Les Aspres

Inland from Perpignan, cork and fruit trees, scrubby garrigue and vines signal the lower reaches of the Massif du Canigou known as Les Aspres. Thuir (population 7430), its main town, is known for byrrh, a sweet red-wine and quinine-water mix that originated as a medicinal drink and now serves as an aperitif.

Tasting completes cellar tours at Caves Byrrh ( % 04 68 53 05 42; www.byrrh.com; 6 blvd Violet; adult/under 18yr €2/free; S 10-11.45am & 2-6.45pm Jul & Aug, 9-11.45am & 2.30-5.45pm Apr-Jun, Sep & Oct, 10.45am-3.30pm Tue-Sun Nov-Mar), opposite the Tourist Office ( % 04 68 53 45 86; blvd Violet; S 10am-noon & 3-7pm Mon-Sat, 3-6pm Sun). Taste local wine over very well-cooked cuisine at busy bistro La Casa DaLie ( % 04 68 53 03 92; www.casa-dalie.fr; 21 blvd de la République; menus €21-43; S lunch & dinnerThu-Tue).

For the full monty, motor 2km south to Ste-Colombe de la Commanderie (population 550), a bijou village of golden stone surrounded by vines. Delve into viticulture traditions practised by four generations of winemakers at the Domaine des Trois Colombes in its small eco-musée (place de la Majorque; admission free; S 9am-1pm & 3-6pm May-Oct, 10am-noon & 2-5pm Oct-Apr). In the village, Peu del Causse ( % 04 68 53 42 47; 6 Carrer del Canigo; s/d/tr/q incl breakfast €58/68/83/98; S Feb-Oct) is a beautiful five-room chambre d'hôte with an idyllic secret garden slumbering behind stone walls.

Yet more vineyards picturesquely unfold around Castelnou (population 330), a chateau-capped pile of golden-stone houses, flower-laced porches, cobbled lanes and summer craft markets, 6km west of Thuir. Munch spiced gingerbread warm from the oven at honey makers Les Delices à la Ruche ( % 04 68 54 43 81; place au Village); visit the medieval chateau

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