After the rain

Last week we had two full days of rain – the first real rainfall since the spring!!  I was thinking of all the parched plants everywhere, and how this rain might just save some of them.

With rain, it’s either feast or famine here in our area – very rarely do we get a steady drizzle which lasts for days, and which would be so good for nature.  No, here it was heavy rainfall, torrential at times.  Slowly but steadily the ditches filled up with water, and the dried up gulleys turned into raging torrents.  The river in Saint-Chinian rose some, although not as much as I have seen it rise in the past.

The rain stopped Friday morning, and I had arranged to meet friends for lunch in La Caunette that day.  On the drive to La Caunette the sun started to peek through the clouds.  Before passing through Agel, there’s a spot where the river Cesse runs very close to the road.  For most of the year, the river here is dry, and in the winter there is sometimes a little water flowing, as in the picture below.


After the rain, the river looked very different!


With the sun coming out, the countryside looked sparkling, as though it had just been scrubbed clean – well, it really had had a good clean with all that rain!

Lunch at Restaurant La Cave in La Caunette was lovely; the food was good home-cooking, and as tasty as always, and the company was great!

Everybody chose the same starter from the daily menu, a tart with bacon, comte cheese and grapes.  The pastry was crisp and flaky, the tart hot from the oven, and the salad leaves were perfectly dressed.


Everyone agreed on the same main course too: Parmentier of ox tail.  Succulent pieces of ox tail meat were hiding under a layer of mashed potatoes and carrots – a bit like a shepherd’s pie, really, and very tasty!


When it came to dessert, opinions differed, and we finally had some variety on our table!🙂

Pear poached in red wine:


Chestnut mousse:


Speculoos flan with caramel sauce (speculoos are spiced cookies from Belgium):


All three were excellent.  We drank a very nice red wine with the meal, which came from Domaine Le Cazal, just outside La Caunette.

After lunch, a stroll around La Caunette was de rigeur.  Here’s a view of the village from the iron bridge, with the river below.  For most of the year there is no water in the river!  The founders of the village knew why they built the houses a way up the hill from the river!!


In the village, there was water flowing seemingly everywhere – from under houses, above a garage, down gulleys…

Usually, la fontaine is a steady jet of water, rather sedate – the extra water pressure made for a very different jet!


All too soon, the water will stop running and everything will go back to what it was like before all the rain!  I leave you with two pictures, both showing beautiful autumn colours.  One is of fruits on a vigne vierge, a Virginia creeper, the other is of pomegranates.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our little outing as much as I did!!


The French Market – Taste of France

This week’s post is a little late, I’m sorry! I came across a bit of a challenge when it came to re-blogging this post from  The writer of this blog lives in Carcassonne and writes on a variety of interesting topics.  I particularly enjoyed the post below and have wanted to share it with you for a little while now.  As autumn is setting in, it’s high time I posted it!!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tomorrow is Saturday, the best day of the week. Market day.

There are markets on Tuesday and Thursday, but they’re smaller. Saturdays bring more sellers and buyers. It’s a big social event, centered on food. So very French.

I have my favorite vendors. I try to stick to seasonal produce. It is better in season, and the lack of it out of season makes it all the more special when it’s available.

The apples have appeared. The nectarines and peaches are still going strong, but you can tell they’re going to get farineuse–mealy–pretty soon.

There are plenty of tomatoes, and now that the heat has broken, it’s time to make spaghetti sauce.

An adieu to summer….

That’s per kilo…

Hot peppers

Rotisserie chicken….just TRY walking past!

Yellow melons

Ham or jambon

Almonds or amandes

A little entertainment

Snails or escargots

Figs or figues

Apricots, or abricots, still in late summer! Our tree’s fruit was ripe and eaten in July!

Cucumbers, or concombres

White and purple eggplant, or aubergine

Do you cook from scratch? What will you miss most about summer’s bounty?

My shopping caddy, stuffed to the gills.

Source: The French Market – Taste of France

And still more to come …

Just because summer is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on in and around Saint-Chinian!  Far from it!!  The theatres in Beziers, Narbonne, Pezenas and elsewhere are starting their seasons and there’s much to see and do.  Here is a selection of events:

11eme Festival Les Troubadours Chantent L’Art Roman – 7 May to 25 November 2016

This festival pairs romanesque architecture with ancient music, such as in the concert I went to last year at Fontcaude Abbey.  This year I went to hear the Troubadours Art Ensemble in the church in Cruzy, where the picture below was taken.  There are still a few concerts left this season!



Orchids at Fontfroide, Fontfroide Abbey – 7, 8 and 9 October 2016

An orchid exhibition in the magnificent surroundings of Fontfroide Abbey is taking place this weekend.  A great excuse (if you need one) to visit this wonderful abbey – the picture below shows the cloisters.



