The Invention of Sparkling Wine - In Champagne or Limoux?
Most of the world credits the invention of sparkling wine to the Champagne region, and to Dom Perignon. The legend, and possible real story, is far more interesting. According to Limoux natives, it was really created just a few miles outside the main town. Its existence is documented as far back as the 1500s. When the great Dom passed through Limoux, he stole the idea.
Or so the legend goes.
But there is another connection; throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, in fact up to the French Revolution, it was the monks who did so much to invent and nourish the good things in life and Limoux sparkling wine is no exception.
So...Where was Limoux first produced?
You can't miss the Abbaye de St-Hilaire in the nearby village of St-Hilaire, supposedly the place where in 1531 the monks discovered how to make the sparkling wine. Quite apart from the sparkling connection, it's a fascinating place with a sarcophagus in the 13th-century cathedral by the Maitre de Cabestany who travelled through the region, carving extraordinary distinctive statues. The sarcophagus has a carving depicting the martyrdom of St Sernine, patron of Toulouse. He was dragged by a bull to his death then buried here.
The Town of Limoux
No matter who is right about the origins of the wine, Limoux is a lovely small town with a big heart.
It is home to one of Europe's most popular Carnavals, a divine two-month-long ode to food, music and the French joie de vivre. The enchanting Aude River weaves through the small city where a sleepy life centres around the place de la République in the old town. Don't miss the promenade du Tivoli.
Sit in one of the local cafés, sipping a Blanquette, and just let your worries flee from your mind.
Hit the Friday market to sample local produce and specialties. Visit the Museum of Automates and the unique Piano Museum which tells the story of the evolution of the instrument and has a concert hall for excellent performances open from April to October.
For a little haven of peace, make for the Botanic Park of fragrant flowers at La Bouichère on the outskirts of the town. Ignore the urban surroundings; once inside the garden the busy life of the town seems a million miles away.
Go for the Blanquette and...
The Blanquette is the real allure, though. I actually prefer it to its more popular Champagne cousin. It has an understated, dry and mellow personality befitting its Southern France setting. While it is hard to find in U.S. wine shops, I've found an online site where you can buy it now!
While Blanquette is the area's claim to not-so-prominent fame, the local vintners produce wonderful chardonnays, syrahs and "Crémant de Limoux," a blend of chardonnay and chenin grapes.
What to See Nearby
Limoux is in the heart of France's dramatic Cathar Country, just a few minutes from the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. In summer, when Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is bursting at the seams with tourists, stay in Limoux and drive to Carcassonne for the day.
This is one of the loveliest areas of France for a drive, as you pass vineyards and drive along roads lined with tall plane trees. Stop at wineries for tastings. Indulge in cassoulet, a delicious Languedocian stew of white beans and meat.
If all that gets too much, go to Alet-les-Bains, to the south of Limoux for a bit of spa rest and relaxation.
Where to Stay
If you plan to visit, there are a few lodging options in or near Limoux. For the ultimate in atmosphere, splurge for a room at Hôtel Le Monastère situated (surprise, surprise) in a former medieval monastery.
The lovely Moderne et Pigeon has a great location and is situated in an 18th-century building.