It’s the little things

We’re well into week two of confinement, and so far I’m doing just fine with it!

  • Having a routine and sticking to it helps.
  • Not being on my own helps.
  • Having the garden to work in helps.
  • Being allowed to go out for short walks in the countryside helps.
  • Cooking and eating delicious meals make for variety and definitely helps.
  • Knowing that the shops are open and fairly well stocked helps.

I could add to this list, but you can tell that I’m counting my blessings!! ¬†ūüôā

For a long time now, I have written my articles at the beginning of the week, sent them to Annie, who checked them for any errors (and she always found some!!), and then I posted the articles on Fridays on the blog. ¬†After last Friday’s post, and with the drama of the Covid-19 crisis unfolding all around us, I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to write about. ¬†But then I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and I changed my mind!

I had taken my camera with me, but when I wanted to take my first picture I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in its slot.  So I resigned myself to not take any pictures.  My walk started behind the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and took me along the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After a while, I headed down a track on the left which brought me to the Chemin des Gazels (you can find the route on google maps!).  When I reached the Chemin des Gazels I turned left and headed back towards the village.

I had observed many beautiful flowers along my walk, but what really struck me was that there was a clarity in the air, which was all to do with the absence of noise.  I could hear the sound of my footsteps, the sound of birdsong, some rustling in the bushes, the sound of my own breathing when I walked up a steep incline, the sound of water in a hidden brook.  But there was no noise from planes, from traffic, from agricultural machinery or from any other human activity!  It felt somewhat eerie but also incredibly peaceful!!

It was after that realisation that I happened upon a white lavender plant in full flower. ¬†I knew Lavandula Stoechas only as a plant with purple blue flowers, so I was thrilled to see one with white flowers. ¬†And that’s when I remembered that my phone had a built-in camera!! ūüėČ

After that, I took a few more pictures which I’ll share with you below, but for me the essence of the walk lay in observing the little things that were all around me. ¬†I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of that moment in time!

Smile! ¬†ūüėÄ

You will have read by now that the population of France has been confined to their homes since noon last Tuesday. ¬†Extreme measures in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus! ¬†President Macron announced a 15 day period in which people are to stay indoors, and I have a feeling that this may be extended. ¬†We’ll see how effective it will be, and how people are going to be able to live with this perceived loss of liberty. ¬†Personally, I am not particularly bothered. ¬†I have everything I need at home, and plenty of small projects to finish, books to read, etc. ¬†I’ll have time to telephone friends and family, write e-mails, and catch up with all kinds of things. ¬†I might even be able to start work again on my long-shelved cook book project!! ¬†Now, wouldn’t that be something?? ¬†ūüôā

People will be allowed to leave their homes to go to work if they cannot work remotely, or are working for one of several essential services (electricity, water, medical, food, etc.), to go shopping for essential supplies, to visit their doctor or pharmacy, for imperative family visits (childcare or care of elderly relatives), and for physical exercise or dog walking, the last two are to be done in strict isolation. ¬†The food shops will remain open, and no doubt the shelves will eventually be re-stocked with pasta, rice AND toilet paper!! ūüėÄ

It will certainly be challenging for people who live in France’s big cities or areas where population density is high. ¬†In Saint-Chinian we should be OK – people are pretty well spaced apart to begin with, and if contact is limited so should be the spread of the virus.

Last Tuesday morning, as I took a quick walk around my¬†garden, my eye was caught by the blooms on my tree peony. ¬†Seeing the sparkling water drops on the gorgeous blooms brought a smile to my face! ¬†I cut several stems to bring home with me, so I could admire them for a few days. ¬†I hope you’ll enjoy them too!

So, it might be¬†au revoir for a little while. ¬†Rest assured, I’ll write again as soon as inspiration strikes or whenever I feel I have something worth telling you about! ¬†Until then, stay well and safe, and smile! ūüôā

Keeping track

It might come as a surprise to you to know that there once was a railway station in Saint-Chinian! ¬†I’d known about the railway for a long time – there is an¬†Avenue de la Gare in Saint-Chinian after all. ¬†But it wasn’t until a reader sent me a link to Roger Farnworth’s blog that I got the full picture. ¬†The post below is based on the information I’ve been able to find on Roger’s blog as well as on some other French sites. ¬†The pictures are mostly from Roger’s site. ¬†I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to Roger for allowing me to use his content, and to Paul for sending me the link to Roger’s blog in the first place!!

During the boom years of the railway in the 19th century, the Compagnie du Midi was running the mainline trains, serving all the big towns in the area and linking to Paris via Beziers and Bedarieux. ¬†In 1865, the Herault Department decided to create a network of local trains. ¬†The Compagnie de l’Herault was brought into being that same year and the first line, from Montpellier to Palavas, was inaugurated in 1872!

