I’m back!

It’s been a wonderful summer – very busy with one thing and another, but wonderful all the same.  Now that I’m sitting down again to write, I don’t know where to start!!  Perhaps I’ll start with my most recent outing, as it’s still so fresh in my mind.

This past weekend, the village of Bize-Minervois hosted a festival called Tastes en Minervois.  It billed itself as a wine and gastronomy festival, and this was the third time it was being held.  I had completely managed to miss the previous two festivals, which took place in Homps in 2015 and 2016 – quel dommage – I was thrilled that I was able to go this year!

For the festival, the old centre of the village had been closed off.  The entrance fee was 15 EUR, which included a wine glass, a voucher for a meal at one of the four restaurant tents and free wine tastings throughout the village.  A fifth restaurant spot was reserved for children.

It was all incredibly well organised – and it had to be!  The organisers were expecting around 10,000 visitors over the two days!!

About 100 winemakers from the Minervois AOC area participated.  Each winemaker was assigned a wine barrel, and allowed to showcase one wine for tasting.  Orange polo shirts denoted volunteer stewards or wine makers – their names were printed on the back of the shirts!

The restaurant tents had been set up in four different places around the village, and each had its own distinctive theme.  Cuisine du Monde was on the promenade along the river,  and its musical accompaniment was by a flamenco guitar group.

Cuisine traditionelle had been set up near the Mairie, and the music was provided by a group of three women, calling themselves USB – a play on words – they are super branchées, which means either connected or trendy.  Their music was great: festive and rhythmic, it really made you want to move!

Cuisine Carre Vert was near the church, and the musical entertainment there was very original!! Eric van Osselaer makes music by using vegetables as his instruments!!  He made flutes from carrots, a kind of clarinet with a carrot, a cucumber and a mini pumpkin, leaves of Belgian endive served as reeds – it all was highly original.

Cuisine Street Food was in a newly created square in the heart of the village, and the music was provided by a group of DJs.

Here’s some of the food:

On the tray with the small bottle (milk shake) is Cuisine Street Food, and on the other tray you see Cusine du Monde.  Both were very delicious!!

It was great wandering around the village, glass around my neck and stopping for a sip here and there!!  Here are my favourite wines from the evening:

As the evening went on, the lights came on, and the atmosphere became even more magical!

In a courtyard, a little tucked away, a coffee bar had been set up.

The coffee was delicious, and accompanied by a few mignardises, small sweet bites, each of the four chefs of the evening having contributed one.

Darkness fell and people were still arriving, the numbers swelled perhaps by the inhabitants of the village, who had all been given passes.

With the fading light, the decorations in various places also came into their own!

For me it was time to head home, but here’s one last look, from across the river:

The festival is due to take place again in Bize Minervois in 2018.  More information on http://www.leminervois.com .  To book your stay in Bize, visit http://www.midihideaways.com/figuier

 

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Giving back

The town of Beziers holds a number of fetes and events throughout the year.  One such fete is called Les Caritats, and it takes place on May 5, Ascension day, which is a public holiday in France.  The history of Les Caritats dates back to mediaeval times.  One of the reasons behind the fete was apparently to raise money, which was then distributed among the poor.  Bread, which was blessed by the archbishop and the clergy of the town, was also distributed among the needy populace.

I went to this year’s edition of Les Caritats, to see what it was all about.  The day was sunny and warm, perfect for a fete!  A mediaeval ‘village’ had been set up on the Allees Paul Riquet, close to the municipal theatre.  The ‘camel, the totem animal of Beziers, was there too!

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When I arrived at the fete, the communal meal was already in full swing.  A lady in flowing robes was entertaining the diners with a parrot display.

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Farther down the square, a small farmyard had been set up, for the entertainment of old and young.  The animals didn’t seem to be in the slightest bothered about being on show.

The mediaeval kitchen, where children could learn to prepare dishes from the period:

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For the children, the biggest attractions were the games!  There was a great selection to choose from!

With such beautiful weather, a stroll around Beziers was a must.  I am always captivated by the wonderful facades which abound in this town!  It really must have been an amazing town to live in during its heyday in the 19th century!

