Toulouse Plus 2005: Lagrasse

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Today was mostly a travel day. We did our usual morning things and then hung about the hotel packing and relaxing. After our usual lunch, we set out for our next stop, a small town (about 600 people) called Lagrasse, which is in the Corbières wine region between Spain and the Mediterranean. On the way, we made a small detour to a winery which was, unfortunately, closed on Sundays. For the entire 150 km trip we were in sight of a vineyard.

We found a great restaurant for dinner tonight – Les trois grâces. It is only about 100 metres from our nice little gîte (apartment) in the village centre. We have two rooms on the ground floor (separated by the hallway leading to the upper floors where the owners live). In effect, a mini-suite, which we enjoy.

Dinner was excellent – we both had the plat du jour which was coquelot rôti au parfum de reglisse – very different and very good. We ordered a 50cl bottle of wine only to realize once we had it that we’ve drunk it at home and possibly still have a bottle of it in our cellar! It was good, but broke our rule of only buying wine that we can’t get normally.

Today’s weather: a not uncomfortable 1.5.

Monday, 3 October 2005

While the weather was somewhat marginal today (a solid 1.5 on the Knowmark Weather Scale), we got quite a lot of sunshine, which is the most important thing. Because the village is quite small, there is only one boulangerie, and today was its weekly closing day. So we drove to St. Laurent de la Cabrerisse (about 10 minutes away) for our daily bread and pastries. The bread turned out to be particularly good.

Since our gîte has a washing machine, we got caught up with some laundry. And, we visited a winery, because it’s almost impossible not to! We went a few kilometres north of Lagrasse to Château de Vaugelas (near Camplong d’Aude) and tasted three of their wines. All were impressive, so we bought a couple of bottles: one to drink here; one to bring back.

And, dinner again at the Les trois grâces: we shared an assiette des trois sauveurs – toasts with three different (all delicious) spreads; Steve had confit de canard; Susan had admired the brochettes des supions the night before and had her heart set on that. We had a pichet of red wine which was very good – something from nearby Camplong. We will definitely be returning here for dinner tomorrow night!

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

We were kind of lazy this morning – we had originally planned to head into Lezignan-Corbières to the market and then swing back around by a winery or two, but then we suddenly realized that it was only Tuesday and the market there is Wednesday morning. Unable to locate a Tuesday market as close as we liked, we ended doing some catching up on our trip journal before heading out to Château La Sabine where we were unable to buy the wine we were looking for (Juni Pérus 2002) as it hasn’t been bottled yet. We tasted the 2000 vintage of the same wine and enjoyed it a lot, so we ended up with a bottle of that instead.

The weather wasn’t really conducive to having an outdoor picnic, so we headed back to town and had our picnic indoors instead. The goat cheese was local, although we didn’t buy directly from the producers – not quite as good as Didier’s (near Lodève) we think. After lunch, we set out to find more wine and some cheese from the source. We ended up tasting (and buying) some Château Gaubert Cavayé 2003 and had a very nice chat with Corinne and Gilles Cavayé who just finished their vendange (grape harvest) four days ago. The smell of fermenting grapes was everywhere. Yum! (No luck on the goat cheese unfortunately …)

Dinner tonight was again at Les trois grâces where we had reserved a table on the advice of the waiter last night. (Apparently it’s the only restaurant in the village which is open on Tuesdays and so it tends to be rather busy.) We both had the plat du jour which was filet mignon du porc avec sauce armagnac et pruneaux; it was our best meal of the three there and that’s saying something! We had a very nice after-dinner chat with a couple who live nearby occasionally (he is Flemish, she is Dutch). Unfortunately, this will be our last night eating here as they are closed both Wednesday and Thursday. We are going to try to find some cêpes in the next couple of days so we can make our own dinner on Thursday night (our waiter has made a recommendation for Wednesday, so that is taken care of!).

Another day of so-so weather (a nice 1.5 on our scale). However, the forecast would indicate that things are on the upswing.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Because of the inclement weather this morning (it turned better, rating 1.5 for the day), we delayed our trip to Le Château de Termes and went to the L’Abbaye de Fontfroide. It is a huge complex in a lovely setting, as many of these old religious (it no longer functions as such) sites are. It was started in the 11th century. We strolled around some of the grounds in the slowly lifting mist for some time. Then off to Château la Domèque for some wine before slipping into Lézignan-Corbières to catch the end of their market. We were able to get the necessities for tomorrow night’s dinner (Susan is cooking at ‘home’) plus supplement our supply of chèvre from a local supplier (Ferme de Carrus) whose farm we had tried to visit yesterday!

After lunch, with the weather clearing in Lagrasse, we headed south (back into the mist) to visit one of the many Cathar ruins in the area – Le Château de Termes. Along the way, we rounded a corner and saw the stunning Château Durfort. Le Château de Termes was built in the 12th century and used until the 17th century when it was ordered destroyed. The remnants are still impressive, as was the fact that we climbed (what seemed like straight up at times) steadily for 30 minutes to reach the top! It was not our intention, as the task seemed most daunting, but as we got closer, we just kept going. It was well worth it, with some incredible views which don’t show in the photographs because of the vastness of the area (and, the remnants of the misty day).

We had a very nice dinner tonight at les Temps des Courge. We shared une assiette de crudités and each had tartiflette “les corbières” which was described as pommes de terre, lardons, oignons frites, crème fraiche, fromage de ferme Merron fondue et gratinée. Very rich (neither of us could finish it) and very delicious!

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Today’s main project was lunch near the (Mediterranean) sea and the weather cooperated nicely by providing us with a 2.5 rated day. We set out to visit the Fitou wine region which consists of two sub-regions: Fitou Maritime and Haut Fitou. After stopping in La Palme to taste and buy some Saint Pancrace 2001, we headed towards Leucate. This town is located on a peninsula which connects directly with the Mediterannean, unlike much of the coast around here which borders on various etangs. We ended up at La Franqui which has an incredible beach with surprisingly few (we counted 14 at one point) people on it, given the beautiful day. We spent quite a bit of time just walking in the sand and surf as the tide slowly came in, enjoying the sun.

After a while, we moved on to Leucate for lunch. It’s a pretty town with many buildings having brilliantly coloured shutters. We chose to have lunch outside at Le Bistrot de la Place – a trio of tapas: calamari à la romaine, salade des anchoies frais marinés and gambas façon leucategais. This was naturally accompanied by a demi-pichet of red wine, a particularly decent one.

On the very scenic return journey to Lagrasse we tasted and bought more Fitou wine. The entire Corbières region is beautiful. Very rugged, but laced with arable patches in every little valley (mostly vineyards). It can be quite spectacular in places. Dinner was prepared by Susan in our little kitchen: an omelette made with cèpes and local chèvre both of which were bought at the market in Lézignan. An avocado-tomato salad and some excellent Corbières wine completed the meal. The rest of the evening was spent packing – tomorrow we begin the last phase of our trip!