For badge holders only

Most of us have been there at some point:  you’re visiting a place and you come across something that looks really interesting.  You have lots of questions, but there’s nobody to answer them. Mobile internet has made things a lot easier – smartphones allow us to call up information so easily, yet the information is only as good as the search terms we enter.  You really want someone who can tell you all about it – a real person, A GUIDE!!

More and more towns in the Languedoc area now offer guided visits.  I recently went on a guided visit of the historic centre of Montpellier – I booked it via the tourist office in Montpellier. A good number of different themed visits are organised by the tourist office there – this link should take you to the full list of visits on offer.  I went on the “Centre Historique” visit, which started outside the tourist office on Place de la Comedie.

After handing a badge to each participant of the guided tour, our guide, Xavier Laurent, gave us an overview of the history of Montpellier.  I’m going to give you a very brief summary:  the city has no Roman past, it was founded around the 10th century by the Guilhelm dynasty.  In the Middle Ages, the settlement expanded and prospered and became a centre for trade across the Mediterranean.  Montpellier became famous for its University, especially the law and medicine faculties, and the city was a stopping place on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.  For more information, have a look at the Wikipedia entry for Montpellier.

Montpellier continued to prosper and grow – it later became the administrative seat of the Herault departement and the Languedoc Region, and today it is in 7th or 8th position in the ranking of France’s largest cities. The university culture, started in medieval times, is still thriving today!

Xavier walked with us to Rue de la Monnaie, where he showed us bronze markers which were set in the pavement, and told us why they were there.

Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela usually wore a scallop shell on a string around their necks.  It was a symbol that was used along the pilgrimage routes – scallop shells would be affixed to buildings and doors, to denote shelter and welcome.  The real shells could be used by the pilgrims to scoop food and water, a bit like a spoon.  In Montpellier, the markers in the pavement denote the routes the pilgrims would have taken across the city.

From Rue de la Monnaie we went on to Rue de l’Aiguillerie and to the Hotel de Griffy.  The notables of Montpellier built their mansions in the centre of the town – many of them still exist but it’s unusual to be able to peek behind the doors!  Our guide had the keys to the enormous gates of the Hotel de Griffy, so we could have a look!!

In case you are wondering why I am only showing you some windows and not the whole facade, in the historic centre of Montpellier, most buildings are five times as high as the streets are wide, so it’s very difficult to get pictures of an entire house!

The Hotel de Griffy was divided into separate apartments at some point during its more recent history.  We were not able to visit the interior of the house, but we could see the courtyard and the staircase!

The four facades around the courtyard were identical, but above each of the central windows of the first floor was a different mask, sculpted in stone and representing the four seasons.  Lots of faces to watch all the comings and goings – if only they could tell us what they have seen…

The other windows were decorated with sculpted ornaments of various kinds, some of them probably heraldic.

The staircase took up one entire side of the courtyard – it was monumental!  The finely wrought iron balustrade dates from 1790, when the whole mansion was given a makeover.

From the Hotel de Griffy, our guide took us to the Montpellier equivalent of the Champs Elysees: the Rue Foch.

We were headed for the triumphal arch at the western end of Rue Foch, but first we admired the facade of the prefecture building.  The prefecture is the administrative headquarters of the Herault department.

A little detour around the back brought us to rue de la Canourge and this extraordinary street corner!!

This shell-shaped corner had been built in the days when the streets were frequented by horse and cart.  It  allowed the carts to turn the sharp corner without scraping the walls in the process!  On the wall of the building opposite are traces of tracery. 🙂

Join me next week for a view of Montpellier from the top of the triumphal arch and for a visit to the medieval mikve, and find out why the Place de la Comedie is called l’oeuf (the egg)!

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Seven years on …

When I started to write my first blog post in March 2012, little did I know that I would still be writing seven years later!!  At the time, I didn’t know what to expect from blogging, and I was very inexperienced at writing AND using the WordPress platform!  It was a journey into the unknown, a real adventure!!

Rapids on the river Orb – a real adventure of a different kind!

It didn’t take me all that long to get into the swing of things though, and what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm!! 🙂  Looking back at some of those early posts, I realise that my writing style has changed a great deal since then, but what has NOT changed over the years??

