A solitary place

Last week’s post was about the first half of a wonderful day out with friends in the hills near Lodeve.  I’m going to continue the story with this post.

Following our delicious lunch at La Petite Fringale in Saint Jean de la Blaquiere, we drove towards Lodeve, to visit the Priory of Saint Michel de Grandmont.  This monastery belonged to the little known order of Grandmont, an order founded at the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, according to which historian you believe.  The rules of the order were incredibly austere, even for mediaeval times: possessions were forbidden, heating was only for visitors, monks walked barefoot all year round and lived in strict silence.  Their lives were more like those of hermits, even though they lived in communities.  Lay brothers were an integral part of each monastery – they had to look after the day-to-day running of the monastery.

The set of buildings at Saint Michel de Grandmont is one of the few Grandmontine houses left more or less intact.

The entire order was dissolved in 1772 due to lack of monks, and the monastery was attached to the diocese of Lodeve.  The last monks left Saint Michel de Grandmont in 1785.

During the French revolution the buildings were sold, but lucky for us, they were not demolished, and not hugely altered either.  The picture above shows the buildings overlooking the courtyard – you can see part of the gable end of the church on the left.

The audio guide (available in several languages, including English) which was part of the entrance fee was very helpful!  The visit started in the visitors’ room, a sturdy vaulted room with an enormous fireplace, where visitors to the monastery were welcomed.  This fireplace was the only one in the monastery, as physical comforts were a no-no for the monks.

A wooden model showed the cloister, with the vaulted chapter house area on the ground floor and the monks’ dormitory above.

The double doors at the end of the visitors’ room led to a small, dark room, and from there a door led to the cloister.  The cloister is supposed to be the only one of all the Grandmontine cloisters to be remaining intact.  The architecture is very simple and austere!

A doorway led from the cloister to the church. In the time of the monks, there would have been some ecclesiastical furniture, but today the church’s walls are bare and the building is almost completely empty.  The proportions of the church were impressive – 28 metres long, 6.7metres wide and 11 metres high!  The acoustics were wonderful, and during the summer season concerts are being held in the church on a regular basis.

The chapter house was just off the cloister – a large vaulted room with arrow slit windows on one side.  The chapter house was the place where the monks gathered every day, to listen to the rules of the order being read, and to do penance.

From the chapter house, we stepped out into the sunshine.  The guided walk took us around the back of the chapter house and to the apse of the church.  I got the feeling that the mullioned windows above the arrow slits of the chapter house were a later addition.

By the apse of the church, excavations had revealed the remains of Visigothic tombs.

The audio guide took us back to where we had exited the chapter house – a terrace shaded by chestnut trees.  The facade of the building along the terrace had been remodelled in the 18th century and given a more classical look with a pedimented door and other architectural elements (not visible in the picture below).

Our walk continued to the park, across another terrace, this one planted with plane trees, which had not yet leafed out.

A little climb brought us to a rather surprising feature – an ornamental lake with an island in the middle! The plinth bore an inscription in Latin and a date of 1850.  At that time Etienne Vitalis was the owner of the property.  The audio guide explained that the lake was created where the stone for the monastic buildings had been quarried.  The lake is fed by a small stream and the water was no doubt used to irrigate fields and gardens.

On we went, through the woodland surrounding the lake, to the next point of interest: vestiges of pre-historic man’s occupation of the site!

The views from there were spectacular!

After a brief walk, we reached a dolmen, the final point of our guided visit.  It sits all by itself and the views from there were also spectacular!  Legend has it that the monks used to sit inside the dolmen to be healed when they were sick!

On our way back to the abbey, there was a lovely view of the buildings across a green field:

The priory of Saint Michel de Grandmont is open from February to the end of December, from 10am to 6pm.  It is closed on Mondays during the off-season.  Full details can be found on www.prieure-grandmont.fr

I leave you with a video of the fountain which plays on the courtyard wall.  It sums up the peace and serenity of Saint Michel de Grandmont on the day that I visited.

