mythology Janus (who gave his name to the first month of the modern year) was a god with two faces,
enabling him to look both ahead and behind, a great help in his work as divine gate-porter. In much
the same way, the Saint-Ponais (the area around the town of Saint-Pons de Thomières) is Janus-faced,
one aspect turned towards the Atlantic and the other towards the Mediterranean. In whichever direction one
cares to look, from the pine-forests of the Verreries de Moussans to the arid plateau of St Jean de Minervois,
from the Lake of the Saut de Vésoles to the moorland that surrounds the gorges of the Cesse, what one sees
is two co-existent worlds. Beneath the land that meets the eye there exists a further parallel subterranean
world, where a maze of caves and gullies guards an intriguing hoard of remarkable geological treasures.
This duality is the origin of a great diversity of landscape, a veritable paradise for walkers and nature-lovers.
The district is made up of nine communes: BOISSET, COURNIOU-LES-GROTTES, PARDAILHAN, RIEUSSEC, RIOLS, ST JEAN DE
MINERVOIS, ST PONS DE THOMIÈRES, LES VERRERIES DE MOUSSANS et VELIEUX.
Benefiting from a choice position on the crossroads of several important thoroughfares
(roads to Piémont, Béziers, Narbonne and Mazamet), nestling in the valley of the river Jaur,
at the foot of the mountains of the Somail and of the Avants-monts, the town makes an ideal base for
all lovers of the countryside. The wooded slopes which surround it are an invitation to the walker
or to the would-be gatherer of mushrooms or chestnuts. Its varied landscape, well-conserved environment
and impressive architectural heritage attract more and more visitors with each year that passes. Those
who care about tradition and enjoy local produce will not wish to miss the fête
de la châtaigne, held during the last weekend in October, and la
fête du cochon which warms the heart (and fills the belly) in the depths of winter during the
last weekend in February. Walks around the town bring one to the cathedral (and its world-famous
organ second only in quality to that of Notre-Dame de Paris), the Tour de la Gascagne, the Source of
the Jaur, the Rues des Pénitents and de lEmpery or the Entre-deux-villes bridge and the Musée
de la Préhistoire devoted to the various palaeolithic and neolithic civilisations that flourished
in the area.
In 1886, the workmen who constructed the railway-line to Mazamet unearthed, with the aid of copious
picks and crowbars, a vast cavity of great beauty - the geological treasure that would make Courniou
famous. Three years later the excavataion of the Grotte de la Devèze commenced to general
wonderment in the face of this remarkable "palace woven in glass". It has been open to the public
since 1933 and a tour round the Musée français de la Spéléologie makes a perfect complement
to the visit.
Walks around the capitelles (characteristic stone shelters), cycle-routes, fishing...
situated on a plateau at an altitude of 500 metres this village boasts a local speciality
to be found nowhere else whose taste is wholly unique: the black turnip.
JEAN DE MINERVOIS
In the midst of a vast expanse of white limestone, in a patchwork of small walled plantations
a particularly robust vine has succeeded in establishing itself, producing a very special and
much-prized local wine. This is the land of the famous Muscat de St
Jean. The grape (a particular "petit grain" muscat alone capable of adapting to these
difficult conditions) produces a quite exceptionally perfumed "vin doux naturel" (sweet dessert-wine)
that has been classed as an AOC ("appellation contrôlée") since 1949.
Situated in the depths of a gorge, the church of St Jean de Dieuvaille was built in the
12th century on the foundations of an ancient hermitage.