Grand Deballage, Pezenas – 9 October 2016

This Sunday will see another mega flea market, the second this year, in this town well-known for its plethora of antique shops.  There will be over 2km of stalls!!



Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau, Olargues – 29 and 30 October 2016

The chestnut festival in Olargues is always enjoyable!!  Whilst it is not as large a festival as the one in Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres, it has a great selection of stalls, and the roasted chestnuts are always great!!


Conilhac Jazz Festival, Conilhac – 29 October to 26 November 2016

The little village of Conilhac (850 souls) has been hosting a jazz festival every year since 1987, staging concerts by musicians of world renown!  The programme can be found here.



Truffle fairs and markets – 10 December 2016 – 24 June 2017

The truffle markets are much-anticipated by some people.  If you have ever tasted a real truffle, you’ll know that, love it or hate it, the flavour is unlike anything else!  A good introduction to truffles is to visit a truffle market, to smell their heady perfume and to taste the scrambled eggs.  A list of events can be found here.



Changing places

Earlier this year, I wrote about a visit to Restaurant O’Bontemps in Magalas, and reported the sad fact that the restaurant was to close its doors.  Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for where and when Olivier and Emmanuelle Bontemps might be opening their new venue.  I recently found on social media that they had taken a lease on a space next to the main library in Beziers, the Mediatheque, and that they had just recently opened their new restaurant O Petits Bontemps for business!!  I was planning a visit to a number of places in Beziers for the European Heritage Weekend, which took place on September 17th and 18th this year.  Florence Nash, who was staying at Acanthus, wanted to treat us, so after a quick phone call I had a reservation for lunch on the Saturday, and a whole lot of interesting places to visit – a perfect day out in the making!  The write-ups of the restaurant had been very good, so I was very much looking forward to it!


The mediatheque opened in 2008 as part of the new university campus in Beziers, on what was once the site of army barracks.  Today, modern buildings with a fair bit of glass surround a large and empty space.


The restaurant is at one end of the library, and its terrace overlooks the square.  The weather was unfortunately  a little too windy on the day we went for lunch, so we sat inside.

The restaurant interior has been given a complete makeover by BOH Décoration et Lifestyle, an interior design company from Bordeaux.


The dominant colours are pink and grey, with a little nod to Alice in Wonderland here and there!🙂


The lunch menu changes on a regular basis.  These were the choices on the day we went:


Here is the starter:


An egg, which has been poached at low temperature, so that it is barely cooked, sits atop an interpretation of tabouleh: grains, croutons and razor clams in a most wonderful broth, the whole sprinkled with flower petals and the egg crowned with deep-fried crispy noodles.  A great start to the meal!!

The three of us chose two of the main courses on offer – before you ask, we had one main course each, but two of us had the same, the neck of lamb, which was prepared like a tagine:


The curried mackerel was the other main course that we chose.  The fish was cooked just perfectly and only very lightly spiced.


For dessert, all three of us opted for the chocolate and caramel dome.  The presentation was fabulous, and it tasted every bit as good as it looked!!


The three course lunch is priced at €22.00, and the restaurant is open from 10am to 6pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.  On Friday the restaurant is open for lunch AND dinner.  Reservations are essential – telephone 04 67 36 20 82 to book.

Thank you for the treat, Florence!

Four in a cloister

The cloister of the old abbey in Saint-Chinian is one of the architectural jewels of the village.  It was restored some years ago and now is a haven of peace, with a tinkling fountain in the centre.  This summer, I went to a concert which took place in the cloister.  A stage had been set up against the modern wing, and chairs were dotted about in amongst the olive trees and the box hedges.


The evening’s concert was by the Dallas Baumgartner Quartet, playing gypsy jazz.  Depending on which source you look at, Dallas Baumgartner is either Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson, or else his stepfather was a grandson of Django Reinhardt’s.

Once the chairs had all been taken and night started to fall, the musicians began to play.  What they played was utterly enthralling!

Below are five videos, which I hope will capture some of the magic of the evening!  E-mail subscribers, please remember to visit the blog site to watch the videos.

The evening was such a success, that at the end of it the mayor suggested that it could become a regular event in Saint-Chinian.  I certainly hope to hear them all again!


Back again!

Once more I have the pleasure of hosting Florence Nash in my house.  Over the past twelve years, Florence has become a dear friend, and I greatly look forward to her visits each year! Florence enthusiastically agreed to write a guest post for the blog, to share her experiences of her visits to Saint-Chinian.


Before retiring in 2003, Florence worked as a writer and editor at Duke University Medical Center for 16 years. Her poems, book and music reviews, program notes, and feature articles have appeared in publications across the USA. She has two collections of poetry, Fish Music (Gravity Press, 2010) and Crossing Water (Gravity Press, 1996).  Florence is also a “reckless but enthusiastic” cook, and it’s thanks to her that I have been able to write about the wonderful dish that is tomato pie!!

