Apples aplenty

I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of Nadine Holm, a dear friend who passed away on September 4, 2017.  She would have enjoyed our outing to this event tremendously!!

There are several villages by the name of Aigues Vives in France – I’ve counted eight of them on the ViaMichelin website!  So it’s important to pick the right village!  The one I visited recently is near Carcassonne, and the postcode is 11800, just so you know.  This village has been holding an apple, rice and wine fair for some time – this year was the 20th time!  Why I’ve never visited before is a mystery to me, but I’m glad I went this year!

Aigues Vives is located on the edge of the Etang Asseche de Marseillette, a drained marsh, where the apples, rice and wines for sale at the fair are grown.  More about the Etang a little later in this post.

The village was beautifully decorated for the occasion – the entrance arch to one of the streets was made from apples and rice straw.

In one of the squares, the iconic Citroen 2CV car had been recreated with apples:

Signs had been specially made to direct visitors:

The rock on which the church stands was decorated with strands of apples:

Near the entrance to the church stood a windmill decorated with apples – the thatch on top was made with rice straw, and the sails were turning!!

There was even a lady with an apple skirt:

Apples were for sale at almost every corner:

Other stalls sold a variety of delicious edible goodies:

In the village hall, a communal meal was served by a caterer – I didn’t go to that.  I did go to the village park, which had been set up as a “food village” with a number of food stalls and tables and chairs under the trees.  A group of musicians were providing entertainment!

Around the park, a number of signs had been put up.  The one below shows the names of all the apple growers in the Etang de Marseillette:

This sign gives the names of the wine, plum and rice growers:

A few sayings:

One grain of rice can tip the scale

Three apples a day – everlasting health

Wine gets better over time, and we get better with wine!

A cider press had been set up on a stage in the village.  The apples (granny smith, golden and gala) were first pulped:

The pulp was collected in buckets lined with large squares of fabric:

Once the buckets were full, the cloth was tied up and the bags were put into the press – soon the juice started to flow.

The apple juice was poured into plastic cups, and everyone could have as much as they wanted!  It was very delicious!!

In order for visitors to find out more about the Etang de Marseillette, a number of guided visits had been arranged.  Two “little trains” were taking groups of people on the guided visits.

The Etang de Marseillette is left over from the time when the Mediterranean sea covered large tracts of land about two million years ago.  When the water levels dropped and the sea receded, a number of lakes stayed behind, and one of them was at Marseillette.  In time this became a marshy salt lake, covering an area of around 2000 hectares (20 square kilometers or 7.2 square miles).  Three small streams fed the lake, and it was often deemed to be the reason for outbreaks of local epidemics.

In the Middle Ages, attempts were made to drain the lake, which were more or less successful, but the drains silted up and nature reclaimed the lake.  In 1804, Marie Anne Coppinger, the then owner of the Etang, carried out immense works and drained the lake, but the returns from the land were insufficient, and she bankrupted herself with the project.  The next owner carried on with improvements.  He built a tunnel to bring water for irrigation from the river Aude.  The tunnel is over 2 km long and in some places it is 60 metres below ground!  In 1852 the Etang was sold once more, and the new owners decided to divide the land and sell off smaller parcels.  With no overall owner, the maintenance of the irrigation and drainage canals was soon neglected again.

In 1901, Joseph Camman, an engineer, bought 800 hectares of land in the Etang and started a campaign to improve the irrigation.  One of the main problems is the fact that salt left in the soil will come to the surface if the land is not sufficiently irrigated.  Plants which grow there, produce only very shallow roots of about 35cm, partly because of the heavy clay soil and partly because of the salt.  Keeping the soil well hydrated is the key to successful cultivation!

Joseph Camman also built a hydroelectric power station, to harness the power of the water coming from the river Aude.  Unfortunately, the power station has long since been abandoned, and the building is in a very poor state of repair.

The pond on which the power station stands serves as a holding tank for the distribution of water to the three main irrigation channels.

In order to keep the canals from silting up, Joseph Camman designed “cleaning boats”, which increased the current in the canals as they travelled through and flushed the silt away.  These days, modern diggers are used.

