The Minervois is not an administrative region of France but an area in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, between Narbonne and Carcassonne to the South and the Montagnes Noires (Black Mountains!) to the North, it is set on two different departments, the Hérault and the Aude. So it immediately calls (at least for French people...) to images of vineyards producing tasty reds and rosés, villages with a central place shaded by plane trees, folks speaking with rolling ‘r' like if you were already in Spain and the amazing chirring of cicadas in summer heat. As for many places of France villages still have many old buildings included crumbling castles and roman churches but the historical scars of the crusades and war against the Cathares has left more testimonies here than in some quieter areas like the Loire or Picardie.
Archaeological works discovered remnants of human activity as old as 100.000 years near the town of Bize-Minervois while in Tautavel they were dated 450,000 years, so newcomers are real newcomers here!. In Pépieux can be seen the Dolmen des Fades, an impressive testimony of the society living there 5000 years ago (dolmens are large horizontal stones work, the word comes from the Britton ‘dol' for laying and ‘men' for stone while the erect stones much seen in Brittany are ‘menhir' where ‘hir' means erect). Then time passed and the Romans showed up on their way to conquer Europe, they settled and strongly boosted cereals and vines growing as well as pottery industry (amphora was the usual way to move wine around). Some more time elapsed and the area saw successive waves of visitors such as the barbarians, Visigoths and then the Francs. Still later on Charlemagne helped developing the area and villages grew here and there, usually closely clustered around the church or castle like chicks around hens. Local lords had a rather free way of thinking and behaving and easily accepted the Cathare religion in early XIIth century. This of course soon provoked the setting of a crusade ordered by Pope Innocent III that led to numerous battles and killings. King Saint-Louis could eventually settle in the area and helped to develop it, building more castles and fortified cities to be defended against the nearby Spanish. In 1681 was completed a gigantic work, the Canal Royal du Languedoc, now called ‘Canal du Midi' which links the Mediterranean sea to the Atlantic ocean which allowed for massive commercial activities, not the least being the shipping of wine.
All this historical background explains how rich the area is in terms of old stones, either erect or laying, churches, castles, tiny villages perched on stony peaks and wherever it is possible to grow it, vines. We can also add the fact that food in the South-West of France is well known for its quality and diversity, the most famous ‘cassoulet' has its capital in Carcassonne, geese are largely raised for ‘foie gras' and restaurants are often situated in charming spots.So if you ever head towards Europe some day and hop in France make sure to secure at least a week or two to enjoy a tour of this area which will combine both the intellectual side with visits of castles and museums and the more carnal side with good food and a large enough array of vines to suit all tastes. Then indulge in the local habit of napping before hitting the road again! Gites are also scattered in the whole area and offer a much sought after alternatives to hotels as they are run by local people and often part of the house or at least in the close vicinity. (Here am I, making sure the enemy stays at bay...)