Olargues Fête Des Marrons
Autumn has been long and stunning here in the Languedoc, warm temperatures and lighter winds than usual have brought prolonged vegetation with its vibrant colours. It also brings autumn’s harvests such as olives, fruit and the local speciality, chestnuts. Olargues in the Haut Languedoc celebrates its position as one of the main centres of chestnut production with its annual festival.
If there is one thing which France does well it is that it celebrates its local production and each village and town holds festivals and events. Olargues is a centre for the Haut Languedoc and people gather there to meet up and enjoy themselves. Food and drink from the area was on sale, from cheese and meats to honey and saffron, beers, fruit drinks and wine. Olargues chestnuts were widely available of course and, as a fan, I quickly bought some. Plus some very good wines from the local natural wine producer Wim Wagemans of Domaine Bouc A Trois Pattes.
The 2015 vin primeur was on sale elsewhere along with roasted chestnuts, delicious they were too. And a local folk music group played traditional songs and encouraged people to join in. It was all great fun especially in the warm sunshine.
The journey to and fro was worth making in its own right, every turn in the road seemingly bringing more and more stunning colour and scenery.
And some stunning sunsets with the clear skies.
From Biarritz to Pau and a stay in the village of nearby Monein. We lodged in the excellent Chambres D’Hôtes, Entre Vignobles et Vergers run by Michel and Sylvie Dourthe. If you are staying in the region I’d heartily recommend staying here. You are really in the countryside yet just a short drive into the beautiful city of Pau, one of the best cities in France.
Pau has lots of history being a former royal residence, some excellent architecture and lots of new technology and science developments. Like many university towns it seems to have a lively buzz and plenty of open spaces. It is also home to two of France’s best horse racing trainers though I was unable to pay a visit to the training centre this time. Take a walk down the Boulevard des Pyrenées and admire the beautiful views, not many cities have such ready made attractions.
If you do visit then make sure to book a meal (and you will have to book) at Les Papilles Insolites run by Jean Pascal Revol. In his restaurant and cave Jean Pascal offers some excellent wines, largely natural or biodynamic, at very reasonable prices and the quality of the food is outstanding. We had the menu du marché at €22 and it was a bargain, superb ingredients, fresh and tasty, cooked with great skill. You can buy a bottle and drink it without corkage fees at lunchtime (€5 for dinner). Wines by the glass are well chosen and varied from one day to the next, yes we went back! And the coup de coeur was familiar.
The region around Monein is the heart of the Jurancon vineyards. However, it is a varied countryside with cattle and sheep alongside the maize and vines.
There are some beautiful villages in the area such as Lacommande home of the region’s maison des vins but with some interesting buildings too. Navarrenx, a bastide village, is well worth a visit along with Sauveterre de Béarn and Oloron.
We spent Sunday at Tarbes, in truth a run of the mill town but home of a very attractive racecourse. The racing was high quality, 6 races worth over €30,000 yet entry and parking were free. It was all very friendly, uncrowded and very enjoyable. Winning some money was an added extra!
For wines, have a look at my post about Jurancon on the main page but the two domaines which stand out are Domaine Nigri and Domaine Montequiou, both in the commune of Monein.
This is a lovely region, it was my first visit but I look forward to returning.
Biarritz and the Basque coast
After the vendanges it was time for a break and a chance to go to one of the few regions of France that I have never visited. It was an almost 5 hour drive to Biarritz but it is a town which has such a glamorous reputation with a long history of British associations. Looking from the promenade across the bay it was not hard to see why Biarritz has been so popular, a lovely beach with real coastal features such as rocks, stacks, arches and a lighthouse.
Plenty of walking and also, rather too much shopping. Biarritz has many upmarket boutiques to accompany its glamorous image. The architecture was fascinating from the splendid looking Hotel Du Palais to the Basque houses but also lots of Victorian Gothic.
Special mention to a great restaurant Le Fumoir Marin on Avenue Verdun. Run by a Frenchman and his Scottish wife they specialise in smoked seafood and fish as the name suggests. All made on the premises, subtle flavours, great quality of ingredients – totally delicious, one of the best meals of 2015.
We also headed down towards the Spanish border to St Jean De Luz. I liked this town with its busy fishing harbour and elegant town.
There was some interesting architecture again. Lots of the Basque style of housing with their red or green wooden frames. Plus a fascinating church where King Louis XIV, the Sun King, was married in 1660. It had a strange mix of baroque Catholic gilding and an almost Puritan, black and white balcony.
