The heart of any French village or town, is the foyer. Foyer translated means the hearth. It is frequently the gathering place and while the french word for house is maison, the nearest thing to the word home, is the foyer. It certainly has been a central feature to my life here and I return frequently. This past Friday night, once again at the foyer, we viewed a slideshow about L’ILE DE PAQUES or Easter Island.
While I was unable to photograph the slideshow, too disruptive, I do have a few photos from some of the displays. As usual, the program was followed by an aperitif and then later a community meal. Each of us contributed and we all shared in this beautiful sense of DURBAN MON VILLAGE or Durban my village.
As for the repas (meal), everyone brought a dish to share so there was quite a variety. Several long tables were covered with the dishes on offer and everyone served themselves. While it was a small event, a good time was had by all.
The last day with Yvonne and Pauline they decided they wanted to visit Limoux. It was a laid back day before they flew back to their hectic lives in London. Being Monday, many shops are closed. That is fairly common here in France. Unfortunately, that will mean another trip to Limoux for the spectacular cheese shop there…
The day started out a bit grey but the clouds finally moved on and by lunch we were enjoying the sunshine.
But first a stop in one of many wine shops. While a variety of wines are available the specialty of Limoux is something called Blanquette.
Blanquette de Limoux The Original Sparkling Wine
Blanquette de Limoux was the first sparkling wine which dates back to 1531. At the Benedictine abbey, Saint-Hilaire near Limoux the monks were producing an usual white wine in a unique fashion. The wine was being fermented in flasks of glass with a cork top instead of the traditional oak vats. This resulted in a natural sparkle in the wine. Blanquette is made exclusively from Chardonnay and Mauzac grape varieties which give it that dry,creamy and full-bodied wine with a clean taste, a long full finish and fruity aromas.
It seems a young monk named Dom Pérignon stayed at Saint-Hilaire long enough to learn the process as he headed north from Spain. Later, upon arrival in the Champagne region, he passes the technique off as his own.
Despite legends to the contrary, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine. However, he was able to make valuable contributions to the quality and production of Champagne wine.
Having enjoyed both Blanquette and Champagne on a number of occasions, it is Blanquette that I buy, have on hand and serve to friends and visitors. It is Blanquette that I provide for celebrations. Like many things, it is a personal choice. However the taste of Blanquette is un-equaled. If you can find it where you are, I highly recommend you give it a try. If not, you might consider coming to the south of France.
Limoux is one of the few places where I have seen Blanquette available by the glass at a restaurant, bar or café. À votre santé!
I have a soft-spot in my heart for this village. When first visiting France, I met a woman from Leeds, England named Yvonne. We shared a room at the hostel in Carcassonne and spent time exploring the city and looking at properties. She bought one of the houses we looked at as a vacation home. When we parted, we stayed in touch through email and snail mail. She made me promise to let her know when I would return. When my house in California finally sold, I grabbed my Carte d’ Sejour and headed back to France. Yvonne met me and gave me a key to her house to stay while house-hunting for my own home. Her place was located in the heart of the old village with its door directly across from the église. Each day, I took walks along the beautiful Canal du Midi (another post in the future).
The day started out grey but the sun had other plans as you can see from some of the photos.
Just off the main road (old center of town) you can find the art gallery of English artist, Kathleen Burlumi. Kathleen teaches painting and drawing and give lectures (in french and english) on the work of her late husband, David Burlumi.
The harvest from the vineyards is safely bottled and most will go on sale next year. Yet in the wine region, we have festivals to toast the new wines. It is an opportunity to taste the fruits of this years harvest. It was fun to experience this with friends, Yvonne and Pauline, who had flown over from London for a long weekend of delights. This particular event was in the village of Trèbes a short 7 km from the city of Carcassonne. The population at the last census, 2008, was over 5,500.
As with any event, there was music (bands and DJ), dancing, and of course food. There were plates of mixed cheeses, Charcuterie – plates of assorted sausages and hams, each served with pain (bread) then of course you can have foie gras which is served with a special bread which contains bits of dried figs. Also on offer was grilled brochette of canard (duck) served with spiced apple (Amazing!)
