Minervois Leisure's Gîte in situated at the large village of Le Somail, which is on the cusp of 3 neighbouring communes (or regions) which are: Ginestas, Saint Nazaire and Salleles d'Aude.
Le Somail is situated on the Canal du Midi and the D607 some 2 km north of St Marcel
Le Somail is a thriving village which welcomes visitors at any time of the year. However, because the part of Le Somail that borders the Canal du Midi is heavily invested in tourism, the enterprises thereabouts (the restaurants, guest houses, etc) are clearly more open in Spring, Summer and early autumn than at other times of the year.
As is only to be expected, the economy of Le Somail is mostly geared towards tourism, with a large boating marina/yards, and a choice of several restaurants and guest houses, as well as a good number of quirky Gallic attractions (Please see below under Shops and Services).
France would not be France without it wine. And the Minervois countryside bordering Le Somail certainly doesn't disappoint with a rolling vineyards and caves selling their very own locally grown vintage direct to the public/tourists. All the wine is by and large AOC classified, or its classified according to the commune in which the vines are situated.
Vineyard Tours in the Languedoc
A Vin en Vacances vineyard tour is a great way to get to know the beautiful region of the Languedoc-Roussillon and the unique and diverse wines made there. You will be collected from the Canal du Midi wherever you are moored in the morning in their air-conditioned and comfortable vehicle and dropped you back at the end of the day. No need to worry about driving! Just sit back, relax, savour the wine and enjoy the sights!
If you would rather not step onto dry land you can also arrange wine tastings on-board your boat.
The tours are very popular so it is wise to book a tour before you arrive in Languedoc so if this is of interest please email or call +44 (0)7880 796786. Also take a look at the Tripadvisor reviews and see what other people think to a Vin en Vacances vineyard tour.
SHOPS & SERVICES…
Being a busy village there are, quite understandably, more services than shops - and many of these are sensibly geared to the tourist trade: hotels, guest-houses, restaurants, bars, etc. But amongst Le Somail's more quirky or more individual offerings are:-
- A very large and comprehensive 2nd-hand and antique Bookstore (called Le Trouve Tout du Livre).
- A Pottery
- An Artist's Shop
- A charming Tourist Information Office.
- An all-terrain Cycle Rental Shop
- Self-drive hire boats
- A pleasure port for cruise boats with all services
- Battery recharge services for electric poweredboats
Le Somail owes its existence to the magnificent and extensive Canal du Midi, which was designed/constructed by Pierre-Paul Riquet in the 17th century, starting in 1666 and taking some 14 years to be opened in 1681, just after his death in 1680.
Commercial traffic used Le Somail for night stopovers using the Auberge established there. Other commercial support services based at the hamlet of Le Somail were stables, ice-plant, warehouses. The peak of commercial traffic on the Canal was in the mid-19th century. Today the commercial traffic on the Canal is entirely tourism-based.
HISTORY OF THE MINERVOIS…
In the Minervois, as in much of old Europe, the events which marked the social landscape were in the main derived from the activities of the Christian churches in the Middle-Ages trying to impose their power over the peoples. The more ancient times of pre-history had the decency not to interfere with the social landscape. The small pockets of people who inhabited the Minervois back then tended at that time to be nomadic and, if settled, to be in such small groups that they left no marked imprint on their surroundings.
The Romans settled in this part of France when they conquered Gaul. They brought with them all the features of their eminently civilised if disciplanarian society, including a wonderful road system, aqueducts and towns with splendid villas; and remnants of these type of Romanesque constructions can be found in the Minervois and within the Languedoc Roussillon, the wider area within which the Languedoc is a part.
By the time of the fall of the Roman empire, the main conurbations were largely Christianised; whereas the rural areas remained pagan and more open to some of the less mainstream religious groups. In was in the more religiously independent rural areas of the Languedoc that a enlightened humanistic sect of Christians (who went under the name of the Cathars) first started and thrived.