The line from Beziers to Saint-Chinian was commissioned in three stages: ¬†from Beziers to Cazouls-les-Beziers in 1876, from Cazouls-les-Beziers to Cessenon in 1877, and from Cessenon to Saint-Chinian in 1887! ¬†The 10 year delay was a result of major financial difficulties of the¬†Compagnie de l’Herault.

Below is a map of the finished railway line from Beziers to Saint-Chinian:

The aerial image below shows the site of the railway station in Saint-Chinian in 1953.

Passenger traffic on the line stopped a year later, in 1954.  The railway line carried on with goods traffic until 1968, when the stretch from Cazouls-les-Beziers to Saint-Chinian was closed for good.

Here is a very recent picture of the same area as above:

The former station building is still there, indicated by the label “Pays Haut Languedoc et Vignobles”. ¬†The rest of the station buildings and the yard have all been replaced by a housing development.

Here are some shots of what the railway terminus in Saint-Chinian looked like:

Here’s a modern image of the old station building:

And here’s a view of the station looking towards the town:

The building with the turrets that is towards the left hand side of the postcard was the station hotel, if my sources are correct. ¬†It’s still there – you’ll be able to see it in the picture below:

If this has piqued your interest, do visit Roger’s blog – it’s full of interesting information!! ¬†The former railway trackbed from Pierrerue to Cessenon has been converted into a greenway, which was opened only last year. ¬†It’s perfect for cycling or walking, and there may well be a blog post about that in the not too distant future! ūüôā

Coming up

I know I promised you last week that I would continue the story of my visit to Beziers, but I realised that you might miss a lot of the events in this present post if I waited another week. ¬†I’ll continue with Beziers as soon as possible – ¬†I promise!!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this area falls into some Sleeping Beauty like slumber after the busy summer months.  Far from it!!  Fall has a lot to offer with festivals and activities all over!

The whole area is busy with the grape harvest during the month of September, and sometimes into early October. ¬†You’ll see small tractors pulling trailers that are heavily laden with grapes. ¬†People are out in the vineyards, picking grapes by hand. ¬†In other vineyards the grapes are harvested with enormous machines. ¬†Stop by any cooperative winery at this time of year, and you’ll see the grapes being delivered and tipped at the ‘quai’, where the transformation from grape to grape juice to wine starts. ¬†I wrote about the process some years ago – you can find my article¬†here.

Music is something I enjoy a lot, so I’m very glad that the pianist Conrad Wilkinson will continue his successful series of concerts here at the abbatiale in Saint-Chinian on October 6, 2019 with a concert showcasing very gifted young musicians – watch out for tomorrow’s stars!

The final concert in the series takes place on November 3, 2019.

For lovers of Jazz, the line-up has just been announced for the Jazz festival in Conilhac Corbieres which takes place from November 2 to 30, 2019.

Fall is also the time for the harvest festivals near and far.  The following list is in no particular order!

In Cessenon-sur-Orb, the Fete des Vendenges d’Antan takes place on the first weekend of October. ¬†There will be stalls with local produce, music and the traditional pressing of grapes!

In Azillanet, the¬†Fete Paysanne d’Automne takes place over two days, October 4 and 5, 2019. ¬†It’s going to be an interesting event, with a producers market on Saturday, and lectures about different topics such as how to collect wild herbs, sustainable farming, producing your own seeds, etc. ¬†There’ll be food and music too!

The Fete de La Lucques Nouvelle at the Oulibo Cooperative in Cabezac is on October 20, 2019.

I’ve written about the¬†Foire de la Pomme, du Riz et du Vin¬†a couple of years ago. ¬†This fete takes place in Marseillette on October 13, 2019 and you can find details of this year’s programme here.

I will try to visit the Fete des Vendanges in Banyuls this year Рit takes place over several days from October 9 to 13, 2019.  The full programme is available from this website.

The¬†Fete de la Chataigne in Saint-Pons de Thomieres is one of the biggest festivals in the area – this year it takes place on October 26 and 27, 2019. ¬†I’ve visited this fete many times, and have written about it here, here and here.

While I’m on the chestnut theme, the Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau in Olargues takes place on November 2 and 3, 2019. ¬†Although it’s a smaller fete than the one in Saint-Pons, it’s nonetheless well worthwhile a visit – the combination of roasted chestnuts and new wine is very delicious!! ¬†The program will be listed on this site shortly.

