Taste the Water of l’Occitanie

‘If the French mineral waters are so good, why do these people bother to make wine?’

Drinking mineral water has lots of good healthy benefits and so has wine apparently, luckily my home region of l’Occitanie has both to offer. Between the Mediterranean and Pyrénées best describes my region and so does between wine and water. Before I dive into some fizzy stories of water, I could not resist sharing a funny anecdote between the relationship of wine and water.

Once upon a time in the lower Bordelais region, monks who became experts in wine making used to produce a white wine so limpid that it could be easily mistaken as water. The confusion did not come unnoticed by the cunning monks who decided to label their own wine production as ‘mineral water of Carbonnieux.’ This so-called water was exported to Turkey and in an empire where alcohol consumption was by Islamic law prohibited, the water was drunk with great pleasure. The so-called water that ended up on the fine table of a Turkish sultan would declare ‘If the French mineral waters are so good, why do these people bother to make wine?’  [1]

Mineral waters are so good in l’Occitanie region that one of them was elected the best water in the world during the first international Gourmet waters contest in Paris last year lauched by the AVPA association. The fizzy mineral water called Vernières was awarded first prize among 50 different types of water from 20 different countries. The water is sourced in a town called Lamalou-les-Bains in the départment of L’Hérault neighbouring the Tarn and Aveyron around 20 kilometres away from the town of Béziers.

[1] More details on this story and other amusing annecdotes on French wines, visit the website here.

 

Copyright France 3 LR
Copyright France 3 LR

Like the mineral water of Vernières, most mineral waters (like Avène[1], La Salvetat and l’eau de la Reine) in my local area often come from the stunning national parc of the Haut Languedoc stretching between Tarn and Hérault. Stretching over approximately 300 000 hectares of land, it includes varied landscapes from forests, unusual granite rock formation (pictured), meadows, lakes, oaktree reserves including a rich range of fauna and flora. This parc is a heaven for bush walking enthusiasts and photographers.

[1] from which derived an international brand for skincare.

Le Roc de l'Oie, Parc National du Haut Languedoc (Tarn)
Le Roc de l'Oie, Parc National du Haut Languedoc (Tarn)
Bushwalker drinking from a natural source of water in the National Parc du Haut Languedoc.
Bushwalker drinking from a natural source of water in the National Parc du Haut Languedoc.

In the Salvetat village, also located in l’Herault départment, the source of water already used by pilgrims on the Saint James walk on their way to Santiago, was used as a resting place because of the water source. Still today you will find some buildings which might have been built by the pilgrims such as the 12th century bridge and the chapel from the same period. Another legend is that the water from the Monts de Lacaune (Tarn department) would have saved the life of long forgotten Queen of France, Frénégonde in the 6th century.

 

Another area worth exploring and where mineral water originates from, is the breathtaking gorges of the Tarn, actually located in the department Aveyron but named after the river Tarn. Listed as natural heritage site by UNESCO in 2010, these beautiful gorges not only offer limpid waters but also offer spectacular views from the top of their 400 metre cliffs. Beautiful hanging villages or castles like Lacaze (pictured) or Castelbouc defying the law of gravity or villages such as Ispagnac (close to the local mineral water source of Guezac) add to the epic charm of this natural wonder.

Lacaze Castle - Copyright Franck Charton/hemis.fr (Getty Images, Bing France)
Lacaze Castle - Copyright Franck Charton/hemis.fr (Getty Images, Bing France)

If mineral waters are still popular to drink today, its because they been scientifically proven over the centuries to offer a range of health benefits due to their natural properties of magnesium and calcium. Not coincidently, an array of thermal stations (station thermale) have sprung up all over the South West of France since the mid- 19th century and more recently around the Pyrennees areas.  No wonder that L’Occitanie as the first thermalism region of France is today a big magnet of thalassotherapy holiday makers as shown on the map below. So why not indulge yourself in the benefits of thermalism?

Thermal Station - Source http://www.tourisme-occitanie.com
Thermal Station - Source http://www.tourisme-occitanie.com

When an average of 40 years is all that it takes for the water to gain its natural properties underground and before it sees the day light again, the story of water in my local area takes you much further in time. Hopefully next time you ll drink a glass of French mineral water, you will realise how precious and beneficial this is. Our water is precious so lets take care of it!

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