Our friends Rick and Larry from Sacramento were visiting friends in a small town in southeast France called Ille-sur-Têt. After Lynn finished her wine exam on Friday, we hopped on the train to pay them a visit! They were staying with their friends Ann and Richard (also from Sacramento), who moved to Ille-sur-Têt about three years ago and are in the process of rehabbing a house within the old city walls (from around 13th century).
Ille-sur-Têt is about two hours north from Barcelona Spain in the very northern extent of the historic Principality of Catalonia. Similar to the Basque Country, the historical extent of Catalonia is divided across modern-day Spain and France, but is still very unified by the Catalan language, culture, and food. Just to the north of Catalonia historically was the land of Occitania, which covered much of southern France from the Atlantic to Mediterranean coast. This was also the historic lands of the Cathars, who were a Christian sect that thrived in Occitania during in the 12th to 14th centuries. Things ended badly for them, however, when the Vatican decided enough was enough and initiated the Albigensian Crusade to wipe them out. There are numerous remains of castles in this area along the former frontier between France and Spain. We got to briefly see Château de Quéribus, which was one of the last Cathar strongholds before they fled from the crusade and went underground in the mid-13th century. The history around here is unbelievable!
This is also wine country; the Cotes de Roussillion Villages region specifically. Ann arranged for a tasting at Clos Saint Georges which is in the Les Aspres sub-appellation. They make red wine primarily from Syrah and Mourvedre here. We liked their 2005 cuvée and bought a couple bottle (which never made it home). They also produce a nice sweet white wine from Muscat under the Rivesaltes sub-appellation. Afterwards we stopped in the small town of Thuir and visited (and tasted) where they make Byrrh …a sweet grape-based apertif with a hint of juniper and quinine. Tasty on its own, but also a great mixer (with gin in particular). We also strolled around Thuir and visited the Christmas market.
The next day Ann took us on a grand tour of the Caramany and Latour de France sub-appellations of the Cotes de Roussillion Villages region. Wineries were not open, but we enjoyed some great scenery and got a sense of the vineyards. This area is famous for a dry Mediterranean landscape called garrigue, consisting of wild juniper, lavender, sage, rosemary, and thyme, which is considered to impart similar characteristics to the wine of the area. We also stopped to visit La Pont-Aqueduc d’Asignan, a dual-purpose ancient Roman bridge with a still functioning aqueduct on top.
Next we stopped to walk around the small winding streets of Cucugne and recharge with a coffee and some sweets from the local boulangerie. A truly wonderful day of captivating scenery and interesting history that we really appreciated! It was also interesting talking with Ann about the ins-and-outs of purchasing and rehabbing an old house in France. It got us thinking. Uh-oh!