A Christmas dip

No, this post is not about food!!  It’s about taking a dip in the sea at Christmas!  🙂

A tradition of winter swimming has grown along the Languedoc coast.  Several seaside towns mark the end of the year or the beginning of a new one with a swim.  Valras Plage, near Beziers, calls it the Bain de Noel, the Christmas swim.

In Valras, the tradition was started over 30 years ago by a few enthusiasts, who went swimming throughout the year.  On December 23, 2017, over 300 people came to take a dip in the sea.  The water temperature was 8 degrees Celsius, and as you’ll see from the photographs, the sun was shining!

People wore all kinds of fancy costumes to mark the occasion:

The life guards had come dressed up as Santa’s helpers:

Santa was waiting for the bathers on a barge:

After a brief warm up, the bathers made a dash for the water!!  I saw some people jump in head first, whilst others went in up to their knees.  I’m not sure that I would have been that brave!  The water must have felt freezing cold!!

The video below will give you a good idea of the fun everyone had!  After the dip, there was hot mulled wine for all the bathers!!  🙂

Would you go for a Christmas swim in the sea?  Or would you prefer a stroll along the beach?  Or….?





What’s going on

It’s time for an update on upcoming events in the area – there is much to look forward to!!

Limoux Carnival – 7 January 2018 to 18 March 2018

The good people of Limoux take their carnival very seriously.  Different groups have the run of the central square every Saturday and Sunday during the carnival period.  It’s always an enjoyable festival to visit – I have previously written about it here, and you can find the full programme of this year’s events via this link.

Fete du Mimosa, Roquebrun – 11 February 2018

The Fete du Mimosa is a must if you are in the area – a great fun fete!  I have visited many times and I’ve written about it here.

Vinisud 2018, Montpellier – 18 to 20 February 2018

This international wine fair is aimed at professionals, and showcases the region’s output. 1,500 exhibitors show 26,000 product lines – lots of wine to work through!!  You can find details of the fair here.

Fete du Cochon et du Terroir, Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres – 25 February 2018

I think you would have a good time at this annual event in Saint-Pons, which I have visited on a number of occasions, and written about previously.  The format has changed somewhat since my article, but I imagine that the fete will still be very enjoyable!

Truffle Markets in the area – until end February 2018

The truffle harvest in the area continues into February, and visiting a truffle market is very enjoyable.  You can find a full list of dates and locations 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.

Escale a Sete – 27 March to 2 April 2018

Once again the tall ships will be mooring up at Sete for what promises to be an amazing week, celebrating the 350 years of the port of Sete.  I wrote about the tall ships in March 2014 – find the post here.   You can find information about this year’s programme via this link.

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art, all over France/Europe– 6 to 8 April 2018

The European Artistic Craft Days are held every year on the first weekend in April.  They give the public a chance to see expert craft makers in action.  A few years ago, I visited a workshop where verre mousseline is made – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s event on the official French website.

Guided visits of the Savonnerie carpet workshops, Lodeve – Thursdays and Fridays throughout the year

The Savonnerie workshops continue a tradition of carpet-making in France which dates back centuries.  I’ve visited the workshops in Lodeve a number of times, and wrote a post a little while back.  If you want to visit, make sure you reserve in advance.  Full details are on this website.

Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 6 May 2018

This event is not to be missed if you are into flea markets and antiques.  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”!!

World Rugby U20 Championship 2018, Beziers, Narbonne, Perpignan – 30 May to 17 June 2018

World Rugby has announced that France will host the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2018 with matches being played in Béziers, Perpignan and Narbonne.  The five match days will take place on 30 May, 3 June, 7 June, 12 June and 17 June.  More details on this website.

Festival de Carcassonne – 17  to 30 July 2018

The Carcassonne festival is one of the biggest in the area, attracting stars such as Elton John (a few years ago).  This year’s star-studded line-up includes Robert Plant, Beth Ditto, A-Ha (remember them??) and Simple Minds.  You can find the full programme here.




Bonne annee – and about time too!

It’s high time that I should write another post – but first I’d like to wish you all bonne année – happy new year!!  In France, we can wish one another a happy new year until the end of January, and there is much of that going on right now all over the country!

It is customary to exchange wishes whenever one first meets a relative, friend, neighbour or acquaintance in the new year.  Usually the meilleurs vœux (best wishes) are accompanied by bonne santé (good health), since good health is one of the most precious things in life.

Most of the time you’d kiss the person you are exchanging wishes with – even if you don’t usually kiss them during the rest of the year: one kiss on the right and another on the left cheek, to go with the wishes.

Daffodils flowering in January in Saint-Chinian – a welcome sight in the new year!

Then there are the official vœux – in a lot of villages there are ceremonies which are organised by the town councils, where the mayor and the councillors wish the inhabitants a happy new year, and talk about their plans and projects for the coming year.  And of course there will be drinks and nibbles after the official speeches!  In Saint-Chinian, this ceremony is on the day I am writing this post.

A new year offers all kinds of opportunities.  My resolution was to start up my daily yoga practice, and so far I’ve been able to stick with it.  It’s not always easy to find the time, but where there’s a will there’s a spare half hour or so!! 🙂  And the benefits are great!!

My main new year’s goal – and the reason for the slightly longer-than-planned break from blogging – was the re-design and re-launch of my German language website.  If you’re curious, you can find it here.  It’s been interesting work and I’ve had fun re-doing that website, but I’m glad that I’ve more or less completed it now!

I hope you’ve had a great start to the new year!!  Have you made any new year’s resolutions?  And if you did, have you managed to keep them??

I leave you with a picture of some mimosa blossoms.  The trees in and around Saint-Chinian have started to flower already – another beautiful welcome to the new year from mother nature!!

