I am going to start making a collection of blog posts where I just talk about adorable villages in the south of France, I think. There are so many of them, and some of them are so lovely. Without further ado, welcome to the adorable village of Minerve.
Minerve is up in Cathar country, a region in the south of France marked by its 12th and 13th century sieges and massacres. The Cathars were followers of a dissident church that flourished around Europe in the early Medieval period, and I guess they fought a lot. Minerve itself was a fortified village protected by a tall watchtower, remparts, and a bunch of catapults.
The gorges of Brian are nearby if you want to walk around (and also I am…
Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.
It seems that most everyone here is involved in La vendange (grape harvest).
More grapes are grown in this region than anywhere else in France. Even before the last of the grapes are picked, the celebrations begin. The festivities seem to never end as each village hosts its own so there is always one to attend, throughout November, and sample the wares.
While it seems that increasing numbers are being picked by machine, much of the land here is just too steep for them. It is backbreaking work and the cutters used to take the fruit are very sharp.
It is almost a rite of passage that young people from other parts of Europe head down to the vineyards of France to pick grapes and enjoy the country. At the end of the vendange, our village hosts a dance. The wine festivals come later but since there is no set time for vignerons to begin their harvest, it will usually stagger over the months of September through early November. There are places like Leucate where they produce a Muscat (often very sweet) and begin in the August heat!
The vendange I followed and photographed, took place in the tiny village of Embres. It is only a few kilometers from my village and they produce one of the best wines around. My friend Cees (Cornelis) insists Embres wine is the best! They produce a
range of reds, white and delicious rosé. He will not get any argument from me. While it would have been lovely to get inside the vin cave to photograph the process, it is just to busy and I would have only been in the way. Perhaps there will be a future post inside? During the vendange, you can barely get into the little shop where you can buy a bottle of Trois, Pompador or any of their other delicious wines.
One of the pickers is a charming woman named Paloma who was asked to help out a few years ago and said she would give it a go! While many of the pickers are young, they are by no means the entire force. At the beginning of the day, Cees walked up to Paloma and tried to secure a lovely pink rose in her hair. With all the bending, it didn’t last too long but was a lovely thought.
On this team, there were two porters, Cees and Yost. They walk about the vineyard with a large plastic container strapped to their backs. They must keep an eye out for the smaller buckets of the pickers
which fill rapidly with the grapes and need to be emptied and carried off to the waiting trailers. Each of the containers holds between 50 to 60 kilos of grapes. Imagine yourself carrying around over 100 pounds extra on your back in the hot sun all day.
There was evidence of feasting by sangliers (wild boars) they can do a lot of damage to the vineyards. One local hunter went as far as to have one stuffed and mounted on the roof of his bergerie (sheepfold) where he lives. The unlucky sanglier will end up on a plate and are considered good eating. Yes! People do live in old bergeries here. They buy them, renovate and sometimes extend the sheepfold into charming and comfortable homes. However, that just may be another post?
We had enjoyed two good days in Dinard and St Malo but the next morning it was time to move on. We woke earlier than planned on account of some seagulls flying past our window and screeching so loud it was as though it was a fleet of police patrol cars driving by on the way to attend an incident with emergency sirens blaring.
Before travel I always carry out careful research but sometimes something just crops up while you are away. At a shop in Dinard I was looking at postcards and came across one for the nearby town of Dinan and it looked exactly like the sort of place that we should visit. Kim was elsewhere in the shop and spotted exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Simultaneously we said “come and look at this, I think we should go here” and we decided there…
during this 3h-hike, I was in awe at the wonderful landscape, and after I saw the ruins of an old farm among the Andorran chalets, I recalled Steve Jobs’ wise and realistic encouragement:“I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: if today were the last day of my life, would I want to […]
As per usual, the summer has flown by all to fast for some of us. I must admit that I include myself in those numbers. However, the Autumn does have some delicious things going for it and what could be better than French wine?
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 and large trailers brimming with freshly harvested grapes.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine-producing region in France. More wine is produced in this one small region than in the entire United States. A wide variety of grapes are 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 coast. 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 committed themselves to turning it around with remarkable results.
A neighbor, Remy, 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 “honor” of having the buckets of grapes from all the pickers loaded into the large container on his back (porter). 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.
Most of the workers are seasonal and some speak little french. 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, and Embres – Castlemaure there are a several wonderful options in just this small village alone (pop. 700). There are many more vineyards just a few kilometers away. Embres – Castlemaure is a cooperative and Durban has a wide variety of Vigneron (wine grower) There are at least thirteen seperate caves here. In addition, there are many who have smaller vineyards and make wine just for personal use or sell to a cooperative. If you want a workout, try your hand at the porter’s job. The receptacle on his back hold 60 kilo or just over 132 pounds. They carry those on their backs up hill and down for several hours a day during the harvest.
If you want an extreme workout, try the porter’s job. The receptacles they carry on their back hold 60 kilo or a little over 132 pounds. They are carrying these up and down hills and then taking them to the awaiting trailer to be hauled of to the cave.
In our village, a huge party is hosted after the vendange for all who participated. There is music, dancing and refreshments. This lasts well through the night.
Alas, this year, March was quite warm and enough to coax out those early shoots. April followed with two separate nights of frost and destroyed crops all over France. While some did not have severe losses, one of our local vignerons reports a loss of about twenty percent. Losses could be found on one side of a road with the opposite spared.
With the wine safely pressed and in the vats, the wine festivals commence. They are everywhere and one can pick and choose which to attend.
