Saint-Guilhem le Désert
L’Abbaye. Not desert here actually ! Here the mineral reveals itself as an ocean with such high waves that they are solidiified in sculptures of stone and greenery that crown Saint-Guilhem. Surrounded by this halo, the Abbaye of Gellone, precious witness of High Medieval Roman and Gothic art, a thousand leagues from any temptation, was still amputated from part of its cloister by a tactless individual. A silent majesty remains in this world of prayers and stones.
Statuaries, bestiaries, grottoes and water buffet will delight you. The discovery of the Castle, splendid 17th century “Folie” with its consecrated chapel and its Versailles type park will make y our eyes open wide. Whether on the side of the courtyard or the garden, the architectural ornaments of the façades pay homage to love and wine. 60 hectares, by half AOP and IGP, the wine worked out by the ladies declines in AOP Languedoc, Grès de Montpellier and Vin de pays d’Oc. The cuvée La Lionne had us roaring with pleasure. Guided visit around the castle and wine museum.
Foreigners on Languedoc soil! Liz and Robin Williamson from Guernesey did not hesitate to cross the Channel to settle on this small sunny corner of Murviel-les-Montpellier. No orange trees, but vines worked with care, and ploughed in winter; sheep are left to graze under the stumps. A range of wine in Coteaux du Languedoc and a rosé Fleurs de Liz en Vin du de Pays de l’Hérault. A great gift idea: The domain will allow you to sponsor a vine.
One vineyard and three Nines! By grappling impulsively with the domain in 2002, Isabelle Mangeart baptized its vineyard “Nines” for her three daughters in Occitan. 10 hectares of vines with olive trees grouped together in the center of the garrigue. Varieties newly planted but also venerable ones like carignan and alicante. Three Nines and three ranges. The Pulp collection in the three colors declines pleasurable wines. With the “O” wines, the whole concentration of the grape is expressed, especially for the cuvée “O” of the vineyard: Fine tannins, intense perfume, spices, pepper and vanilla. As to the oils of the Clos and the very fruity wines des Lucques and Picholine, the whole garrigue expresses its versatility.
Muscat. The great reputation of the Muscat de Frontignan is centuries old. It was recommended by Rabelais and Voltaire. It was prescribed as a fortifying potion since the 14th century. The sweet and powerful beverage was exported to the Americas as early as the 18th.
Abbaye de Valmagne.
Classified Historical Monument under Prosper Mérimée, the abbey complete with church, cloisters, dwellings, ponds and gardens is a stone jewel crowned by 65 hectares of vineyards. The architecture of the abbey, built at the end of the 13th century, is gothic Cistercian; it has remained in the family of the Count de Turenne, a Pair de France, since 1838. His present descendant Philippe d’Allaines and his family manage the viticultural domain and develop cultural events in an ideal setting.
The Cathédrale des Vignes
It is a curiosity not to be missed. The 18 thunderbolts of Russian oak were installed in the nave of the church at the time of the Revolution and still remain. Other masterpieces in the cloister garden: the fountain-washbasin of the monks facing the refectory and the decor of the superbly preserved keystones. Still more treasures: the wines of the domain. Cistercian monks planted the vines as early as the 12th century. The wines were exported to Mexico in the 19th century and distributed in the whole of France. The domain produces AOP Coteaux du Languedoc with the Bernard and Benoît cuvées as well as Grès de Montpellier and Vins de Pays from the hills of la Moure. The Cuvée Turenne les pierres sauvages falls in with the rest.
Ferme Auberge de Frère Nonenque, Abbaye de Valmagne. The cellar friar of the 15th century inspired Mme d’Allaines to create an inn where one is nourished with plants, herbs and other products of the vegetable garden as it was done at the time. Let us not forget our pleasure. After the spiritual, let’s restore our body with the temporal. Open from June to September. Tel.: 04 67 78 13 64. www.valmagne.com
New winemakers at last, but not beginners! Jean-Pierre Van Ruyskensvelde was not born in this area but he belongs to the wine industry and has been director of the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin since 2008. He and his wife Marie-Christine formulated their first 2011 cuvée on a small parcel of syrah. A red IGP Saint-Guilhem le Désert is redolent of seductive red fruit aromas. Visit upon reservation.
