A short stroll from the property will take you up into the heart of the old, walled village of St Marcel sur Aude. There are two ancient churches, delightful little squares with water fountains, an impressive old gate tower and most importantly a boulangerie and patisserie for your morning croissants or daily baguettes.
Half a mile away, easily reachable by foot or bike, there is a parade of local shops and services, including a boulangerie/café, a tabac, a pharmacy a small supermarket and a little further on, an Intermarché. There are four restaurants within walking distance. La Distillerie is particularly well reviewed, serving delicious traditional French haute cuisine with a sophisticated modern twist. Next to La Distillerie, is a delightful brasserie bar/cafe which is popular with the friendly locals. Wine from the vines surrounding the village can be tasted in the many of the local caves, the wine is highly recommended and the activity of degustation is a particular must-do pastime to try during your stay here.
If you walk or cycle a short distance further on through the meandering roadways of the local vineyards, you get to the historic Canal du Midi, at Le Somail, from where you can take a boat trip, hire a small electric boat for an hour so or just sample delicious local cuisine at the canal side restaurants. The canal is a UNESCO world heritage site, built in 1661; it is lovely to walk or cycle alongside the beautiful tree-lined canal which joins the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. If you’re tempted to hire a bike or a boat, we can recommend both Mellow Velos and Sunset Boat Hire.
A short drive will take you to the lake at Homps or river at Bize-Minervois for some great wild swimming spots. Also in the Montagne Noir you will find the ancient Cathar village of Minerve. The village is situated on top of the gorge of the River Cesse in a naturally strong defensive position. Near the village the river disappears underground in a large, naturally-carved tunnel.
There are beautiful, leisurely walks or bicycle rides to be had around the vines surrounding St Marcel sur Aude and along the Canal du Midi; taking in the historic, pretty canal-side villages. There are also some great trails to be found in the Montagne Noir, for the more keen hikers and cycle enthusiasts.
Heading south from St Marcel sur Aude you will soon cross the river Aude. Its source is in the Pyrenees mountains in Andorra, then runs to Carcassonne and finally reaches the Mediterranean Sea near Narbonne. The river is navigable by raft or canoe for nearly all of its length.
Six miles further on is the historic city of Narbonne, once a prosperous port, and a major city in Roman times. Narbonne is linked to the nearby Canal du Midi and the Aude river by the Canal de la Robine, which runs through the centre of town. The town offers some great shopping opportunities or simply take in the atmosphere in one of the main square’s lovely terrace cafes. Sites include the cathedral dating from 1272, the Palais des Archevêques (the Archbishop’s Palace),the Musée Archeologique, the Roman Horreum (a former grain warehouse, built underground as a cryptoporticus), The Halles (a historic covered food market that operates every day), the nearby limestone massif known as La Clape and the beach at Narbonne plage.
The Languedoc has miles of beautiful sandy beaches and coastal lagoons, where flamingoes abound and oysters and mussels are harvested. The area is famous for its water-sports with the many etangs offering safe coastal stretches of water for wind surfing and kite boarding, there are also many schools that offer tuition. There is also a wildlife park and a water park to keep children entertained.
Beziers is also a short drive away, it is one of the oldest cities in France. The town is located on a small bluff above the river Orb. At Béziers the Canal du Midi spans the river Orb on an aqueduct called the Pont-canal de l’Orb, claimed to be the first of its kind. Other sites include the Saint-Nazaire Catherdral, the Plateau des Poètes, the Fine Arts Museum (musée des Beaux-Arts), and the view over Le Pont Vieux.
A forty minute drive to the west takes you to the magnificent medieval fortress city of Carcassonne, another UNESCO world heritage site. “La Cite of Carcassonne”, is the largest walled city in Europe, encircled by a double row of fortified ramparts. It is a fantastic day out, full of history, stories and experiences. This is a great place to learn about the Cathar’s of the land of Oc and the battles and sieges that took place here in medieval times.
Also nearby to St Marcel sur Aude is the Abbey of Fontfroide, a restored Cistercian abbey in a valley of the Corbieres hills, founded by the Benedictines at the end of the XIth century. It is a timeless place, wonderful for some quiet contemplation. Further on is Abbey Lagrasse, a Romanesque Benedictine abbey, whose origins date to the 7th century. The village of Lagrasse is a monastery town in a valley in the Corbieres hills. Listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France it is now home to numerous pottery workers and artists, and host numerous cultural and intellectual festivals such as “Le Banquet du Livre”.
The Pyrenees are one hour away with breath-taking hikes and cycle trails. The ancient ruined Cathar fortress strongholds of Queribus and Peyrepertuse are definitely worth the hike to their high and isolated position, not only for the incredible history but also for the commanding views. Definitely worth a visit is the stunning Gorges du Galamus with its cascading water and secret hermitage.
The Spanish border is also one hour away with Girona and Barcelona further on, easily reachable for a day trip; as are the wonderful French cities of Toulouse and Montpellier.
Highly recommended would be a wine-tasting trip to the numerous wine caves in the Corbieres, Fitou, La Clape, Rivesaltes and Minervois regions.