When our neighbors suggested that they pick us up on Sunday to take a trip to Aragon, instantly visions of courtly love, chivalry, and Camelot sprang to mind. After all, it was Catherine of Aragon who was King Henry VIII’s first queen and in her eyes maintained that position despite the rise and fall of others after her. While our destination shared that Queen’s name, we were only traveling about 20 minutes north of Carcassonne instead of 2 hours south into Spain where the Kingdom of Aragon was located and to where Catherine could trace her family roots.
Although Aragon, France got its start during the Bronze Age around 2000 BC, the town’s tourist office notes that its present name probably began in the early 1100’s when the lords of Aragon were granted property rights in the area. While the lords shared their last name with the Kingdom in Spain 500 kilometers (310 miles) south across the border, that was apparently their only connection.
The drive up from Carcassonne took us through rolling fields of grapevines soaking in the sunshine on one of the 300 days each year that “sunny” is in the forecast. As we approached Aragon, Francis stopped the car so that I could take the photo you see at the beginning of this post. It has that picturesque charm long associated with small French villages: sandstone cottages with terracotta roofs circling round in a spiral that culminates with the church at the top. But that was not our initial destination.
We had come on this short journey with a serious goal: to pick thyme and maybe some wild asparagus while we were at it. Since Francis and Isabelle had raised their boys in the area, they knew exactly where to search for this Mediterranean herb. As soon as we opened the car doors after parking in a field of short shrubs and taller pines the smell confirmed that we were surrounded by a sea of thyme. Armed with gloves and scissors along with instructions to cut just those branches in bloom and to take only a few from each plant, off we went. With such an abundant supply it didn’t take long to fill the boxes you see here in the photo.
The reward for our hard work, which really wasn’t difficult, was to take one of the numerous pathways through the forest over to the village, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away. Our eagle-eyed friends spotted the occasional wild asparagus along the way so we had a bonus of tender green tips to add to an omelet the next day. After exploring Aragon on foot, we walked back to the car talking about our next village excursion and what we were going to do with all of that thyme!