Cathar Castles are a must! Rennes le Chateau, which every one will know about from The Holy Blood, The Holy Grail, is not a Cathar Castle but does, of course, that Cathar connection. It is a fascinating village and church, particularly the holy water stoop just inside the door fashioned like a Devil.
It is possible to visit many of these Cathar strongholds by bus and it is a very cheap way of travelling. Personally, I do not like the Disneyesque Carcassonne, I think it is highly overrated and damn expensive. The way it is depicted in The Da Vince Code is pure twaddle. Montsegur is good, especially if you go in late spring whilst there is still snow at the top. It really brings home how difficult it must have been to live there. Piuvert and Perypertuse are excellent too but the top notch Cathar Castle has to be Queribus. You can see it from the train or coach from Narbonne to Perpignan and then round to Maury. Inside there is the most spectacular roof. It is like being inside a Norman cathedral. This was the very last Cathar stronghold and rather than be captured the inhabitants threw themselves from the top, dashing themselve sonthe rocks. It is the most atmospheric of the Cathar Castles.
Marc took over from his father about 14 years ago. His father had fought in the Algerian war and had lost a hand. It was fascinating watching him handle bottles and make wine with a hook. Marc has retained the same amount of land which is very unusual in this area as most vinyard owners are diversifying. He makes Maury, the heavy fortified red wine similar to port. I don't drink white wine but I am told his is pleasant, though on the sweet side. I can imagine that as the grapes do receive a blasting from the sun and I know dessert grapes (and eventually sultanas) do very well in that area. His rose is exceptionally good and if you taste some of that you will not be drinking supermarket rose again. Leave it to mature for two or three years and you will experience a slightly dry sherry tase. His red is called Nectar and to me it is. A very fruity tannic wine that needs to be drunk slowly and perhaps with sips of water in between. Even the new years bottling will taste fruity and mature and I keep this for ever. It never goes off. My oldest bottles are now 18 years old and they just keep maturing.
What to buy: All of it! He also sometimes make lighter wines which are not to my taste, I would always recommend the Nectar. This is 13% and the alcohol "hangs" in the bottle. It is a deep cherry red in colour and quite tannic. I prefer it to the Corbiere wines produced within a kilometre or two but many of Marcs vinyards are slightly south towards the Caramany area and these have a renowned reputation for superier wines. (Not that I turn my nose up at wines from the Corbieres, I can assure you!) He also has vinyards near the coast at Rasigueres and Coulliere. He does experiemtn with wine and produces different vintages and mixes for various ocassions. His "Bebe Marjoral" as produced for the birth of his son - which was lighter in colour but just as intense in flavour. He used less of teh CArignan grape in this, he todl us at the time. He also did a "Millenium" wine and often mixes the percentage of grape varieties although my beloved Nectar is always the same.
Maury fortified wine can be bought anywhere in the area but they all have their individual palate about them. Marc's has a slightly stony but very cherry taste ot it, I can only describe it as that.
What to pay: In 2006 I paid less than 2 euros for each of the reds and rose. Knock down price for a superb wine.
Everywhere is off the beaten track here! Just follow the footpath markings that are on every tree and wall in this area. I particulalry the paths from le Vivier to Sournia. You won't get far in the Autumn as you will spend all your time picking wild apricots, pears, almonds and sweet chestnuts!
Another good walk is the forest walk from Fenouillet.
Although not a path walk, the main road from le Vivier to Prats de Sournia is quiet and once you leave le Vivier you have stunning views of Canigou, the Holy Mountian of the Pyrenees. Just before you enter the small village of Prats (yes, you do pronounce it as it is written) pause and look north east and you will be able to see the Camarge and the Med. This is a there and back walk but, although on the road, really worth it as the flowers on the verges, the views and friendlinees of the people as they pass you are terrific.