The flight from Paris to Toulouse took an hour, faster and cheaper than high-speed rail. Driving our rented car from the airport to our village took another hour and a half.
Caunes-Minervois is a “commune,” pop. 1600. The heart of the village is the medieval city – a maze of two- to-four-story stone buildings packed shoulder to shoulder along narrow cobblestone lanes built against the side of a steep incline at the foot of the Montagne Noire. The Argent Double river, dead dry in late June, passes around and through the town.
The distinctive red marble quarried in the mountains above the village can be found at Versailles and the Paris Opera House. Hiking trails lead through the marble yards and past remains of stone walls erected during the Bronze Age. The view from the mountain is of vineyards extending across a rolling countryside, with the Pyrenees rising along the Southern horizon.
Most days were sunny and hot. But closed windows and shutters and thick stone walls kept the houses comfortably cool.
Most of the roads through the village are too narrow for cars. But that’s okay, because everything you need is right there. We bought our breakfast croissants and our lunchtime baguettes at the little store across the street from the town hall, about a three-minute walk from our place.
The Abbey, also three minutes from our place, is a conglomeration of spaces built in the 8th, 17th and 18th centuries. Services are still held in the sanctuary. Other parts of the building are used for art exhibits and concerts.
The region’s two main industries are tourism and wine. We visited the closest winery, Chateau Villerambert-Julien, a five-minute drive out of town, and bought a couple of bottles of Minervois. That’s a combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes.
We shopped at the market at St. Chinian, and then strolled along the Canal du Midi.
We drove to the other side of the Montagne Noire to visit the village of Minerves, where we had lunch and walked along the dry river bed through the natural tunnel.
We hiked to the ruins of four Cathar castles perched on a steep ridgeline in Lastours.
We admired the rock formations in the grotto at Limousis.
We brought a picnic lunch to the marble quarries.
And we spent a lot of time just wandering through the village, especially after dinner, when it was cooler. The light lingered until nearly 10 pm.