Feeling festive?

As the days get shorter, my thoughts are turning to the festive season.  There’s quite a bit happening in and around Saint-Chinian, and things kick off with the Cracker Fair at the Abbaye de Valmagne.  The Cracker Fair is a two-day Christmas market on November 23 and 24, 2019, where you can find all your presents and more.  I’ve visited this Christmas market before (and I have written about it here) and will be heading there again this year!

Hot on the heels of the Cracker Fair comes the Christmas market in Saint-Chinian on December 1, 2019.  The market takes place in the Salle de l’Abbatiale (the former abbey church), the cloisters and in front of the town hall building.

Larger towns such as Montpellier and Carcassonne have Christmas markets which run for most of December.  The one in Montpellier (pictured below) runs from November 28 to December 28, 2019, and the one in Carcassonne is open from December 6, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

In the run-up to Christmas, stocking up on festive provisions is important!  The Foire au Gras, literally translated to “Fat Fair”, aims to fill the need for foie gras, duck fat and other poultry products.  Coursan holds such a fair on November 17, 2019; in Castelnaudary you can buy similar goodies on December 1, 2019; Limoux holds a Foire au Gras on December 23, 2019, just in time for Christmas!!

Truffles are also essential for a Christmas feast, so the truffle markets start just in time for the festive season.  You can find fresh truffles in Moussoulens on December 14, 2019, and in Talairan on December 21, 2019.

For those wishing to stock up on wine in time for Christmas, some of the Saint-Chinian winemakers are holding an open day on December 8, 2019!  For more information visit this site.

I’m saving the best for last – the highlight of the run-up to Christmas in Saint-Chinian!!  On December 11, 2019 at 6pm, there’ll be a concert in the parish church!  The chorus from the Montpellier opera house will be singing a programme of French music and ‘hit tunes’ from various operas!  Full details can be found here.

Coming up

I know I promised you last week that I would continue the story of my visit to Beziers, but I realised that you might miss a lot of the events in this present post if I waited another week.  I’ll continue with Beziers as soon as possible –  I promise!!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this area falls into some Sleeping Beauty like slumber after the busy summer months.  Far from it!!  Fall has a lot to offer with festivals and activities all over!

The whole area is busy with the grape harvest during the month of September, and sometimes into early October.  You’ll see small tractors pulling trailers that are heavily laden with grapes.  People are out in the vineyards, picking grapes by hand.  In other vineyards the grapes are harvested with enormous machines.  Stop by any cooperative winery at this time of year, and you’ll see the grapes being delivered and tipped at the ‘quai’, where the transformation from grape to grape juice to wine starts.  I wrote about the process some years ago – you can find my article here.

Music is something I enjoy a lot, so I’m very glad that the pianist Conrad Wilkinson will continue his successful series of concerts here at the abbatiale in Saint-Chinian on October 6, 2019 with a concert showcasing very gifted young musicians – watch out for tomorrow’s stars!

The final concert in the series takes place on November 3, 2019.

For lovers of Jazz, the line-up has just been announced for the Jazz festival in Conilhac Corbieres which takes place from November 2 to 30, 2019.

Fall is also the time for the harvest festivals near and far.  The following list is in no particular order!

In Cessenon-sur-Orb, the Fete des Vendenges d’Antan takes place on the first weekend of October.  There will be stalls with local produce, music and the traditional pressing of grapes!

In Azillanet, the Fete Paysanne d’Automne takes place over two days, October 4 and 5, 2019.  It’s going to be an interesting event, with a producers market on Saturday, and lectures about different topics such as how to collect wild herbs, sustainable farming, producing your own seeds, etc.  There’ll be food and music too!

The Fete de La Lucques Nouvelle at the Oulibo Cooperative in Cabezac is on October 20, 2019.

I’ve written about the Foire de la Pomme, du Riz et du Vin a couple of years ago.  This fete takes place in Marseillette on October 13, 2019 and you can find details of this year’s programme here.

I will try to visit the Fete des Vendanges in Banyuls this year – it takes place over several days from October 9 to 13, 2019.  The full programme is available from this website.

The Fete de la Chataigne in Saint-Pons de Thomieres is one of the biggest festivals in the area – this year it takes place on October 26 and 27, 2019.  I’ve visited this fete many times, and have written about it here, here and here.

While I’m on the chestnut theme, the Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau in Olargues takes place on November 2 and 3, 2019.  Although it’s a smaller fete than the one in Saint-Pons, it’s nonetheless well worthwhile a visit – the combination of roasted chestnuts and new wine is very delicious!!  The program will be listed on this site shortly.

