You’ve read our articles and know Mazamet inside out? Time to venture into our neighboring départements and drive through the Hérault and Aude. This route commences in the Valley du Thoré that runs from Mazamet towards Béziers and takes in a variety of scenery along the way, from mountain pastures to vineyards, medieval villages to limestone and marble man-made and natural wonders. Plan your day around the two key villages of Minerve and Caunes-Minervois. This route is 166km long, but can be shortened by 20km by by-passing Saint Chinian. Roads around Minerve and Chateaux de Lastours will be fairly narrow, so drive with caution. We recommend a full day to ensure you can see everything.
Leave Mazamet (towards Béziers) on the N112. You will pass through various villages, but continue on to Saint-Pons-de-Thomières.
Option One (long) – On leaving St Pons, pick up the D612 and follow signs for St Chinian.
Option Two (short) – On leaving St Pons, pick up the D907, sign posted Narbonne and follow signs for Minerve. On approaching the village, follow signs to the parking area.
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POINTS OF INTEREST
Wander around the City of Marble. From the museum to the cathedral, its streets lined with old stalls and decorated lintels invite you for a walk down history lane. The marble extracted from local quarries is the centerpiece of the city’s development. The Saint-Pons-de-Cimiez cathedral, classified as historical monument in France, was one of the most important on the route between Montpellier and Toulouse, and is the biggest Romance style cathedral in Occitanie. The marble organ itself is well worth a visit. There is also an interesting museum of prehistoric man, where an array of Neolithic artifacts can be observed.
This lovely village has a lovely shaded square where a traditional market takes place year-round on Thursdays and Sundays. Worth a stop, a stroll and a coffee (of glass of red if you’re so inclined!) A few meters from the square, step into the Maison des Vins, a showcase for all of the wines of the AOC Saint Chinian. This appellation covers a range of terroirs spread over 20 villages, 100 private cellars and 8 cooperative cellars. Our wine list features a fine Grenache Shiraz from Domaine Martin Madalle.
One of the most interesting villages in the region. The village’s antiquity is evident from its name, for a temple to the Roman goddess Minerva once occupied the site. In 1210 CE, Cathars escaping the massacre at Béziers sheltered here, but the resulting siege saw 180 Cathars refusing to surrender their faith and were thus burnt at the stake. The village sits atop an outcrop of rock and can be accessed via a narrow bridge. Head to the coach parking lot where the view encapsulates the bridge, the village, the river, the vineyards and even a trebuchet!
Curiosité de Lauriole
What is “Lauriole’s curiosity”? It’s a road that seems to go up, but it goes down. Or vice versa of course, in the other direction obviously.
Think again! Place a water bottle on the road and marvel at this mystery of nature! Even better, put your car in neutral and watch it defy gravity.
Heaven, Earth, Energy, Blood and Wine. You are in Felines Minervois, at the gateway to Borie de Maurel, on the land of the Escande family, and that was their creed. Borie de Maurel is one of our wine suppliers, and we highly recommend that you book in a visit and a wine tasting. In 1989 Michel Escande, the winemaker, dropped his other passion, sailing, to come inland with his wife. They borrowed the money to buy 5 hectares of vines, a wine cellar and a tired, but superb house. Passionate and energetic people that you should definitely try to meet if you are into wine.
This is a beautifully preserved medieval village whose gem is the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul that was founded in 790 CE. Recent excavations allow visitors to view some of the original subterranean Carolingian church. The village is also famed for its red marble that has been quarried since Roman times and used extensively by Louis XIV in his palaces, most notably Versailles. It’s lunch time isn’t it? Head to La Cantine du Curé for tapas, or try La Marbrerie with an excellent (albeit a bit spicy) cassoulet.
This small village, dating to the 13th century, produces some of the top wines from the Minervois. It also has an increasing importance for black truffles with various festivals taking place (mainly during the winter season). The Maison des Truffes is well worth a visit during which you will learn all about “black diamond” farming.
Châteaux de Lastours
Wrap up your day tour with not one, but four Cathar castles in Lastours! Set in a steep-sided valley, Lastours is indeed famed for the four castles named Cabaret, Tour Régine, Surdespine et Quertinheux, built in the 11th century sitting at 300m above sea level on a thin ledge of the Montagne Noire.
The lords of Cabaret (cap aret, or “ram’s head” in Occitan dialect) were closely linked to the followers of Catharism. In 1209, during the Albigensian Crusades, the site resisted the attacks of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. Eventually, in 1227, the castles were again besieged by Humbert de Beaujeu and in 1229, Cabaret capitulated. Today, the archaeological remains of the old village can be seen before climbing the steep steps to view the ruins close up.
ON THE WAY BACK
If you’re hungry for more, stop at the lac des Montagnès on the final stretch (D118, a nice and windy mountain road) to La Villa, for a slow walk, a picnic or even some night-time carp fishing perhaps?
We hope you’ll enjoy your day out! Drive safe!