At first the local Catholic Church tolerated the Cathars, but when their numbers grew and they threatened to outstrip the authoritarian power of the Catholics, Rome violently reacted. Thus started the bloody Albigensian Crusades when the King of France joined forces with the Pope to oust and destroy what they called the Cathar heresy; which slowly but surely they did with horrific savagery.
The Crusade started in Beziers with the burning of that citadel's population in and around the Cathedral on 22nd July 1209. Just a year later the Crusaders attacked the hill fortress of Minerve, which they crushed after a long and bloody siege in the summer of 1210.
These terrible events have left their mark with the remains of partially ruined but, nevertheless, magnificent medieval castles at Minerve and Lastours.
After the Albigensian crusades, the Catholic Church in 1318 restructured its administrative organisation in the Languedoc, and the regional divisions resulting from the subdivision of the Narbonne diocese continued for many centuries and were adopted after the French Revolution when the boundaries of the present day administrative departments were decided.
The splitting of the Minervois between the departments of the Aude and the Herault, then, dates from the reorganisation of the diocese of Narbonne in 1318. It is only now being overcome by the establishment of working parties across the 2 departments to study and make proposals to present a unified image of the Minervois to the rest of the world. The modern driving force is the economic power of tourism.
THE MINERVOIS - ITS TERRITORY…
The Minervois today, is not a distinct administrative entity in its own right. In fact it cuts across two French Départments: the Aude and the Hérault, and encompasses 75 communes, a 'commune' being the smallest administrative entity in France, equivalent to a village or small town.
The Minervois (in which Le Somail/Minervois Cruisers is situated) is largely associated in many people's minds with the area in which the wines of the appellation AOC Minervois are made. Further information is available on the different 'terroirs' (or wine-growing enterprises/labels) existing within even the relatively small area of the Minervois, each one providing its unique qualities to the wine.
Even within the Minervois of today, there are fourteen communes which do not appear in the list of communes attached to the AOC. The old Minervois names have been resurrected to be largely associated with AOC regions for the promotion of regional products, wine in the main, and for the promotion of tourism. In this respect, some of the communities formerly in the Minervois have quite literally changed hands, and are now considered as part of the Corbieres, our neighbours to the south.
It is true that modern-day administrative areas have little appeal as such to tourists who are more interested in the nostalgic associations of present-day places with historic events. Those associations are all the more meaningful when the old names are maintained.
The Minervois is keenly re-orientating itself towards tourism, but, as yet, remains mercifully free of the tacky entrepreneurial excesses which have spoiled much of the Mediterranean coastline. In fact, the inhabitants of the Minervois are trying hard to ensure that the needs of tourism do not impact adversely on the traditional ways.
There is already pretty well everything that the visitor needs for his day-to-day comfort. Places to stay cover the whole gamut from hotels to apartments and through to bed and breakfast facilities. Some of the nicest accommodation are the gites in rural settings often remote from passing traffic, and yet accessible without difficulty. Places to eat are numerous, especially in summer, and of generally high quality.
In winter, fewer restaurants remain open and some of these only work at weekends but the choice is still good and will improve with the growing realisation that tourism is a year round affair.
THE FOOD OF THE LANGUEDOC ROUSILLON (INCLUDING THE MINERVOIS REGION)…
This part of France is most celebrated for its earthy but delicious terroir de cuisine which is, in essence, the delicious simple food of southern France's Midi region which relies on a harmony of flavours rather than decoration or extravagant ingredients.
Everything in France, by and large, stops for lunch and dinner and culinary customs in the Languedoc are no different with eating taken at a leisurely pace, with always just enough and no more. The markets of the Languedoc/Minervois are a foodie's paradise with a magnificent array of culinary wares to suit every taste and eating habit - and with reasonable prices for the produce to boot!
Among the delicious dishes to look out for when eating at restaurants are those hearty southern French staples: food like bourrides, cassoulets and boudins. Look out also for sweet salt marsh lamb, wild pigeons and lamprey. However, don't be frightened to try more esoteric things like snails Languedoc style - and when you get to the Mediterranean coast which skirts a large part of the eastern fringes of the Languedoc there is, of course, a wonderful array of seafood and fish.
