We drove through the quiet village of Monze, deep in the land of Corbiere wines (in Languedoc-Rousillon and south-east of Carcassonne). Wide, flat valleys dozed cosily in the shelter of the cracked and shattered folds of the often bare limestone ridges and peaks. Carefully tended vines stretched in serried ranks across the valleys. Occasionally a lone worker could be seen tending each vine with the care of a nurse working between row after row of hospital beds. Each vine was checked and cosseted, then given its required treatment.
The village of Monze, unlike the surrounding landscape, is unremarkable with its restaurant and small vehicle repair workshop; however the signboards for each of these premises read “M’11 restaurant” and “M’11 autos”. It took the few seconds until we drove out of the village for the penny (or centime or cent) to drop and I suddenly understood the signs. Perhaps my French is improving after-all.
Our destination for this short trip was the town of Lagrasse. This is one of the “Plus Beaux Villages”. This is the official designation for one of the most beautiful villages in France. From Monze you enter the town across the new bridge. This is parallel to the high-arched medieval bridge framing the great Abbey behind it. The old bridge is narrow and steep, soaring above the seemingly tranquil waters far below. On foot the bridge leads into a beautiful Bastide town with narrow canyon like streets of tightly packed houses sheltering within the remains of the old walls.
With the sun ‘winter low’ and casting deep shadows in the streets it was a fine place to wander. The church is well worth a visit but hard to find. From a distance the low tower hovers over the rooftops. As you close in the houses crowd in so closely on all sides that you are unaware of the church itself until you step through the great doors at the end of a short dead-end street and down into the very wide space of the nave.
Walking back to the car along the path below the Abbey walls I thought about other Abbeys in the region; the Abbey of Saint Hilaire in Limoux is where Blanquette de Limoux comes from. They use the Méthode champenoise to put the sparkle in the bottle and claim to have invented the method before Champagne did. Don’t join the debate, just drink a Champagne quality wine at a better price. On a different tack the Cistertian Abbey of Fontfroide opens its 200 bush rose garden to the public in the spring. This one is on my ‘to-do’ list for the next Spring trip south from Bon Abri Gites.
If you are planning a holiday down this way later in the year (and apartment St Vincent is a great place to base yourself) it might be worth thinking about the 16th July to the 4th August which is the Festival des Abbayes. There are events at many of the Regions Abbeys including Caune Minervois (if you are of a geological bent the quarries at Caune produce a beautiful pink marble that turns up everywhere from fountains to fireplaces).
While thinking about festivals there is one that comes to mind, Les Médiévales de Peyrepertuse, with medieval entertainment and an amazing backdrop of the château of Peyrepertuse. Several of the local castles are classified as “citadelles du vertige”, for instance Quéribus and Puilaurens. Their clifftop locations (and the often hard slog to get to them) justify the name.
A week after that trip, back in the Dordogne, the crane migrations are in full flow. Bigger flocks than I have seen before assemble and disassemble overhead as the birds chatter and jostle spiraling up into the thin, wispy clouds before peeling off into ‘V’ shaped squadrons that move off in noisy lines towards the Paris Basin and beyond.
Where the Languedoc is already pink and white with almond and plum blossom up here in the Dordogne the blossom is only slowly showing that Spring is not far away. Its arrival is very much anticipated this year as we face up to the squelching ground, mist and showers. In the mean-time the sweeping paths of daffodils planted when we first arrived in Bon Abri in Puymangou add a shimmer of constantly moving yellow.
I can reveal, for those less adept at French than even I am, the number 11 would be pronounced onze. So M’11 becomes Monze and the village was……Monze. As Alexander the Meerkat would say “simples”; well it is when you know.