Call of the wild

Last Sunday I went for a trip down memory lane.  About 20 years ago, whilst going for a walk along the canal from the pretty village of Le Somail, I came across a little restaurant on the banks of the Canal du Midi.  It must have been at about the same time of year as now. The restaurant was called La Cascade, after the water which cascaded through an overflow sluice in the canal right next to the terrace of the restaurant.  The terrace looked very inviting, and so I stopped for a drink or an ice cream, or maybe both.  The owners were very friendly and chatty, and I returned there many times for meals and celebrations.  Sadly the restaurant closed down a good many years ago, but the memories remain!

When I arrived at Le Somail I was surprised to see many cars parked everywhere.  Yes, it was wonderful weather, and it was Sunday, but why would there be so many people visiting?  The answer appeared soon enough – the village was hosting a gigantic vide grenier (flea market)!!  There were stalls on both sides of the canal, and lots of people browsing.  The pictures below are taken from the bridge across the canal – you can probably see just how far the stalls stretch into the distance.

Vide Grenier in Le Somail

Vide Grenier in Le Somail

 

View from the bridge in Le Somail

View from the bridge in Le Somail

I was headed in the direction of the big barge in the picture above.  Once I had made my way through the milling crowds and reached the towpath, the peace and quiet of the canal descended.  The plane trees here had not escaped the fungal disease, and for the first several hundred meters of my walk there was no shade.  Boats were moored along the opposite bank to where I was walking – the little cruiser has definitely seen better days!!

Submerged boat on the Canal du Midi near Les Somail

Submerged boat on the Canal du Midi

Yellow irises were flowering along the banks for most of the length of my walk:

Yellow Irises along the banks of the Canal du Midi

Yellow Irises along the banks of the Canal du Midi

I’m not sure what the flower below is called – any suggestions?

Unknown flower on the banks of the Canal du Midi

Unknown flower on the banks of the Canal du Midi

This beautiful butterfly sat still just long enough for me to get a picture:

Butterfly on a thistle flower

Butterfly on a thistle flower

The nightingales were singing away, and in the distance there was a cuckoo calling.  I took a brief video for you – make sure you turn on the speakers!  E-mail subscribers, please go to the website to view the video.

Along the way I came across this mother with her children – what a wonderful sight!  I counted a total of nine chicks!!

Mother duck and her chicks

Mother duck and her chicks

When I eventually reached what had been “La Cascade”, I was not surprised to see that it had changed – not beyond recognition, but it had lost the rustic charm it had once had.  It appears that the building is now used as a private house.  I hope that whoever lives in it now, is enjoying it as much as I enjoyed it when I visited all those many years ago.

On my way back to Le Somail I took this picture – any ideas of what it could be?

Mystery picture - answers  in the comments section please

Mystery picture – answers in the comments section please

There are many wonderful walks along the Canal du Midi, and this was definitely one of them!

Walk along the Canal du Midi

Walk along the Canal du Midi

 

Not’s Pots

You may have read the post about my visit to Castelnaudary a couple of weeks ago – if not, you can find it here.  One of the friends who came to Castelnaudary with me is a potter.  For years I had been wanting to visit a rather mythical pottery not far from Castelnaudary, so that day was the day!!  After our lovely lunch, we left Castelnaudary in the direction of Mas-Saintes-Puelles, a small village west of Castelnaudary.  We crossed over the Canal du Midi, then we crossed under the A61 motorway, and finally we arrived in Mas-Saintes Puelles.  We had come to visit Poterie Not Freres, but except for the village I had no address.  The pottery is rather well-known: as we arrived in the village we saw a signpost for the pottery, followed by a second one a little further down the road.  The signs put us on a road which left the village, and went, seemingly, into the middle of nowhere.  We crossed under the motorway again, and then over some railway tracks.  Our excitement grew when we spotted a fairly squat and sturdy brick chimney in the distance – we were on the right road after all!!  Finally we arrived at Poterie Not Freres!  The pottery is right by the Canal du Midi and very close to a lock.

Our arrival was not long after the end of the lunch break, and except for one other couple we were the only ones there.  To step inside the workshop was to step back in time – a time when there were no plastic containers or non-stick pans, and when people would use their pottery dishes every day.

