The bustling medieval town of Mirepoix, population of 3,130[i], was built on the banks of the River Hers-Vif in 1290 AD (Chinese Song and Yuan dynasties) out of drowned trees cut from nearby forests. These ancient beams still support the overhanging pastel houses over the arcade of shops and restaurants that surround thecentral square, unchanged since the 13th century. The town’s historic crest from 1686 shows the origin of the name from the forgotten Occitan words “Mira Peis” (to see the fish). Mirepoix also refers to “golden triple vegetable soup”, the classic mix of chopped carrots, celery and onions which is the essential base for all French chefs.
Located in Ariege at the border between the vine-covered valleys of Languedoc-Roussillon and the foothills of the snow-capped Pyrenee mountains, only an hour from the Mediterranean, Mirepoix is a serene beacon for explorers of human history, hiking and biking enthusiasts, and lovers of food and wine.
Start your visit on Sunday night with a sparkling welcome to your stay in a restored 17th century mansion. Sparkling wine or “champagne” method was invented by monks in the area in 1531.
Ariege culture is rooted in the agrarian lifestyle of its beginnings, much like China. Food is central to family and community. Warm and friendly, casual and open describe the locals.
Every Monday morning, without fail, is the famous Mirepoix market. All the surrounding towns and villages, as far as 100 kms away, come to trade organic produce, artisan cheeses and breads, woodwork and knives, textiles and soaps, and typical hearty rich specialties of Southwest France – cassoulet (a stew of beans sausage and duck confit), magret de canard (duck), French version of duck-blood sausage and the famous foie-gras (goose liver). Craftsmen mingle with bakers who mingle with tourists who mingle with farmers who mingle with grandmas and teen lovers. Fresh seafood is available at the small Thursday market under the ornate metal Halle and the Night Market in July and August features jazz and moules-frites.
There is a festival every month. The most popular celebrate Pentecost flowers, medieval culture, pottery, puppetry and the most popular féte in October, Apple Festival! Only the stem remains of the apples used to decorate the square, to cook, squeeze, ferment and even make themed sculptures.
Understand the natural life of the vineyard and taste the difference at one of several organic winemakers within 30 minutes’ drive from Mirepoix. After a decade of care, the wines of IGP Ariege are gaining recognition for taste and sustainability.
Climb history to the top of Chateau Roquefixade. Look between limestone crags towards the ruins of Mont-segur, the final stand of the last of the noble doomed Knights of Cathar. The Cathars were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church in the Albigensian Crusades, between 1209-1229 (the start of China’s Mongol wars), because their ascetic beliefs became too popular with the simple farmers, weavers and miners of the region. The story of Montsegur was made popular in the movie, “DaVinci Code”. Visit the tiny museum and bakery in the village Montesgur after exploring the mountain-top ruins.
Whether your passion is food and wine, history and culture or nature and outdoors, you can experience it all from your basecamp in charming friendly authentic Mirepoix.
Complete your Monday afternoon with a farm-to-table cooking class from Cordon Bleu chefs or a picnic by the River l’Hers, on the Lake Montbel’s sandy beach, at the bottom of the lovely Roquefort waterfall or in front of the mouth of Grotte de Niaux. The “Cave of Niaux” is the only cave that one can view original 14,000 years’ old Neanderthal paintings in person. There are many underground activities in this area with the densest cluster of pre-historic caves in France.
Cyclists can ride in any direction from Mirepoix in any season in the temperate South France climate to explore a paradise of well-paved roads between plantain-lined boulevards, undulating hills and cool forests morphing into 7% inclines in the Black Mountains, into golden sunflowers fencing the wine apellations of Fitou, Corbiers, Minervois and Languedoc, home to some of the oldest vines in France; products of Roman-wine-lust. The Tour de France rides through Ariege every year and fans line the roads to watch and cheer.
If two feet are better than two wheels, hikers can choose from over 400 outdoor trails. Follow crystal clear streams against snow-topped Pyrenees mixed with summer wildflowers. The mountain air cleans your soul and Feng Shui landscape refreshes your eyes.