The flea markets continue in the fall, they are fewer in number than in the summer, but there are still great bargains to be had!!  In Murviel les Beziers on October 20, 2019 there’ll be a big flea market, along with a market for regional produce, food stalls, and there’ll even be a concert at 11.30am!

Pezenas hosts the mega antiques market on October 13, 2019 – a great event for anyone who loves to find a special piece or keepsake!  I’ve been to this event several times, and there is a post on the blog about this event here.

This is just a small selection of events which are taking place in the area – great for a visit at any time of the year!

 

Summertime, and the living is busy…

Summer is on the way, and in Saint-Chinian that means that there will be lots going on!!  We started with the festival Jazz au Cloitre last Wednesday and there are three more concerts: tonight, tomorrow and Sunday!

Hot on the heels of Jazz au Cloitre is the Fete de la Musique, which is a Europe-wide event, taking place on June 21.  I wrote about the Fete de la Musique back in 2014 – you can find the article here.

Throughout July and August, there are lots of things going on in Saint-Chinian: night markets are held each Tuesday evening…

… open-air cinema screenings are programmed for Wednesdays…

… there are free concerts in the cloister gardens each Thursday, and on Fridays there are circus shows, also in the cloister gardens!

The Bastille Day celebrations are always worth a visit to France!  In Saint-Chinian the party is held over two days – on July 13 and 14, with big fireworks on July 14, followed by a concert on the main square.

A week after Bastille day, on July 21, the main square in Saint-Chinian will be filled with rows of stalls for the annual Fete du Cru, the winemakers’ festival, where you can taste all kinds of Saint-Chinian wines!

The Festival MusiSc takes place this year from July 22 to 28 – you can find the full programme here.

For wine lovers, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian will be unveiling a new painting on the walls of one of the wine tanks in the winery on July 26.  I’ve written about the Art en Cave project here.  A special cuvee, with a reproduction of the new painting on the bottle label will also be available that day!

On August 22, there’s more music with a concert by the Sinfonietta Bardou in the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  A programme can be found via this link.

If you are tempted to visit any of these events in Saint-Chinian, do let me know!  And if you are planning a holiday to the area, please have a look at www.midihideaways.com .

I hope you’ll understand that I’ll be hard pressed to write blog posts with so much going on.  So I’ll be taking a little break for the summer months, and I will be back with more stories in the fall.  In the meantime, I’ll be taking many photographs and will gather new material for new posts!!

I hope you’ll have a great summer too!

Cherry Celebration

Since the cherry season has started and the cherry festival in Mons-la-Trivalle will be taking place this Sunday, June 2, 2019, I thought it appropriate to share this post from a few years ago.  Details of this year’s cherry festival can be found on the website of the Mairie of Mons-la-Trivalle.  I do hope you’ll enjoy your fill of delicious cherries!!


The cherry harvest is in full swing right now, and to celebrate it, the village of Mons-la-Trivalle holds a cherry festival each year, at the beginning of June.  Cherries are grown all over the Languedoc region, but they seem to especially thrive in some areas.  The upper valley of the River Orb is one of these areas, and if you go for a drive at the right time during spring, you’ll see the most amazing sights of trees, white with cherry blossoms!  Later on you’ll see stalls set up by the roadside, selling cherries :).

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The growing season for cherries is pretty short.  From mid to late May, locally grown cherries start to make an appearance in our weekly farmers market.

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The first of the crop are usually quite expensive, but as the season gets under way the prices drop.  Cherries can never be a cheap fruit though: each cherry has to be carefully picked by hand, and that takes time!

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I arrived at the “Fete de la Cerise” just after lunchtime – parking was well signposted, and the view from the car park (up the hill from where the fete was taking place) was spectacular!

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Walking down the road to the village, the cherry trees I passed were heavy with fruit, and the sun was shining – what could be better??

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When I got to the fete I made a beeline for the flea market; there I found a very good selection of all things bric-a-brac, and fell in love with a bentwood armchair – more on that later :)!

The “cherry market” was great too – although, since I was relatively late, the cherries were not as much in abundance as they had been in the morning. But there were enough for me to snap pictures of, and to buy.  I had it in mind to make a Clafoutis, a dessert traditionally made with cherries.  The selection of stalls was excellent, colourful ceramics vying with equally colourful baskets, and there were plants, and hats and of course food!!  I couldn’t resist the French Fries from the Belgian food stand :)!

