Les Manques is set in a beautiful valley between Mirepoix and Castelnaudary.
There are large private gardens and two lovely terraces suitable for outdoor dining (one shaded, the other south-facing – both with spectacular valley views).
There is a private 12m, UV-filtered infinity pool with fabulous, uninterrupted, views of rolling hills and valleys, including 10m2 “beach” area (suitable for supervised water-play for very young children).
There are wonderful walks all around the house and guests can also enjoy more views while dining in the shaded summer kitchen (with built-in barbecue, range cooker, pizza oven, large fridge-freezer, stainless steel food preparation area, Belfast sink and dining for at least 12 people).
Within a short drive of Les Manques you can see historic castles, abbeys and ruins; sample local wines at numerous vineyards or gourmet food at nearby restaurants; buy locally-grown or produced food at picture-postcard markets; learn to sail, windsurf or water-ski; go rock-climbing, abseiling or pot-holing; see ancient cave paintings, visit a wolf park or African Reserve; fish for trout; ride horses through forests and lakes; lounge on a beach; watch the Tour de France or even pop to Spain or Andorra for lunch!
There is a varied and impressive landscape; from the dramatic mountainous peaks of the Pyrenees to the gentle rolling foothills and flat plains of the Lauragais with its sunflowers, cereal crops and vineyards, all of which provide a wealth of opportunity for photographers or painters to capture beautiful scenery, wildlife (particularly birds of prey) and clear star-lit skies.
The Aude and Ariege regions are historically known as Cathar Country where the crusades against the Cathars took place at the beginning of the 13th century and a wealth of Cathar fortresses, castles and ruins remain for you to visit.
With a climate of over 300 days sunshine a year, the Aude is part of the Languedoc Rousillion - the biggest wine growing area in France where you can sample local wines such as Cabardes, Clappe, Corbiers, Fitou, Malapere, Minervois, Muscat plus the impressive Blanquette or Cremant de Limoux which is the region’s own sparkling wine, thought to be the fore-runners of champagne.
Beautiful medieval villages sit on hillsides and grand cathedrals adorn the sun kissed market squares. Open air cafes, traditional street markets and shuttered houses create an ambience typical to this part of Southern France.
The local Cassoulet is a bean, duck and pork casserole made in Castelnaudary where the spectacular “Fete du Cassoulet” takes place at the end of each August with different Artisans supplying the food and live bands and DJs leading dancing in the streets.
The gourmet rich Foie Gras has its regional capital in nearby Belpech and other local specialities include pigeon, garlic soup, truffles, wild boar and aligot (a creamed potato full of garlic) plus, of course, all the local boulangeries, patisseries, chocolateries and fromageries.......it’s almost impossible to resist this delicious abundance.
Then there are all the fruits and vegetables growing “at home” in the garden at Les Manques for you to use in your own gourmet preparations or maybe just to sample while lazing around the house!
So, what if you over-indulge? Simple – there’s a VTT (mountain bike) course right behind the house for the more enthusiastic among you to work off all those extra calories!
Albi – 90 minutes away from Les Manques, is slightly off the usual tourist track but is a beautiful UNESCO classed World Heritage Site with a magnificent and imposing red-brick Cathedral and a similarly massive and fortified Bishop’s Palace, part of which houses the magnificent Toulouse Lautrec museum. The old city has really pretty narrow streets and historic buildings with lovely restaurants where you can sample the delicious local Gaillac wine.
Beaches – Narbonne/Gruissan are 80 minutes away or you can just keep going and the Cap d’Agde (Europe’s largest nudist colony) is only 15 minutes more in one direction or “turn right” at Narbonne and choose from any number of beaches with the Pyrenees as your backdrop.
Carcassonne – only 40 minutes away, the town is split into two very different parts:
La Ville Basse or Bastide (main town) has a central square with lovely cafes, bars and restaurants, some lovely boutique shops and a lively market (Tuesday, Thursday but best on Saturday). During the summer, some of the most surprising (and generally free) festival performances can be seen in the main square:
La Cite, a medieval citadel, is a World Heritage Site situated on a hill on the right bank of the River Aude is well worth a visit. You can walk the rampart walls, watch re-enactments of medieval jousting contests, have lunch, shop, visit the cathedral then, if you’re lucky, finish the evening with a performance at the exceptional Festival de la Cite in the theatre within the walls – past performers include George Benson, Tom Jones, Sting, Bob Dylan but you can also see philharmonic orchestras and opera/ballet (bookings essential – go to website www.festivaldecarcassonne.fr).