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Behind that open door lies a room which is dominated by the enormous wood fired kiln, which has a capacity of 40 cubic metres!  Just that morning, the kiln had been emptied, after cooling down for three weeks.  It would have been wonderful to see all the pots being taken out!  In the picture below you can just see the doorway into the kiln and the hood, hanging down in the centre of the pictures, is above the fire pit.

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All around us, pots were stacked up to dry.

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These were all garden pots, more or less ready to be loaded into the kiln for the last firing before the summer.  It takes great skill to load such a wood fired kiln – a large part of the success of the entire operation depends on it.  The kiln is fired for 36 hours using only wood, to reach a temperature of over 1000 degrees.  The fire-box is then walled up and the kiln left to cool.  Here is what the pots look like once they are finished:

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The garden pots only form a small part of the output though. All in all, the pottery produces around 500 different models of pots, and 80% of the production consists of cassoles, the traditional dish in which cassoulet is cooked, and from which the name cassoulet derives.  Here’s a look at some of the wares for sale:

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The finished garden pots are impressively stacked outside.  The visitor season had not yet started at the time of our visit, so the pots were stacked high.  By the end of the summer most of the pots will have been sold.

I was particularly intrigued by this pot, which had holes in it and a lid on top.  It took a little while before the penny dropped.

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It’s a snail pot!  Of course, the snail on it was a give-away! :)  The snails are collected and put in the pot.  The lid stops the snails from escaping and they have air while they purge, before being cooked.  They are supposed to be delicious…

Back inside there were pots everywhere.  In a corner were some old-fashioned money boxes, the kind which have to be smashed to get at the stash!  I like that idea!! ;)

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Eventually we got to the workroom with the potters’ wheels, where the action was just about to begin.  The pottery by the Canal du Midi at Mas-Saintes-Puelles was started by the Perrutel family in the 19th century.  In 1947 Emile Not took over the pottery in partnership with his brother-in-law, Francois Gleizes.  Emile Not’s two sons started to work in the pottery when they were old enough, and today the third generation is also working at the wheels.  The work area has changed very little over time.  There are four wheels, each with a window in front of it.

Clay is brought in on a sack cart – each block weighing 20 kilos.  With the help of a wire, the block is sliced into smaller pieces, and then the clay is turned on the wheel into whatever shape the potter is making.  I took a few videos for you to watch – probably easier than trying to explain the process (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the videos):

I have also found two videos in French, which give a good idea of the whole manufacturing process.  The second video shows the firing of the large wood fired kiln:

The big kiln is used almost exclusively for the garden pots; for the other items there are two gas fired kilns, which are fired on alternate days.  This is hard, physical work, and whilst some of the work is the same day in day out, no two pots are ever identical.

The clay is prepared in the yard behind the workshops.  The fact that there is a clay seam just outside the door, must have determined the location of the pottery.  The clay extracted here is of a beige colour;  a red clay is extracted at another quarry at Issels, not far away.  The clay is left to dry on a concrete slab in the yard, and once dry it is broken up with steel rollers. before being milled to a fine powder.  The clay powder is then mixed in various proportions with grog, depending on what kind of pots are being made.

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This basic clay mix is then put into a machine which is definitely from the early 20th century.

Great big teeth work away at the clay inside the machine, mixing and kneading it, to make it supple and pliable.  Great big lumps of it drop from the mixer into the next machine, a pug mill, which compacts the clay and removes as much air as possible.  The pug mill extrudes the clay in a long block, which is then cut with a wire cutter.  The resulting 20 kilo blocks are loaded into a wheelbarrow and transported to the store-room next door.  This process happens every other day, and thousands of kilos of clay are prepared this way each year.  Here are two more videos for you:

The pottery produced by Poterie Not Freres has a very honest, down-to-earth feel to it.  There is nothing fancy whatsoever about the pots.  You could call it rustic, coarse or even crude, but it has a goodness that will improve with use and age.  I was tempted by many things, but in the end I came away with a small, round, yellow gratin dish, which is delightful to use.

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I leave you with the opening times of the pottery.  You should visit this place if you have even the slightest interest in potteryl!  Be warned though, it is very tempting to come away with more than you can take home :)!!