Mimosa blossoms in Saint-Chinian





Season’s Greetings

As the festive season is upon us, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful time over the holidays!  I’ll be taking a few weeks off – look out for my next post in 2018.  Until then, stay healthy and happy!

Olive grove in the snow

Sailing again

If you have visited Saint-Chinian, you’ll probably know that there is a windmill standing on the hill above the village.  It was reconstructed as a fully functional windmill from a ruin a good many years ago.  During the summer months, volunteers from the association Richesses du St Chinianais used to offer guided visits and would make the windmill turn if there was enough wind.

Unfortunately, at some point the rot set in – in the main beam which held the sails and acted as the drive shaft.  One day, a couple of years ago, the beam just snapped off, and the four sails dropped to the ground.  It was a sad day for the village, but at least nobody was hurt.

The sails were put into storage, whilst experts looked at ways of repairing the windmill.  In the end, it was decided to re-make the sails and the external part of the drive shaft with steel rather than wood.  To my mind it’s been a surprisingly successful repair – you can’t really tell the difference even from just a few meters away.

With the sails replaced, the windmill was opened to visitors again last summer, and the volunteers from Les Richesses gave guided tours once more!  The day I visited, I arrived early enough to watch the sails being unfurled.  I shot a video, which gives you an idea of the tranquility of the spot, and what is required to get this windmill operational!

There was no wind on the day I visited, so unfortunately the sails would not turn.  But don’t be disappointed!  I did write about the windmill back in June 2013,  and I included videos of the windmill turning in that post – you can read the post here.

On your next visit to Saint-Chinian, don’t forget to have a look at the windmill – it’s worth the drive or walk for the views alone!!

Let it flow

A few months ago, I discovered an olive mill near Beziers.  Domaine Pradines le Bas is just a few kilometers from Beziers town centre, in the direction of Murviel-les-Beziers.  Francine Buesa has been planting olive trees on the estate for more than 15 years, and her trees are now in full production.

Olive grove at Domaine Pradines le Bas

I visited again last week to watch olive oil being pressed.  The olive harvest starts as early as at the end of August, when the olives destined for the table are being picked.  The harvest can continue into January.  Once the table olives are picked, the rest of the harvested olives are being processed for oil.  Green, purple and black olives come from the same tree, but are at different stages of ripeness.  As olives ripen, their oil content starts to increase.

Olives ready for pressing

Olives ready for pressing

At Pradines le Bas, the table olives are picked by hand, whereas the olives destined for olive oil are harvested mechanically.  A special harvesting machine is used – the machine spreads what looks like a giant upturned umbrella underneath the tree, and then gently vibrates the tree, shaking off the ripe olives.  The upturned umbrella catches them all!  The olives are then loaded into large crates and taken to the mill for processing.  Here’s a picture of the machine:

Olive harvesting machine

Olive harvesting machine

At the mill, the olives are loaded into a machine which separates the leaves from the olives, and washes the olives.

Starting the milling process

Starting the milling process – the cleaning machine

The black box on top of the machine takes care of the leaves, a bit like a giant vacuum cleaner, whilst the ‘washing machine’ is below.  Once the olives are washed, they are transported to the room next door.  Stepping into the room next door was great!  There was a wonderful scent in the air – difficult to describe – somewhat herby but definitely smelling of olive oil.

From the hopper, an Archimedes screw takes the olives to the mill unit, where they are pulped, stone and all!

Arrival of the cleaned olives

The olive pulp then goes into a malaxer, a machine, which slowly mixes the olive pulp for up to 45 minutes.  This mixing helps the extraction process later on.

Malaxer with the lid closed, to avoid oxidization

Here’s a video for you – unfortunately you don’t get the smell, but you’ll get an idea of the noise!! 🙂  (Note: e-mail subscribers, you may have to visit the website in order to be able to watch the video)

The olive pulp being mixed.

From the malaxer, the pulp gets pumped into the extractor, where the pulp is spun to separate the liquid from the solids.  The solids end up next door and are later spread out in the olive groves, nothing is wasted!

Extracting the juice from the olive pulp.

The yellowish olive juice runs through a sieve into a container, from where it is pumped to a centrifuge.

Olive juice!

The centrifuge separates the water from the oil.  The golden coloured olive oil runs from the spout in a thin but steady stream!

Freshly pressed olive oil

When freshly pressed, the olive oil has a cloudy appearance.  The oil is unfiltered, so tiny particles of olive pulp are still in suspension.

The pressing plant

Once pressed, the oil is transferred to stainless steel tanks, where, over time, the particles slowly drop to the bottom, leaving the oil perfectly clear and sparkling!

Over 900 litres of olive oil!!

The bottom of the stainless steel tanks are v-shaped, and that’s where the solids collect.  A tap at the bottom of the tank allows the solids to be drawn off.  That part is sent to a soap factory for processing into soaps and cosmetics.

Stainless steel storage tank

The oil is now ready to be bottled and sold!  The shop is right next door to the mill.  Large windows in the shop allow the visitors to see the equipment throughout the year.

In the shop you can find a variety of olive oils (you can taste them all!), tapenades, table olives and cosmetic products, as well as a selection of products from partners (vinegars, jams, etc.).  You can also buy via the on-line shop, but nothing beats tasting the oils before you buy!  When you buy olive oil, bear in mind that up to 10 kilos of olives are used to make a litre of olive oil.  At Pradines le Bas, all olive oil is cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

Making olive oil is not the only activity at Pradines le Bas.  Up the stairs from the olive mill is a gallery for contemporary art.  Don’t miss it if you visit – the exhibitions change on a regular basis, and are always worth a look!!