After the madness of the Annual Christmas Market trip the weekend before, it was a bit unusual for me to be packing and getting ready for another trip after just 3 days. However, with the European Champions Cup playing in Montpellier and a Scottish team qualifying, it was really our Scottish duty to represent. But how to fly to Montpellier for a weekend from Edinburgh in time for the 2.30p.m Saturday game. Challenge accepted! The issue with budget airlines is that transfers through London/Paris wouldn’t be covered if there were any delays (I learned this lesson the hard way in Mexico) and so I started the search by checking everywhere flown to from Edinburgh based on distance from Montpellier. A Ryanair flight early Saturday morning won out to Carcassonne, a city I would love to go back and visit. Alas, with the early rugby game start, we had no time to appreciate this beautiful medieval city, albeit I did manage a glimpse of the castle as we drove past. Ok, so we had made it to Carcassonne, now how to organise the final transfer to Montpellier. We arrived at 10.30a.m and unluckily for us most of the public transport options, including both bus and train, weren’t leaving until later in the day. Our only available option was a car and so after a £10 flight we shelled out £260 to rent a car to drive for 2 hours. Yip – rugby is really that important!
We arrived into Montpellier with the sun shining, you wouldn’t have known it was December, and dropped off the rental car at the train station. Our Best Western hotel was situated directly across the road and after dropping our bags, we even had time for a wine in the cool winter sun before my dad took a taxi to the rugby game. Gillian and I however, had other plans. After some research we had found a wine tour to Languedoc, France’s largest wine region. It was picking us up across town and so we wandered through Montpellier in the sunshine marvelling at the beauty of this French city a few hours from the UK. We arrived at the pick-up area early and so treated ourselves to a lunch of burger and chips with a local wine outside in the sun. What a treat.
After meeting our guide and other participant in the tour we drove off into the region to explore and drink wine. He half day wine tours are excellent value for money at around €60 and a nice option for those who don’t want to (or can’t) spend the whole day on a wine tour. Our first port of call was Chateau Puech-Haut, surrounded by acres of sunny vineyards it was very idyllic. Our guide was knowledgeable and gave us the background to the family owned winery that has grown a lot in recent years. The grounds even contained a Ginormous barrel and a small museum area with historical tools from the wine making industry. We then had the opportunity to explore the cellars as they explained the wine making process to us. The most unusual part of the winery was the decadently decorated barrels. Some of the artwork was particularly intricate and it certainly made the barrels more interesting to look at. We enjoyed a tasting of the wines, which were absolutely delicious, before moving on to the next winery. Sadly on the trip, we had taken backpacks to make the travelling easier, meaning no opportunity to purchase wine to take home.
Our next stop was a much smaller and clearly family run winery within the Pic Saint-Loup area of Languedoc called Mas Gourdou. In contrast to the clearly well oiled machine of Chateau Puech-Haut, here an older lady welcomed us to her winery and undertook the entire tour herself with our guide translating to English for us. Size wise it was considerably smaller, and they make much less wine as a result. This lends to a much more varied, interesting variety of wines, due to being able to experiment a little more. The passion behind the winemaker was clear, but unfortunately for me, I was less fond of the wines in comparison to the first stop. It was a great chance to see 2 working winery’s from the region to compare. As always with France, none of them export, which really goes to show how worthwhile a £10 flight is to pick up a few cases of wine to bring back with you to enjoy. Mas Gourdou also had a gorgeous Christmas display of handmade Christmas figurines which visitors to the winery could buy.
After our very early start afternoon of wine, we were knackered and both fell asleep in the van on the way back to Montpellier. This is one of the great things about wine tours. Yes, they might be expensive, but they allow you to get to places you would never normally visit or find on your own and most of the guides I have had are extremely knowledgeable about wine of the local region. Definitely a great half day/day out while in the many wine growing regions of the world. We were dropped off across town at the pick-up point and so wandered back to our Best Western hotel at the train station for a nap. It’s a tough life travelling and drinking wine sometimes.
We awoke a few hours later feeling refreshed and ready to head out and explore Montpellier. But first – dinner. I had booked Restaurant Insense in advance due to the tripadvisor reviews and it did not disappoint! We arrived and were the first table there but it soon filled up, with almost 100% locals. It came with a palate clensing cheese amuse bouche, followed by some fantastic local Languedoc white wine. I ordered the foie gras which was good – not rustically wholesome like in Alsace, but instead paired with a cutting balsamic glaze and fruit chutney to cut through the rich flavours associated with the meat. I ordered a sort of fish stew for main, which was again beautifully executed and very tasty. The final monster of a desert was chocolate done 3 ways; in a mousse topped with cream, as a crispy biscuit with nutes and as a white chocolate ice-cream topped on a chocolate cookie topped with a raspberry chocolate lollipop. To die for!
After the lovely meal we headed to the nearby Christmas market which was full of festive cheer, albeit very small and uncrowded. We got some Vin Chaud and wandered around the stalls before making an emergency bathroom run to a nearby portiloo. While at the time not at all funny, the frenzied dash made for hysterical conversation afterwards. The market wasn’t huge and so after a few wines we headed to a nearby pizza shop for one last drink before our eyes literally closed as we sat. Thankfully we had the comfy beds of the Best Western to look forward to for a relaxing nights sleep.