MINERVOIS RESTAURANT SELECTION…
Throughout the Minervois, there are many restaurants to cater for all tastes and pockets. The range and style of the meals presented in these restaurants varies from the simple and rustic through to the most sophisticated. The choice is inevitably greater in the high season of summer but few restaurants actually close during the rest of the year, they simply restrict their opening to fewer days per week.
Listed below are some of the restaurants we can recommend:-
|L'Auberge de St Martin||Beaufort||Tel: 0468 91 16 18|
|L'Oustal à Citou||Citou||Tel: 0468 78 08 99|
|Café du Port||Paraza||Tel: 0468 43 23 10|
|Auberge L'Etoile d'Oc||Pouzols||Tel: 0468 46 14 36|
|Lo Cagarol||Aigne||Tel: 0468 27 84 22|
|Château de Violet||Peyriac||Tel: 0468 78 10 42|
|Les Capitelles||Peyriac||Tel: 0468 78 29 77|
|La Crémiaillère II||Peyriac||Tel: 0468 78 20 43|
|The Hotel du Minervois||Pepieux||Tel: 0468 91 41 28|
|La Villa d'Eléis||Siran||Tel: 0468 91 55 98|
|Relais Meyer||Villeneuve||Tel: 0468 26 10 85|
|Relais Chantovent||Minerve||Tel: 0468 91 14 18|
|Restaurant d'Alibert||Caunes||Tel: 0468 78 00 54|
|Restaurant Du Minervois||Olonzac||Tel: 0468 91 20 73|
|Auberge de l'Arbousier||Homps||Tel: 0468 91 11 24|
The Truffle Market at Villeneuve-Minervois…
The best truffles (those exquisite fungi that can add an unsurpassable flavour to almost any meal) now sell for more than the price of gold. And the Minervois is lucky enough to have its very own truffle market where well-heeled private and trade buyers come from both near and far.
Three times a year during the winter season, a truffle market takes place in the village of Villeneuve-Minervois: in December, January and February. The main variety of truffle which grows in France is the 'tuber melanosporum', the black truffle. Truffles ripen during the winter and the association of growers in the Aude/Languedoc region organises a series of markets for their harvest. Villeneuve is one of the few villages selected to host a market.
A typical truffle market day goes something like this: From before 8.00 a.m. the truffle traders organise their stands, often selling other local produce in addition to the truffles. For about a couple of hours, the "commissaire" or truffle expert provided by the local chamber d'agriculture will examine both visually and by odour each truffle offered for sale. The truffles are almost black and roughly spherical ranging in size from about 2cm diameter to somewhat larger than a golf ball. He snips a very small piece of the outer covering, examines it closely and checks the odour of each truffle, before weighing them on a scale which is accurate to within 1 gram. This provides a guarantee of quality and protects purchasers from fraud.
The market at Villeneuve is arranged to give initial priority to private purchasers who get the first half an hour, after the opening of the market, all to themselves - before the trade purchasers are allowed in. The market commences with a shot fired to give the go as eager purchasers are lined up in front of the rope preventing access to the stands. The actual entrance time into the market is normally at 10 30 a.m.
Buyers select their truffles from the small heap in front of a seller. These are then weighed on an accurate balance and the price decided. A small truffle of about 2cm diameter weighing 14 grams cost last year 10 Euros, equivalent to just over 700 Euros per kilogram.
Up and down the market street visitors and buyers can study display boards showing the story of this highly prized fungus, and how it grows in symbiosis with the roots of certain varieties of trees. They can learn about the different types of truffle which exists, the mysterious and quirky ways of finding them, and even recipes for using them in the kitchen, A simple method is to place a truffle in an airtight jar with eggs for a day or so. The odour of the truffle penetrates the shells of the eggs which are then converted into a tasty omelette. How's that for both luxury and simplicity all in one fell swoop!?