Languedoc is a land full of character and unspoiled beauty, stretched out under almost permanent sunshine with miles of sandy beaches, tiny villages clinging to rugged cliffs, and a countryside dotted with olive groves and vineyards.
Day 11 Once again sunny skies greeted our day. We had breakfast, loaded our bags on the bus and then headed off for a morning tour with a local guide. Albi is a red town made that way with lots of brick. While we stood outside the 13th century brick cathedral, Basilique Ste. Cecile, I was able to observe workers repairing a portion of the stone pavement. Before the first stone was set significant effort went into the leveling and attention to detail went into the preparation of the site. Soon we entered the cathedral which has the appearance of a fortress rather than a place of worship. But inside the stunning interior contains a huge fresco of the Last Judgement. We entered the choir area and had an opportunity to listen to 4 Russian singers perform. The acoustics were incredible! As we departed the cathedral we ventured to the Toulouse-Latrec Museum and were turned loose until time to regroup at the bus. I decided to have lunch on the move and armed with a Doner Kebab, I prowled the streets of Albi viewing the architecture style.
We arrived in Caunes-Minervois and settled into the Hotel d'Alibert. Our arrival was timed so that we wouldn't disturb the owner, Frederic's afternoon nap. Our bus travels weren't done for the day. After a brief ride we arrived at Carcassonne - a perfectly restored medieval town, where we would spend the evening.
First, I circled the citadel by walking in the lices (space between the inner and outer ramparts) photographing the walls. Dinner was on our own and after a meal of french onion soup, pork sausage, frites and bread pudding. I headed out to the outer walls again for a sunset viewing. As darkness emerged the citadel's lighting came on. An entire different feel of the village. After another lap around and some meanderings in the inner wall streets, our group reformed for departure. For me this was one of the greatest parts of the trip and I wished we could have stayed longer. We walked out the back side of the citadel, through the town and out onto a bridge for a full view of Carcassonne lit up at night. The experience was embellished with a champagne toast.
Day 12 After a light breakfast of coffee, bread and croissant we boarded the bus for a day drive in the countryside. We had an opportunity to stop for a view of the La Casse, a significant gorge. During our drive we saw scenes that artists paint - the start of the grape harvest. They use a variety of methods - hand and machine picking. We spent time strolling through the town of Minerve, one time Cathar holdout, perched on the edge of a deep canyon.
The next stop was at the vineyard, Le Pech d' Andre. In the shaded courtyard overlooking the vineyards, Madame Remaury introduced us to a series of wines - 2 whites, rouge, 2 reds, and a dessert produced by her winery. To help our palates, she also provided some homemade olive spreads on bread. The grape crushing had started so there was a lot of action around the buildings combined with peacocks and dogs roaming inbetween, always looking for a morsel. At the end of our tasting, we walked back to the wooded area and had a picnic which featured the regions cheeses and meats.
We returned to Caunes-Minervois for a free afternoon. I was able to explore the local 8th century abbey. Statues of carved stone from the nearby quarry are scattered around the village. Before dinner, which was featuring Frederic's famous Cassoulet, a BYOB hospitality event was offered in the "Versailles Room". The tour's single ladies (Sam, Jean and myself) shared this enormous room. The entire tour group arrived and there was still space! Each tour member signed the guest book and wines became community sampling. All too soon we were off to a tasty dinner.