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Flower power

This week’s post is going to be a short one, and it will rely heavily on photographs! ;)  The reason is that right now I am spending most of my spare time in the garden, where everything seems to be happening at once!!

At this time of year, a lot of plants are in full flower or starting to flower, such as the thyme, campanula, and Papa Meilland rose in the picture below.

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Other plants, such as the salvias and lavenders, which I cut back not all that long ago, are producing lots of lush new growth.

 

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There’s a patch of weeds in my garden, which has been heavily invaded by escholtzia, the Californian poppy.  Such a cheery sight!  Eventually the weeds and the escholtzias will be weeded out, and some vegetables be planted in their place.  But fear not, there will always be weeds and escholtzias somewhere in the garden…

 

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The bees are having a wonderful time on the borage…

 

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… and on the thyme!  It’s hard to beat thyme when it’s in full flower – the generosity of the blossom is astounding.

 

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The potatoes are up and out, and after some hoeing the patch is more or less weed free. :)

 

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The broad beans, which I sowed last November, are producing a very good crop right now!

 

 

The artichokes have just started to put up flower buds – I think I’ll be enjoying some of those lovely globes for supper tonight.

 

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I’m growing a few spare plants for a charity sale, which will take place in Saint-Chinian on June 21st, 2015.  There’ll be garlic chives, two kinds of mint, gaillardia, and a plant whose name I cannot remember, but it has white furry leaves :) .  Of course there will be a lot of other plants too!

 

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The tomato forest is ready for planting out – one of my chores this week!

 

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The wisteria has all but finished flowering, but there may be some more flowers later in the summer!

 

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The bearded iris are also in full flower right now.  If you look carefully at the pictures you’ll be able to tell why it is called “bearded” :)

 

 

The flower buds on the kiwi plants are looking good, another week and they should be open and ready for business – or should that be beesiness?!

 

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These seedlings and plants need to be pricked out or planted very soon!

 

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Here’s a medley of flowers: escholtzia, allium, roses, heuchera, wallflowers, gaillardia, gerbera, salvia and bulbine frutescens.  All of them are blooming in my garden right now.  This really is a fabulous time of the year in Languedoc!

 

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Cassoulet in Castelnaudary

A recent visit by friends prompted an outing to Castelnaudary, a market town between Carcassonne and Toulouse.  You might have come across the name of the town in connection with cassoulet, which is undoubtedly the region’s most famous dish.  Castelnaudary is the capital of the Lauragais region, an area which has been called the granary of the Languedoc, because of its large output of wheat, maize and other cereals.

History was made in Castelnaudary when the Canal du Midi was inaugurated here in 1681.  The town elders had the good sense to pay to have the canal come right to the town.  Pierre Paul Riquet built the Grand Bassin below the town walls, an expanse of water 7 hectares large – that’s 70,000 square metres or 17 acres!!  It is the only man-made lake of its kind on the whole Canal du Midi, and it was important for the economic development of Castelnaudary in the 17th century. Today the Grand Bassin is a pleasure port.

Before I get carried away with the history of the town, I’ll just state that we had come to Castelnaudary to eat cassoulet.  We found a space to park the car on Place de la Republique, and went straight to the tourist office, which is located in one corner of that same square.  The staff there were very friendly and helpful, supplying us with maps and brochures.  They also encouraged us to take the historical walk through the town.  I had looked up a number of restaurants before we set off for Castelnaudary, and asked for their advice as to where we could eat the best cassoulet.  Very diplomatically they confirmed that the two restaurants I had short-listed served very good cassoulet :)

It was still early enough, so we went on the walk to discover the town.  Our first stop was on Place de Verdun.  We couldn’t miss the market halls, which occupied centre stage on the square.

To one side of the market halls was a tall building, with an incredibly ornate facade.  The brochure explained that this used to be the Grand Bazar, an offshoot of one of the first large department stores in Paris, the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville.  The Castelnaudary store was built in 1874, and whoever designed the facade certainly had fun!!