As we travelled through the Etang, we saw orchards, vineyards and a rice field.  The rice had mostly been harvested, but a little bit had been left standing for us to see.  The apple trees were heavy with fruit, and of course all the fruit you saw earlier in this post was grown here.

There is only one grower of rice active in the Etang.  He produces a number of different kinds: red, long grain, short grain etc.  I bought several different kinds of rice, and I have already tried the mix of red and white rice which was delicious!  And of course I also bought some apples!!

 

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More days out!

Fete 1900, Plateau des Poetes, Beziers – 1 May to 30 September 2017

Once more, there is an old-fashioned fairground in the gardens of the Plateau des Poetes in Beziers.  It’s a charming and nostalgic little fairground, recalling days gone by.  You can read my post about my visit to the fairground on a previous occasion here.

 Soapbox race, Saint-Chinian – 25 May 2017

This event promises to be highly enjoyable – have a look here for pictures from a previous race!  As before, the participants will be hurtling down the hill from the windmill to the market square, in their home-made contraptions!!

Les Natur’ailes, Narbonne Plage – 27 to 28 May 2017

This is an international festival of kite flying – two days of amazing creatures flying in the breeze at Narbonne Plage.  I wrote about this a few years ago – it was an enchanting day on the beach!  

Picnic with the wine makers, various locations, 3 – 5 June 2017

An initiative by the association of independent wine makers, this is a chance to visit a winery and participate in various activities such as guided walks, visits of the cellar, tastings etc.  You can find a list of local participants here.

Open day at La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois – 4 June 2017

La Petite Pepiniere has officially closed its doors as a plant nursery, however Gill Pound’s show garden is still as beautiful as ever.  This year, the open day is for raising awareness and funds for the association Languedoc Solidarité avec le Réfugies, which offers help and support to refugees in the area.  There will be food and a range of activities on a garden fete theme, as well as guided visits of the garden.

Randonne de Bacchus, Berlou – 4 June 2017

Another wine walk, this one at Berlou, is long established and always very popular.  The walk covers 8 km and there are 7 stops for food and wine!  You can find the programme here.

Fete de la Cerise, Mons la Trivalle – 5 June 2017

This is a local cherry fair which I have visited a number of times over the years.  It’s a lovely occasion to get your fill of cherries.  You may even get to take some home, and make a wonderful cherry clafoutis (flancake)?

 

Spring events

With the days getting longer, the events calendar is filling up again.  Here is a selection of events which you might enjoy!  Please note – whilst I believe the information on this page to be correct at the time of publishing, I strongly recommend that you check with the organisers before attending an event.  If you want to visit the area and would like help in finding accommodation please head to www.midihideaways.com.   

Limoux Carnival – 2 January 2017 – 2 April 2017

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.

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art – 31 March – 2 April 2017

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.  Last year 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.

Canal du Midi Boat Show 2017, Capestang – 8 April 2017

Your chance to see a selection of the most beautiful hotel barges on the Canal du Midi.  The show lasts for several days and is aimed at tourism professionals, but on this date it is open to the general public.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 14 April 2017

Each year on Good Friday, the town of Perpignan hosts the traditional Good Friday Procession.  The custom dates back 600 years, and it is a deeply moving spectacle, the only one of its kind in France.

Tournoi de la Citadelle, Carcassonne – 15 and 16 April 2017

This will be the first time that Carcassonne will be hosting this tournament, where competitors fight one another in full armour, just like in the Middle Ages!  You can find details on this website.

Balade Geologique dans le Saint-Chinianais, Cebazan – 22 April 2017

The area around Saint-Chinian is a geologist’s dream – to the point where groups of geology students from some of the UK universities are sent here to do field work and projects.  This guided visit will be by bus and is followed by a lecture.  Details from tourist office in Capestang via this link.

Fete de Saint-Aphrodise, Beziers – 28 April 2017

On the occasion of the fete of the patron saint of Beziers, the Basilica of Saint Aphrodise will be open to the public.  Restoration work has been ongoing since I wrote about the church back in 2013, and I am looking forward to seeing the interim results!

Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 7 May 2017

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”!!

Les Sentiers Gourmands, Narbonne – 21 May 2017

For the 14th time in as many years, this gourmet walk has been organised across the vineyards of La Clape. The full details can be found on the offical website, and if you want a ‘taste’ of what such a gourmet walk can be like, read my post about one such walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois here.

Walking through the vineyards

Walking through the vineyards

Summer celebrations

By the time you get to read this post, the excitement of the past month will have abated a little!

Saint-Chinian has had a busy summer, packed with events!  Since the night markets were so successful last year, they were held each Tuesday throughout July and August.  There was music, food, and shopping, all in the main square, decorated with French flag bunting and coloured lights!

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The passing of the Tour de France through Saint-Chinian on July 13 was a day of great excitement for the village!  It took the same route as last time (in 2011).  First came the “Caravane”, a long line of all kinds of publicity vehicles!  They distributed all kinds of goodies: hats, bottled water, jelly beans, newspapers, shopping bags, pens – you name it.  All thrown at the bystanders!!

The cyclists came into the village along the Avenue de Villespassans, down the main street, and then they took a sharp right onto Avenue Raoul Bayou.  Luckily for us, the sharp turn slowed them down somewhat!! 😀

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And hot on the heels of the cyclists (excuse the pun) came Bastille Day!!  The national holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille (a prison in Paris) on July 14, 1789, an important event of the French revolution, and also celebrates the Fete de la Federation, which took place on July 14, 1790, and which celebrated the unity of the French people.

In Paris there is a huge military parade, along with an impressive display of planes flying in formation overhead:

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And at night, the Eiffel Tower is lit up with the most amazing fireworks:

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But all over France, even the smallest villages ‘go to town’ and make the national holiday a festive event!  Look at how prettily the town hall in Saint-Chinian was decorated:

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The fireworks in Saint-Chinian are usually not be sniffed at either – they are pretty impressive!!

Unfortunately, this year’s fireworks in Saint-Chinan had to be postponed, due to very strong winds.  To everybody’s great distress, Bastille day ended in horror for the people of Nice and throughout France – next year it won’t feel the same.

After Bastille day came the Fete du Cru.  Since it was not really a celebration but a wine fair, it was deemed to be OK to go ahead during the mourning period for the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice.  As always, the market square had been lined with two rows of booths, and you could taste the wines on display simply by buying a glass at the booth by the entrance.  I’ve written about this great event a few years back.  You can read the post here.

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Did you go to any festivities this year?  What was your favourite?

Summer events

Summer is here at last, so here is an update to the page of upcoming events in and around Saint-Chinian:

Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 5 to 10 July 2106

Come and listen to one (or more) of the eight concerts, which are given in Saint-Chinian’s Abbatiale and the parish church. The programme is varied and offers a selection of different musical styles.  The festival opens with the children’s choir of Beziers Cathedral.  Amongst the concerts, there is an organ recital in the parish church, a tribute to Charles Trenet, a saxophone quartet playing jazz and more.  The full programme can be found on http://www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

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Jazz a Sete, Sete – 13 to 19 July 2016

This internationally renowned Jazz Festival takes place in Sete every year, and is a must for lovers of Jazz!  This year’s festival is headlined by Diana Krall (already sold out!), but there are tickets available for many of the other performers.  The concerts take place in the Theatre de la Mer, an open-air theatre with the sea as a backdrop.  Details can be found here.

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6eme Academie Musicale, Saint-Chinian – 16 to 23 July 2016

For the sixth time in as many years, Herve Hotier and Lauranne Chastal, with the collaboration of Pierre Courthiade, are running a week of classes for flute students.  A masterclass will be given by Juliette Hurel, 1st flute of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.  The week ends with a recital at 5pm on July 22, followed by a concert by the students at 7:30pm.

