Spoilt for choice

Of late I have been “rationing” the restaurant write-ups somewhat – there has been so much else to write about. But the time has come for another restaurant round-up – I just wouldn’t want the foodies amongst you to feel neglected!! 🙂

The Cafe de Plaisance started out as a post relay in the old days of the Canal du Midi, located as it is right by the harbour in Beziers. Today the Cafe is run by Muriel and Laurence, whose grandparents once ran it – and the atmosphere has changed little since then, even though the kitchen and conveniences have been updated. It has a lovely old-fashioned feel to it, and sitting out under the massive plane trees is a joy.  The food is simple and delicious, and served only at midday.  The two course menu (starter & main course or main course & dessert) is priced at €14.50 and the full-works three course menu is €16.50.  There is also a choice from the a-la-carte menu.

In case you are wondering, the hydrangea was on the way to the restaurant and so spectacular that I just couldn’t resist sharing the picture!

My starter was a gazpacho, nice and tangy and a great opener.  For main course I had roasted guinea fowl, which was one of the day’s specials, while my dining companion had gambas with a lovely garlicky parsley butter.  The dessert, a home-made apple tart, was almost half eaten by the time I remembered to take a picture :)!

 

Le Terminus is a re-visit of sorts.  A restaurant has been in existence in the old railway station in Cruzy for as long as I know.  At one point it was rather rustic, but in its latest incarnation Le Terminus is definitely worth a visit!  Unfortunately it was somewhat cold and windy on the night of our visit so we sat inside.  No real hardship, the dining room looked nice and the chairs were comfortable.  Service was very good and the food, which soon appeared, was delicious!

All of us had the Terrine de Foie Gras to start our meal with. Very delicious it was, and we all liked the fun touch of presenting the salad in a Bonne Maman jam jar!  The warm bread on the plate was almost too good to be true, and in the little glass there was some Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois – always a good accompaniment to Foie Gras.

Main courses were varied – my dining companions opted for slowly cooked lamb shoulder (12 hours) and the red mullet fillets.  My Aberdeen Angus steak was cooked to perfection and the best piece of beef I have had in a very long time!!  AND the fries were home-made!

The cheese plate was perfect in size and selection:  Bethmale, Saint Nectaire, Combebelle goat’s cheese, and a sheep’s cheese with nettles.

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Ready for dessert??   Here they come:

What a great finish to a meal!

La Tour Sarrasine is yet another restaurant overlooking the Canal du Midi.  Its location is very picturesque – on a bend in the canal, in the village of Poilhes. The terrace, at the front of the restaurant, affords great views, especially if you sit by the railing as we did. Service was efficient if a tad heavy on “sales”.

An amuse-bouche of apple and celery smoothie was a good way to get the gastric juices flowing. It had a lovely punch and great flavour.

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For our starters there was, as so often, foie gras: just by itself with a fig chutney and toast, and as part of a salade gourmande with gizzards and air cured duck breast.  My starter was a crispy parcel filled with scallops and melted leeks.  I’m not sure about the white butter sauce, which seems blobbed over it all, but the overall taste was good.

During the little pause between starter and main course we watched the boats passing by, and who should come along but the Bonpas II.  Paule and Rene spotted us sitting there, and waved as though we were long-lost friends.   We had been out cruising with them only two weeks earlier, and that was a lovely touch!

P1100902Our main courses arrived soon after. Somehow everyone had opted for fish:  Cuttlefish with garlic and parsley butter, sea bream with gambas, monkfish and scallops on skewers, and a Montgolfiere, a small, puff pastry topped tureen, filled with scallops and cream.  Divine, according to my fellow diner who had eaten it!

We all decided to skip the cheese course and went straight for dessert.  The profiterole was enormous, and the choux pastry shell was lovely and crisp.  The nougat parfait with its red berry compote was delicious, and the strawberry smoothie a light and tasty ending to the meal.

And watching the wonderful sunset from the terrace was a bonus! 🙂

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Since I already hinted at my last cruise with the Bonpas, I might as well tell you about it.  A friend was visiting with her brother, who has mobility problems, and we hit on the idea of the cruise.  That way he’d be able to experience the canal, and we could all enjoy dinner together!  Paule and Rene were ever so helpful, and the whole evening was highly enjoyable.  I’ve previously written about a cruise on the Bonpas and you can find the article here.  We cruised on Bonpas I, but for the summer months Paule and Rene now have Bonpas II, a slightly larger and open sided boat.  Dinner cruises are still available, but the menu is somewhat different.

