Springtime in Languedoc is a wonderful and almost miraculous time. All of a sudden Nature bursts forth, and seemingly dead branches burst into lush flowers almost overnight!
On one of those glorious days which herald spring, I went with friends to have lunch in Minerve: not a cloud to be seen, bright blue skies, endless sunshine, not a breeze stirring, and the almond trees in full bloom.
I don’t think I’ve written about Minerve before. It is a little village which ranks amongst the most beautiful villages of France. Its location is on a rocky outcrop, a natural oppidum, where the gorges of the Cesse and Briant rivers converge. A perfect location for a safe haven in pre-historic times, as attested by archaeologists, who have dated occupation of the site to around 850 BC.
If the setting of the village is spectacular, it also meant isolation in more modern times, because access was so very difficult. The road which brings us to the village today was only finished in 1901, and the viaduct, which allows cars and pedestrians to cross the gorge, was completed in 1912. Electricity only came to the village in 1931/32!
From the early Middle Ages, Minerve used to be the seat of the Viscounts of Minerve. The village gave its name to the surrounding area, which is called the Minervois unto this day. During the Cathar crusades, the village was besieged by Simon de Montfort and his army of Christian soldiers, in the summer of 1210 to be precise. After five weeks of bombardment, the villagers and the Cathars, who had sought shelter in the village, ran out of food and water. Guilhelm of Minerve surrendered to Simon de Montfort. The Cathars were given the option to give up their faith or be killed – 140 Cathar Parfaits (ministers) opted to die by being burnt at the stake, rather than renounce their faith. It seems that the ordinary Cathar faithful abjured the heresy, and were saved from the flames.
Today, a reconstruction of the Malvoisine, one of the catapults used at the time of the siege, stands across the gorge of the Cesse river, to remind us of the history.
The two rivers which flow in the gorges on either side of the village, have a strange particularity – they flow in the winter, but dry out and run underground in the summer. The Cesse river has bored through the rocks and created two large tunnels. The larger of the two is over 200 metres long, and starts just below the viaduct. The second one is “only” 126 metres long, and a little upstream from the first one. Do go and have a look if you are in Minerve and if the river beds are dry – the tunnels are spectacular!
The village of Minerve is enjoying a steady flow of visitors year round, and in recent years much has been done to make it more attractive to visitors. Houses have been renovated, the roads repaved, and of late some of the remaining fortifications have been restored.
The village streets are narrow, and the houses huddled close together.
If you visit Minerve, make sure that you climb the steps up to the church, and have a look at the stone monument, which commemorates the 140 Cathars burnt at the stake in 1210. The sculpture was carved by J.L. Severac, a local artist.
Not all that far from the church is the Paroli bookshop and tea room. It’s a wonderful place for those who love old books, and great for resting your weary feet and enjoying some refreshments.
We’d come to have lunch at the restaurant at Relais Chantovent, which overlooks the gorge of the Briant river.
From the street, there is not much to be seen. The restaurant is on one side of the road, and the hotel, to which it belongs, is on the opposite side.
Inside, the dining room is lofty and spacious, and all along one side are sliding glass doors, which open onto the terrace and the gorge of the Briant. For those of you who have been to the restaurant in the past, a few years ago the terrace was completely remodeled and enlarged.
Since the weather was so glorious, we jumped at the offer of dining on the terrace. We had a table right by the railing, and could hear and see the river far below.
Once we had placed our order, a little mise en bouche arrived: a small bowl of wonderfully creamy asparagus soup, with asparagus flavoured oil drizzled over.
Our starters were all beautifully presented, and tasted even better. I have captioned the photographs of the food in the following galleries – simply move your mouse over the photographs to make the captions appear. If this does not work for e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog website.
Some of us had cheese!!
And finally came dessert:
We lingered over coffee and tea – the sunshine was just too nice!!
Thank you to Nicolas and his patient staff – we had a wonderful time!!
Relais Chantovent is closed Sunday evening, Tuesday evening, and all day Wednesday. Reservations are highly recommended.