In the Middle Ages most visitors to
Montagnac would have come for one of the five annual fairs organised jointly
with Pézenas, which attracted tradesmen and buyers from far afield. Today
Montagnac with a population of only 3000 is nevertheless proud of its heritage
and there are some fine relics of a glorious past.
A fortified town from before the 12th
century, Montagnac was contained within the area of its ramparts (parts of
which are still visible today) until the 18th century. Unlike Pézenas, protected
by order of the national historic monument department for many years, the
old town of Montagnac was left in many instances to ruin for years. Fortunately
conservationists have now realised that there is a wealth of beautiful architecture
dating back to 16th, 17th centuries and even further and steps are at last
being taken to preserve the architectural heritage of the old town.
There are numerous examples of fine
courtyards, renaissance stairs, balustrades, mullioned windows and some delightful
gargoyles to chase away evil spirits. The old town is traditionally divided
into two equal parts : the “Condamine du Roi” (the King’s quarter) on the
right hand side of Rue Droite, leading from the main gateway to the town,
the “porte de Lon” and the “Condamine du Prieur”, (the prior’s quarter – with
the impressive Saint André church) to the left.
Montagnac was also a protestant stronghold
from the sixteenth century. Over the years protestant churches were built
and demolished according to the tolerance of successive governments. The last
church to be built dates back to 1819 and is still used : in rue Charles Camichel,
outside the old town. Some of the most beautiful mansions in the old town
belonged to rich protestant families (down rue Lafayette). The medieval spire
of the fortified church of Saint André may be seen from afar – it is 54.50m
high. As Swiss visitors to Montagnac remarked in 1599, the church looks more
like a fortress than a place of worship. In fact it is a fine example of Languedoc
gothic work dating back to the 10th century.
Although little known the town is really
worth discovering, you may ask for a guided tour of Montagnac at the tourist
office, where Laurence would be only too pleased to help (tel. : 04 67 24 18 55).
Like Pézenas, Montagnac has its own
totem – a goat, brought out during carnival and other festive occasions for
the “Danse de la Cabreta”, which dating back to medieval times tells the story
in music and in mime how Anne, Dame du Counce (wife of the master of the village),
was miraculously saved in 1200 from an incurable and mysterious illness by
the magic milk of a goat belonging to a strange tramp. The tramp appears on
the market square, singing and dancing joyfully that he has a “secret that
brings happiness and health”. The peasants fetch Anne’s husband, Jacou, who
is loved by them as a good and fair master. Jacou promises a reward to the
stranger if he gives away his secret – which he does : “the milk of my goat
is magic : it will give happiness and health to those who drink it as long
as you feed the goat on vine branches and grapes”. Anne drinks the goat’s
milk and is saved. The village adopt the goat and celebrate with great rejoicing,
whereas the poor tramp just disappears for ever !
Ever since, the people of Montagnac
breed goats and produce wine in quantity and today the town boasts the largest
cooperative wine cellar in Europe.
Near to Montagnac (take the road to
Valmagne Abbey) is Bessilles, a large, attractive (and nearly free !) activity
park. Take your picnic and/or barbecue.