High five

It’s party time this week!!  I am celebrating the fifth anniversary of this blog – anyone fancy some bubbly??

I can’t quite  believe that I published my first post on March 7, 2012 – it seems such a long time ago!  That first post was titled “Do you enjoy walking?” and looking at it again, I can see that my style has changed a great deal since then!

It all started with John Bojanowski, of Clos de Gravillas, telling me that I should have a blog, that it would complement the midihideaways website.  Five years, and 253 posts later, I am still finding new things to write about!!  It’s been a highly enjoyable experience, at the same time broadening my horizons and my knowledge of the area.

Some statistics:  there have been 23,668 visitors to the blog, and the most read post of all time was “The secrets of Tarte Tatin – explained!“, which was published on November 30, 2012.

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The second most popular post was “The great big mimosa party …” from February 15, 2015.  The Fete du Mimosa is still an annual event in Roquebrun!

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Figgy Jam“, which was published on September 11, 2015 was the most commented on post!

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A gourmet walk“, about a delicious walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, published on July 15, 2015 was also very highly commented on.  This post was number 2 as far as comments are concerned.

Walking along the vineyards

Walking along the vineyards

The busiest day for the blog was on August 7, 2015 when “Art everywhere” was published.

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Visitors to the blog come from all over the world and it is read by 713 regular subscribers/followers, plus a number of readers who access the blog via social media and by recommendation.

All this would not have been possible without the unwavering support from Anthony and Annie – a huge thank you to both of you – you deserve medals!!  And thank you to you for reading and commenting and liking the posts!

Do you have any favourite posts?  Is there anything you would like to read about?  Please complete the poll, and leave your comments in the section below – I always love hearing from you!  Here’s to the next five years!!

Light up your heart

The city of Montpellier has a special sparkle in the run-up to Christmas, when night falls early and festive decorations light up the streets in the heart of the city.

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I wrote about my visit to the Christmas market in Montpellier about this time last year.  This year I have a different treat in store for you:  for three days at the beginning of December, the city centre’s landmark buildings served as canvases for the most wonderful light shows!  There were nine locations in all, and I managed to see the shows at five of them.  I started with the Arc de Triomphe, which was lit up spectacularly before the show:

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I shot videos of all the sites I visited, so here are two of the Arc de Triomphe – if you receive this blog by e-mail, you may have to visit the blog page, in order to watch the videos.  The amazing light show turned the building into a futuristic spaceship, which took off for a flight through space!

Next, I stopped at the Prefecture, a very imposing building by day, and really funky looking that night:

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The theme for the show at this building was a magical circus, with strong men pushing pieces of a giant puzzle into place.  Have a look!

At the church of Notre Dame des Tables the students of the Montpellier School of Art and the Montpellier School of Computer Graphic Animation and Visual Effects had been given free hand.  Their work was varied and highly entertaining.

Here are two videos:

Not far away was the Musee Fabre, where the show drew inspiration from some of the great paintings which are on display in the museum.

The show made you believe at times that the building was really moving!

As it was getting later, it became time for something to eat!!  My companions found a Lebanese restaurant in one of the side streets near the railway station.  The place was buzzing and warm, and we had a wonderful meal!  Meze to start with, followed by a large grill platter – very tasty and plentiful!!  The restaurant is called Al Manara, and you can find their website here.

The meze dishes were tabbouleh, hummus, aubergine caviar, cucumber with yoghurt, and beans with tomatoes.

On the grill platter we had grilled chicken breast (marinated beforehand, tender and juicy!), lamb kafta (minced lamb with onion and parsley), chawarma (a kind of kebab, with a wonderful sauce), as well as tasty rice and some salad.  There wasn’t room for dessert!!

But there was time for one last light show, at the Eglise St-Roch!

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The facade of this church transformed into a kind of factory before our very eyes!

As this is the last post for this year, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful and happy festive season!!  See you next year, I hope!

On your broomstick!

About 10 years ago, at the wine harvest fete in Cessenon, I met Didier Duserre, who was making brooms.  He was demonstrating how traditional brooms were made from sorghum straw, and he explained that his production was 100% French, since he grew his own sorghum.  I was fascinated by the process, and even more fascinated when he told me about the Marche des Sorcieres, a witches’ market, which was held in his home town of Saint Chaptes on the 1st of November every year.  I mentally filed that bit of information away, in the hope that I might be able to visit the market one day.