If you visit Beziers, be sure to keep your eyes open for all the beauty – it can be found in unexpected places!

Out with the ashes

By the time you read this post, the Carnival season will be officially over – Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will have been and gone, and it’s time to put the glittery costumes away for another year!  Southern France is not as strong on Carnival traditions as Venice or some regions of Germany, but nevertheless it does get celebrated.  I went to record one such recent celebration for you – the Carnival in Narbonne.

There was a lot of expectation in the air before the parade started!  Children all around were getting quite excited!

And then it all started.  First came a traditional brass band and some majorettes:

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Next came a drum band, whose members had elaborately painted faces:

They were followed by a group dressed in the most beautiful costumes and wearing masks such as you would see in Venice:

Then there was an enormous green frog:

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followed by a group of ‘ragged’ children, their parents and another traditional band:

Hot on the heels was a ‘Disco’ float!!  The sparkly wigs could be seen from miles away! 🙂

The driver of the float was beautifully dressed in a silver suit, great wig and sparkly earrings!!  He put the guys on the float in the shade – totally!

There were a number of comic strip characters:

And then came a band called Les Yeyettes – they played really well and had made a great effort with their costumes!!

Then some new Minions came along, different from the ones we had seen before. This time the figures on the floats were totally covered in flowers

The theme for this year’s carnival was “King of Pop”.

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When I saw that poster, the penny dropped for me – that’s why I was seeing so many afro wigs in the parade!!

I caught sight of these two little old ladies a little too late – they didn’t seem to be connected to any of the floats, but they were having a great time!!

The next two floats had a reggae theme.  I was amazed at the creativity and the ideas people had come up with.  The rasta wig is made with parts of a curtain designed to keep flies out!!

By now most of the bystanders were covered with confetti in various degrees!!  Some peoples’ haircuts seemed to be prefect confetti collectors 🙂

The “guingette” float was one of my favourites.  They’d gone to a lot of trouble creating the impression of a garden cafe!

The ladies in red preceeded the carnival queen and the two runners-up.  See how the carnival queen is getting ready to confetti-bomb the bystanders??

The parade ended with a representation of a king and some musical instruments – a different king of of pop??

And then it was over – everyone had had a great deal of fun!!

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Fairground nostalgia

In Beziers (Languedoc) there is a very pleasant park in the heart of town, called Plateau des Poetes.  I’ve written about this park in some detail in an earlier post, which you can find here.  My most recent visit was prompted by a little flyer I picked up somewhere.

Beziers had a wonderfully prosperous time during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.  Someone thought that it would be a good idea to capture some of the spirit of the fairgrounds of that era, and so the whole summer long a small fairground was installed in the middle of the park for the Fete 1900.  The fairground was essentially aimed at families with children, but I didn’t care!  I was a child once… 🙂

I went along one beautifully sunny afternoon in late August, when not many people were about.  The families with children were probably all getting everything ready for the rentree, when it’s time for the children to go back to school.

When I was little I used to love going on the swingboats, but that afternoon they were deserted, and those boats were too small for me to have a go on 😦

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To one side of the fairground was the circular basin with a statue of a little boy, holding a rather large fish.

On the other side of the fairground rides was a kiosk, which sold drinks, snacks and ice creams, and there were tables and chairs in the shade of the ancient trees.  Guess what?  I just had to have an ice cream!! 🙂

After my ice cream break, I took a little walk to explore the rest of the park.  The park is built on a hillside, and on that hillside there is a monumental statue, which dominates the lower part of the park.  Near the fairground, the back of the uppermost part of the statue was visible:

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I am not sure if that face is benevolent – what do you think?  From the bottom of the hill you get a great view of the statue – if you crane your neck a little!

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In lower part of the park there are a series of ponds, populated by all kinds of animals.

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The swan and the goose seemed to have something going between them, they were floating alongside one another all the time I watched them!  Could it be that this little creature below is one of theirs??  What, you don’t think so?? 😀

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Just as I was about to leave the park, I noticed what looked like black lumps in amongst the foliage of some of the plane trees.  Closer inspection revealed the black lumps to be peacocks and peahens.  The males had lost their tail feathers, and all of the birds were high up in the branches, resting or grooming themselves.  I’ll have to go back in the spring, when the males will be strutting about the lawns in their full regalia!!