 

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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

After that wonderful visit at Noilly Prat (see last week’s post) we needed some sustenance!!  There are a good number of restaurants to choose from in Marseillan – we headed to La Taverne du Port because of its quirky interior!  I had eaten there a number of times before, and I knew that the food was going to be good – another major criteria when choosing a restaurant!! 🙂

La Taverne du Port is just a short stroll away from Noilly Prat, and right across a canal which functions as a harbour for fishing and pleasure boats.

Standing with my back to the restaurant, I could see the visitor’s centre of Noilly Prat on the other side of the canal (on the right in the picture below)!

I mentioned the quirky interior of La Taverne du Port earlier – the picture below will give you some idea:

The furniture is all made from wooden barrels, and the walls are lined with rows upon rows of bottles.

La Taverne du Port has an amazing collection of whiskies, armagnacs, cognacs, spirits and wines, and they are all for sale, either by the bottle or by the glass!  All together, the restaurant stocks over 800 different types of drinks, and their list is impressive!!

But we had come for a bite to eat – we’d already had our ‘aperitif’ across the water!  Here, without further ado, are the starters:

Gratinated oysters

Salad with smoked mackerel fillets

A selection of charcuterie, cured meats sliced wafer thin.

The restaurant has one of these fancy hand-cranked slicing machines, which allows the cured meats to be sliced ever so thin!

Next to the selection of charcuterie was an impressive cheese board, arranged on top of a barrel!

For my main course I had chosen the day’s special: boeuf bourguignon:

This was a most delicious and rich beef stew, wonderfully flavoured!

My dining companions had opted for the catch of the day – small red mullet and mantis shrimp, served with a very tasty garlic sauce.

All main courses were accompanied by a delicious potato and vegetable gratin.  The portions were generous, so we all skipped dessert.  Instead we decided to go for a walk around Marseillan.

Before we leave the restaurant, here is a picture of what the terrace in front of La Taverne du Port looks like – it’s just by the water, which you can’t see in the picture.  For further details visit the website of La Taverne du Port.

Here are some pictures taken along the canal:

On a good day, you can see right across to Sete and the Mont Saint-Michel:

As well as the beautiful views along the canal, there are many quaint views and interesting corners in Marseillan, a few of which I’ll show you below.  Do visit if you are in the area!!

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Spring into action

With Spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you, I’m sure!!

Journees Fleurs et Jardins, Chateau de Perdiguier, Maraussan – 7 and 8 April 2018

This coming weekend, Chateau de Perdiguier in Maraussan is opening its doors to the public for the annual flower and garden show.  I wrote about the event a few years ago. Here is the link to that post.

Journees des plantes rares et collections, Beziers – 28 and 29 April 2018

Spring is a time for gardening, and to continue with that theme, this event is taking place in Beziers for the first time this year.  The official website gives a list of exhibitors – it sounds as though there’ll be some interesting plants there!  I’m sure I’ll be able to find something for my garden!! 🙂

Farm open days, various locations in Herault – 28 and 29 April 2018

You may remember my post about my farm visits last year – if you don’t, you can find the article here.  The next open days are coming up soon, and you’ll be able to find details of all the participating farms via this link.

European museum night – 19 May 2018

Since 2005, European museum night has been enchanting visitors every year.  It’s a free event and it gives visitors the chance to discover the treasures of museums all over Europe in different ways.  You’ll be able to find the programme for Herault via this link.

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2018

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 23 to 29 July 2018

The music festival will take place from July 23 to 26 this year.  Two concerts on each of the six days (no concerts on Tuesdays), in the historic surroundings of the former abbey church, the cloister, and the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  A variety of concerts with different styles of music which are sure to appeal: Classical, jazz, Latin rhythms, world music etc…  Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

International Women’s Rights Day – 8th March 2018

This post was kindly written by Suzanne, a friend and neighbour in Saint-Chinian.  She’s a member of an association called WIC, short for Women’s International Club.  The association is very active and brings people of all nationalities together.  A big THANK YOU to Suzanne for sharing this visit!!


