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Published: August 29th 2009
We’ve just had 2 weeks of Guests. One of the main pleasures of Guests (especially if one of them is an old friend not seen in ages, and the other Daughter Number 2), is the opportunity it gives to see the region we’ve chosen as home anew, through fresh eyes.
Though funnily enough, Guests also unleash the possibility of unbridled greed. Because of them, we spend longer at markets, discussing whether to buy our usual favourite piquant olives, or those dressed in lemon and basil, or those big ones over there, rich in garlic. (Answer: buy the lot). We hover round cheese stalls, discussing and tasting the merits of cheeses made with cows’ or sheep’s or goats’ milk, or mixtures of different types of milk. We look for the ripest peaches and nectarines, and buy bags full of melons (the stallholders helpfully mark each fruit according to whether it’s ready now, or in a couple of days, or only just before next week’s market). We discuss the merits of country loaves so huge that nobody buys more than a large chunk cut from it by the stallholder. Or shall we just settle for a baguette a l’ancienne, which has developed
At the open air thermal baths at Rennes-les-Bains...
...this is the view , looking towards town. Recommended!
a chewy tasty crust and creamy flavoursome crumb during its long slow rising? We wonder why anyone would buy straightforward baguettes when the real thing hardly costs any more, and is infinitely more appealing.
Because of Guests, we tried out different restaurants. We went to a delightful small place attached to a wine cellar in Maury where the organic pasta is made just down the road, and friends of the chef supply all the cheeses, fish and meat.
Then there was the local bar/restaurant in Léran, le Rendez-vous, where the owners, though English, turn out excellent French dishes, and delight vegetarians for miles around because they always have an excellent choice of meat-free food (and unlike many French restaurants, they understand that offering trout to a fully paid-up veggie rather misses the point). And there was a Real Proper Traditional hotel restaurant in Mas d’Azil with red and white tablecloths, a vine covered courtyard, and pretty waitresses. We went there too to accommodate vegetarian tastes, but suspect the omnivores did better.
Most fun of all perhaps, was the evening market in Puivert, where we went with each of our guests. During the summer, many local towns and
villages have an evening market once a week. You can buy bits of jewellery, clothing, odds and ends, of course. But the main point is to look round the various food stalls, choose your meal, and sit at one of the long communal tables out in the evening sunlight eating, whilst chatting or people-watching - in the case of Puivert, after having had a swim in the lake. When Karen was with us, everyone got very excited by an immense flock of storks passing overhead - several times - before journeying on. Unusual passers-by, they would have been on their way from the north to over winter in Southern Spain or North Africa.
Guests expect to explore too. The intense heat we’ve been having has prevented much in the way of walking, so we’ve done less than usual, though we squeezed in a walk with Karen. Still, we have explored. Cathar castles, gorges, local towns have all had a mention here before. But the Grotte de Bedeilhac hasn’t, nor has Mas d’Azil.
Bedeilhac was in use 14,000 years ago, by the Magdalenian people, who have left paintings, clay bas-reliefs and handprints behind. Besides this, the stalagmites and stalactites
Emily and Mal explore the monster grotto at le Mas d'Azil
The main road sweeps through it, and is quite dwarfed by its dimensions
of this truly enormous grotto - more than a kilometre long, are astounding. And to bring its history up to date, the Germans used it for their aircraft in World War II. We’ve previously visited Niaux with its prehistoric paintings, and perhaps the ancient art in Bedeilhac is less immediately impressive, but it’s still worth half a day of anybody’s time.
Twenty-year-old daughters tend to demand a day at the sea. So we chose Collioure. Historically a fishing village, early in the 20th century it attracted many artists central to the Fauvist movement, including Matisse and Derain. We guessed it would be St. Ives French style……..and it was. As infrequent seaside visitors, we hadn’t reckoned on the crowds, but once we‘d decided to accept that this was the way it was going to be, we quite enjoyed ourselves. The sea was clear and deep blue, the streets were narrow, cobbled and quaint, and the ice creams delicious. We think we’d like to explore some time when the entire population of South West France and North West Spain isn’t there too, but it was a good introduction to the Côte Vermeille.
So…over the last 2 weeks we’ve swum in
Emily wanted to see a circulade, a medieval village built like this for defensive purposes
This is St. Martin d'Oydes. We discovered that Tony Blair, who used to holiday near here, had officially opened its Tourist Office (Plaque on wall. It must be true)
- lakes, at Puivert and Carla Bayle, thermal baths at Rennes-les-Bains, and the sea, at Collioure. That’s probably more than I’ve accomplished in the previous 5 years
Our guests each had such different experiences. We feel so lucky that there’s so much to do, so much to see and experience in this part of France, and we waved each of them ‘Good bye’ wailing that there was so very much we hadn’t shared with them, and please, when would they be coming again?
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