Our journey in France comes to a close in the Southern region of Languedoc - on the edge of the Mediterranean, and a land stepped deeply in history. We are staying in Narbonne, what used to be the Roman capital of the region, and reached its heyday as the trade crossroads between Spain to the West, Provence (and Rome itself) to the East, and the rest of Gaul to the North.
The fortress of Carcasonne is a good example of the many layers of history here. Initially a Roman outpost, then a small keep and citidel defended but surrendered by the Cathars in the 1200's, and an Impregnable walled fortress city on the border of France and Aragon until the 1600's - at which point Roussillon became part of France, the shifting border making the fortress somewhat obselete. Restored to beauty and grandeur to its medieval prime in the 1800's and now a major tourist attraction.
Languedoc-Roussillon boasts the title of the largest single wine growing region by both physical size and volume of wine produced - roughly 700,000 hectares or about 5 times the size of Bordeaux (whch on its own is already 3 times the size of all NZ wine making). With this much territory, its not too surprising that there is a great variety of soils and individual terroir. Narbonne is well placed here, being in the midst of Corbieres AOC, with La Clape being barely 15 minutes drive to the South East on the coast, and Minervois 30 minutes North amongst craggy rocks and rolling scubland.
The wines themselves are a multitude of blends, including the familiar Grenache and Syrah, but also Cinsault, Carignan, Mouvedre in the reds, Bourbolenc, Vermentino, Macabeo, Grenache blanc, Rousanne and others in the whites. Even with similar blends though, the wines can be as different as chalk and cheese, from elegant and restrained feminine charms, to rich & spicy, smoky earthy wines. We like to generalise about wine regions, but the no summary does it justice.
The tourist season here is clearly over, and we walk down the almost deserted beach of Narbonne-Plage. Still lovely conditions at 25 degrees in the afternoon - almost all the restaurants and hotels are shuttered and closed, parking clearly designed for a different kind of hordes lie fallow. Almost like a science fiction movie, ruins of a modern age.
Tomorrow we train to Barcelona for the final leg of our adventure. To France we not 'Adieu' but rather 'A bientot' - we will return.