he experienced a conversion and became a monk at Saint-Seine, near Dijon. After about three years, seeking a more solitary life, he became a hermit on his own estate by the river Aniane. Here he was joined by other hermits: they lived (it was said) on bread and water only, except on Sundays and feast days. Extreme poverty and solitude were prominent at this stage of his monastic life, but both were somewhat modified later; he became an Abbot and was a prominent figure in the reform of monastic life. His Abbey at Caunes is representative of the best southern Roman art.
It is reputed to be the only abbey in Cathar country with a crypt that is open to the public, and with a double-level cloister (12th and 18th centuries). The Apse is particularly remarkable: it is a jewel of early southern French Romanesque architecture. In addition, the fine marble decoration (from the quarries of Caunes) is an outstanding feature with truly local connections.
The red marble of Caunes has been used since ancient times but was forgotten in the Middle Ages; in the 17th century it was rediscovered and used to ornament a number of churches, such as St Peter’s in Rome, the Paris Opera and the columns of the Grand Trianon of Versailles. Today a short, but vigorous, walk up and out of Caunes (on the Allée des Carrières a left branch at the top up of the village on the main road towards Trausse – for route details, see map) takes the visitor into the foothills of the Black Mountains and up to a selection of quarries, both old and still-worked. A return down to the main road leads you to Trausse.
Set among vineyards and cherry orchards, Trausse holds its annual cherry festival in late May.
On the route towards Rieux, the Tour St Martin, wine cooperative is well worth a visit for anyone interested in the range of wines produced in this locality – from good soft reds, such as Chateau de Peyriac, refreshing rosés, such as Chateau Pautard as well as the Tour St Martin range, dry white Muscat Sec and the more complex Viognier. In addition, a small range of very cheap and quite drinkable wines are sold loose (or by the box if you fail to bring a receptacle). All of their wines can be sampled before prospective purchase.
In the old village of Rieux Minervois (just 15 minutes from Caunes) you will discover a roman church dedicated to Saint Mary. The seven-sided rotunda (XIth-XIIth century) is built (some will say) according to a reference in the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 9: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.” The seven-pointed star is a recurring mystic symbol in the Midi, and so many other ‘explanations’ for the design of this church have been offered, and many puzzles stated. Why, for example, is the central heptagon surrounding the altar composed of four squat pilasters and three pillars?
This odd church can be explored with, or without, a guide. Unique in the world by virtue of its architecture and sculptures, its dome, composed of seven sections, tops a wonderful assembly decorated with the sculptures of the Master of Cabestany – a famous sculptor of the XIIth century.
31: La Livinière
This little village of the Haut Minervois was the first Languedoc village to achieve AOC status for its wine. Despite its size it has three churches that exhibit the full range of epochs of church architecture, and the basilica here has an unusual domed bell tower. In addition, the vestiges of the Medieval fortifications are still extant here and there.
North of Siran the 13th century Chapelle de Centeilles, a unique survival, sits amid cypress, holm oaks and the vineyards. The inside is entirely covered with frescoes from the 13th-15th centuries, and it houses a fragment of 3rd century Roman mosaic found in Siran.
On the D168 from Cesseras to Minerve take the left turn to Fauzan, nesting in a grove of Pine trees you will find the Romanesque chapel of St Germain which is of particular interest because of its decorated apse.
27: Minerve (see Restaurant Guide, Relais Chantovent)
Named after the goddess Minerva, this picturesque village gives its name to the whole area, and is best known for the five-week siege in 1210 by Simon de Montfort and 7,000 men. The sheltering Cathars capitulated and some 180 ‘unrepentant’ heretics were slaughtered. But its history, of course, extends back centuries before this. Of Romanesque interest there is the small church of St Etienne, primarily an 11th century apse and a 12th century nave. An inscription on the high-altar table indicates that it was consecrated 456 by the Bishop of Narbonne, St Rustique. It is said that about 100 5th -9th century graffiti can be found on the building. In addition, various parts of the early double curtain defensive walls remain – the guidebooks mention a 12th century section and the pointed archway of the southern postern gate. A small museum contains artefacts from prehistory up to the Roman age.
26: La Caunette (see Restaurant Guide, Le Picou)
Within La Caunette, the old centre of the village, la Carambelle, is still entered via a medieval gateway from the 13th century. The defensive ramparts of this ancient village are still visible on the western side between the caves of the limestone cliffs and the river Cesse.
En route from La Caunette the village of Aigne is of particular interest because of its medieval circular, or snail-like, structure – known as a circulade – and hence the name of its excellent restaurant, Le Cagarol (the Ammonite? – see Restaurant Guide).
Also en route is Mailhac which has a famous archaeological site developed by two local inhabitants. It is focused on the first Iron Age of Languedoc. In addition, a number of vestiges of medieval life have been preserved.
The Cave Cooperative in Puzols maintains the Garden of Bacchus in which they grow nearly 100 different grape varieties. In addition, there is a museum housing many of the curiosities of wine-making through the centuries.