Cherries, I tell you! Yes, a generous red fruit, impetuous as a woman. Do not look for a castle, nor for a cellar. Pascale Rivière’ s den is to be found along the Saumailles way. Her vines are all around. Bought one at a time, blended and vinified to render cuvées of great finesse. Her AOP Coteaux du Languedoc are endowed with feminine power. We also like the La Pimpanela cuvée, a peony in Occitan, a treat of a wine that blooms in a complex blend, and les Combariolles that express, on stone, the potential of grenache. At the top, Guide Hachette 2009 lost its heart to Le Jasse 2009.
Pascale, a dynamic Dame du Vin, is president of Vinfilles.
La Terrasse du Mimosas. At the heart of the village, the Terrasse keeps it beating all year long. The young team of cooks and cellarmen offer various formulas to savor, nibble, taste and take out any product you like. 23 place de l’Horloge. Tel.: 04 67 44 49 80. www.laterrassedumimosas.com
Domaine Paul Mas. “True rural luxury!” Jean-Paul Mas, owner and wine-grower, applied himself to create luxury viticulture domains in rural settings. An unusual concept illustrated by the domain of Montagnac. A large, brand new mansion surrounded by vines, truffle oaks, olive trees, shows off the wines of his domains in a very chic cellar decorated by the works of conceptual artist Emmanuel Flipo.
Côté Mas. The contemporary decor of this restaurant fits the menu. An altogether different style. Japanese Chef Taichi Megutikami who started his career at the Crayères in Reims and the Crocodile in Strasbourg, gives a Japanese accent to regional cuisine. In the Côté Bar, the musical ambiance is laid–back to appreciate the house vintages as well as a selection of wines from neighborhood vintners. www.paulmas.com
Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian.
The Prieuré, one of the oldest viticultural domains of Languedoc was dedicated to viticulture as early as 1150. In the Middle Ages, the viticulturist monks operated the vineyard and built a chapel. One after the other, illustrious counselors of the kingdom succeeded them. In 1970, the domain soared anew with Alain Roux; since 2004, Karen Turner, an australian oenelogist, graduate of the University of Adelaide, has been entrusted with the manufacture of wine. Reds, whites and a rosé cuvée offer the taste of sensual and gourmand wines, great crus to keep. Visits and tastings in the cellar. Le Prieuré organizes the “Bébian Nights Estival (Festival?)”. www.bebian.com
Château Montpezat. In its actual 1884 state, the château retains on its façade the coat of arms of the Juvenel family. Félix used to be a king’s commissioner. The ancient seignory of this great noble family of the region was consecrated to viticulture. Christophe and Laurence Blanc, owners of the domain, continue the work of the vine and of the wine of pays d’Oc and AOP Côteaux du Languedoc. Their prestigious cuvée, la Pharaonne, has a rich, brilliant ruby color and aromas of black silky fruits, a wine to keep. Tasting cellar. www.chateau-montpezat.com
The Etruscans stopped here. Here the Montmorency family and the prince of Conti established their capital. It is easy to understand why: Pézenas endowed with a registered historical center, with private residences of the 15th to the 18th century is rich of its past and present. Queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, stayed at the Hôtel de Flotte de Sebason. In the 15th century setting of the hôtel de Lacoste, Philippe de Broca shot scenes of the movie Cartouche with Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Molière and the theater tradition.
Pézenas hosted Molière who settled there with his company of L’Illustre-Théâtre in 1650. His stay inspired the characters of Dom Juan, Tartuffe and Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.
Hôtel de Peyrat.
The Hôtel de Peyrat houses the Office du Tourisme (Tourism Office) as well as “Scénovision Molière”. A show/spectacle in five acts on the life and the work of Molière is presented 365 days of the year. A theater tradition perpetuated by the delightful small theater “à l’italienne” that was designated as historical monument in 1955. It has just acquired a new “costume”.
Musée Boby Lapointe.
Boby Lapointe was the city’s “enfant terrible”; a splendid singer and composer, he was born in 1922. A festival is dedicated to him each year in April. His museum, “Au Pays de Boby” is located in the old house of the Barber Gely. 1 place Gambetta. Tel.: 04 67 21 02 87. www.bobylapointe.com
Maison des Métiers d’Art.