We took a cab from Carcassonne on the first night so that this Designated Driver could safely sample the delights of the event. However, the next day I drove us back to the village to make a few more purchases and explore the town. However, that will be another post!
The small village of Saint-Jean-de-Barrou is only 5 kilometers from my village. If you like to stretch you legs, it can be a gorgeous walk. Whether you decide to take the road or walk through the many vineyards.
Saint-Jean has a population of 260 and a small shop for groceries and a boulangerie. One enterprising villager even makes pizzas during limited hours/days. There is no cafe but there are lots of friendly people and a playground for the children and a charming picnic area for all who come.
This is a shorter post than planned. However, a storm keeps knocking out the power and I am heading out to meet friends in another part of the department. Now on to the large wine festival in Carcassonne and hopes that the storm does not last all weekend.
Last week a friend, Jan, and I took to the road for a bit of exploring. We drove from my village down through the village of Villeneuve, Tuchan on one of the back routes going in the direction of Perpignan and Spain. These were windy, narrow and hilly roads. The sun was shining but not too hot. In other words, a perfect day.
We were in no rush and just looking forward to spending some time in the sun and discover what lie in the area. After driving through a number of smaller villages, we arrived in Estagel. The village has a population of 1900 and several shops, restaurants, cafes and markets. While not quite as large as its neighbour, Rivesaltes, it does not lack for anything. Filled with beautiful architecture, charming shops, cafes and friendly people, this village also boasts numerous displays of art.
The statue in the center of Estagel is of a famous son, François Arago ( 1786-1853). He was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician. Arago was awarded the Copley Medal in 1825 by the Royal Society and in 1850 the Rumford Medal. The Arago Medal was instituted in 1893 by the Academy of Sciences and craters on both the Moon and Mars plus a ring of Neptune have been named in his honor. Upon his death, François Arago was interred in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
One might imagine that things get rather quiet in a small rural village after the tourist season draws to a close. Yet, that is not the case. As early as late August, the vignerons begin the harvest. There will be some unfamiliar faces as young people from all over europe arrive to help get the raisins (grapes). From before seven in the morning until the last shards of light fade away the streets are a hive of tractors, grape harvesters and vehicles filled with pickers on their way to the vineyards.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine-producing region in France. More wine is produced in this one small department than in the entire United States. There is a wide variety of grapes grown here such as Grenache, Syrah as well as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While Languedoc wines cover a rather broad spectrum, from white to red; sweet to dry and of course sparkling which pre-dates Champagne (but that will be another post and another time). The region proudly cultivates the vines on over 700,000 acres here along the Mediterranean cast. It is thought to be the single largest wine-producing area in the world.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is arid, warm and brimming with sunlight. The rugged terrain of herbs, brush and resinous plants infuse the wine with their scents and flavours. It is the ideal terrain and climate for growing grapes. While the quality became secondary to quantity for a time in the early twentieth century the hard working vignerons (vine growers) committed themselves to turning it around with remarkable results.
In the photo is one of our local wine producers, Remy, who makes a lovely collection of organic wines and also grape juice. If I am lucky, I can buy a few of the days pickings that did not end up in the vats. Gait is a manager for Remy and has the “honour” of having the buckets of grapes from all the pickers loaded into the large container on his back. Being quite tall, he must bend to allow the pickers to dump the fruit into the container on his back which quickly fills. He follows around all of the people who are cutting the clusters of grapes and then transports his container when filled to the trailer which will quickly be transported back to the cave and on its way to the vats. While it is true that large machines harvest a vast amount of the grapes, a number prefer the hands on approach. Additionally, some of the terrain is such that this is not a viable option.
The perfume of fermenting grapes begins to fill the air as fêtes de vins fill our weekends with tastings, dances, music and more. They last well through November even though the last grapes have been harvested. While these photos are all taken at Domaine Sainte Juste, there are a several wonderful options in just this small village alone (pop. 700). There are many more just a few kilometers away.
Remember, you can always click on the photos to enlarge them.