Still lots going on!

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that at the end of the summer the area falls into a Sleeping Beauty-like torpor – but far from it!  There is still plenty going on to keep us entertained!!

As soon as fall starts, there are the harvest festivals such as the ones I wrote about last week.  The theatre season starts up again in Narbonne, Beziers and Montpellier.  Beziers has several venues for theatre, classical music, dance and even opera – you can find the full programme here.

The theatre in Narbonne is housed in a very modern building, quite a contrast to the quaint old theatre in Beziers.  It does have better sight-lines than the theatre in Beziers, and the second (smaller) auditorium has been equipped for cinema screenings.  The programme can be found via this link.

The live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City are screened at the Theatre in Narbonne, and at the MonCine cinema in Beziers!

Montpellier, being a big city, has a number of theatres of all types – a modern opera house, a grand 19th century theatre building and several smaller theatres.  There’s always something going on!  The programme can be found here.

November is the time when people in this area start to buy fresh foie gras and other bits of duck and goose, to prepare a stock of goodies to last them the winter!

Coursan and Limoux have their Foires au Gras – literally translated as ‘Fat Fairs’ but they are really foie gras markets – on November 18 (Coursan) and 24 (Limoux), 2018.

The truffle markets start this year on December 15 with a market in Moussoulens.  The last truffle market of the season will be on March 10, 2019 in Cabrespine – you can find dates and the programme here.

In preparation for Christmas (think shopping!!), eleven wineries in the Saint-Chinian area have a day of tastings and visits on December 8, 2018 – the programme can be found via this link.

Next, we have Christmas markets!  They are becoming ever more popular in the area – here is a small selection for you:

November 24 and 25, 2018 – (Christmas) Cracker Fair at the Abbaye de Valmagne

December 2, 2018 – Christmas market in Saint-Chinian, Salle de l’Abbatiale

December 9, 2018 – Christmas market in Capestang, Salle Nelson Mandela

In the bigger towns, the Christmas markets are on for most of December:

Les Hivernales Christmas market in Montpellier is open from November 29 to December 27, 2018.

Carcassonne’s Magie de Noel opens on December 6, 2018 and closes on January 6, 2019.

So far, most of this post has been about food and other shopping opportunities.  Here now are a few more opportunities for entertainment:

On December 12, 2018 the Salle de l’Abbatiale in Saint-Chinian hosts a concert with the La Cantarela choir from Beziers, Ulrike van Cotthem (soprano), Sebastien Mazoyer (bandoneon) and Conrad Wilkinson (piano).  There’ll be music by Debussy, Faure, Schumann and Strauss, and the Misatango by Martin Palmeri.  This should be a very good concert – don’t miss it!

The Christmas concert in Narbonne takes place on December 15 in the cathedral, with the Narbonne Symphony Orchestra, the Via Lyrica choir and Daniele Scotte (soprano).  This should be another great concert.

And finally, If you are a fan of the circus tent, you’ll have to visit Toulouse between December 1, 2018 and January 6, 2019.  The Grande Cirque de Noel pitches its tents at the Cepiere racetrack in Toulouse.  There will be acrobats, clowns, horses, daredevil stunts and more!!

 

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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?

A German Christmas

Yes, I admit – I was not in France for Christmas!!  For the first time in several years, I spent the holidays in Bavaria with my family.  I travelled early enough to be able to catch some of the Christmas markets which close well ahead of Christmas, and to have as much time to spend with family and friends as possible.  The first stop on my Christmas market marathon was Schloss Tuessling, a small Renaissance castle, where the Christmas market takes place over four December weekends each year.  The stalls are varied with a good mix of crafts and food/drinks, and spread around the grounds of the castle, and through some of the outbuildings.  There was still snow on the ground to make it all look lovely and wintry, and I was glad to have brought a hat and gloves!  A walk through former grain silos (I think 12 in total) took me on an adventure in Christmas decoration, and at the end was a staircase up into the granary, where there were stalls under the most amazing roof construction!  The walk continued through a wing which had formerly been staff accommodation and then an old people’s home, and which had a kind of “Marie Celeste” feeling to it.  The stalls in that section had been carefully chosen to fit in with the ambience and sold a mixture of old and new, and some beautiful jewellery.  And then there was the stall with the cinnamon stars – imagine fresh doughnuts but in the shape of a star, and rolled in cinnamon sugar.  They got eaten so quickly that I never did manage to get a photograph!

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My second Christmas market that day was at Burg Burghausen – the longest castle in the world.  I’ve often visited the castle over the years, but never for a Christmas market, so I was very excited to see the halls which were used to house the artists and craftspeople selling their wares.  Out in the courtyard were the food stalls, and some artisans such as the blacksmith and the wood-carver.  A bonus was that a visit to the State Gallery in part of the castle was included in the admission to the market.  The rooms are magnificent as are most of the paintings exhibited, but the highlight was the viewing platform on the roof.  Not for the faint hearted, I warn you, as the drop is vertiginous (but the railings solid) – but oh what a view!!  On the way in was another stall selling cinnamon stars, so that was number 2 and a little bit better than the one I’d had earlier that day!