What a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon!  I do hope that the Fete 1900 will be repeated again next year!

Saved in the nut of time

Some of you received this post as a completely blank message a few weeks ago – my apologies for not getting to grips with the new WordPress dashboard !! 🙂

The title refers to the Fete de la Chataigne, the chestnut festival, in St Pons which has been taking place every October for many, many years.  A few months ago, when I enquired for the exact date with the tourist office, I was told that there would be no chestnut festival this year, that it had been cancelled.  I was completely speechless – those of you who know me can attest that that’s not something which happens often! 😀  How could one of the biggest autumn festivals in the area be cancelled?

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A little digging on the grapevine revealed some possible reasons.  During the municipal elections earlier in the year, the voters of St Pons had elected a new mayor.  It appears that some of the organisers of the festival had been on the losing ticket, and felt personally slighted during the electoral campaign.  They decided not to continue with the organising of the festival, and hence the information was put out that there was to be no Fete de la Chataigne this year.

Back in August I spoke with one of the traders who is a regular at the fete, and he was devastated at the prospect, as the fete is an important fixture in his sales calendar.  I imagine that for many of the clubs and associations in St Pons, such as the parent-teacher association and the rugby club, the fete is their main fundraiser of the year, and a cancellation would leave a fairly noticeable hole in their budgets.

As the time of the fete drew nearer, I checked again with the tourist office, and this time the answer was different – the fete would be taking place after all, on the last weekend of October, as before.  Yippee!!! 😀  Apparently the new mayor and his council had mobilised as many of the local associations and clubs as they could, to help make sure that this year’s fete would be as good as ever.

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I visited the fete on the Saturday, as it’s usually the less frequented day of the weekend.  The weather was glorious, sunny and warm, in total contrast to the previous year – see the article here – when the weather was grey and drizzly.  I was joined by a few friends, and we got there early AND bagged a parking space not too far away 🙂 !!

The very first stall we came to looked interesting: a food truck, offering a variety of chestnut themed food.  We decided to earmark that for our lunch, on our way back from exploring the fete!

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The selection of stalls at the fete was eclectic and wonderful, as always!  No changes there!!

From cheese to vanilla, via saffron, garlic, and sausages, from balloons to baby boots, and everything beyond – it was all there, and wonderful to see, smell, taste and buy!

In the big square the chestnuts were being roasted in enormous steel drums as always, with the wood for the fire piled up high.

Here, would you like to try one?  Careful, don’t burn yourself, they are quite hot!!

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There was so much tasty looking food, tempting us to stop for lunch, such as the aligot below (potato puree with fresh cow’s cheese), but we held onto our resolution to try the food truck.

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The nougat was looking luscious, and I know that my sister-in-law will be none too happy that I did not buy any for her…

The basket-weaver from last year was there too, with more beautiful offerings!

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And of course there were chestnuts for sale, either fresh for roasting, or dried, as flour, in syrup, in jars already cooked and peeled, or …  Seems that there is quite a lot you can do with chestnuts 😀

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We did eventually head back towards the car, and “our” food truck for lunch.  The sign said Chez Tina, and the menu had been specially planned for the chestnut festival: small pizzas with bacon, caramelised onions, chestnut pieces, cheese, and chestnut honey; chestnut soup; chestnut gnocchi.  There was also pannacotta with chestnut honey caramel, and a chestnut cake, to follow our main course.  As we stood admiring the inside of the van, and deciding what to order, we noticed a sticker saying “Taos” on the counter.  So we asked Tina whether she’d visited there, and it turned out that she’s actually a native of Taos, New Mexico, who has lived in France for some time.  Her French was very good.  I would have never imagined her to be from the other side of the Atlantic ocean!  We had a good chat and a few laughs.  Here’s Tina preparing our pizzas in her wood-fired oven.