That day came this year, and I’m very happy that I finally was able to visit the market.  The drive to Saint Chaptes was beautiful, taking me across the mountains as I gave the motorway a miss.  I visited a couple of places on the way, and stayed overnight in Uzes, which enabled me to be at the market early.

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I met Didier Duserre again, who was at the centre of the market with his broom-making demonstration.  He explained that the market was started over 10 years ago by a group of women artists and artisans, who were looking for somewhere to sell their wares.  He suggested that they hold a market, and the ladies came up with the name.  It was a success from day one, and nowadays the market draws thousands of visitors each year!

Didier makes all kinds of brooms, all from the sorghum that he grows himself.  To find out a little more about the process, you can visit his website here.

At the market, the witch theme was to be seen everywhere, from the witches’ cauldron in front of Didier’s stall …

… to the items for sale at some of the stalls…

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… and it extended to the dress of some of the visitors!

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The market stalls offered a wonderful variety of goodies, from clothes to food to traditional handicrafts.

The storyteller kept young and old entertained:

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Some of the artisans were demonstrating their art:

There was another broom-maker at the market – to my mind his brooms looked more like the brooms a witch would use!! 🙂

A lady on stilts was walking through the crowds, holding people spellbound with her graceful movements and her puppet which moved as if by magic.  Her costume was very original – have a close look at her hat, it’s a re-purposed funnel!

We’ve come to the end of this post, and I hope you enjoyed our visit to the Marche des Sorcieres in Saint Chaptes.  Remember, all you aspiring witches, it is always on the 1st of November!

Coming up – the festive season

Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder, people everywhere are thinking about preparing for the festive season.  In our area, the marches aux truffes and the foires aux gras – truffle markets and foie gras fairs – are very much part of the run-up to Christmas.

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The truffle markets will be taking place all over the Occitanie region (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Pyrenees Orientales) from mid-December to mid-March.  The ones before Christmas will be especially popular with buyers who want a special touch of luxury for their celebration.  You can find a list for the truffle markets in the region via this link.  And if you want to know what it is like to visit a truffle market, have a look at the post I wrote about my visit to one such market a little while ago.

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The foie gras fairs start in mid-October and run until the end of March, and are for those who enjoy eating foie gras and ducks and geese.  At a typical fair you’ll find many different kinds of foie gras for sale, along with the meat of the birds who produced the fattened livers, either as whole birds (minus the livers) or pieces thereof.  The legs can be turned into confit de canard (or confit d’oie if it was a goose), the breasts are grilled and the rendered fat is a great replacement for butter or oil in cooking.  I’ve written about my quest for making confit de canard in a previous post.  If you are interested in any of this, you can find the dates for the foie gras fairs via this link.

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In this part of the world, to prepare for the festive season also means stocking up on good wines.  To make it easier for the buyers to do just that, the Saint-Chinian winemakers’ syndicate has come up with the idea of an open day, a Journee Portes Ouvertes. The idea is that you can go from winery to winery, meet the winemakers, taste what what they have on offer, and buy what you like.  The event will take place on December 10th, 2017 and you can find full details here.

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Once you have your truffles, foie gras and wine, you’ll need to shop for presents.  Where better but at one of the many Christmas markets which are taking place all over the region?  Some are one-day events, whilst in the larger towns they can run for the whole month of December!  Month-long markets can be found in Montpellier (1 to 28 December 2016), Carcassonne (3 – 31 December 2016) and Perpignan (3 to 31 December 2016); dates for the Christmas markets in Narbonne have not been announced at the time of writing this, and in Beziers there will be pop-up Christmas shops all over the town centre, rather than a classic Christmas market.

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The smaller one-day events have already started, and here is just a small selection, to give you an idea of what is coming up!  The first market on my list is at the Chateau Abbaye de Cassan on November 26th and 27th, 2016.  This is a very popular event with many stalls.  On December 3rd, 2016 markets can be found at Agde, Quarante, Serignan and Servian.  The following day, on December 4th, 2016, Christmas markets take place in Saint-Chinian and at Terra Vinea near Portel-des-Corbieres.  On the following weekend, there is a market in Lezignan Corbieres on Saturday, December 10th, 2016, and on the Sunday, December 11, 2016 there are Capestang and Cruzy.  On December 17, 2016 there is a Christmas market in Valras Plage, and Chateau Coupe Roses in La Caunette is hosting a market on December 18, 2016.  The last market on my list takes place in Caunes Minervois on December 20, 2016 – for all those last minute presents!!

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Do you have a favourite Christmas market?  How do you prepare for the festive season?

Summer celebrations

By the time you get to read this post, the excitement of the past month will have abated a little!