There are always art shows, festivals… nearby in which ever part of France happen to be. However, in this area each year is the L’Art Cache (hidden art). It is one I look forward to each year more than any of the other art events. This is my fifth year attending and the third year blogging about it. I’m afraid my camera got carried away with itself so this may have to be spread out in more than one post. An artist friend who could not attend this year asked what was my favourite and I’m afraid I could not tell him.
As we begin our tour of the art, we are handed a map to follow around and find the exhibits. This tiny village is filled with hidden courtyards, gardens and even barns. Each year owners offer their space to the artists who are participating. You can follow the path in sequence or wander about. Regardless, you will be rewarded with what you find. This time I began with #1, for a change, and followed it about at least for awhile. The first artist we are visiting is Anne Sarda and you can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or annesarda.com
The next stop on this post will be with Cathou. You can contact the artist at email@example.com or cathou-brocard.blogspot.fr and I hope you enjoy her work as much as I did.
The children’s book with Cathou’s illustrations was irresistible. If only I had a wee one to read it to…
Alexia Carmona’s creations incorporate wire, string, twine and other substances. Please forgive the limitations of my skill as a photographer. It would have been amazing to be able to have access for different angles of the following display. I tried to find the artist as I did not see a title for this piece. Down in a corner to the left was a small laptop playing bits of music and poetry. You can find Alexia at: http://www.alexia.carmona-carmona.fr
It is hoped that you will find something here to inspire you. There are several other artists to go and more photographs so this post will serve as Part I of L’Art Cache 2015. If one of these pieces does get your creative juices flowing, I would love to see what you produce and perhaps post it.
Summertime along the Mediterranean in the lovely village of Peyriac -de-Mer, what could be lovelier? Well on 5 July, there was the additional option of browsing the village vide grenier.
Peyriac-de-Mer’s last census (2008) was just over one thousand. However, there are always visitors. They come for the food and for the wine. There are several wine caves and since I was last there, a second café has been added.
The étang or ponds that line along the Mediterranean are breeding areas for flamingos. They usually begin arriving in October but I noticed them in mid-September last year. They feed of the rich shrimp beds and have their young then move on in April.
I knew my friend, Jiranan, would be a vendor at the vide grenier but not where she would be. I managed to take the photo above before she noticed me. She is on the right kneeling with her copain (boyfriend), Olivier.
The vide grenier area and a small playground are located behind the foyer on the road to the next village to the north-east which is Bages.
In most villages you will find a large smooth surface such as the one above in at either the foyer or the mairie. Many events, festivals and village meals (repas) will be centered there. While the area will be filled with chairs and tables early on, the circle will be cleared after eating and the dancing begins. Music is often part of the entire evening.
Walking around any village you will find benches for reading, visiting or just catching your breath. While larger towns have workmen that care for planters and gardens in our small villages these are cared for by volunteers.
The café on the left is one I had been to before on visits to the village. However, it appears to have changed owners and except for the basic structure, has no resemblance to the previous café. The small one on the right is new. The village also has a small store, boulangerie, realtors, numerous wine caves and art galleries. Like many of these villages, there is a large portion of the population that is involved in the arts. There are art events frequently but not this time. Even with two cafés, many people were out searching for a place to sit and enjoy some refreshments.
The above salad is more beautiful in person. It is scallops and shrimp and of course, all local. The dark spots are a touch of balsamic vinegar and there were two different types of sprouts. A perfect pairing with a local rosé!
Beneath the green awning directly ahead is one of many small art galleries. This one in particular is currently featuring pottery. However, you cannot go far without finding another gallery.
This charming village is located about 20km from my village and I drive past it frequently on my way into Narbonne.
Like everywhere else in France there are weekly markets, music festivals, theatre and more.
Life here is filled with surprises and delight and this morning was no exception. Hibou is the word for owl while Chouette is one with tufted ears.
When my neighbour, Gait, came out his door this morning he was face to face with a little visitor. He took a photo with his phone and stopped to show it to me on his way to walk his dog. He said it was still there and to take my camera so I shall share with you the pictures I was able to get.
He/she made no attempts to fly off and the agency that deals with bird rescue has been contacted. For the time being, Gait has placed it in the container and covered it loosely.
The owl did not seem to object to being petted or when picked up. However, we felt it best to let it rest now until the experts arrive and can assess the owl’s health. Being nocturnal, we assume it would be more comfortable out of the bright sunlight at least.
While I know little about owls, I find them fascinating and if there was a magical bird, it would have to be an owl. The first time I got this close to one was in my youth while staying in Canada with my grandmother. While walking through and undeveloped area on my way to the local swimming pool, there was a snow white owl perched on a fence. It took my breath away and I couldn’t wait to get back and tell my grandmother about it. Swimming took a backseat that day.
The feathers are so very soft… like a small chick.
Don’t forget to click on the photos to see them enlarged. No doubt there are some of you out there who know much more about these fascinating creatures and perhaps even the type of owl this is. If so, I would love to hear from you. I hope you have enjoyed this little visitor to our village.
From April until well into Autumn, our beaches stay filled. However, for some of us, it is still too beautiful not to go for a walk along the magnificent shore and perhaps enjoy a café, glass of wine or even a meal and stare out to sea. There are bits of obliging wood for writing messages in the sand and the sand is damp which is perfect for castles.
There is still some time before the tourists begin to arrive to enjoy filling the lungs with salt air, writing volumes in the sand,
While these photos were taken at Port-la-Nouvelle, there are numerous beaches along the Mediterranean which are happy to oblige.
TheCertifiablyTRUERavingsOfASectionedPhilosopher: Don't be afraid to think you might be a little 'crazy'. Who isn't? Check out some of my visualized poems here: https://www.instagram.com/maxismaddened/