We started with drinks in the bow of the boat, as Rene set off.  The landscape along the canal had changed since the last time, with swathes of plane trees disappearing (because of a fungal disease), but the canal is still beautiful. Rene kept us entertained with information about the canal, and when Paule was ready she called everyone to their respective tables.

Starter consisted of a vegetable mousse, accompanied by a salad with thin slivers of foie gras.

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Our group had two different main courses:  Roasted salmon filet and roasted breast of duckling – both delicious.

The cheese course was simple, but perfect in size and delicious!  The honey went with the fresh goat’s cheese, not the Camembert!!

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For our dessert, Paule had prepared a pear charlotte – light and wonderful!

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So there you have it – a variety of dining experiences to be had in Languedoc – all of them enjoyable and delicious!!

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Flowers and old bones

Some of you may remember a post, written by Anne Roberts, and published a few months ago, about a walk, which we took together, in the countryside around Cruzy.  If you don’t remember the post you can find it here.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself back in Cruzy, this time for a guided botanical walk.  The walk started at the Museum in Cruzy, where everyone met up with Christine Hervier-Roure, our guide.

Cruzy being a fairly small village, we found ourselves in the countryside soon after we started our walk, and that’s when Christine started explaining the local flora.  At this point I have a confession to make:  I had not brought along my notebook to write down the names of the plants Christine showed us, and my mind is not up to remembering all those wonderful names – I’m sorry!!  I will add names where I know them or think I remember the correct name.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m wrong (and feel free to point out the errors)!

The walk took us across varied terrain – the vineyards had all started to sprout new growth!

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There was a great deal of excitement in our group of walkers as this plant was found:

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From what I remember, it is a parasite which lives on the roots of cistus plants.

And the excitement heightened at the discovery of this:

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I’m not sure if it is an orchid or another parasitic plant, but I’m thinking it is an orchid.

The flowers on this cistus look like they are made of crumpled tissue paper.  They look absolutely gorgeous and are completely ephemeral – they only last for one day, but they were out in abundance!

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There was more excitement along the walk as more orchids were discovered!!  All incredibly beautiful!

 

Christine paid attention to a lot of plants, and patiently explained how to distinguish them.  Here is another cistus, this one with tiny white flowers.  If I remember correctly this one is called Cistus Monspeliensis.

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At one point the sun came out, just as we were walking through a bit of pine forest.

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This fascinating flower is the wild form of salsify:

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And this is wild lettuce:

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and wild garlic:

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After walking for just over two hours, Christine brought us to our destination:  the site of the dinosaur excavations in Montplo!!  The day was the “Journee Paleontologique” and, exceptionally, the excavation site was open to the public.  It was interesting to see everyone digging away with screwdrivers, chisels and trowels.

Having looked at it all, including examining a fossil with a magnifying glass, I honestly couldn’t say that I could tell the difference between a fossilised bone and a piece of rock – I’d be totally useless at the excavations :)!!  The bit of white in the midst of the site is a protective plaster cover over a dinosaur bone, so that it won’t break up when it gets lifted from the site.

 

I wonder if the dog was employed as a “sniffer dog” to find any old bones :)??

Christine Hervier-Roure has published a book on native wild flora, which is available from the Museum in Cruzy, either in the shop or by mail order.  A new book is to be published later this year.

Spring in your step

This week’s post has been kindly written by Anne Roberts, who owns Aurelie in St Chinian with her husband.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing this lovely walk with everyone!

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Today the sky was endlessly blue and the temperature must have been around 19 degrees in the afternoon, not bad for the 9th of March in Languedoc-Roussillon.  Every year when we return to ”Aurelie”, our home for five months in the south of France, one of the things that we look forward to very much is enjoying the wonderful walks in and around  St. Chinian and its neighbouring villages. The afternoon is perfect for a walk in the hills with friends, and we choose to do a walk starting at Cruzy, a village about 15 minutes by car from St. Chinian.

This walk is a particular favourite since the countryside is varied as we make our way along the marked route arriving back at the car about two and a half hours later.

Many wonderful old houses are to be found in and around Cruzy and more can be learned of the village from a former post on the blog.