Back in Biarritz and the beautiful coastline, the old harbour and these days the universal surfers.
It was a great visit, a long time in coming but such a beautiful region.
Le Quatorze Juillet Marseillan and Margon
My first time being in France for the National Fête. Lunch in Marseillan at the ever reliable La Pacheline and then to watch the Capelet event. This involves men trying to climb a greased pole to recover a hat on top of the pole which is hanging over the harbour. All in 36C temperatures which meant it was probably best being in the water!
And my rather harsh comments
In the evening our village, Margon, had a very enjoyable evening celebration with music, paella, a torchlight procession around the village and lots of wine. Thanks to the organisers and our friends for making it such a good evening.
Vins, vignes et terroirs – Pézenas
On Sunday May 24th I took part in one of the wine walks organised by the AOC Coteaux Du Languedoc to celebrate their 30th anniversary. There were several such walks including those at Cabrières, Pinet and St. Drézéry. Accompanied by visiting family we walked the 8km from Mas Belles Eaux to Caux and back on a circular route through vineyards. This on a very hot morning.
Whether by accident or design we were fortunate to be accompanied by Deborah Core of Mas Gabriel, who together with her husband Peter makes great wines which I have praised many times elsewhere on this blog. As our visitors spoke no French this served to make life much easier.
Deborah talked about the landscapes, the vines and the decisions which vignerons have to make. She did so with great knowledge of course but also humility and a clarity which I know was welcomed.
In Caux the local patrimoine society were present to take us up the church bell tower and explain about the history of the village and the church. Fascinating it was too. This was a great bonus to the walk. I am not fond of heights by any means but the view from the tower was spectacular. The first tasting, in the village, was very welcome.
On return to Mas Belles Eaux we were greeted by food stalls, music from Peter Core and his friend playing jazz standards and more wines to taste. I am not being sycophantic in saying that Mas Gabriel’s Clos Des Lièvres 2013 was the star of the show.
A well organised event so many thanks to those responsible and especially to Deborah for her knowledge, enthusiasm and patience.
Spring in the Languedoc and Provence
Spring has brought some stunning scenery, fantastic flora and fauna, wonderful wildlife. The almond and cherry blossom have provided a beautiful backdrop and welcome colour to the landscape. The emergence of grape hyacinths, irises and poppies filled in that backdrop with colourful detail with many more flowers too. Butterflies and bees have been flying around and the birds are nesting. In short, it has been a joy to witness.
A short spell in Provence brought a change of scene and the natural beauty was augmented by architecture from classical to modern. Arles and its Roman history, St. Rémy with its artistic connections were great centres for visiting.
As temperatures rise the greenery of vines begins to dominate the landscape and in a couple of months the heat will burn the countryside. So the colours in Spring’s palette are to be enjoyed whilst they are here.
Flowers and nature
Spring is really here and the countryside is blooming.
Signs and symbols
Tilting at windmills
Lovely walk up to the windmills at Faugeres, a steep enough climb to start with but worth it for the views, the windmills and to admire the sheer hard work of people years ago who built walls and tracks in the middle of nowhere.
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
Temperatures in the high teens and clear blue skies, it felt like a summer’s day on March 3rd. A trip to Meze brought beautiful blue sky and blue sea. Some of the nicest oysters I have ever eaten (and I have eaten a fair number) at Sanboulou next to the harbour and plenty of fresh air. A lovely spring day.
The last few weeks have provided time and weather for getting out to walk. There is a very useful page on Facebook run by Pam Smith called Walks in The Languedoc. Pam describes lots of walks and provides links to websites with walks. She was kind enough to send me links for many walks in the area around Margon and so we have taken the opportunity to follow some including a 2.5 hour 9km walk this Thursday (Feb 26th) around Laurens. It was a good walk, not too taxing and took us through some interesting vineyard areas around this Faugeres village. Noticeable was the amount of rocks poking through the soil, much more than most other areas of the region. Quartz, marble, schist, clay plus various others I did not recognise poked through the topsoil of the vineyards or lay on top.
There were also some remote, isolated vineyards some with really old gnarly vines which form amazing shapes like wild Barbara Hepworth sculptures. Below right you will see a vine trained with the end of its cane running into the earth. This was one of many in that vineyard to be trained in that way.I have no idea why, can anyone explain??
These vines were obviously machine pruned and harvested as you can see the stalks from the previous year and the canes are torn and ripped at the end. They will be pruned again by hand but they certainly look damaged rather than nursed.