Entertainment was provided for all ages:  Donkeys would take children for a ride, there was a gyroscope, a stilt-walker, and then there was a corner where a number of games had been set up!  I decided to try a game called Quarto, where wooden pieces are placed on a board, with the aim of forming a line where either the colour, height, shape, or top of the pieces match.  The interesting part is that you chose the piece which your opponent has to put down on the board.  Can’t be that difficult, I thought, and promptly lost the first two games :(, but then I won the third 😀 !

The cherry theme was in evidence everywhere!  Even the members of the roaming drum band had decorated their drums, and in some cases themselves, with cherries!

After all the exertions in the market, I had an ice cream and a glass of water in the local cafe.  From where I was sitting I had a great view of the bentwood armchair – it just kept calling to me.  In the end I simply had to go and take another look at it, and guess what – I came away with the chair in my hands :).  The seat needs re-caning, but the price was good and the shape just so beautiful!

Once I’d gotten my chair home (luckily it fit into the car!), I made the cherry clafoutis.  It’s a very simple dessert: cherries baked in a kind of pancake batter.  Originally from the Limousin, clafoutis is now popular all over the south.  Over the years I’ve tried a number of different recipes and methods, and I’ve now hit on one which I like best.

Cherry Clafoutis

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

500 g cherries
125 ml milk
60 ml cream (single or whipping)
2 eggs
50 g sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp kirsch
butter for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.  Butter a round or square oven-proof dish, just large enough to hold your fruit in a single layer;  I used a 23×23 cm sized ceramic dish for this recipe.

Wash your cherries and decide on whether or not you want to stone them – I’m not sure whether cooking the cherries with their stones adds any flavour, so when I have enough time I will stone them.

In a bowl mix the flour and sugar, then add the cream, milk, kirsch and eggs and stir with a wire whisk until combined.  Leave the batter to rest for 10 minutes; stir briefly, then pour over the cherries and bake for 30 – 35 minutes.  The exact cooking time may vary depending on your oven, but the clafoutis is cooked when it starts getting puffed around the edges and is no longer wobbly in the centre.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  If serving to children you can omit the kirsch and add a drop (but only one drop!) of almond essence.  You can make this a day ahead, in which case you cover the dish with clingfilm once it’s cooled enough not to melt the clingfilm, and put it in the fridge right away.  Ensure you let it come to room temperature before serving.

Heaps of sheeps

Transhumance n. the seasonal migration of livestock to suitable grazing grounds [C20: from French transhumer to change one’s pastures, from Spanish trashumar, from Latin TRANS- humus ground]

The above definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary.  Transhumance seems to have been around as long as animal husbandry.  It is practiced wherever the seasonal conditions mean that it’s better for livestock to move to a different place.  For example, think of the alpine pastures that are rich and lush in the summer, but are under a thick layer of snow during the winter.  Or think of the coastal plains of the Languedoc, which grow lush during the winter but dry out during the summer months.

The village of Vendres is situated close to the coast, just beside a lagoon, and there is a lot of grazing land around it – the ideal area for a flock of sheep!  Grazing plays an important part in maintaining the ecosystems of the somewhat marshy lands, and in reducing the fire hazard that un-grazed land would present during the hot summer months.

For the past twelve years, the village of Vendres has been celebrating the occasion of the transhumance of the sheep with a fete.  The neighbouring villages of Lespignan and Nissan have also joined in, and so the Fete de la Transhumance has evolved into a three-day event!  I went to Vendres last Saturday, to enjoy a day at the Fete de la Transhumance!

The highlight of the day was the procession of the flocks of sheep through the village, accompanied by riders on horseback.  First though came the marching band!Closely behind them were the horses…

…and then came the shepherds and the sheep!  I’ve seen sheep before, but seeing a huge flock of sheep arrive in a village is something I’d never experienced!

The sheep seemed to be going round in circles, pushed one against the other, with the whole flock moving very slowly towards where I was standing.

The man standing to the left in the above picture was holding a branch, with which he blessed the sheep by sprinkling holy water over them.
Finally, the sheep made off down the road, but there were sheep as far as I could see!!

More shepherds and a couple of sheepdogs brought up the rear, and everyone followed them down the road and into the village.

We took a shortcut to get to the Place du Lavoir where a small market and a communal meal had been set up.  To my surprise, the sheep came right past that square – once more it was wall-to-wall sheep!!

By the old lavoir, the open-air wash house, barbecues had been set up, and people were preparing salads on long trestle tables.  On the bouledrome next to the lavoir, tables and chairs had been prepared for 600 people – they were expecting a crowd!!

