In the bewitching landscape of the Languedoc, with its vineyards and lagoons, the Wine-growers and Fishermen’s Route gets visitors acquainted with wines and seafood in the South of France
The Wine-growers and Fishermen’s Route (La Route des Vignerons et des Pecheurs) through the Agde countryside not only introduces you to the fine food and wines of the Languedoc, but also the ancient heritage of a region dating back to the Greeks and Romans. Meet the growers and producers as you explore the beautiful countryside of the "Garrigue" (the local terrain); visit charming little villages and historic Roman towns; enjoy colourful wildflowers, almond blossom and scented herbs; and above all, marvel at the hectares of vineyards along the way. If you want, you can picnic on the winding banks of the Hérault River or stop under the shade of tall plane trees where canal boats drift along the Canal du Midi on its way to the sea at Agde.
You can take your pick from dozens of wine cellars and domaines where good-quality wines can be tasted for free – the famous AOC Picpoul de Pinet is produced here from grapes ripened in the Mediterranean sunshine. Try this fresh white wine with some local oysters or mussels straight from the sea at Bouzigues, a typical Mediterranean fishing village on "Le Basin de Thau", where numerous seafood restaurants line the promenade.
Le Bassin de Thau is a massive lagoon, separated from the sea by a narrow offshore bar of white sand. It is an important area for fishing and shellfish farming. With several ports along the basin, it is a favourite stop-off point for leisure sailors too.
The Wine-growers and Fishermen’s Route passes through Agde, Castelnau de Guers, Nezignan L’Eveque, Pinet, Pomerols, Portiragnes, Saint Thierby and Vias, also taking in Bessan, Florensac, and Marseillan. Visit these places in no particular order – a free tourist map from the information centre in Agde provided us with a detailed guide. The route is signposted along the way, though the signs were not too plentiful when we looked for them in September 2009, but the villages themselves were not hard to find!
Visit Pezenas – an ancient town where local artists open their studios to visitors during the summer months, and antique shops display their wares along the Avenue du Verdun. Once here, try the local speciality: "Le Petit Pâté de Pezenas" – a small, sweetened meat pastry shaped like a cotton reel and served warm with an aperitif before meals. Inside the citadel there are many restaurants selling traditional meals tucked away among the tall stone buildings and numerous vineyards to visit in the vicinity.
A couple of kilometres south of Pezenas, discover Castelnau de Guers – a medieval village built on a high volcanic ridge overlooking the Hérault valley. Surrounded by vineyards, the village offers seven domaines to choose from!
Castelnau de Guers
A small pizza restaurant, Pizzaria – la Polpette (00 33 4 67 21 30 37) opened in the village during September 2009. Find it just inside the citadel archway at Porte Minerve, as you enter the village from the Pezenas road. A variety of freshly-made pizzas and one or two Italian dishes (bolognese, carbonara, etc) are available for lunch, dinner or to take away (closed Sundays).
Le Grand Bleu (00 33 4 67 78 72 09) Enjoy a meal sitting under a large parasol in its open-air rooftop restaurant overlooking the oyster farms in Le Bassin de Thau. Fantastic seafood and excellent service.
We enjoyed a good meal at Restaurant Le Quai (00 33 4 67 01 73 59) on the quayside at Marseillan Port. Reasonably priced with varied set menus or à la carte.
Après le Deluge (00 33 4 67 98 10 77) at 5 rue Marechal Plantavit. Good food, set menu or à la carte.
Les Marronniers (00 33 4 67 90 13 80) on avenue de Verdun. Popular for lunches and dinners, good medium-priced cuisine. Book ahead for dinners at peak times.
Capao Beach (00 33 4 67 26 41 25) at Plage Richelieu Centre, Cap D’Agde. Right on the beach, this open-air bar and restaurant has some covered seating. Specialities: fish, meat and shellfish. Musical and oriental evenings. Deck chairs and parasols available on the sand during the day with waiter service.
St Guillhem Le Desert
Auberge sur le Chemin (00 33 4 67 57 75 05) at 38 rue Font du Portal. Traditional cuisine in a beautiful ancient hilltop village.
Castelnau de Guers
Mas St Antoine, Descente de la Bergerie. Produces a number of fine wines, including the award- winning AOC Picpoul de Pinet and oak-matured Grenache-Carignan, Vin de Pays d’Oc. The proprietor was willing to spend some time discussing his wines and gave us a personal tour of his winery, explaining the stages of the viticulture and personal instruction on "tasting" the finished result. Open all year – closed Sundays. Wheelchair access.
Domaine des Lauriers (www.domaine-des-lauriers.com), Route de Pezenas. Award-winning wines, including AOC Picpoul de Pinet. Wine tasting. Closed at weekends. Wheelchair access.
Les Vins Moliere, 39 Avenue de Verdun. This cave cooperative produces AOC Coteaux de Languedoc and Eaux de Vie de Languedoc among others. Closed Sundays and bank holidays. Wheelchair access.
Cave Cooperative L’Ormarine (www.cave-ormarine.com), 13 Avenue de Picpoul. Another cave cooperative producing AOC and Vin de Pays. Open all year, but closed on Sundays out of season.
Domaine Reine Juliette, 4 Avenue de Florensac. AOC and Vins de Pays. Open Wednesday to Saturday in season, Thursdays and Saturdays at other times of year.
Guy Bouzigues (www.guybouzigues.fr) is not only a master baker and pastry cook, but also a master chocolate-maker. His chocolate products are based on local produce. Closed Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.
WHERE TO STAY
Domaine Saint Ferreol (00 33 4 67 252 832), near Pezenas. Luxury self-catering villa holidays on a 35-acre estate in the midst of the Languedoc vineyards. Six lovingly restored villas, set around the Domaine’s central courtyard – available throughout the year. Ancient vaulted wine cellar and hand crafted quality wines. 6 kms from Pezenas.
Auberge de la Tour (Logis de France) (00 33 4 67 98 52 01), Valros. A village inn on the main Pezenas to Beziers road. Set among vineyards, it provides comfortable accommodation with international cuisine, including local specialities. Outdoor swimming pool in peaceful setting – a good base for visiting the vineyards and Mediterranean sea.
Helios Camping & Caravaning (00 33 4 67 21 63 66), Avenue des Pecheurs, Vias Plage. Just 200m from a sandy beach with safe swimming for children in the Mediterranean Sea. Fishing is available in the sea or in the River Liberon alongside the three-star campsite. Good amenities and marked pitches from €13 (two people) per night.
Les Flots Bleus (00 33 4 67 01 78 12), Cote Ouest, Vias-Plage. Family-oriented three-star camping and caravanning site on the beach. Good amenities and marked pitches from €16 per night.
Le Salagou Inland, near Clement Hérault, find Lac du Salagou’s two-star municipal site. Open all year, situated alongside a beautiful lake and surrounded by red earth, vineyards and volcanic mounts. Prices start at about €10 per night for pitches. Gîtes available and wine-tasting nearby.
Eurostar from Ashford or St Pancras to Montpelier, Agde or Beziers. Fly to Montpellier, Carcasonne or Beziers (Vias). By road from Calais – A26, A7 (approximately 11hours with stops).
EN ROUTE (OVERNIGHT STOP)
Campanile - Troyes Sud. Campaniles has motels throughout the country – you know what to expect in their identical rooms, and all provide breakfasts and local plats du jours on evening menus. Book in advance at busy times if arriving in the evening.