Flowering right now: wild narcissus

Flowering right now: wild narcissus

One of the reasons my writing has improved over the years is Annie, who tirelessly corrects my posts.  The posts you read would not be the same without her valuable input!  A big THANK YOU to Annie for her invaluable work!!!

A toast to Annie!

Writing has certainly given me a different perspective on things – just as improving my photographic skills has made me look at my surroundings in a different way.  When I hear people talk about their journeys, I realise that I am on a kind of journey too, and writing (almost) every week has helped me to find a path!

A path near Saint-Chinian, lined with flowering broom

Here are some statistics, for those of you who enjoy them: 🙂

  • There are 331 posts on this blog (this post will be No. 332).  The very first one was posted on March 7, 2012.
  • Up until March 11, 2019, the blog had been visited 40,418 times, and 106,309 page views had been registered.
  • My busiest blogging year was in 2013, with 52 posts!
  • The all time favourite blog post is “The secrets of Tarte Tatin – explained“, followed by “Oranges and Lemons” and “Saint-Chinian, the place to be“.
  • The busiest day on the blog was August 7, 2015, when I posted “Art everywhere“.
  • Visitors to the blog have come from 133 different countries – the top five countries in terms of visitor numbers are USA, France, UK, Sweden and Canada.
  • There are over 2,500 comments on the blog!!
  • No surprises for the last one – food related posts attract more likes and views than posts on any other topics! 🙂

Thank you to everyone who has been following and reading this blog!  Thank you for your comments – I love reading them – keep them coming!!  And lastly, thank you for sharing the posts with your friends, and for sharing them on Facebook and Twitter – I love having new readers and reading new comments and perspectives.  And I love the fact that it is all spreading the word about Saint-Chinian and the area!

Made for sharing!

What a difference a year makes!

Snow is very seldom seen in Saint-Chinian – temperatures are rarely low enough, and if they are then it is usually very dry.  So when it does snow it’s a memorable occasion and everyone takes pictures!!  Last year on February 28, Saint-Chinian was briefly snow-covered!

The snow is fun while it lasts, but it never lasts long – usually it’s gone by the end of the day!

This year, the weather on February 28 could not have been more different!!  It was a beautifully sunny and bright day, with all the promise of spring in the air!

The mimosa trees were in full flower, spreading their heavenly perfume!

The almond trees were blooming too, the flowers creating a delicate pink haze around the otherwise naked branches!

To my mind, blooming almond trees herald spring like nothing else!  There’s something about an almond tree in full flower that the camera just cannot capture – believe me, I’ve tried again and again over the years!

The violet flowers in my garden are another harbinger of spring.  I can usually smell them before I see them – they are usually so well hidden – they have a wonderfully strong perfume!

The daffodils are flowering already:

The roses are beginning to leaf out:

AND I have the most charming of plants in the garden, which is flowering profusely at the moment. It’s called Erodium pelargoniflorum ‘Sweetheart’ – and what a sweetheart it is!!

Have you seen any signs of spring yet??

Keeping a tradition alive

Many years ago, I went to a restaurant in a little hamlet called Fauzan, high up in the garrigue above the village of Cesseras.  On my first visit there, I joined friends to celebrate a significant birthday – we all had a wonderful time there!  The restaurant was known by the family name of the brother and sister who owned and ran it: Restaurant Chabbert.  Mme Chabbert was in the kitchen, preparing rustic and hearty fare.  Her brother looked after the vineyards and the wine cellar, and was often working at the restaurant too.  I went to the restaurant several times when the Chabberts were running it.  Here are a few pictures from some of those visits:

One day, Mr and Mme Chabbert retired and the restaurant closed its doors, to the chagrin of many people.  For two and a half years the restaurant lay empty, its doors locked, the kitchen shut, the car park abandoned.

Until….  Christophe and Audrey Cabrol managed to persuade the Chabbert siblings to allow them to rent the premises.  Christophe has been passionate about food and cooking from an early age, and has been cooking professionally for over 20 years  Audrey, Christophe’s wife, looks after the dining room, after having been an events manager for many years.  The restaurant is now called La Bastide de Fauzan.