Come 12.30, the tables were pretty much filled up and people were queuing to get their lunches.  The atmosphere was great – lots of laughter, families meeting up, strangers making new friends, children running through the rows!  Some people had even brought table cloths for their tables, along with real wine glasses!

On my tray I had the following:  green salad with tomatoes, onions and olives, grilled lamb with boulangere potatoes, a slice of sheep’s cheese, a slice of apple tart, a piece of bread (very important, we are in France after all!!) and, also important, a quarter of wine (in a plastic beaker).  Everybody else’s trays were the same, by the way!!

The food was all very good, and there was plenty of it!  The lamb was locally raised and the cheese was produced with milk from the flocks we had just seen.  The apple tart was divine!

The market stalls next door to the bouledrome had a variety of items on offer: wine, honey, plants, cakes, hams and sausages, cheese, knick-knacks, etc. My favourite pretzel lady was there too!!

It’s definitely a fete I’ll be going to again – the meal alone is worth the trip!  Keep your eyes peeled for details of next year’s Fete de la Transhumance.  You’ll be able to find details on http://www.ladomitienne.com

Easter traditions in Perpignan

The colourful town of Perpignan is worth a visit at any time of year, but if you are interested in real spectacle you have to visit just before Easter.

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Every year on Good Friday, a procession winds its way through the narrow streets of old Perpignan, to commemorate the passion of Christ.  The origins of the procession can be traced back to Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Dominican monk who lived between 1350 and 1419.  La Confrerie de la Sanch, the Fraternity of the Holy Blood, was founded in October 1416 at the Church of Saint-Jacques in Perpignan, with the aim of accompanying those condemned to death, as well as their families, before and after the execution, and at the same time commemorating the passion of Christ.

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Perpignan Cathedral

The participants of the procession are called penitents – the men wearing black robes with hats pointing to the sky, their faces completely masked, some of them barefoot or only wearing sandals.  The women wear black veils on their head and are dressed head to toe in black.  The procession is always led by the Regidor, a figure dressed in a red robe, carrying an iron bell, which is rung intermittently, followed by a group of drummers.  The solemnity of the procession as it approached sent shivers down my spine.

In 1777 the authorities decided to confine the procession to the church grounds of the Saint-Jacques church, as it was deemed too baroque and Spanish.  The tradition of taking the procession through the streets of the old town was revived in 1950 and it’s been taking place ever since.

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Baroque is certainly a good term to describe the procession today, and the tradition is typically Catalan.   Other processions exist in Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, where they are still being held at night.

After the Regidor and the drummers comes a very large cross, carried upright by just one man, which is decorated with a great many symbols, which I imagine are instruments of the Passion of Christ, but I could not make sense of all of them.

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Reliquary of St Vincent Ferrier

The penitents carry the Misteri on their shoulders, which show scenes from the passion.  So there are all kinds of statues, which are brought from the churches and chapels of Perpignan and the surrounding villages, including one enormous cross, which had to be lowered every so often to pass below the power lines crossing the road.  The statues of the Virgin are dressed in black with mourning veils, some carrying the crown of thorns in outstretched hands, and all with strong expressions on their wooden faces.  The Misteri are heavy,  and the Penitents are doing this not for the spectators who line the streets, but for their faith.  At times I felt very much like an intruder taking photographs, and I did not shoot any videos (sorry!).

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The procession passes in silence; the penitents do not speak, and most of the bystanders watch in awed silence.  The only noise comes from a PA system, where someone is explaining the origins of the Sanch and reading what sounded to me to be sacred texts, some in Occitan. The PA system is also playing the Goigs, the traditional Catalan Easter songs.  I would have preferred for there not to been any of that.  For me it didn’t add to the atmosphere.

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The start is at 3pm in Rue de l’Eglise Saint-Jacques, and the procession returns there at 6pm.  In between there are four stops to give those carrying the Misteri a break.   When there is a break, even a short one during the walk, each one of the bearers has a stick on which to rest the handles of their heavy load.  Some of those sticks look as if they’ve been used for a very long time.

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So there I stood, awed by the whole thing, watching it go by, taking photographs of all the Misteri.  There had been a little wait before the procession arrived, and just across the street from where I stood was this rather fun sign, so here it is to lighten the mood 🙂

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There are many Misteri in the procession and many photographs I took, so I thought I would try and insert a slide show for you.

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So, if you ever are in the area around Easter, I would urge you to visit Perpignan on Good Friday, even if the weather does not look too good.  The procession will not leave you indifferent, and neither will the town of Perpignan!