Meanwhile there were lots of flowers and plants, blossoming almond trees, it was a joy to see.
As the spring shows signs of breaking through with irises, almond blossom and mimosa showing through and birds and butterflies flying around the festive season disappears but the festival season begins.
In Roquebrun, on the River Orb, the Mimosa Festival celebrates the first flowering of the trees.
The flowers are the focus of the fair but there was wine tasting, karaoke, live bands, barbecues and the big procession in the afternoon with floats of children who showered the crowds with confetti. They were followed by one group who showered themselves and willing bystanders with flour. There was also the most unusual carnival queen I can recall but at least Roquebrun is unique.
The flour was a sign of things to come! The festival of Sainte Blase in Pézenas runs for several days leading to Mardi Gras.On that day the town virtually closes down, I couldn’t help but wonder why cafés and restaurants shut for a festival, I was to find out soon.
The centrepiece of the day is another procession with the Pézenas Poulain (horse) the centrepiece. The horse represents a local legend of a horse born to a sick mare of King Louis VIII in 1226 which he had left in the town. Local strong men support the carnival horse as it moves through the town, followed by bands and revellers.
Meanwhile local young people were using the occasion to dress up and to pelt each other with eggs and flour, this being Shrove Tuesday. This is a tradition and lots of locals joined in,one young family near us had little girls who were desperate to have shaving cream on their faces as this was also being sprayed around. Only grumpy old men like me were not so convinced by this, perhaps it’s the teacher in me. However, a good time was had by all though I could see why people wouldn’t sit around in a café and wait to be battered (sorry about the pun).
There have been other festivals, though as a non meat eater I gave the pig fair a miss!
Meanwhile nature begins to move on from winter though cold northerly winds still chill things down from time to time.
Clues to times past
Walking around Margon this morning we came across various reminders of what the area might have been like a few years ago.
Times have changed, winemakers are generally more rewarded financially than they used to be and so it should be. Within reason.
Autumn colours, winter’s calling
Scenes around Margon as November turns into December and the amazing storms of Nov. 28th remove much of the remaining foliage.
On white horses – the Camargue
The Camargue holds childhood memories of TV programme Belle and Sebastian and its unforgettable theme tune ‘On white horses‘. I have visited the area a few times and last week was my latest tour. Friends Colin and Catherine Croft were flying into Nimes so we travelled to meet them and to visit this special region. First to the coast, it was a grey but warm day and Grau Du Roi was quiet despite school holidays.
Into the marshland around the Salines where pink flamingoes fed in the water (unfortunately not on camera) and then the famous bulls appeared followed by white horses to complete the celebrated triumvirate of Camargue animals.
To reach Saintes Maries De La Mer we had to cross some water on a rope ferry which was fun.
As we drove we passed a number of wild birds of prey sitting on fences, it was becoming more surreal every minute and then we chanced upon a small group of white horses feeding next to the road in a marshland area which seemed to be wild and open whereas previous animals had been farmed and corralled. As evening sun faded it was a memorable scene with these beautiful creatures seemingly unconcerned by humans so close.
A large white bird settled on the back of one of the horses, I don’t know what it was but I’d like someone to tell me so please get in touch if you do know. (I am told it could be a Little Egret).
A trip around the Corbieres and the Limoux area.
The post vintage lull has offered time to travel around the Languedoc-Roussillon and so we ventured into the Corbieres and spent a pleasant night in Ribaute at Domaine Les Cascades owned by a young couple who make wine, beer and other products. Then onto Limoux to a very comfortable B&B owned by an English couple who were the most hospitable and generous of hosts.
There was wine tasting, of course but despite the gale force Tramontane blowing the countryside was beautiful with autumnal colours and that was the highlight.
Why I am writing a blog
What makes me qualified to write about wine?
Nothing as such. I have been drinking wine since I went on a school trip to Germany in the early 1980s (as a teacher I hasten to add, and on my nights off). I have visited many vineyards, bought many more bottles and developed a fascination with all things wine; from vineyard to cellar to glass.I am an amateur in every sense of the word.
Why start a blog?
Well having taken early retirement from teaching in the summer of 2014 I am moving to Margon in the Languedoc for much of the next year.Whilst there I have the opportunity to learn from some fantastic wine producers such as Jeff Coutelou and others and what I learn I hope to share just as I did for many years as a teacher. And to record the year I have always wanted to live.