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The walk begins at the Panneau de Depart (outlining the route) in the parking lot behind the church.  As we start to leave the village, we pass the public “lavoir” where the household laundry was washed in days long gone.  I hope that the social contact more than made up for the obvious hard work that this must have entailed!  Old lavoirs can be found in most of the villages around here.

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The route takes us along a country road for a short while  before we turn off to the left up into the hills and through the vines.  This walk is called “Montplo” as we will see the hamlet of that name from various points as we walk along. It’s a steady climb up into the vines which are quite bare at the moment and show absolutely no hint of their bounteous harvest to come later in the year. The vineyard workers have been out for many weeks pruning them hard back. After climbing a little further through the vineyards, we can look back and have a good view of Cruzy .

There are wonderful vistas with almost panoramic views as we walk the paths through the vines, and now we see right across to Villespassans.

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It’s lovely up here with a fresh breeze blowing, vines everywhere and olive groves (needing attention, it seems, this year). We step aside at one point for a rider and her dog and soon spot some other aspects of countryside living.   

Eventually we make our way down to the country road again. Shortly, we cut down through more vines toward Montplo, passing behind it and then out onto another quiet country road for a hundred metres or so before turning off once more to the left, but this time, into the woods.

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The woods have a secret. Not far in, there is a very large tomb of the Fau family set into the back edge of a field backing onto the woodland path and overlooking land which was once covered in vines.

The view from the tomb is over lovely countryside (probably much loved in the past by the occupants).  On the other side of the woodland path are the ruins of an old house.  We speculate that this might have been the summer house of the family before they moved into their more permanent residence across the path!

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The walk takes us on through the woods and finally more into open countryside passing by well-kept olive groves and more vines as we approach the village again from another side with its more modern houses.

I don’t know how many times we have done this walk but it never ceases to delight us. Pleasantly weary, we return to the house to enjoy a cup of tea and the delicious goodies baked for us by our friend and neighbour.

Wonder no more

The drive from La Croisade to Cruzy is a very picturesque one.  First you cross the Canal du Midi, and then you pass into open countryside, surrounded by vineyards.  The road makes a slight curve to the right and then you see it, ahead of you, slightly to the left, behind the trees.  You can take that drive on google street view, if you like!!

It’s the Chateau de Seriege which is the subject of this post, and it has intrigued me for more years than I care to remember!  The Chateau stands majestically on its own, surrounded by a mini park, and a cluster of buildings behind it.  Every time I have driven past it, all the shutters have been firmly closed, and there has never been any sign of life in the imposing building.  Over the years I had heard various stories about its history, and had heard that it had never been completed nor occupied.  But the mystery surrounding the Chateau was about to be lifted last Saturday, when its doors were thrown open for a guided visit.

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The visit had been announced for 3pm, and when I arrived there the car park was already very busy.  The lady who was registering the visitors told me that 200 persons had reserved in advance and that they were expecting an additional 200 visitors on top of that.  Groups of 50 would be taken around the property, and she apologised for the wait.  I didn’t mind in the slightest – I had waited for years already to find out more and get close up, so an extra half hour would not make the slightest difference!!

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When it was time for our group, we assembled around the steps to the Chateau, where we were welcomed by Gilles d’Andoque de Seriege, the owner of the Chateau, and Alix Audurier-Cros, Professor Emeritus at Montpellier University.

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Alix Audurier-Cros explained the history of the Chateau, and how it came to be built.  The Andoque family were first mentioned in the annals of Cruzy in 1495, and over the centuries they increased their wealth and power, to the point where they were able to buy the manor of Seriege in 1775.  With the manor came the right to call your home a chateau, even though it might not fit into the category of what we imagine a chateau to be like.  Alexandre Andoque decided to build a new Chateau at Seriege, and work started in 1884.

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At that point Alexandre Andoque was aged 69, unmarried, and without children.  He died at Seriege in 1902, without the Chateau being completed.  The property then passed to one of his great-nephews, who by all accounts was a city person and spent his time in Montpellier rather than at Seriege.

Let’s have a look at what Alexandre had built:  on a basalt base the Chateau is entirely built with quarried stone – one of the reasons why it has withstood the test of time and being abandoned without coming to too much harm.  The facade is highly ornamented, but here and there you can see bits missing – on the parapet, where bits of the balustrade never made it.  It was wonderful to see the Chateau with almost all the shutters open, and interesting to see that some windows had window frames, and others not, and some window frames had glass in them and others not…

Once the introduction was over we were invited inside – how very exiting!!  The walls of the entrance hallway were entirely tiled up to the ceiling, and the same pattern carried on into the staircase hall.P1080633

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An interesting effect, but I’m still not sure what to make of it…  The plaster work on the hallway ceiling was beautiful, and in fairly good condition, but you can tell the overall state of things by the peeling paint/plaster.

