Located at the back of the Mediterranean coastal plain against the backdrop of the Cévennes hills and Mont Caroux, Saint-Chinian was founded by monks who, in 825 AD built a monastery here. They then went on to create vineyards that saw the start of the prosperous local economy. It survived unscathed from the Albigensian Crusades and went on to become even wealthier during the industrial revolution.
Today, wine continues to be the main industry, and with a population of approximately 2000, the village remains full of life all year-round.
Things to do in the town
The Tourist Office next to the Mairie and behind the gardens, is a very useful source of information. The area surrounding Saint-Chinian, and the nearby Haute Languedoc Natural Park, is a great place for walking and bike rides. Walkers and hikers will find free English language guides in the Tourist Office.
Just a few minutes walk from Maison de la Place – to the right around the corner – flows the beautiful Vernazobre river with its small waterfalls and rock pools, and there is a picnic area with tables and benches where the locals gather regularly to enjoy a BBQ and a glass of the local wine. A board on the square shows the walks available from the doorstep that meander through the vineyards and up into the wonderful hills surrounding the village, with amazing views.
For the more adventurous, bicycles can be hired at the local cycle shop to explore the area a little further. There is an orientation map in the village, and cycling and walking trails are clearly marked, and graded for ease or difficulty.
The renowned AOC red and rosé Saint-Chinian wines are available from local, friendly producers offering free ‘degustation’ (tasting), with the closest right next door at Maison des Vins. Red wine is the usual tipple, but rose is also made and white is produced further afield on the Languedoc coastal plain. Bottles can be bought very cheaply, or you can purchase by the litre at the Coop on the edge of the town. This is the same wine that local restaurants and bars all offer by the carafe – in quart, demi or litre (quarter, half or litre) – and, despite being dispensed by a device which looks like a petrol pump, it’s very palatable indeed!
Every Thursday and Sunday, one of the best markets in the area literally arrives at your doorstep! The stalls abound with fresh, locally grown seasonal produce, and the stall holders are normally happy to provide a dégustation (tasting). Cheeses, oysters and seafood, meat and fish, and fresh fruit and vegetables can all be found here. If you don’t fancy cooking, why not take home a paella, freshly cooked at the stall, or a Languedoc poulet? And if strolling through the market on a warm summer’s day is too tiring, why not sit down and enjoy a cold beer or coffee from the Café du Balcon with the locals?
Several restaurants and cafe bars are all within walking distance offering a variety of delightful French fare and pizza.
For general shopping, there is a Spar supermarket a two minutes walk across the square, and a larger supermarket, an Intermarche, is only a 5 minute walk across the river or 2 minutes by car. There are also three boulangeries in the town, a pharmacy, and a newsagents and tabac.