Our walk took us past many splendid buildings, witnesses of the riches which Castelnaudary had in a bygone age.  Of course there were also door knockers – wouldn’t you know that I just couldn’t resist them? :)

The mansion below is called the Hotel Latapie, and it is one of the most beautiful 17th century houses in town.  Today it is a listed building, and it belongs to the municipality.  The postman obligingly shifted his van so I could get a better picture of the amazing door. :)

More beautiful buildings followed:

We reached a spot where we had a good view towards the Grand Bassin:

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Once we had wended our way down the hill and around a few corners, we finally stood at the water’s edge:

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We walked along the water to the Pont Vieux, the old bridge, passing a charming cottage, and the remains of an old mill.  When we got to the bridge we got a good view of the Petit Bassin on the other side of the bridge.

A lot more architectural detail on the way to one of the restaurants on my list.  I hope I am not boring you, I just love all those wonderful buildings!

The restaurant, La Belle Epoque, looked nice enough, with tablecloths and napkins – almost too classy for a cassoulet restaurant.  What made us decide against it?  There were hardly any guests inside, and from the outside it looked a little too starchy.  Perhaps we were totally wrong.  I will give it a try on my next visit, and I’ll let you know what it was like, I promise!

So we headed back towards the Place de la Republique.  La Maison du Cassoulet, the other restaurant on my short-list is just to one side of it, right next door to the town hall.

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The restaurant was busy, the decor pretty modern and the seats comfortable.

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The place mats had a recipe for cassoulet printed on them – perhaps the one they use in the restaurant?  The waiter was kind of intimidating, so I didn’t bother to ask.

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We all opted for the cassoulet menu, which was simple:  cassoulet plus a light salad for main course, and a choice of desserts;  no starter!  Just after we had ordered we saw that the people at the table next door had some delicious looking French fries served to them.  We asked our waiter if we could have a portion.  What a faux pas!! There was no way he was going to let us have fries!  Did we know that there were beans in the cassoulet?  Did we not know that cassoulet certainly did not need fries as an accompaniment?  Head shaking in disbelief, eyes rolling – I told you he was kind of intimidating…  Maybe it was too early in the season, and he wasn’t yet used to tourists asking for strange things. :)

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However, the cassoulet more than made up for our disappointment over the fries.  The beans were beautifully flavoured and perfectly tender, without falling to pieces.  I recently read an article where the writer could taste “a bouquet of forests, meadows and succulent meats” in her very first bite of cassoulet.  The meats in my cassoulet were certainly succulent, but forests and meadows?  Seriously?

The serving was a perfect size. It contained a piece of preserved duck, two kinds of sausage, and a piece of pork, along with the beans.  We all managed to finish our portion, and have a little, although it was very little, room for dessert.  Mine was a “de-constructed” banoffee pie.  Wickedly delicious!!

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La Maison du Cassoulet does have its own website here, as well as branches in Carcassonne, Toulouse and Saint-Lary Soulan.  I Imagine that it can be busy in the summer months, so a reservation is probably a good idea.

Oh, I almost forgot – on the way out I spotted this:

If you want to have your cassoulet AND eat it (at home), you can buy the tins and a dish to cook it in!

Follow the blue line

Spring has arrived in earnest in Languedoc, and I think it is high time that I shared some of the marvels of nature with you – all too soon spring will turn into summer :)!!

Earlier this week, I went for a walk with my camera and a couple of friends.  The walk started on what had been the old road which connected Saint-Chinian with Cebazan.  Have a look at the map below – I parked the car at the “purple” crossroads, where you see 241.  Here is a link to the map at Geoportail, in case you want to explore a little more.  The purple line which loops around and passes 229 and 277 follows the walk we took.

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The markings along the walk are in blue, hence the title of this post.

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And here is the first of many plants which are in full flower right now: euphorbia.  I will try to give you plant names wherever possible, but my knowledge of wildflowers is somewhat limited.

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Not long into the walk there are some spectacular views of Cebazan in the distance.

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The scenery is beautiful!, Unfortunately, the camera does not really do it justice.  More flowers along the way: a different type of euphorbia, and my first sighting, this year, of cistus flowers, and spanish broom.  The long spears are the buds of spanish broom, just before it bursts into flower.  Another week or so, and the hillsides will be covered with fragrant, yellow blooms!