Because of the large number of people, only part of the ground floor was made accessible, and the first floor was unfortunately out-of-bounds.  The salon to the right of the staircase had been partly decorated, again with tiles.  In this room dark brown, embossed tiles were used as the background for some bright (tile) picture panels.  Our guide explained that the decor inside the Chateau was inspired by the Japanese art shown at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.  The graffiti on the wall seems to be Japanese inspired too; perhaps someone knows what they might mean??

The next room was another salon, which overlooked the front of the Chateau, again with some beautiful plaster work, but no decorations on the walls.

And then there was the tower room, a lovely, small room with windows on two sides, and the windows had glass panes in them!

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On the way out I shook hands with Gilles d’Andoque, and thanked him for allowing me to have a look at this wonderful building.  With that, the visit of the inside of the Chateau was finished – we went back out and down the stairs, where the next group was already lined up for their visit, and we then continued around to the side of the Chateau, for the next part of the visit.

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At the side of the building the abandonment feels more acute.  As it is east facing there was no sunlight on this part of the building, and it looked somewhat sad.  I’m not sure what is peeling from the cast-iron pipes – perhaps some insulation?

The reason for being here was a briefing about the genealogy of the Andoque family, and a little more information about how the manor developed over the centuries.  We were now outside the “old Chateau”, a U-shaped building, with the open side closed off by a curtain wall.  This is where members of the Andoque family still live!

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Here is a close-up of the clock – have a look at those two obedient greyhounds on either side of the clock face, they must have been sitting there for centuries!   I was puzzled by the greyhounds, until I found out that they are part of the Andoque coat of arms.

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Once we had listened to all the history of the family, we went on our next and last stop of the tour:  the wine cellars!  The estate has been a working winery for a long time, and Gilles d’Andoque took up the reins of the Domaine in 1945 from his grandfather, Andre d’Andoque.  In turn he passed the reins on to his grandson, Barthelemy d’Andoque, in 2003, and it was the latter who welcomed us in the cellar.  The winery at Seriege is huge, the cellar building is more than 100 meters long and has a capacity of 20,000 hectoliters.  A hectoliter is 100 liters, so that makes it 2 million liters of wine!!  In its heyday the domaine employed a small army of workers in the vineyards and the cellar.  Over the years, Gilles started to modernise the way of working, introducing the first grape picking machine in the area in the 1970’s.  His grandson continues with innovations, using temperature controlled fermentation to produce today’s wines.  The long history of the estate was well in evidence in the cellar, where the old equipment was still in place.

Unfortunately the wine tasting was only later in the afternoon, and I couldn’t stay for that, but I’m sure I’ll be trying the wines from the domaine some other time soon!

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A big thank you to the d’Andoque family of Seriege, for throwing open the doors to the hundreds of curious people, and to the organisers at the Office du Tourisme in Capestang!

Here are a few more pictures, from on the way to the car park…

Travel back in time

Here’s where we left off last week, just outside the church of Saint Eulalie in Cruzy!

P1040677The guided visit inside was already underway, and when I joined the guide was explaining that the church had been built and added to over the centuries.  He explained that the difference in the stone work in the wall on the north side of the nave was due to the fact that the church roof had been raised at one time or another – the stone blocks are of a different colour and size.  Originally the church would have had no side chapels, and the roof would have been a good deal lower than it is today.  During the period called the “Wars of Religion” (1562-1598), Cruzy changed sides several times and was frequently besieged by the opposite side.  The church became a veritable fortress, either during that period or immediately before.  I haven’t seen many churches with machicolations and crenelated battlements – have you?  But that’s precisely what can be found in Cruzy.

P1040686There are machicolations on all the bays, where stones or other things could be dropped down from. The side chapels, of which you can see the windows above, were added much later, as the machicolations wouldn’t really make sense, one wouldn’t drop stones on one’s roof?  Our guide also dispelled the myth about boiling oil or water being poured from up high.  The only access to the roof was via a narrow stone staircase, and you wouldn’t want to have to carry boiling oil up that, or light a fire on the roof to heat it. So by the end of the Wars of Religion the outside of the church had been fortified as much as possible.  The inside would have had a different aspect to what it looks like today, with the nave being unbroken by the side chapels.  It would have been a very impressive space, 21 metres wide and 23 metres high (it might be higher, I didn’t write that measurement down, sorry!).