The appearance of the dining room has changed only a little, but the food has changed a lot!!  My camera has also improved over the years 🙂

I’ve been to La Bastide de Fauzan twice in the last three months – both times with friends – and each time there was a lovely fire crackling away in the fireplace.

We had drinks and nibbles by the fire, whilst catching up!

On both visits, everyone had the menu at 34 Euros.  There are two other menus, one at 25 Euros and another at 55 Euros.  All three menus can be found on the restaurant’s website

Our mise en bouche or mini appetizer was a delicious combination of smoked salmon and cream cheese!

On our menu, we had two different starters to chose from: scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms …

… or flambeed gambas on buttered cabbage with cauliflower veloute.

I had eaten the gambas on my first visit, and absolutely delicious they were too(!), so I chose the scrambled eggs on my second visit – they were wonderfully creamy, and the taste of the mushrooms was great!

After the starter came the terrine!  This is very much like a pate de campagne – it is made with pork and various seasonings and it was very tasty!  The terrine is a house speciality which has a long and time-honoured tradition, dating back to when Mme Chabbert was in charge of the kitchen!!  Everyone just cut as much or as little as they liked!!

I was starting to feel pleasantly full after the terrine, but there was more to come, in the shape of the main course!!

Seabass filet with tapenade:

Slowly braised veal:

On my first visit, there had also been wild boar stew:

All of the main courses were utterly delicious!!  AND there were two more courses yet to come!

First was the cheese course, where there was a choice of either curd cheese with honey:

… or an assortment of cheeses:

The cheese course was followed by dessert.  Once again, there were several choices!

A melting chocolate cake served with mandarin sorbet:

A mandarin orange and chestnut tart:

Poached pear with vanilla ice cream, served on a bed of almond crumble:It was tough to chose which dessert to order – they were all so delicious!!

We rounded off our meal with a lemon verbena infusion – Audrey picked the lemon verbena fresh from the garden just for us!

On both occasions we had great meals and the experiences were wonderfully relaxing and unhurried, friendly and delicious.  We all felt very happy when we left! 🙂

I am looking forward to going back for another meal as soon as the weather is warmer and we’ll be able to eat on the terrace which overlooks a lovely garden!

If you want to visit La Bastide de Fauzan please be sure to book, either by e-mail (contact@bastidefauzan.fr) or by phone (+33 4 68 75 43 46).  You can find the current menu here.

Every face tells a story

Have you ever walked down an empty street and felt that you were being watched?  Even though there were no curtains twitching nor anyone at the windows?  Disconcerting, until you discover a face, somewhere high up on a building – a face that may have been gazing out for decades or centuries!  Take a walk around the small towns in Southern France, and you’ll be able to find those faces – sometimes well hidden, sometimes very obvious!

Below is a face above a door in Pezenas.

Faces and facades share the same etymological origin.  The facade being the ‘face’ of a building, it projects political, symbolic and social values, revealing all kinds of information about its owner.  A lot of the ornate facades in this post date from the 19th century, when you could flaunt it if you had it and more was definitely better!!

The pictures below are of a building in Castelnaudary – a former department store dating from the 1870s.  There are many faces on that facade!

The face below is high up on a wall in a narrow street in Beziers – it’s almost ghost like!

Atlantes always look somewhat weary and/or bored – I guess I would too, if I had to carry all that weight! 🙂

There are also plenty of animals to be found on facades.  Here is a pair of fearsome hounds guarding a gate:

A ram:

A lion:

More lions:

Here’s a pair of Caryatids, looking vaguely bored…

Someone’s looking out of a window of this tower in Narbonne.  I wonder what the story behind that window is!

Hermes or Mercury?

More caryatids – these adorn a renaissance mansion in Narbonne.

Two faces carved by the Beziers sculptor Injalbert

Green men also seem to figure in some places:

This finely sculpted face was actually on a door knocker and measured only about 3cm across!

I leave you with this beautiful art nouveau sculpture from a building in Beziers.  Raise your eyes next time you go for a walk – you’ll never know what you may find!!