Here is another view, down the valley, in the general direction of Cebazan.  These are the ruins of a rather large building, with the walls of a tower still standing.  There’s a little window in the attic part of the tower – it might have been for a pigeon loft.  If you look carefully, there’s a rim of slate all the way around the outside, perhaps to stop rodents climbing up the walls?

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Here is some wild thyme, with almost pure white flowers.  Usually thyme flowers are pink. I wonder if it has to do with the mineral content of the soil?

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The next part of the walk involved a long-ish climb over a very rocky track.  It was almost as if someone had poured a huge amount of limestone rocks down the side of the hill.  In all likelihood, the stones were cleared from the surrounding fields in times gone by, and simply piled up, forming a river of stone.

At the top of the climb we rejoined a more level path, and although this shrub was not flowering, its berries looked lovely.  The plant is a juniperus oxycedrus, and whilst the berries are not the juniper berries used to flavour gin and various other European dishes, they are comestible if used very ripe.

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Next we came to a beautiful capitelle, one of the shelters built from only the stones found nearby, and without any mortar!  This is the capitelle marked on the map, just above Le Bousquet.

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I had walked past the capitelle in February, and made a mental note to come back when the almond trees were in flower, but somehow the note got mis-filed.  :)  It is still very pretty with the trees just leaving out.

The path then rounded a corner, and became more open as it passed through some vineyards.  Seeing the vine leaves emerge always cheers me up no end!

More flowers to be seen – none of us knew this plant, and I still don’t know what it is – the leaves are almost like those on an apple or pear tree, only smaller, but the flowers bear no resemblance.  If any of you know, please write the name in the comments box below.

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The path rounded another corner, and there was another capitelle, I guess it’s the second one, which is marked on the map, although there are a few others along the way, some of them half fallen down.

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There was an extra attraction to this capitelle – I am not going to hazard a guess as to what make this might have been. :)  The body is still very strong – these old cars were incredibly heavy!

The view from the gap in the wall is just wonderful, and it includes my favourite little hut in the middle of the vineyards:

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A semi-abandoned field yielded lots of interesting wildflowers: a tassel hyacinth, two kinds of dandelions, an orchid (cephalantera longifolia), and a clover like flower (anthyllis vulneraria).

Further along there was an asphodel, all by itself:

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This unknown tree or shrub was flowering in an amazing profusion!

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This thyme plant has the more typically pink flowers!  Can you spot the bee?

 

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The almonds are already well advanced:

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And the judas trees are still in full flower:

The path was heading towards the spot where the car was parked.  But there were still some surprises, such as the plant below.  It looks like an orchid, but if I remember from the botanical walk in Cruzy last year, it is a parasite, which grows on the roots of another plant.  Hence the brownish colour, as the plant cannot make any chlorophyll.

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There must have been a fire on this field, perhaps only last year.  The view into the distance is absolutely amazing!

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A little abandoned building along the path…

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… a beautiful blue iris…

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… and some fragrant lilac…

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… and then the path led back to the car!  Except for the climb up the rocky “river” the walk is very easy.  There is a way to bypass that climb, look out for the thin orange/brown line on the map.  At normal speed the walk takes around an hour to complete; with lots of stops to take photographs it took 90 minutes.  On your next visit to St Chinian you should try this walk.  It is well worth it!!

 

Monday in Mirepoix

Monday morning is when the weekly market takes place in Mirepoix!  I’d been to Mirepoix once before, many years ago, when a friend wanted to show me a particularly interesting church, Notre-Dame-de-Vals, which is not far from Mirepoix.  The interesting thing about the church is that it is partly built into the rock, which makes for a spectacular interior.  After visiting the church, we stopped in Mirepoix for a coffee, before heading home again.  On that first visit I was captivated by Mirepoix and its meandering arcades, and I vowed that I would return one day!

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The town of Mirepoix is in the Ariege, an area where Catharism was well established in the Middle Ages. Of course Simon de Montfort, the well known crusader, laid siege to the town and took it in 1209, presumably killing all the Cathar heretics in the process.  In 1289, when the area had probably recovered from the violent crusade against the Cathars, Mirepoix was completely destroyed by flooding.  The town was immediately rebuilt in its present location, across the river from where it had been.