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We decided to have some chestnut soup followed by pizza – since chestnut soup can be a little rich we shared two portions between the four of us.

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But we each had our own pizza!!
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Of course we couldn’t resist dessert – and somehow I managed to miss taking pictures of the pannacotta, and the chestnut cake, with the chestnut honey caramel.  How greedy of me!  All the food was totally delicious, and we were all so glad we had waited with our lunch!!  Tina is a regular in St Pons with her food truck, and you can find out more via her website.  I can tell you she was planning to take some time off during the winter, but I am looking forward to seeing her again before too long!

So it looks as though the future of the Fete de la Chataigne is in good hands and will continue to attract lots of visitors to St Pons each October. The only thing missing was the amateur dramatics piece, which is usually presented on a stage across the river, below the tourist office…  Perhaps next year??

Blues in the night

I seem to be on a roll about fetes at the moment, but my excuse is that a) it is still summer and b) that’s when the fetes are happening in Languedoc!!   This post is about an evening of music, wine and food at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  It takes place once a year, and it always coincides with the open day at the Cave Coop, as the cooperative winery is known locally.

I did not go to open day this year, since I’ve been several times before, but if you go to the next open day,  you will be able to visit the working side of the winery, which is normally closed to the public.  The inside looks not unlike a cathedral – incredibly tall, nave-like and with light streaming in through high windows at the end.  Instead of pews there are wine tanks everywhere!

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The reason I went inside the winery, before the fete started outside, was the unveiling of a picture.  Last year the cooperative winery started a project called L’Art en Cave. Under the project a contemporary artist is commissioned to paint a mural on one of the cement tanks in the winery, which is then used as the label on that year’s special cuvee. Here is a picture of the 2013 commission:

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This year Miss’Tic was commissioned to paint a mural on another tank, and there was a fair “buzz” before the unveiling, in the presence of the artist.  I’ve since learnt that Miss’Tic is an internationally recognised street art painter.

Miss’Tic has been creating her pictures with the help of stencils since 1985, and I found a few of her works on the walls around the cooperative winery, discreetly placed:

Before the unveiling there was a short speech, introducing the artist, and then a few words by the artist herself.  You can see they were having fun!

Then the moment came to pull on the string, to reveal the mural:

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And here it is:

The mural is also reproduced on this year’s Cuvee Miss’Tic

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A literal translation of the slogan on the picture would be “wine for a life without seed”, but the actual meaning is more along the lines of “wine for a life without problems”!! I’ve not tried that particular cuvee yet, so I can’t vouch for it:)!

After the unveiling there was of course a “verre d’amitie“, the all-important glass of wine. I joined my friends outside, who had found our allocated seats at one of the many tables, which had been set up in front of the winery.

The event is always well frequented by locals, and the wine grower members of the cooperative all work very hard each year, to make the event a success.  The band that evening was playing R&B music, and the food was all locally prepared.  Here’s a picture of the wine list:

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And here is the menu:

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The food on offer was as follows:

  • Mussels Languedoc style with a glass of white wine
  • Melon and mountain ham with a glass of rose
  • Grilled duck breast and sausage with vegetables, with a glass of red wine
  • Goat’s cheese with a glass of red wine
  • Pastries with a glass of muscat

With each course came a glass of wine, and you could buy a wine glass, with one filling included in the price of the glass.  You could of course bring your own glasses, which you had bought the year before…

The way it all worked is that tickets of a different colour for each course could be bought, either in advance at the winery, or on the night at a central till.  One part of the ticket would get you the wine, the other the food. For six wine tickets you would get a whole bottle.  And if you didn’t want to drink the regular wine, or weren’t hungry, you could just buy a regular bottle, pretty much at the shop price.

The mussels were cooked on great steel trays over an open fire, and they tasted absolutely delicious!

The sausages and duck breast were grilled over the same fire!

As the evening wore on, the atmosphere changed – the coloured lights started to twinkle magically 🙂 .

Cheese was followed by dessert, and by then the light was getting a little too low for pictures.  The band was playing great music, and the whole evening was just wonderful!

Don’t miss this evening if you are in St Chinian in early August!