Less than half an hour from Saint Laurent de Cabrerisse is the village of LaGrasse. As you enter the village, a sign introduces it as one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (it is part of an association, not something the locals decided upon independently) and in all fairness, the caption is fitting.
The village is surrounded by vines sticking out of mud the colour of clay and its wine making heritage is apparent up and down the village.
We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon to a village that was mostly closed up for the day. A couple of shops and a curious museum were open but for the mostpart, places didn’t appear to open until 7pm or so. Either they’ve figured out a way to be prosperous and no one else is in on the secret or they pride themselves on taking the longest siesta in Europe. Or both.
We walked the length of the main street and popped our heads into a lovely gift shop, selling local wines and soaps scented with lavender and honey. We then found our way to the historic covered market, surround by 14th – 16th century houses. The marketplace was empty but in one corner, a shop selling goods made entirely of leather was open and attracting the handful of visitors to the village that day.
We continued on to a steep, stone bridge which apparently dates from the 12th century and traverses the River Orbieu to the Abbey. The roots of the Abbaye de Lagrasse were planted way back at the end of the 8th century. It is open to the public every day during the summer months (there is a small entrance fee) and a guided tour lasts about an hour and a half.
Back on the other side of the river, some school children had set up a table outside their house, selling homemade chocolate éclairs so we forked out a euro or two an enjoyed a pastry that outshone many high street bakers.
We walked back towards the main street by way of some deserted back alleyways and saw only a crooked old lady and a black and white cat on our way back.
There is a large overflow car park at the top of the village so it’s clear that Lagrasse isn’t this quiet year round. If you’re not bothered by the lack of activity and shopping opportunities it is probably a little easier to appreciate the beauty of the place in the off season. Or wait until 7pm and perhaps you will be fortunate enough to enjoy both the shops and the scenery.