- Wednesday morning street market
Lézignan is a lively and friendly market town which plays a pivotal role in life in both the Corbières and the neighbouring Minervois. It has a long history; it appears in a Carolingian document of 806, then called Licinianus. Today, the major road and rail links running along the northern edge of the Corbières connect Lézignan with Carcassone to the east and Narbonne to the west.
Lézignan is known as the capital of the Corbières, and various important local organisations have their headquarters here. The Wednesday morning market invades the main street, the cours de la République, and is a great chance for those in the surrounding villages to meet their friends and catch up on gossip. Supermarket shopping it is not — the waiters at the Bar Conti are run off their feet, the traders have to shout their wares extra loudly to be heard over the buzz of conversation, and you can (and indeed must!) inspect and taste the produce to your heart’s content. Stalls range from the large refrigerated vans of the charcutiers, through long tables piled high with fresh vegetables or dozens of different varieties of olives, to the elderly lady with her home-produced goat cheeses and eggs displayed on a table, and a cageful of rabbits or hens tucked underneath. If all this food makes you peckish you can buy a hot roast chicken, deep-fried sweet fritters, or a portion of a vast paella. It’s not just food — there is a whole area devoted to clothes, fabric, and shoes, and occasionally stalls selling sofas, beds, fireplaces ... In short it is a classic, thriving French country market — something which is becoming increasingly rare these days. The town is also well equipped with shops, banks, and other amenities, and a railway station.
Apart from the market (which on its own is worth a special trip) Lézignan has plenty of attractions. There are numerous restaurants to suit all tastes: stylish and modern fare at the Balade Gourmande, traditional cuisine du terroir at the Tournedos or the Crémaillère, cheap and cheerful pizzas in the town-centre pizzerias. There is also a cinema, Le Palace, which shows recently released films. The Maison Gibert holds art exhibitions and other events throughout the year. In summer there is always something going on, usually involving live outdoor music, food, and wine. At Whitsun there is a large and impressive regional produce fair ("Promaude") just outside the town, you can take flights over the Corbières in small planes from the aerodrome, and in the autumn there is a week-long festival to celebrate the arrival of the new wine.
Other diversions: an outdoor swimming pool, an attractive pine-shaded campsite within walking distance of the town centre, and a well-equipped riding school and pony trekking centre. There is a tourist office on the main street (tel. 04 68 27 05 42).
Lézignan is a good place to start an investigation of the local wine — at CDD, on the main road to Narbonne, you can taste a number of the better examples. There are several producers in or near the town itself, and some wineries well worth visiting in the nearby villages (notably Ornaisons and Luc-sur-Orbieu). Near the railway station, there is a museum of wine-making with displays of old wine-making equipment, clothes, photographs, and documents.
The Corbières are a treasure house of hidden gems — you may pass through Conilhac on the Route Nationale from Lézignan to Carcassonne, thinking it just another small village bisected by a busy road, with a petrol station, a tabac, a couple of restaurants. But every weekend during November this unassuming community of about 600 people is host to an impressive jazz festival of a standard that would not disappoint you in London or Paris. The village hall takes on the ambiance of a smoky jazz club, packed to the brim with two or three hundred people, and the bar staff are kept busy dishing out trays of champagne glasses and chilled bottles of Blanquette de Limoux. Afterwards, the fun continues far into the night at the ’Cave au Jazz’ up the road ...
Past festivals have included performances from Joe Lee Wilson, Johnny Griffin, Olivier Temime, Nico Wayne Toussaint, Jacky Terrasson, Richard Galliano ... Information and bookings at the Mairie de Conilhac on +33 (0)4 68 27 08 15 or at the village web site.
The village itself, surrounding the ruins of a château, is perched on a rocky outcrop. A couple of kilometres away, standing alone amidst vineyards and cypresses, is the church of Notre-Dame de Colombier, a beautiful example of early Romanesque architecture dating to the 11th century (the belltower is 13th century). Legend has it that the Seigneur of Montbrun went off to the crusades, and on his return his son failed to recognise him and set the dogs on him. The father died the same night and the son, naturally, was stricken by remorse on recognising the body the following morning. Seeing a dove alight, he decided to build a chapel on the spot.
- Romanesque church
Another village with an early Romanesque church, this one with the distinction of three apses, a large central one and two smaller ones on either side. Some 19th century additions detract slightly from the purity of the Romanesque elements. The altar is constructed from a first or second-century Roman sarcophagus.