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A day trip to Munich was another opportunity to visit Christmas markets.  I don’t remember just how many there are, but I managed to visit three.  But first I went to visit Villa Stuck to see the Gunter Sachs exhibition, with wide variety of works, from Max Ernst to Andy Warhol.  Villa Stuck was the palatial home of Franz von Stuck, at his time a celebrated and successful artist.  Unfortunately the website seems to be only available in German.

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On to the Christmas markets though.  My first stop was at the mediaeval market at Wittelsbacher Platz.  The name implies the theme and it was very well done.  All the stallholders were in costume, and the booths were imaginatively built, each one different from the next.  There was some wonderful food here (wish I’d known in advance, I’d had a light lunch at Villa Stuck) and I had the best apple fritters I can remember eating.

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My next stop was the Christmas village in the Emperor’s court of the Residenz palace – a beautiful courtyard filled with a great variety of stalls with a focus on crafts.On the way there, across Odeonsplatz I spied a group of musicians just outside the Hofgarten.  They were playing beautiful classical music and must have been frozen.  I wonder how the instruments managed to stay in tune!  Outside the Residenz “Santa” had taken up residence with a small fair organ, entertaining the passers by.

Inside the courtyard, food and especially Gluehwein played a prominent place, and those stalls were busiest wherever I went at whatever time of day!  There was also an area for children, with animated displays and Christmas songs.

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To warm up a little I visited the Cuvillies theatre, the theatre of the Residence palace, a heady confection of white and gold roccoco.  If you are ever in Munich don’t miss this gem.

On to the market in front of Munich’s gothic town hall on Marienplatz.  This market had been changed around somewhat since I’d last visited and there were more food stalls and fewer stalls selling the beautiful decorations of a few years ago.  The market selling Christmas creches and nativity scenes had been moved from Rindermarkt to be strung out along Neuhauser Strasse and had lost much of its charm in the process.  Still, there were some nice decorations and a few very good stalls.  I finished the day by visiting a friend who lives in walking distance to the centre, before making my way back to my parents’ home.

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And then there was one final Christmas market, just a few days before Christmas, in Burgkirchen – a small market only on for a few days and very much designed to bring local people together.  They had fire baskets to keep warm, and lots of food and gluehwein.  This is where I had my third Cinnamon star, but the one in Burghausen remained the best of them all.

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In the run up to Christmas eve I kept busy, and even managed to build a gingerbread house.  Christmas eve afternoon I went for another visit to Burghausen and had the castle almost all to myself.  From the town below the sounds of a brass band playing Christmas carols drifted up, and as the sun started to set the lights began to twinkle in the distance.  A magical start to the festive season!

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I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas too, and wishing you all the very best for 2013.

Christmas markets, and how one thing leads to another…

Last Sunday I set out to visit the Christmas market in Argeliers, a village not far from Saint-Chinian.  I’d found it on a listing of Christmas markets for the area, and since Argeliers is a fairly good size I assumed that the Christmas market would be too.  Now I know one should not assume and in this case my assumptions were entirely wrong.

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Got to Argeliers, drove into the centre, thinking I would find signs or lots of people and/or stands, only to be driving round a deserted village.  Drove out to the main street, came back in again and spied a little sign by the side of the road, with the correct date on it.  OK, so it’s today, but where?  Then I saw a lady emptying trash and asked her.  Just by the cooperative winery, she said.  So round again, and sure enough there were a good many cars – looks promising I thought!  Eventually I found the entrance to the hall (large, spacious,well-lit AND heated!), but the cars must have all belonged to the stallholders!!  It took me less than ten minutes to go round.  I felt very much like an intruder, the few customers who were there chatted with the stallholder as if they were old friends, and that, along with what was for sale made me think that it was by the village for the village.  Nothing wrong with that!

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Still, the day was sunny and the weather reasonably good, so I decided to explore the village.  And I’m glad I did.  There’s a lot of history there and some beautiful buildings!  The vigneron’s revolt in 1907 started from there and the cafe owned at the time by Marcelin Albert, one of the instigators, proudly sports a plaque in his memory.

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There’s another old cafe on this square (unfortunately both closed down), which looks impossibly grand.  Two old advertising plaques still adorn the walls, albeit somewhat damaged.  This one is for Secrestat Bitters, a drink long since disappeared from view and no longer produced.

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On my wanders I found the old core of the village, with narrow mediaeval lanes, and a bit of tower, which seems to be leftover from the old château.

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As it was Sunday afternoon everything including the church was closed, but there was still plenty to see!

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I ended up back by the cooperative winery, where I had left the car.  There are in fact two – La Vigneronne was the first one, founded in 1932 and right opposite La Languedocienne founded a year later in 1933.  It looks as though only La Languedocienne is still operating, but on a very large scale and with some very nice modern stainless steel tanks!

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This leads me nicely to the latest about wine making at Domaine La Madura:  the emptying out of the tanks and pressing of the must, and the mise en barrique!  Once fermentation is complete the wine is drawn off the tanks for storage and maturing.  And once the tanks are empty, what’s left behind are all the grape skins and pips.  The tanks are emptied by hand, and the residual matter pressed.  Some of the wine spends a year in oak barrels, and once the vinification is complete the wine is transferred right away.  I’ll not do a blow-by-blow account but will just leave you with a gallery of pictures.