This year, WIC (Women’s International Club) chose to visit a rather special vineyard to celebrate Women. The vineyard is special in that it is run solely by a woman – Lidewij – at Terre des Dames, just outside Murviel-les-Béziers – a beautifully situated spot.

The tour was interesting: after explaining the ups and downs of her adventures in launching herself in this new life, Lidewij took us for a walk amongst the fields of vines, showing us how bio-culture can regulate itself.

The lay-out of the vineyards in the Languedoc region is quite particular in that we have small fields of vines surrounded by hedges and trees, in contrast to other regions such as Bordeaux where the fields are immense. These trees and bushes create nesting places for all sorts of fauna, which have various effects on the fields: the birds eat some of the harmful insects. The quality of the soil is checked, amongst others, by counting the amount of a certain kind of spider per square meter. Due to the presence of the hedges, the spiders accumulate there and then are spread out over the fields by the wind.

The almond trees were coming to the end of their flowering season, but still carried some of last year’s fruit:

Lidewij pointed out the various species of grape that she grows. Unfortunately at this time of year, we couldn’t really appreciate this, what with all the plants being bare and waiting for their spring foliage.

Lidewij also explained how she tried to balance out yield and quality – a complicated equation, as it is almost impossible to obtain both at the same time. A certain type of pruning will increase the yield, whereas another way of pruning will improve quality.

The tour ended with a visit of the storage area and a tasting of a few very interesting wines, red and white.

If you fancy a very enjoyable afternoon, you can contact Lidewij Van Wilgen on mas.desdames@orange.fr. She speaks extremely good English and French, as well as Dutch.

Here is some more information about Lidewij’s wines:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch in Mirepoix

At the end of last week’s post, I promised that I would tell you about my visit to Mirepoix and my lunch there.  We had chosen Monday as a day to visit because that is when there is a market in Mirepoix, and also because the restaurant at Relais de Mirepoix was open.

The market was as delightful as I remembered from my last visit (see my post from a while back).  The stalls were set up in the square, some in front of ancient timber-framed houses, and others under the arcades.  There were all kinds of wonderful things for sale – woven baskets, vegetables, carpets, cheeses, incense, bread, shoes, and not forgetting the dried chillies!

After a bit of retail therapy, we set off to find the hotel and restaurant, Relais de Mirepoix, where we had booked a table for lunch.  My friend Lynn had heard a lot about the Relais de Mirepoix from her friends, so we were all eager to experience it for ourselves! The cold light of a grey and chilly winter day is never ideal for taking pictures, but the building shone with an elegance that had witnessed several centuries

We had a very warm welcome from Emma Lashford, who has been running the hotel with her husband Karl for just over a year.  Karl had worked at the hotel a few years ago for the previous owners, which was when Lynn’s friends met him.  When the hotel closed down and the 400 year old building came up for sale, Lynn’s friends decided to buy it, and they put Emma and Karl in charge of running the business!

After taking our coats, Emma showed us some of the rooms on the ground floor.  They had turned one of the rooms into a very cosy bar!

The former kitchen of the mansion can be used as a private dining or sitting room for groups. The kitchen for the restaurant is at the opposite end of the building, in case you are wondering.

There’s a wine cellar behind the iron grille!

I’m very interested in old floor tiles – here are three different patterns from the hallway, the bar, and the former kitchen:

In the elegant dining room, the tables were beautifully set!

Below is my place setting, with a glass of ginger beer!!  Because I was driving, I wanted a non-alcoholic drink to start with, and that ginger beer just hit the spot perfectly! 😀

The food was delicious, nicely presented and expertly served!  Have a look at our menu.

A creamy root celery soup, topped with toasted almonds, chopped egg and parsley.

Perfectly scrambled eggs with smoked salmon

Rigatoni pasta with salmon, sea bream and prawns, and a very delicious shellfish sauce

A skewer of roasted quail, presented on a bed of quinoa and wheat berries.

Crispy almond and pear frangipane tart with mini raspberry pannacotta

Pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet, topped with a crispy biscuit.

