Mystery and suspense currently surround the village of Bugarach. Situated 75 kilometres from the Mediterranean and 110 from the Spanish border, it lies at 460m above sea level but is completely overshadowed by the Pic de Bugarach, a mountain in the foothills of the Pyrenees, which rises to 1230m. The first mystery is the weather and its vagaries. Roussillon is the hottest and driest region of France but in the week we were there in early June, there was some sun but in general it was cool and overcast, and it rained heavily on some days. We even lit the fire on the one day we stayed at home … which was cosy and comforting, but not really what one expects. But it is the human beings who really complicate things. One set of mysteries is the latest gossip in the village among the expats and the locals. Further, completely inexplicable ones are put about by those who believe that 2012 will see the aliens landing on the mountain or being released from their home within it. And some of us thought next year was going to be dominated by the Olympics!
As you can see, this is a spectacular landscape, by turns majestic, rural or domestic. The villages are inhabited by a mixture of local people, French second-home owners and a positive pot-pourri of expatriates attracted by the life style, the inexpensive and decent quality wine, the arts and the mystic fringe. Others will relate immediately to the wild life, especially the raptors, or the remnants of former times – whether the Cathar castles or, as in the picture below, the Roman aqueduct below Antignan, which still carries water from one side of the valley to the other.
Needless to say, Janet’s and my reason to be here was at least in part wine-related. We had a long-standing invitation to stay with a member of Andover Wine Friends who has a house in Bugarach. This was a great offer and enabled us to get a really good insight into the wine scene in Roussillon and the most southerly parts of Languedoc. Wine has been made here since at least Roman times and the climate is excellent for robust and characterful reds, decent whites, some sparkling wine from one area, as well as the style which is said to be have been invented here, the vin doux naturels, These are alcoholic wines, mostly drunk before or after a meal, sweet but not overly so, capable of developing over many, many years. The last twenty five years of so has seen a new direction for the region, away from its role solely as the provider of inexpensive wines of colour and substance. In the past these provided blending material to improve wines from cooler, more northerly areas or just cheap quaffing wines. Roussillon can still provide inexpensive everyday wines but now, with the advent of private wineries and inward investment, also wines at medium to high quality levels. It is a fantastic zone to visit – even without the prospect of alien invasions. The main articles from our visit will appear in the next few weeks on the French regions pages of this website.