The great big mimosa party …

The Fete du Mimosa in Roquebrun takes place this coming Sunday, February 10, 2019.  The weather forecast looks good, so perhaps I’ll see you there?? 🙂


… takes place each year on the second Sunday in February in the village of Roquebrun, in Languedoc.  Why, I hear you ask?  Well, Roquebrun, also known as Le Petit Nice because of its microclimate, is a perfect place for growing mimosa, and at that time of year the trees are in full bloom in Roquebrun and nearby.

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The Fete du Mimosa is now in its 22nd year and the main event is the parade of the decorated floats in the afternoon.  This year’s theme was “comic strip heroes” and we saw Tintin, the Smurfs, Becassine, Marsupilami, Lucky Luke, Boule et Bill, Bob the sponge, Titeuf and the Simpsons, all made by the local association Les Amis du Moulin and decorated with over 100,000 colourful paper flowers over the course of the winter.  More about the procession later, first some impressions of mimosa blossom!

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The yellow mimosa bloom seems to be especially pretty against a deep blue sky.  There’s something incredibly generous about a mimosa tree in full bloom, it almost shouts out that spring is only around the corner.  If you arrive for the fete in Roquebrun, you are most likely going to walk across the bridge.  Straight ahead of you you’ll see the mimosa stall, where you can buy your very own bunch of mimosa blossom to take home.  The scent is beautifully delicate and will make your house smell lovely.

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All along the main street are stands selling a variety of local produce and handicrafts, and there’s plenty of street food too!  On the Place de la Rotissoire the organising committee had their own food stall, with a great BBQ to one side!  Those guys were prepared for some serious cooking!

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I found some delicious Bugnes at one stall, strips of dough, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar.  Wikipedia has the English version of this as angel wings, but I also give you the French entry, in case you are tempted to make this!  A search on one of the popular search engines will turn up a sleigh of recipes.

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There were also the requisite sausages, along with lots of other food, from frites to pancakes and crepes made with chestnut flour.

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But back to the parade…  I got a sneak preview as some of the floats were driven down the main road (there really is only one in Roquebrun) to the starting point.  And they looked pretty good!

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After some lunch and a walk around the market I was ready to find my spot for the parade.  One of the walking bands entertained the waiting crowds for a little while, before heading off to the assembly point.  And then, after some waiting, there was this almighty bang – it really made me jump.  Apparently the sign that the parade had set off at the other end of the village!!  The master of ceremonies preceded the first tractor and it was Becassine who opened the fun!

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The floats and tractors were by now extravagantly decorated with mimosa bloom, and the floats were full of costumed children throwing confetti at the spectators (and each other!).  The Smurfs and Bill et Boule were next, and following each float was a band.

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Lucky Luke came next, and in my book this float won the prize!  Check out Lucky Luke’s cigarette!  And the horse was having such a great time!  AND the band following were all dressed in mimosa yellow!

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Tintin was next, followed by a brass band in green.

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And finally there was a float with three comic strip heroes:  Bob the sponge, Titeuf, and one of the Simpsons, I think it must have been Bart.

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Next came the Buffatiere and I doubt that you’ll have seen anything like it before.  A group of dancers, dressed in white (night) gowns with white nightcaps on their heads, dance around a wheelbarrow full of flour, with bellows in their hands.  Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?  Well, the dancers get to have their fun by blowing the flour-filled bellows at each other and the audience, and giving some of the bystanders a floury hug.  (For some history about the Buffatiere I found this website, in French only.)  I took a brief video for your amusement.

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But the party wasn’t over quite yet – there came the Fontaine a Vin, a mobile wine bar kind of thing, sponsored by the Cave Cooperative, and distributing small cups of red wine all along the way, with the ladies all dressed up as Becassine.

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Now, with Roquebrun being a one-street-town, the whole procession went as far as the Cave Cooperative, where it turned round and came back again!  So another chance to wave at the children (one enterprising boy started to throw branches of mimosa from his float at the bystanders, as the confetti had run out :-)), listen to the music and get covered in flour.  Oh yes, and then the wine came by again.

One of the bands consisted entirely of drums, and they were pretty good, so I’m sharing a video with you.

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And then it was over for another year!!

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