We finished that wonderful and memorable lunch with coffee, after which Emma offered to show us some of the suites and bedrooms upstairs from the restaurant.  The rooms we saw were very spacious, and there were some beautiful orignal features such as the hand-made terracotta tiles, the doors and the marble fireplaces.  I didn’t take any photographs, you’ll be able to get an idea of the accommodation on the website of Relais de Mirepoix under the heading hotel!

Thanks to Emma and Karl for such a warm welcome – I’ll be back!

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The singing fool

Do you know which French singer was given the nickname Le Fou Chantant? I’ll give you a clue: one of his most famous songs is called La Mer. You’ve probably heard that song at least once, perhaps in its English version called Beyond the Sea, performed by Bobby Darin and others, and more recently by Robbie Williams for the film Finding Nemo.  No, it was not Debussy, he didn’t sing!

A mural in Narbonne

The singer’s name is Charles Trenet – had you guessed it!?  Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne on May 18, 1913, at a time when his father was notary public in Saint-Chinian, and where Charles spent much of his early years.  Charles’ mother had inherited her parents’ house in Narbonne, which is where Charles Trenet was born.  The house stayed in the Trenet family until Charles donated it to the town of Narbonne, on the proviso that it would be opened to the public as a museum.

I went to visit the Maison Natale de Charles Trenet, which is what the house is called today, during the last European heritage weekend.  A guided visit had been announced for 1:30 pm, and I thought that would be a perfect for my first visit.  When I got there, quite a few people were already waiting.  When the doors opened, a larger than usual number of people were admitted – lucky for me!!  🙂  We were ushered into what had been Charles Trenet’s living room on the ground floor of the house.

You can see that it was a little crowded!  The whole house is furnished as it was when Charles Trenet was still alive.  Here are some shots of the sitting room:

Our guide explained that Charles Trenet redecorated whenever he thought something looked a little shabby.  Consequently, there were four different kinds of wall coverings in the living room! 🙂

From the ground floor, a staircase swept up to the first floor (the second floor if you are in the US) – the mirrored wall in the entrance hall gave the impression of a double flight staircase!

The first floor of the house was the domain of Charles Trenet’s mother.  Here’s her little boudoir:

Next door was the bedroom where Charles was born:

The christening robe of little Charles has been framed and hung on the wall above the bed.

After his mother died, Charles Trenet had a sauna cabin installed In the room next to his mother’s bedroom – the only modification he made to the first floor following his mother’s death.  Apparently he spent half an hour in the sauna every morning – in his later years he attributed his good physical shape and the condition of his voice to that habit.

The bathroom next to the sauna is incredibly dated – I’m not sure which period it is from –  the 60’s or the 70’s?  The large fireclay bathtub in powder blue must weigh a ton, perhaps literally!

Across the hallway from the bathroom is the kitchen, with the same brown tiles as in the bathroom!

Amongst my pictures of the house, I cannot find one of the family dining room – this room was always very crowded during my visit, so perhaps that’s why.

There was another flight of stairs to climb to the second floor (third floor for readers in the US).  One of the walls surrounding the staircase was hung with red drapes.  On the narrow wall there was a picture of Christ on the cross, and the next wall up showed various record covers and publicity shots – a somewhat odd juxtaposition, but whatever…

The second floor was where Charles had his private rooms.  The large sitting room contained many personal mementoes and photographs.  The upright piano is where Charles would have worked on his songs.

His bedroom was next to the sitting room, and it was fairly spartan in its furnishings.

The bathroom next door was of a more recent vintage than his mother’s bathroom.  There were still some toiletries on the shelf above the sink.

Across the hallway from the bathroom was a guest bedroom.  I’m not sure that I could live with that colour scheme 🙂

The kitchen on this floor must have been state-of-the-art at one point!! The wall-mounted refrigerator on the left is from the 1960s.

Charles Trenet had a number of homes in France, but he frequently visited his birthplace and he was always very attached to Narbonne.  I leave you with a song (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the video), and a picture of the bronze statue in the little front garden of the house.

The Maison Natale de Charles Trenet is located at 13 Avenue Charles Trenet in Narbonne, and open to the public every day except on Mondays.  You can find full details here.

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