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    Enjoy Delightful Flavors At Pyrenees Orientales

    Overflowing with orchards, olive groves, vineyards, and picturesque stonewall villages against the backdrop of the majestic slopes of Canigó mountain, the Pyrenees-Orientales region in southern France captivates visitors with its natural exuberance.

    Below are some key attractions to savour in one of the most sunshine-filled spots in mainland Europe, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains.

    A Taste of the Vine

    Blessed with 320 days of sunshine annually, this area is a colorful mosaic of vineyards, a haven for wine enthusiasts, embracing reds, whites, rosés, and the local fortified sweet wines known as vins doux naturels.

    One of the notable vineyard options is Mas Llossanes, which translates to ‘Sacred Ground,’ an intimate 11-hectare estate managed by the couple, Dominique and Solenn Genot. Crafting approximately 30,000 bottles per year using indigenous grape varieties, including the rare chasan and chenanson, it stands as one of the loftiest vineyards in France at an elevation of 700 meters.

    Drawing from their viticulture experiences in Italy, New Zealand, and beyond, the amiable pair ventured into purchasing the estate about six years ago, gradually transitioning it to biodynamic status, one of only around 400 in France. A unique feature of their property is an ancient dolmen situated in the heart of the vineyard.

    “We eschew any chemical products and exclusively harvest by hand,” stated Solenn, a former educator turned viticulture-trained sommelier.

    The emblem adorning their bottle labels is a pair of pruning shears, symbolizing what the couple believes is their meticulous, artisanal approach. Operating under what they describe as “low yield, high quality” conditions, they have curated seven distinctive labels in total, primarily reds which constitute about 90% of their output, alongside some whites and rosé.

    Handing over the reins of the vineyard, the couple assumed control of the cellars which formerly belonged to the local wine cooperative in the neighboring town of Marquixanes since 1931. Having shuttered two decades back, the Genots repurposed it to serve as a front shop for tastings and rear storage for barrels and vats.

    Among the wine offerings at Mas Llossanes is La Haut, derived from pure Carignan, with a luscious fruity profile; the flagship Dotrera, predominantly Grenache and Carignan, Syrah and Chenanson aged in oak barrels for two years, exuding aromas of raspberry and blackcurrant with velvety tannins and a subtle oak essence; and Pure Chasan, displaying a brilliant straw-yellow hue with a sumptuous bouquet of citrus fruits and honey.

    Liquid Gold

    Long venerated as a sacred substance utilized in both medicine and culinary realms, olive oil has emerged as a vital component of life in the Pyrenees-Orientales, witnessing a surge in replanted olive groves.

    One such establishment is Huile Des Orgues.

    Situated close to the striking ochre-hued geological formation known as ‘The Organs,’ this land was once bedecked with peach trees tended by farmer Noël Fabre for over half a century. Seven years ago, Fabre commenced planting olive trees, meticulously harvesting them by hand thereafter.

    Assisted by his daughter, Marie-Neige, her spouse Philippe, and Lily, an agricultural engineer, they presently yield around 10,000 liters annually, yielding over forty diverse products. Their focus lies in revitalizing native cultivars like the Olivière, a traditional variety hailing from Roussillon marked by a harmonious taste and undertones of sundried tomatoes, alongside others such as Verdale, Redouneil, Glory, Courbeil, and Argoudeil. Huile des Orgues also crafts an assortment of flavored oils infused with truffles, fruits, and herbs.

    The award-winning oils are highly sought after by eminent chefs and dining establishments. Visitors can explore their premises and indulge in a special tasting. Marie-Neige and Philippe are presently engaged in developing a cutting-edge interpretative center to champion the ancient craft of olive oil production.

    Relaxation and Rejuvenation

    Serving as a serene, idyllic locale, relaxation could entail a leisurely stroll along the rugged pathways amidst the hills overlooking the charming village of Eus or in proximity to the 9th century Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.

    For a distinctive experience, consider visiting ‘Espace Feel Good,’ an initiative launched several years back by Cédric Marteau as part of the ‘ALTER ET GO’ association dedicated to wellness and personal growth.

    It was here that I reveled in exceptional massages provided by skilled therapist Monique Lafitte. A physiotherapist by profession, Monique, alongside colleague Christina Harmonic, offers an array of sensory therapies including meditation, hot basalt stone treatments, sound and lymphatic massages, Japanese facials, and energy harmonization. The center also hosts workshops covering a range of activities such as dance, singing, intuitive painting, bookbinding, and Native American weaving. Accommodation options encompass several cozy residences perched on the hillside site near Marquixanes.

    Alternatively, venture to the Baths of Saint-Thomas, a short 20-minute drive from the fortified medieval town of Villefranche-de-Conflent, to luxuriate in open-air pools brimming with sulfurous hot water complemented by horizontal and vertical jets, all ensconced within a stone amphitheatre nestled in the mountains. The adjacent wellness area offers a hammam scented with essential oils, sauna, an evaporarium infused with sulfur, and a jacuzzi. Diverse massage treatments await, ranging from watsu (aquatic relaxation) and herbal massages to Pijat Bali, hot stone therapy, Tibetan modalities, and various body scrubs.

    Harmony Through Movement

    Catalan dance and music are thriving in the Pyrénées-Orientales region, and if you’re fortunate, you may chance upon a performance by cultural associations like Els Dansaires Catalans de Thuir.

    Established in 1958, boasting around 30 members helmed by President Jeannine Farran (65), the troupe spans from children as young as four to individuals in their sixties. Decked in traditional attire or comarques, the members engage in dances like the beloved Sardana, symbolizing solidarity, often accompanied by a cobla orchestra featuring instruments such as the tenora, tible, flabiol trumpet, fiscorn, trombone, and three-string contrabass.

    Jeannine, in tandem with associates including her daughter Florence, Jocelyne – the seasoned member of the association, and Fanny Pla – a historian and tourism guide in Villefranche de Conflent, express their mission is to “preserve and transmit the rich Catalan culture and traditions for future generations.”

    These are just a glimpse of the treasures prevalent in this region of southern France, with the official tourism office Conflent Canigou serving as a friendly and knowledgeable resource for an array of activities from guided tours and hiking trails to local markets and artisan boutiques.

    Image Credit: JustLuxe

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