City of Artistic Trades, paradise of second-hand dealer, Pézenas overflows with small artisans’ and artists’ workshops. Listing and information at the Maison des Métiers d’Art. Place Gambetta. Tel.: 04 67 98 16 12
Domaine le Conte des Floris. It is pleasant to loaf on the Cours Jean Jaurès and to stop at the terrace of the “resto-bar” of Daniel le Comte des Floris. Daniel, oenologist in Beaune, bought vines in 2000 and installed his cellar downtown. He opened a wine bar in the former store Pain de Ménage in 2008. Tapas and wine tasting in the evening; at noon, a single menu with Alain Tur’s exquisite macaroons for dessert. Everything comes with his local wines. An AOP Languedoc white of the Carignan variety is pleasant accompaniment for the meal and brings freshness and puckering to the mouth. 20 Cours Jean Jaurès. Tel.: 04 67 31 71 98. www.domainelecontedesfloris.com
Confiserie Boudet. The Boudet family have been confectioners since 1850. They “create candies”, among which the celebrated Berlingot de Pézenas, white nougat and other confections. Gourmands need to make a reservation to visit the plant. Chemin de Saint Christol. Tel.: 04 67 98 16 32
La Distillerie. When in Pézenas, one stays at the Distillerie. It is a brand new resort close to the historical center; the old distillery has been fitted out with a spa and a pool. Rooms, suites and apartments are of four different styles. The restaurant bar offers a large variety of tapas and a nice selection of regional wines. 6 rue Calquières Hautes. www.garrigae-resorts.com; www.garrigae.com
Jérôme Rateau, called “Le Champenois”, is a newcomer and an independent viticulturist. He settled in this Hérault village in 1995 and operates a continuous block of 15 hectares with the five varieties of the AOP Faugères vintage. Cuvées – to be discovered – are spiced, full-bodied, constructed in red and rosé. Do not hesitate to go in to meet Jérôme – unless he is among his vines…
Château de Grézan. On the site of an ancient 12th century Commanderie of the Templars rises a 19th century castle, renovated in the style of Violet Le Duc. As in the city of Aigues-Mortes, a fortified precinct with crenelated walls unrolls, surrounded by the vineyard. Grézan is full of surprises! The private castle belongs to a Swiss citizen and a Swedish woman who organize exhibits of contemporary art. The viticultural domain of 110 hectares with guest rooms and restaurant, is in the hands of Rémy Fardel and Jean-Louis Pujol. Visit of cellars and domain, tasting in the cellar of AOP Faugères and Vins du pays d’Oc. www.chateau-grezan.fr
Château Abbaye de Cassan.
Monastic retreat, then royal priory, the abbey was transformed into a princely residence in the 13th century. A sumptuous site with a Roman church, 18th century cloisters and reception rooms that accommodate events, bacchanalia type parties and concerts. The domain’s vines produces AOCs Languedoc and IGP Pays d’Oc. The castle is classified Monument Historique and can be visited; it is one of the Exceptional sites of Languedoc. www.chateau-cassan.com
La Nouna Bar. A brand new bar that remains open even in winter. In winter, oysters come to the rendez-vous with a glass of 100% Viognier in IGP of the domaine of La Maurine Rouge, fruity with an aroma of plump pineapple. Tapas and wines from the Murviel coop wine cellar, as well an IGP Pays d’Oc Chardonnay les Granjols 2012, are available all year long. 19 Place du Portal. Tel.: 04 67 38 29 22.
The name of Caîus attesting to the traces of an ancient Roman villa is found in archives dating back to 968. The fortified farm and the Romanesque chapel were erected on the site of Wisigoth tombs dedicated to the martyred Saint-Etienne. Coming into the domain of Goujan, of a metallic blue among the greenery, you will admire house peacocks nesting at the top of tall trees. The scene is magical and unexpected. Peacocks are also found on the armorial labels. Orchards, wheat, barley, olive trees and vines abound on 180 hectares tended and developed by the energetic Florence Guy. She produces from AOP Saint-Chinian to IGP in Coteaux de Murviel. The Bois Joli cuvée, issued from old vines, offers a large and gourmand red. Florence has fitted out two large lodgings with a view on the vines and a pool in the métairie.
Marseillan (on the sea side)
Noilly Prat. The winemaking plant, the incredible enclosure, herbalist shop and the room of secrets – do not miss the visit of the cellars of the celebrated Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth. A secret recipe invented by Joseph Noilly in 1813 and manufactured since 1850. 1 rue Noilly. Tel.: 04 67 77 20 156. www.noillyprat.fr