The prevailing style of town architecture, at the time of the rebuilding, was that of the Bastide, a fortified town with the streets laid out in a grid pattern, and with a central market square surrounded by arcades (couverts).  In Mirepoix there is a Grand Couvert  and a Petit Couvert, the second being somewhat smaller than the first, as implied by the name.

Street sign in Mirepoix

Street sign in Mirepoix

At some point Mirepoix outgrew the old fortifications, and the walls and moats disappeared.  Most of the houses in the old centre of town are timber-framed buildings, and some of them are spectacular.

When you look closely at the timbers, you can see that some of them were sculpted.

You’ll also be able to notice that the wood has been around some time – it’s amazing to think that these buildings have stood for hundreds of years!!

The market in Mirepoix was somewhat different to the market in St Chinian.  One of the first stalls I came to sold live chickens!!  I have not seen that in St Chinian for a very long time!!

The old-fashioned knife grinder would be wonderful to have in “our” market – there would be no more excuses for blunt kitchen knives!!

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There were colourful baskets and wonderful plants, fresh vegetables and dried fruit, cheese and sausages, teas, bread, clothes, housewares – you name it…

There was also a small stand selling beautiful pottery:

Just as I got to that stand, I saw two beautiful goblets being wrapped up.  They had been bought by the lady who had gotten to the stall before me.  She saw me eying the goblets with some jealousy/regret, and noticing my disappointment, suggested that I should visit the potter’s workshop, where he would have a lot more stock.  She told me that it was only ten minutes from Mirepoix by car, and assured me that it would be well worth the drive.  One of the friends who had accompanied me to Mirepoix is a potter herself, so we needed little convincing.  We arranged to come by the workshop in the afternoon, and in the process got a recommendation for a restaurant where we could have lunch.

There was still a little time before noon, so we continued to explore Mirepoix.  The Cafe Castignolles seemed to be a popular meeting place, and it boasts a painted ceiling outside:

The former cathedral has an incredibly wide nave, but is very dark, despite a fair number of windows.

Of course I couldn’t resist the door knockers:

And I came across a interesting looking second-hand shop which had the most wonderful tiled floors:

On the way to the restaurant I came across La Fromagerie Chez Lucie, a charming little cheese store on Rue Colonel Petitpied (yes, he really was called smallfoot!!).  The shop was very small, but the selection of cheeses comprehensive and irresistible.  If you go to Mirepoix you should make a point of trying the vieux comte, Chez Lucie!

Since we were not far from our car, we deposited all our shopping, and headed back to the Grand Couvert and the Bar Restaurant Le Cantegril, which had been recommended by the potter.

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The lunchtime three course menu was priced at 15 EUR, and the next menu was at 18.50 EUR, also for three courses.  Both offered good value for money.  Here’s what we started our meal with:  Terrine Maison (home-made pate), Piquillos Fracis (stuffed sweet peppers), Potage du Jour (butternut squash soup), Entree du Jour (gratinated seafood):

For main course we enjoyed cassoulet, grilled duck breast, fried fish and sausages with lentils:

None of us wanted cheese, so we went straight on to dessert:  a cafe gourmand, a crispy wafer filled with raspberry cream, and a rice pudding with salted butter caramel:

What a delicious meal!!

Thoroughly sated, we walked around Mirepoix a little more on our way back to the car, and snapped a few more pictures.  Cafe Llobet is my idea of what a typical French Cafe should look like from the outside: :)

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I’m not sure why the cow stood where it did – was there perhaps a cheese shop in the arcades?

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Just before reaching the car we saw what looked a little like a haunted house:

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And right at the top of the facade something seemed to move.

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Maybe we’d imagined it, perhaps it was just a pigeon – but wait

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I’m sure it moved again!  Yes, it definitely did!

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The head of it definitely moved, at random intervals.  I would imagine that it is a device designed to scare off the pigeons, but they didn’t take too much notice of it :)

Once we got to the car we set off on our short journey to Rieucros, where Jean Napolier was waiting for us at his pottery Le Gres du Vent.  The workshop and shop were just across from the post office, so we had no trouble finding them.  Jean showed us his workshop, where he works with his wife, Francoise Louste.  He explained the techniques he uses, and the materials (stoneware clay and porcelain clay), and covered a fair bit of technical detail with my potter friend.  I just stood by and marvelled!

