Follow that canal
Now they’ve done it; they’ve bought a car. Whenever our friends Sally and Larry have rented a car for a distant journey they always have a day or two left once they get back to Carcassonne before the vehicle has to be returned to the agency. Bill and I have benefited from those bonus days by being taken on road trips to towns, villages, monuments, and scenic views that we couldn’t easily reach by train or bus. An email will suddenly appear in our mailbox asking if we’re available on a certain date, and if so, be ready for a mystery tour. Two weeks ago we got just such a message and when we replied with an enthusiastic Oui, back came the response to bring a camera, comfortable shoes, and money for wine–just like the instructions we got for those elementary school field trips years ago…except, maybe, for that wine money part!
Following the path of the Canal-du-Midi eastward, our first stop was only a few minutes outside of Carcassonne in an area that as “recently” as 2 million years ago was under the sea. The fields around the town of Marseillette are once again submerged but now with fresh water where the family of our French teacher has been growing rice for 4 generations. In a shop featuring local products we were able to stock up on the nutty-flavored red rice that mixes well with their other varieties.
An 11th century castle in Puichéric was mostly destroyed by the Black Prince in 1355 but the surrounding walls and the tower, plus the steps you see in the photo above provide a visible reminder of the region’s history. The tower of the nearby church appears to rise directly out of the rock at its base where the foundations date from 1269.
You might not think of canal locks as being especially interesting, even if it’s a double lock as is the case in L’Aiguille, but the keeper there makes good use of his time when he’s not busy raising or lowering the water levels. Monsieur Barthes is an iron sculptor and displays dozens of his works from pint-sized to giant-sized, people, animals, or a mixture of both. If you happen to arrive by boat you’ll be greeted by a huge, menacing alligator waiting at the entrance but any fear will turn to glee as you see animated figures pedal a bicycle, wiggle their ears, or stick their tongue out at you. Our neighbor, a native of the area, told us that the Barthes family has been handing down the arts of lock-keeping and sculpting for generations.
Back to church we went, this time in Rieux-Minervois to see the 12th century Church of Saint Mary and its 14-sided bell tower. We couldn’t get inside because it was closed for lunch but that was a good excuse for us to find our own dining table. It was a short drive to Luc-sur-Orbieu where the restaurant La Luciole fit the bill nicely where I started with a warm goat’s cheese salad, followed by the fish of the day, and finished with a decadent “molten” chocolate and caramel gateau topped with pistachio ice cream. Yum! The wine, a hearty red Corbiere, came from Château de Luc, right in the same town as the restaurant.
Now it was time to spend some of that wine money that our tour guide had told us to bring. Just a short drive from lunch, the town of Homps is well known along the Canal-du-Midi as a large port with plenty of space to turn your houseboat around or to begin your sailing excursion. Because of the great number of visitors who need to stock their boats for vacation, the Maison des Vins du Minervois is handily located right at port side. Sally had arranged a wine tasting for us and the knowledgeable young man who helped us was well-versed in his products, which was no simple task in that the shelves were stocked with at least 100 different wines. You can tell from the photo below of our wine rack how well he did his job.
So, our friends no longer need to rent a car to make long journeys because they just bought one and they’ve asked us for suggestions of where to go this summer on our next excursion. We already have the guidebook out and we know for sure to take a camera, comfortable shoes, and wine money!