Saint-Chinian has had a busy summer, packed with events!  Since the night markets were so successful last year, they were held each Tuesday throughout July and August.  There was music, food, and shopping, all in the main square, decorated with French flag bunting and coloured lights!

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The passing of the Tour de France through Saint-Chinian on July 13 was a day of great excitement for the village!  It took the same route as last time (in 2011).  First came the “Caravane”, a long line of all kinds of publicity vehicles!  They distributed all kinds of goodies: hats, bottled water, jelly beans, newspapers, shopping bags, pens – you name it.  All thrown at the bystanders!!

The cyclists came into the village along the Avenue de Villespassans, down the main street, and then they took a sharp right onto Avenue Raoul Bayou.  Luckily for us, the sharp turn slowed them down somewhat!! 😀

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And hot on the heels of the cyclists (excuse the pun) came Bastille Day!!  The national holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille (a prison in Paris) on July 14, 1789, an important event of the French revolution, and also celebrates the Fete de la Federation, which took place on July 14, 1790, and which celebrated the unity of the French people.

In Paris there is a huge military parade, along with an impressive display of planes flying in formation overhead:

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And at night, the Eiffel Tower is lit up with the most amazing fireworks:

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But all over France, even the smallest villages ‘go to town’ and make the national holiday a festive event!  Look at how prettily the town hall in Saint-Chinian was decorated:

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The fireworks in Saint-Chinian are usually not be sniffed at either – they are pretty impressive!!

Unfortunately, this year’s fireworks in Saint-Chinan had to be postponed, due to very strong winds.  To everybody’s great distress, Bastille day ended in horror for the people of Nice and throughout France – next year it won’t feel the same.

After Bastille day came the Fete du Cru.  Since it was not really a celebration but a wine fair, it was deemed to be OK to go ahead during the mourning period for the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice.  As always, the market square had been lined with two rows of booths, and you could taste the wines on display simply by buying a glass at the booth by the entrance.  I’ve written about this great event a few years back.  You can read the post here.

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Did you go to any festivities this year?  What was your favourite?

Summer events

Summer is here at last, so here is an update to the page of upcoming events in and around Saint-Chinian:

Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 5 to 10 July 2106

Come and listen to one (or more) of the eight concerts, which are given in Saint-Chinian’s Abbatiale and the parish church. The programme is varied and offers a selection of different musical styles.  The festival opens with the children’s choir of Beziers Cathedral.  Amongst the concerts, there is an organ recital in the parish church, a tribute to Charles Trenet, a saxophone quartet playing jazz and more.  The full programme can be found on http://www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

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Jazz a Sete, Sete – 13 to 19 July 2016

This internationally renowned Jazz Festival takes place in Sete every year, and is a must for lovers of Jazz!  This year’s festival is headlined by Diana Krall (already sold out!), but there are tickets available for many of the other performers.  The concerts take place in the Theatre de la Mer, an open-air theatre with the sea as a backdrop.  Details can be found here.

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6eme Academie Musicale, Saint-Chinian – 16 to 23 July 2016

For the sixth time in as many years, Herve Hotier and Lauranne Chastal, with the collaboration of Pierre Courthiade, are running a week of classes for flute students.  A masterclass will be given by Juliette Hurel, 1st flute of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.  The week ends with a recital at 5pm on July 22, followed by a concert by the students at 7:30pm.

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Fete de l’Olivier, Bize-Minervois – 17 July 2016

This popular fete always coincides with the Fete du Cru in Saint-Chinian.  The theme is the olive and its cultivation, and there is usually a competition for the best tapenade, among other activities.  There will be lots of food to buy and eat there, and the atmosphere is always great!  You can read about my visit to this fete here.

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Marche des Potiers (pottery market), Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 23 and 24 July 2016

If you enjoy pottery then this event is for you – dozens of potters displaying their wares in the shade of plane trees!  I can always find something to buy at this kind of fair!! 😀

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Fete de St Louis, Sete – 18 to 23 August 2016

The Fete de St Louis celebrates Sete’s maritime heritage and its patron saint with six days of events.  There will be over 70 street performances, and there will be a big jousting tournamen.  The jousting is done on water and in boats!!

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Fete de la Chataigne, Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 29 and 30 October 2016

The chestnut festival in Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres is one of the biggest autumn festivals in the area.  It is well worth a visit, whether you like chestnuts or not!  I have visited this festival many times, and you can read my post about it here.

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If you want to attend any of these events and are in need of accommodation, just drop me a line or visit www.midihideaways.com