Afterwards we visited the shop:

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It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was an wwwAladdin’s cave of beautiful pottery.  Because of space limitations, only so much could be displayed in the shop, but seeing our enthusiasm, Jean allowed us the run of his store-room !  I was too preoccupied with looking at everything, so didn’t photograph any of the pots.  You will just have to visit Rieucros and look for yourself!!  Le Gres du Vent is on Place de la Poste in 09500 Rieucros.  Do call ahead on 05 61 68 73 51 to make sure Jean and/or Francoise will be there.

A little brown bag…

…arrived on my doorstep last year, a present from my friend Carole.  In the bag were the makings of Chocolat Chaud a l’Ancienne or old-fashioned hot chocolate!  Carole shares my passion for all things chocolate, and she has discovered a cafe in Beziers (Le Mathi’s), not far from the Theatre Municipal on the Allees Paul Riquet, which serves old-fashioned hot chocolate amongst a myriad of treats.  The little brown bag contained a copy of the recipe Carole uses to make her own hot chocolate, along with dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cinnamon and vanilla!  Just add milk… :)

Ingredients for old-fashioned hot chocolate

Ingredients for old-fashioned hot chocolate

Before I made my own hot chocolate, I had to go on an expedition in Beziers, to taste the chocolat chaud a l’ancienne at Le Mathi’s.  The things I do for the sake of writing this blog!! :D

Cafe Le Mathis in Beziers

Cafe Le Mathi’s in Beziers

Le Mathi’s is one of a number of cafes which front onto Beziers’ main square – in the summer there is a large terrace outside, but as it was still a little too cold for the terrace, I was cozy inside.  Somehow I cannot imagine myself having hot chocolate in the summer.

Inside Le Mathis in Beziers

Inside Le Mathi’s in Beziers

The patrons of Le Mathi’s seem to be an eclectic bunch:  groups of older ladies, office workers, students, perhaps the odd travelling salesman?  The menu board lists the old-fashioned hot chocolate right at the top!  There is also traditional hot chocolate and Viennese hot chocolate, along with eight different kinds of cafe and 20 different kinds of tea!!  And there are cakes!!

The menu at Le Mathis

The menu at Le Mathi’s

I’d come to try the old-fashioned hot chocolate, but the Viennese hot chocolate intrigued me.  I decided to try the Viennese hot chocolate, and my companion ordered the old-fashioned hot chocolate  Here’s what they looked like:

Now I know – Viennese hot chocolate has a whole lot of whipped cream on top!! I guess I should have thought of that!! :)  The old-fashioned hot chocolate was thick and rich – perfectly delicious!  We didn’t really need any cakes to go with the chocolate, but what the h*** –  you only live once!

And then the hot chocolates were finished, and it was time to go for a walk!

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Here are some of the beautiful buildings I saw on my walk:

Some time later, at home, I tried out Carole’s Recipe for old-fashioned hot chocolate.  To the ingredients Carole had already presented me with, I added milk, cream, and brown sugar.  Here is the picture again:

Ingredients for old-fashioned hot chocolate

Ingredients for old-fashioned hot chocolate

The milk and cream were put into a saucepan along with the vanilla and cinnamon and some water.  I deviated from the recipe somewhat, in that I mixed the sugar and cocoa powder to a paste, with some of the milk.  That paste dissolved beautifully in the milk.

A stage during the making old-fashioned hot chocolate

A stage during the making of old-fashioned hot chocolate

After the paste of cocoa and sugar was added to the milk mixture, the whole was brought to the boil, and then the chopped chocolate was added.  The preparation was then kept at a simmer for 15 minutes, before being strained to remove any lumps and spices.  The recipe says that the hot chocolate will taste better if prepared in advance and re-heated.  I couldn’t wait that long though!! :)  It was delicious, rich and thick – a chocoholic’s dream!!

Chocolat chaud epice a l’ancienne

Chocolat chaud epice a l’ancienne

The recipe makes a fair amount of hot chocolate, so you will have some left over.  I’ll let you be the judge if it is better the day after.

The next time I prepare the recipe I might reduce the amount of chocolate a little, and perhaps add some more sugar, but I’ll definitely be making it again!!  Thank you so much, Carole!!