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One interesting fact about this church is that there is no wood used in its construction – absolutely everything, including the roof structure and covering is made of stone!  Either side of the apse are chapels.  The one on the right is done out with a baroque altar, full of gold leaf and carved detail.  The one on the left was re-done in the 19th century, in what the people of the time thought more in tune with the style of the church – lots of Carrara marble and some gothic ornaments, but to my mind very cold and not all that pretty.

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For the heritage weekend, some of the old vestments had been put on display.  I’m always fascinated by the embroidery.  It must have taken weeks if not months to stitch that beautiful ornament!

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One of the side chapels on the south side of the nave is dedicated to St Roch, the saint who is supposed to protect against the plague.  He always shows a bit of leg and is always accompanied by a dog!

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The chapel on the north side has a nice font made of marble from the quarries in Caunes Minervois.  The high altar is made with three types of marble: red from Caunes Minervois, white from Carrara, and grey/blue from Saint Pons (sorry, no picture of that altar, but if you look closely at the one of the apse further up you might just be able to make out the different colours?).

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Our guide next showed us the old sacristy, a room on the north side of the apse, which is no longer in use.  The lock on the door into the old sacristy was made of wood!  The escutcheon plate on the outside belonged to an older lock, which no longer existed.

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Here are a few more little details of the interior:

Our guide next took us round the outside of the church, to explain a few interesting details.  The west wall, closing off the nave, is not really attached to the church, and there are stones sticking out of the nave walls, as if the builders had intended to continue the building.

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The tower on the north side is almost entirely solid up to where the roof of the church starts.  Until to that point the only space inside is for the spiral staircase.  There are a few arrow-slits on the way up for light and defense but that’s it.  Farther up you have space where the bells live, and where the church clock ticks away.

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The main door into the church had probably been at the west end of the church originally, but was moved at a later date.  The door is ancient and the stonework around it very delicate.

The church of Saint Eulalie also holds a few mysteries!  There are two rooms on top of the old sacristy, which are not accessible from anywhere!  They were only discovered during repairs to the roof.  What were they used for and how?  And there is small tower, octagonal at the base and round on top, which appears buried in the masonry – what purpose did that serve?  In time (and given some money to carry out work) the local historians may get to the bottom of those mysteries…

A short walk brought our group to the entrance to the museum, and that’s where the next part of our guided visit started.  To give you an idea of the village, below is an aerial view of modern-day Cruzy (found at http://www.mappy.com).  I’ve drawn a (wobbly) line around the ancient core of the village, which would have been fortified by a thick and sturdy wall.

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First our guide showed us an ancient mediaeval part of the village.  Through a low archway, down a slope, we ended up in a blind alleyway.  This would have been the only access to several houses built against the defensive ramparts, which had no windows on, or access from (of course) the outside wall.  The tiny walled up window would have been one of the original windows. These houses would have been very dark indeed!  Have a look at the map above, you’ll find several of those alleyways still in existence!

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We then walked across Place Roger Salengro, past some beautiful mullioned windows…

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…and down Rue de la Place, past what was once the house of a noble family, dating from the 16th and 17th century.  Unfortunately, you can tell that it has seen better days!

Once we reached the Allee du Portanel, our guide showed us where the ramparts had been re-used.  Openings had been cut into thick stone walls, and on the side of the building you can still see the thickness of the defensive wall!

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Next to that building is what remains of a communal staircase, which would have served several buildings.   Unfortunately a big van was parked in front of it, so I could only get a shot of the window.

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The next picture shows an interesting building.  In olden days ownership of houses was not quite as clear-cut as today, so people might own a room in next door’s building.  The facade gives you a good idea of the complicated ownership on this building!

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We continued our walk, with lots of more interesting snippets of information along the way.  The buildings on the side of the road opposite to the ramparts are mostly 18th century, built when the village started to grow outside the ramparts.  I loved the decorations on this particular facade.  And the swallow’s nest is supposed to bring good luck!

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Back towards the church and past another beautiful Renaissance facade.

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And just two last little pictures, before we finish for today.  I’m sure that gargoyle is smiling at us!!