Ask any French person to name a famous American highway and you’re bound to hear “Route 66”. Hollywood has done a wonderful job of creating a mystique around this classic USA road trip that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles. Bill spent part of his youth growing up along it and he always gets smiles, nods of approval, and an enthusiastic “Oui!” whenever that comes up in conversation. There are numerous websites, guidebooks, photo essays, and blog posts, all in French, dedicated to navigating this 2400 mile (3900 kilometer) pathway. If you reverse that original question and ask us to name a famous French highway, you will certainly hear “Route 20 Corbières”, the wine road.
Covering more than 33,000 acres (13,500 hectares) from just outside of Carcassonne to the Mediterranean Sea and south to the foothills of the Pyrenees, there are 2200 producers growing mainly Carignan and Cinsault grapes that become the red, white, and rosé wines that annually fill 74 million bottles. That’s a lot of domaines to visit but you have to start somewhere, so when friends Sally and Larry invited us to travel with them and some of their visiting guests, we gladly accepted. We especially like the full-bodied reds that a small section of Corbières called Boutenac is known for, so it was a pleasure to stop at Château la Voulte Gasparets to appreciate why the vintages from this area command a higher price than elsewhere in the region.
With a morning of wine tasting under our belts, it was time to add some food into the mix and we were in the perfect place to do that. As a member of the association called “The Most Beautiful Villages in France”, the village of Lagrasse had to initially convince the judges that their community already possessed the physical beauty to attract visitors and a commitment to maintaining that interest while preserving the heritage of their town. Although granted a charter by Charlemagne in 778, a monastery had already been established there along the river Orbieu in the previous century. Narrow lanes, cobblestoned streets, a 14th century covered market, and a stone bridge completed in 1303 add even more charm that is overseen by the tower of the abbey. Lunch at the highly-recommended La Cocotte Felée, where the daily 3-course meal is 16 euros (18 dollars) simply added to the appeal.
Once dessert was finished, it was time for the return trip home where it finally occurred to me why this route through endless vineyards and past beautiful châteaux was called “Route 20”. The French word for twenty is vingt, approximately pronounced “van” while the word for wine is vin that also sounds like “van”. Hollywood helped popularize Route 66. We’ll stick with Route Vin!
Notes: If you’re going to be visiting this area, here are a couple of websites that might make it easier.
- Château la Voulte Gasparets http://www.lavoultegasparets.com/fr/
- Village of Lagrasse http://www.lagrasse.fr/
- Route 20 Corbières (download a pdf of the routes) http://www.20decorbieres.com/en/node/20/