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Fete de l’Olivier, Bize-Minervois – 17 July 2016

This popular fete always coincides with the Fete du Cru in Saint-Chinian.  The theme is the olive and its cultivation, and there is usually a competition for the best tapenade, among other activities.  There will be lots of food to buy and eat there, and the atmosphere is always great!  You can read about my visit to this fete here.

olives

Marche des Potiers (pottery market), Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 23 and 24 July 2016

If you enjoy pottery then this event is for you – dozens of potters displaying their wares in the shade of plane trees!  I can always find something to buy at this kind of fair!! 😀

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Fete de St Louis, Sete – 18 to 23 August 2016

The Fete de St Louis celebrates Sete’s maritime heritage and its patron saint with six days of events.  There will be over 70 street performances, and there will be a big jousting tournamen.  The jousting is done on water and in boats!!

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Fete de la Chataigne, Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 29 and 30 October 2016

The chestnut festival in Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres is one of the biggest autumn festivals in the area.  It is well worth a visit, whether you like chestnuts or not!  I have visited this festival many times, and you can read my post about it here.

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If you want to attend any of these events and are in need of accommodation, just drop me a line or visit www.midihideaways.com 

So much more to do…

Here are some more events, which I have recently added to the list of upcoming events

Soapbox race, Saint-Chinian – 4 June 2016

This event promises to be great fun, if last year’s edition of the race was anything to go by!  Again the participants will be hurtling down the hill from the windmill to the market square, in their home-made contraptions!!

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Festival de Carcassonne, Carcassonne – 4 July to 1 August 2016

The Carcassonne festival is one of the biggest in the area, attracting stars such as Elton John (a few years ago) and Pharell Williams (this year).

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Nocturn’Art, Saint-Chinian – 26 July 2016

An evening dedicated to artistic creations of all types.  Last year, the event had a great variety of artists displaying their skills and creating works of art right in front of the visitors’ eyes.  This year’s event promises to be even better!

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Fete du Cassoulet, Castelnaudary – 24 to 28 August 2016

This must be heaven if you enjoy cassoulet!!  Five days of music and cassoulet – I am hoping to make it there this year – will I meet you there?  The official website can be found via this link.

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Open day at the cooperative winery, Saint-Chinian – 5 August 2016

This is your chance, if you have always wanted to know what these enormous wineries look like inside!  In the evening there will a communal meal and live music – it’s usually a fantastic evening!!  I’ve been many times and have written about it here.

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Fete de l’Ail Rose de Lautrec, Lautrec – 5 August 2016

This wonderfully “fragrant” fete is heaven for all lovers of garlic – hundreds of litres of delicious garlic soup is prepared and distributed to the visitors at lunchtime.  I’ve been to this fete a couple of times, and of course I have written about it!!  More information can be found on the official website here.

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Feria de Beziers, Beziers – 12 to 15 August 2016

Four days of partying in the centre of Beziers, and bull fights in the arena.  I’m OK with the partying, but not so sure about the bull fights…

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Fete du Fil, Labastide Rouairoux – 14 and 15 August 2016

This is the fete for all of you who sew, embroider, knit, or are otherwise into craft projects.  And if you’re not that way inclined, you may enjoy the visit to the textile museum – this year’s special exhibition features Japanese kimonos.  You can find my blog about a previous fete du fil here, and for the official website, please follow this link.

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Pottery market in Salleles d’Aude – 14 and 15 August 2016

You can combine a visit to this well-established pottery market with a visit to the Roman pottery museum, Amphoralis, just as I did a few years ago.  It’s fascinating to see what was produced with fairly limited means in Roman times, and what today’s potters have to offer.  Read about my visit here.

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Saint-Chinian’s preface to Brescudos Bike Week, Cap d’Agde – 29 August to 4 September 2016

A must for all lovers of motorbikes out there.  Hundreds of motorbikes and their riders will descend on Saint-Chinian on August 28, 2016.  There’ll be a competition for the “best dressed bike & rider”, and there’ll be lots of motorbike related paraphernalia.  Have a look at what happened in 2015.

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European heritage days, all over France and Europe – 17 and 18 September 2016

I’m sure there will be plenty of interesting things to do over that weekend!  Details of participating venues will be on the French Ministry of Culture website in due course.  I have written about events on the heritage weekend several times – you’ll find the posts here.

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