Visitors to this untamed and historic region in the heart of the Languedoc will find a rugged sophistication – qualities reflected in the wines, says Mary Dowey...

Carcassonne history

The citadel of Carcassonne, rebuilt so incessantly across two millennia that it is a compact architectural feast, points towards centuries of turbulence.

This is Cathar country, as the Aude tourist board keeps insisting. Strongholds perched on outcrops of rock were a place of refuge for members of the Cathar religious movement when Pope Innocent III launched a bitter crusade against them in 1209. Climb to the uppermost battlements of Quéribus or Peyrepertuse and you will gasp at how remote the countryside feels even today.

Cistercian abbeys dating from the early Middle Ages are important too, both for their pared-back beauty and for a past entwined with wine. At the Abbaye de Fontfroide, one of the most exquisite, production has continued with only the occasional hiccup for 900 years.

Other wine estates were originally farms owned by monasteries, some of which are still active. ‘Visit Lagrasse,’ a young vigneronne urges, referring to a village so entrancing that it is classified among France’s most beautiful. ‘You should see the monks. They’re all young and gorgeous!’

Carcassonne food

Le Parc restaurant

‘This region is stuffed with riches – wild nature, châteaux, artisan food producers, restaurants, great wines.’ Franck Putelat, chef of leading Carcassonne restaurant Le Parc. And great value, he might have added. Make sure you try his brilliant set lunch: €39 for three courses plus a glass of wine – in a Michelin two-star!

Restaurant Bernard Rigaudis, Carcassonne

Classic dishes, subtly updated, have enabled chef Philippe Deschamps to maintain the reputation of a fine dining room that earned its first Michelin star in the 1980s. An excellent wine list showcases the best of Corbières and more.

La Ferme, Carcassonne

Gilles Fiorotto’s fabulous food shop is stuffed with hand-picked goodies including farm cheeses, top-notch wines and exceptional cassoulet. His produce sustains Côté Ferme, a wine bar around the corner offering 16 wines by the glass.

Carcassonne hotels

Château Le Bouïs

Wake up in Château Le Bouïs and breathe in the sea air before breakfast. This graceful 18th-century mansion with seven comfortable rooms is the centrepiece of this estate with sweeping vistas over vines to the sea. After owner Frédérique Olivié, had success in the Decanter World Wine Awards with a wine from her first vintage, 2007, she was inspired to take the leap from a tiny holding to this ambitious place – and the hundred different projects she has on the go.

Le Domaine d’Auriac, Carcassonne

Marie-Hélène Rigaudis is the third generation of women to run this old-world Relais & Châteaux hotel on a former Carcassonne wine estate. Fine furniture and paintings add to its appeal, as do delightful gardens.