If asked to name a French king, the first one that comes to our minds is Louis XIV, the Sun King. After all, his association with the majestic Palace of Versailles certainly makes a memorable impression even 300 years later. He turned a hunting lodge in the middle of a forest, 13 miles (21 km.) from Paris into a massive administrative and entertainment complex for his own delight and that of the court in general and ambassadors from other European countries. A popular after dinner event of the time, and an additional way to demonstrate the king’s seemingly limitless power, was to serve fruit-flavored ices to his guests, even in the middle of the summer of the 1600s, at least a century before artificial refrigeration was in use elsewhere. To ensure a ready supply of ice wherever he traveled in France and to those wealthy enough to court his favor, the King authorized the construction of glacières (we would call them “ice houses”) in 1659 and there’s one about an hour’s drive from Carcassonne.
Thanks to our friends Roland and Gilbert, we got to visit the small town of Vinassan, just north of Narbonne and thus a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea. They went the scenic route from here that took us through rolling vineyards right outside of town to the mountain tops of La Clape with views of the even taller Pyrenees to the south and then plunged us down to sea level to all of the beaches lining the coast, with all destinations being only a few kilometers from each other.
A short drive up along the coast brought us to the spot where the Aude river that runs through Carcassonne and supplies us with our drinking water empties into the Mediterranean Sea. We understand that the naturiste beach (for that all-over suntan) is located there as well but that would have to wait for another day. We had history to see including that ice house that the Sun King had ordered. While in Vinassan we also visited the 11th century church and a still-working pump, first installed in 1880, from which Gilbert remembers getting water to take back to his boyhood home.
After the delicious multi-course lunch that our hosts prepared for us, there was only one more stop to make. We were so impressed with the wine they served that we got to visit Domaine Sarrat de Goundy just outside of town in Armissan where we stocked up on what we would call their everyday Merlot and Chardonnay plus a few bottles of the limited Number 7, a 50/50 mix of syrah and grenache grapes. Looks like we’re going to need to expand our wine cellar.