Today we had the delightful pleasure of joining an Vin en Vancences Epicurean tour of the Minervois region.
Though it threatened rain, we had dry weather and relatively warm temperatures up until we stepped foot back on land ready to head for home, when the first few drops of the day began to fall. We were so thankful it held off for us! But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Our day started at 9am when Kate picked us up just outside of our rental flat. Doesn't get much better than curbside service, eh?! Once we were properly settled in the van, off we went to pick up the remaining three tour members for the day in Le Cite: a dear Australian couple in the middle of a six week holiday, and the wife's mother, who was still getting along quite sprightly and was up for anything, even being seemingly near 80!
The first stop on the tour was a fantastic open air market in Olonzac which seems to rotate towns in the area based on the day of the week. We hit on a Tuesday, and lucky for us, there was a wonderful offering to be had! Meats, cheeses, olives, eggs, honey, all kinds of regional produce, spices, Asian food trucks (!), clothing, housewares, you name it! Our guide took us around to each stall on the food street of the market, and chatted with the farmers and artisans while finding us the most delectable samples. She explained to us what things were, where they were from, and what was worth the buy, even stocking up on some favorites for herself and an upcoming dinner party she has planned for this weekend.
After maybe 20 minutes time to wander around on our own and make some purchases, we all rendezvoused at the pre-appointed cafe, trooped back to the van, and were on our way to stop #2: a tiny family run winery in Buaefort with Christoph the winemaker at the helm. He is a third generation winemaker, and becoming a truly natural vineyard producer with all organic practises, and nothing at all added to his wines. They were truly unique and special, and we so enjoyed our time with him!
Time for lunch, and we headed off to a little unassuming brasserie in a teensy little postage stamp of a town called Aigne. The two resident pugs greeted us at the door, and spent a good portion of the meal under our table hoping for scraps. By the looks of them, they had successfully induced many a customer to let a crumb or two (or ten) "drop" from their plates! Our selections did not disappoint: I enjoyed the smoked salmon with a delightful dill herbed lemon aoli and salad as a first course, and a nicely herbed meaty white fish risotto for my main. Jesse had a slow cooked sardine dip for firsts, and a juicy burger with a French twist for his main. Dessert consisted of poached pears with chocolate, ice cream, and whipped creme fraiche, and a small regional cheese selection, which we shared.
Refueled and rested, we were off to Minerve; an impromptu stop along the way to enjoy the splendid views and darling quintessential town. The stroll through the center and over the bridge was invigorating and lovely - just what we needed! Truly worth the slight trip out of the way, Minereve lives up to it's booking as one of the most charming towns in the Languedoc. Even more spectacular though is the setting: situated straight over a stunning gorge, replete with a rushing river, and naturally carved tunnels in the rocks.
From there, we headed over to an olive oil factory in Bizes where Virginia tried out her English on all of us non-French speakers - doing a really nice job of it too. We got a tour of the presses, a little lesson about how they grow, pick, and sort the olives, and then enjoyed a tasting of three of their distinctly different oils and fresh table olives. All unique and delicious in their own way. The crowd favorite was the local Lucques.
Last stop was such a lovely way to end the day: a cruise on the Canal du Midi embarking in Le Somail. Lined with plane trees and yellow wild iris, this serene float down river was a fitting finale. We enjoyed learning even more from Kate about the region and its bounty, and talking and joking with our fellow tourees and the personable captain of the boat.
Back to Carcassonne we came to a restful early evening in, after a spectacularly full and memorable day.-
Jesse's ready to book another tour for tomorrow ;-)