In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness it seems appropriate to lead you towards the fruits of one of the P-O’s main harvests. Welcome to the Route des Vins! There are many, but today we head off in search of the Cote de Roussillon Villages. Throw in a Roman Aquaduct and you have a great Autumn Day Out.
A spectacular drive through some of the villages and vineyards of the Cotes de Roussillon Villages starts either in Ille sur Tet, taking the D21 to Belesta then on to Caramany, or in Estagel taking the D17 to Latour de France.
Either way the views over rolling vineyards backed by the Corbieres, almost blue in the distance, are stunning. Little villages, all with wine cellars, caves co-operatives and tasting opportunities abound. The chateau of Queribus stands guard on the skyline and the Barrage of the Agly River makes a jewel of a lake in the centre of the circuit.
Cotes de Roussillon wines are rich and predominantly red. Well worth spending a day or two seeking a few out.
And what better time of year in which to do it? Robust and spicy, reflecting the hot, sunny, windswept land from which they spring, in either direction the route is sheer pleasure to drive through.
Latour de France with its old fortified centre rising up from a bend in the Agly, Planezes and the little chapel of St Pierre, Rasigueres with interesting art and pottery.
Belesta has its Chateau Museum of Prehistory, a cave and dolmen to visit and the nearby Chateau de Caladroy, ancient border fortress, is a spectacular Domaine whose wines feature on the lists of the best restaurants of the Cote d’Azur.
You will be made welcome in as many of the wine cellars as you have time and tasting capacity for. A non tasting driver is much to be recommended.
Estagel, a pleasant little town on the D117, is the birthplace of Francois Arago (1786 – 1853). In almost every town in the P O there is a Rue Arago. A distinguished physicist and astronomer, he had craters on the moon and Mars named after him and, as a member of the French Parliament for the Pyrenees Orientales was instrumental in getting slavery abolished.
From Estagel set off up the D612 and make a side trip to Montner, from where it is possible to take a tiny winding road from the top of the village with fantastic views offer the vineyards to Chateau de Queribus on the skyline. This will bring you back onto the D612 just below the Col de Bataille at the foot of Forca Real.
You could drive up to Forca Real and admire the little chapel before taking the Belesta road or simply turn right to Chateau de Caladroy. Easily recognisable, it looks more like a village clustered around its ancient castle than a wine cellar.
Dating from the XII century and once a fortress on the old frontier with the Kingdom of Mallorca, the Chateau with its 130 hectares of vines and 7 hectares of olives dominates the valleys of both the Tet and the Agly.
Their wines feature on the menus of many of the best restaurants in France, and, if you drive through the imposing gates, you will be made welcome and given a tasting in the converted chapel of the old chateau before moving on to Belesta de la Frontière with its interesting museum of pre-history.
Follow the signs to Caramany, a pretty village with splendid views over the jewel like lake formed by the barrage of the Agly and a welcoming Cave Cooperative.
Cross the Agly and continue to Ansignan where the Roman Aquaduct is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic. Set in the vines, it is a hundred metres long with numerous arches and a vaulted passage over the river, still working after more than 200 years. It may not be quite in the Pont du Gard league but well worth a visit nevertheless and still usable after all these centuries. The Romans were good builders.
Back tracking a little, continue to Rasigueres, good wine, interesting pottery; Planezes with the dear little chapel St Pierre, Latour de France with its fortified centre rising up from a bend in the Agly and so back to Estagel.
Each village is worth visiting in its own right if only to explore the walks through the vines, the little shepherd shelters, old chapels, and ruined towers.