My twelve annual September visits to St. Chinian have been a pretty even balance between time on my own and playing host to friends or family, with a pleasant tidal swing between these two states of being. By myself, I grow impatient for guests to arrive so I can share my favorite places and things, show off my French (however spotty), have someone to cook for or with . . . . but after a few days of company I look forward to their departure so I can get back to my own rhythms and ramblings. This year, for the first time, no visitors are scheduled, so I find myself more than usually attentive to my list of daily Projects, various errands devised to take me out of the house and onto the scenic, fragrant little roads that honeycomb these rolling miles of vineyards.

For instance: Yes, of course I can buy Luques olives, my favorites, right here at the market, but with all the day before me, why not drive over to l’Oulibo? Here at this big olive mill on the D5 near Bize-Minervois, you can happily and shamelessly sample your weight in olives and oils and tapenades before picking up a supply of fresh, unpasteurized Luques — more subtle and delicious than the market ones — AND snag a few appealing olive wood or olive-oil-based souvenirs for the folks back home while you’re at it.

If you need to lay in a supply of jambon sec for your stay (as surely you do!), you may have heard Andreas claim that the very best Serrano ham comes from a vendor at the Narbonne central market — he’s the only one whose stall has a bright red slicing machine — so how about a day trip down to that fabulous foodie palace? This project, incidentally, also provides the minor drama of maneuvering a rental car through thickly trafficked city streets, a challenge quite different from that of winding country lanes.

Then there’s the matter of daily bread: St. Chinian boasts plenty of perfectly good boulangeries, but there’s solid consensus that — until recently — right down the road in Azillanet, Stéphane made the best bread in the region, in a boulangerie so small, with an oven so deep, that he had to open his bright blue door to make room for maneuvering the long wooden paddles that shift the loaves over the wood fire. And, since he only opened for retail sale a few hours at a time and you never quite remembered what those hours were, you might find yourself whiling away a half hour or so waiting on a sun-warmed stone wall, watching the efforts of a giant tour bus to turn down a road built a millennium ago for pedestrians and horse carts. Gazing back at the faces peering from the bus’s tinted windows while the bus lurched back and forth, grinding and huffing, you’d be permitted to muse on the difference between tourists and travelers, and to be filled with satisfaction to know you are among the latter. (This year, alas, the boulangerie behind the blue door is gone, and Stéphane is making his bread at a new location yet to be discovered by yours truly.)

My favorite Project so far took nearly all the free days I had available. Early in my wanderings through the Languedoc, I stopped for lunch in a village, took a photo of its strikingly picturesque central square and, once back home, installed it as my new desktop  background image. To this day I confront that idyllic scene every morning: the fountain, the medieval buildings, sunlight through a gigantic central tree dappling the happy diners at tables scattered below. The image has become emblematic to me of the seductions of southern France. Big problem, though: I couldn’t remember what village it was. So, Major Project! Guided only by memory fragments and vague directional instinct — tight climbing turns, mountains: it must be northward — I set out morning after morning with my trusty road atlas and unflagging determination. As someone said — Homer, maybe? — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. These explorations were full of new scenery, exhilarating driving, and places I might never otherwise have encountered.  At last, after snagging a scarce parking place along the road, I walked down into a hamlet wedged in a steep, narrow canyon too small to admit cars: St. Guilhelm-le-Desert, refuge of Charlemagne’s general-turned-hermit. Bingo! My square at last! I’ve returned a couple of times with visiting friends, who were thrilled. We stayed overnight in an ancient tower turned hostel (which I believe is no longer open) to explore neighboring caverns and take rented kayaks on the river. Maybe I’ll get back there this year. Fingers crossed.

You may have detected in these ruminations a certain preoccupation with driving. You’re right. In contrast to the calm, cushioned passivity of my automatic-everything SUV on the well-groomed highways at home, my little rental car is lively as a jackrabbit, responding instantly — I almost want to say eagerly — as it slaloms along these skinny little roads that flow sensuously over the terrain’s varied contours. It demands unwavering vigilance and constant gear-shifting for blind curves, oncoming vehicles, precipitous dropoffs with no guardrails, cyclists, wandering livestock (a sheep, once, up near Roquefort), and grape-hauling tractors at harvest. It’s tiring, yes, but also as much fun as taking up a new sport. And it creates a sort of hypersensitivity, a connectedness, to all aspects of the surroundings, which can only be good, right? It’s all so beautiful!

So, whoever you are reading this, thanks for indulging these extemporaneous musings, and, if you don’t know the Languedoc yet, I sincerely hope you will some day. I wish you as much delight as it’s been my good fortune to have. Make sure you contact Andreas and Anthony at Midihideaways. You couldn’t be in more congenial, knowledgeable, and helpful hands. Tell them I sent you.