THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD olive groves, salt pans dating from the Dark Ages, a herbal “elixir” made by monks since the 17th century: the Sites Remarquables du Goût combine ancestral gastronomic savoir-faire and locations with special interest to visitors.
There are some 70 places that qualify for the branding, which is organised by an association in partnership with four different ministries, and there are 15 candidates being considered, said the association’s president, Francis Kornprobst.
Each must show “exceptional harmony between man’s savoir-faire, the quality of a product and the richness of an architectural and environmental heritage”.
The listed sites include such household names as Cognac, Roquefort, the Kronenbourg breweries in Alsace or the Chartreuse cellers in Isère (where the drink is still made by monks from botanical extracts to a recipe handed down from 1605 on an old manuscript entitled “Elixir of Long Life”).
There are also dozens of other regional gems such as Les Salines de Guérande, where a Label Rouge table salt is made, the ancient olive groves of Nyons or historic Lautrec in the Midi-Pyrénées, famous for its pink garlic fair, as well as for being the one-time home of artist Toulouse-Lautrec’s viscount ancestors.
Mr Kornprobst said many of the products have quality labels such as AOP, IGP or Label Rouge. “Each site must, by definition, be remarkable. For example the Oliveraie de Nyons olive groves are the most northerly place in France where olives grow. We have the Thau lagoon (famous for its shellfish), while the salt pans of Guérande are also exceptional.
“It is not just about the product, but the scenery and the historic and cultural aspects: it can’t be something that started yesterday.”
All the the sites offer activities, eg. visits around cheese cellars or a tour by a paludier (salt marsh worker) around the salt pans, or, in Nyons, a tour of the groves, of an olive oil mill or of France’s last scourtinerie (a factory for coconut fibre mats once used for filtering olive oil, but now made in decorative versions for the home).
Walks, tastings, meals and cookery lessons are also proposed at some sites. Those interested should see www.sitesremarquablesdugout.com (an English version is currently under preparation).