If you’re fortunate enough to be in the area for Bastille Day (14th July), there is an absolutely outstanding firework extravaganza set to music which is best viewed from outside the city walls – there is generally a theme (maybe love, flowers) but it always ends with the whole city “lit up in flames”. NB: The display starts around 10-10.30pm and this is one of the best firework displays in the world so is attended by around half a million people - take time to choose a place where you feel comfortable).
At the end of August/start of September, Carcassonne hold a Feria – a festive event with groups performing salsa, flamenco, tango, Occitan music, banda and brass band music in the streets every day and every evening with Seville-style dancing.
Castelnaudary – just 10 minutes away is the world centre for Cassoulet and has the Grand Bassin (large port area) for the Canal du Midi where you can take an organised boat trip, hire a boat or just sit outside by the canal side with a glass of wine from the excellent wine store/bar le Cave du Canal where the owner has a really impressive selection of local wines – he may not speak English but he is very helpful and has real in-depth knowledge of the wines he stocks.
Golf – also at Carcassonne (www.golf-de-carcassonne.com)
Lac Ganguise – 15 minutes away has a club house and offers lessons to groups or individuals for water sports such as sailing, catamaran, windsurfing, canoeing or funboard!
Leran – 35 minutes away is a pretty little town just 12km out the other side of Mirepoix and is worth a mention for two very special summer events: 1) the Friday night gourmet markets which take place weekly and have a series of different food stalls and a central table/chairs running through the main street – pick your meal, take a seat and join the fun with a range of other nationalities at your table! 2) the horse-riding; (book via www.randonnees-cheval.com) for anything from an hour to several days hacking, including taking your horse for a swim in the lake (Lac Montbel) at the end of the day.
Mirepoix – 20-25 minutes away, is a photographer’s dream – a lovely little town dating from the 10th Century with a large central square of half-timbered houses supported on wood pillars, creating a magnificent covered arcade (les Couverts) and a cathedral which originated in the 13th century as the small church of St Maurice. The market here on Monday mornings is not to be missed and there are also opportunities to see summer night markets.
Quillan – 1 hour away is within easy reach of Cathar Castles Peyrepertuse and Queribus, is right next to the very scenic Gorges de l’Aude but is also a popular centre for anyone interested in water sports such as kayaking or white-water rafting.
Revel – 35 minutes away is rather uninspiring on the outskirts but, bear with me....the centre has one of the most impressive medieval market halls in France with arcaded buildings around the edge and a Saturday morning market that’s been going for 600 years! There are some chic little boutiques here too. Enjoy the atmosphere then buy yourself a picnic lunch (perhaps one of the roast chickens with sliced potatoes cooked in the juices?) and take it up to Lac St Ferriol (5 minutes away) where you can sit by the beach or play petanque (boules) amongst the pine trees before taking a swim.
Toulouse (The Pink City) – 40 minutes away, is a buzzing and youthful university town, the fourth largest city in France, centre of the European aerospace industry and the source of the Canal du Midi. Toulouse lies on the banks of the River Garonne and is largely constructed of unique pinkish terracotta bricks (hence la Ville Rose). It has fabulous dining and a wealth of things to do but, frankly, I like to just sit in the Place Capitole with a coffee or citron presse and watch the world go by!
Wine Tasting – this is available throughout the region, but Domaine Gayda (near Limoux) is a vineyard with an excellent restaurant and a wine school (Vinecole) for anyone, run by Master of Wine Matthew Stubbs. They offer wine tastings for those looking for a brief introduction to wine to those studying for professional qualifications! (Reservations/information on www.domainegayda.com)
Spain + Andorra – both less than 2 hours away. Fancy lunch on the Costa Brava? Hiking in one of the highest spots of the Pyrenees (with duty-free shopping)?