The flea markets continue in the fall, they are fewer in number than in the summer, but there are still great bargains to be had!! ¬†In Murviel les Beziers on October 20, 2019 there’ll be a big flea market, along with a market for regional produce, food stalls, and there’ll even be a concert at 11.30am!

Pezenas hosts the mega antiques market on October 13, 2019 – a great event for anyone who loves to find a special piece or keepsake! ¬†I’ve been to this event several times, and there is a post on the blog about this event here.

This is just a small selection of events which are taking place in the area – great for a visit at any time of the year!

 

It’s time!

This post is long overdue!! ¬†I had wanted to start writing again at the end of August, but with one thing and another it didn’t happen quite as planned. ¬†ūüôā

It’s been a long and busy summer, and with the weather still balmy it feels as though summer is not over yet! ¬†All kinds of things have happened in Saint-Chinian since I wrote my last blog post: night markets, flea markets, concerts, open air cinema, the music festival, guided visits and …

The garden has also kept me busy ‚ÄĒ the warm summer weather meant that things did grow very well indeed! But in order for the plants to grow that well, the garden needed to be watered – very regularly! ¬†It was all worth it though – the produce was wonderful: tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, okra, raspberries, strawberries, chilli peppers, potatoes and pears!! ¬†I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to list! Apples, kiwis and winter squash are yet to be picked. ¬†Part of that bountiful harvest was canned and put in my store cupboard for the winter months, but most of it was eaten right away or given to friends and neighbours. ¬†The orangeglow watermelon in the picture below weighed a whopping 7.2 kg!! ¬†I felt immensely proud for having grown that from seed! ūüôā

The orangeglow melon formed the base for the salad in the picture below: watermelon, tomato, red onion and feta – apart from the feta cheese, all the ingredients came from my garden!

Another favourite dish this summer was a salad made with thinly sliced raw courgettes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.  The recipe came from the telegraph website Рgive it a try if you can find small courgettes!

A friend introduced me to the Glory Bowl salad from Whitewater Cooks – it’s a layered salad that starts with cooked rice, topped with grated carrot, grated beetroot, fresh spinach, fried tofu cubes and toasted almonds. ¬†The dressing that goes with this salad is fantastic! ¬†I’ve made it a good many times since, with some variations in the ingredients:

Another favourite this summer was Thomasina Miers’ Roast Aubergine Salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and summer herbs. ¬†Roasting the aubergines with pomegranate molasses turns them into a delicious vegetable in their own right!

Combined with the other ingredients, the aubergines make a most wonderful salad – unlike any I’ve eaten before! ¬†My dressing looked a little grey as I used black sesame paste, but it was delicious all the same!

The fig harvest was not as abundant as last year, but there were still enough to make a delicious compote of figs with lemon and ginger!

The pear trees were heavily laden this year – a lot of them are slowly ripening in my fridge, the remainder are still on the trees! ¬†There’s nothing nicer than a perfectly ripe and juicy pear!!

Late summer plums made an appearance in one of the farm shops I went to recently – they were perfect for a plum tart!!

I leave it at that for now – just one more thing: ¬†If you are in France (or in Europe for that matter), don’t forget that this weekend is European Heritage Weekend – there will be many places to visit!! ¬†I’ll be exploring some of Beziers’ lesser known places and will report back soon!!

Summertime, and the living is busy…

Summer is on the way, and in Saint-Chinian that means that there will be lots going on!!  We started with the festival Jazz au Cloitre last Wednesday and there are three more concerts: tonight, tomorrow and Sunday!

Hot on the heels of Jazz au Cloitre is the Fete de la Musique, which is a Europe-wide event, taking place on June 21.  I wrote about the Fete de la Musique back in 2014 Рyou can find the article here.

Throughout July and August, there are lots of things going on in Saint-Chinian: night markets are held each Tuesday evening…

… open-air cinema screenings are programmed for Wednesdays…

… there are free concerts in the cloister gardens each Thursday, and on Fridays there are circus shows, also in the cloister gardens!

The Bastille Day celebrations are always worth a visit to France!  In Saint-Chinian the party is held over two days Рon July 13 and 14, with big fireworks on July 14, followed by a concert on the main square.

A week after Bastille day, on July 21, the main square in Saint-Chinian will be filled with rows of stalls for the annual Fete du Cru, the winemakers’ festival, where you can taste all kinds of Saint-Chinian wines!

The Festival MusiSc takes place this year from July 22 to 28 – you can find the full programme here.

For wine lovers, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian will be unveiling a new painting on the walls of one of the wine tanks in the winery on July 26. ¬†I’ve written about the Art en Cave project here. ¬†A special cuvee, with a reproduction of the new painting on the bottle label will also be available that day!

On August 22, there’s more music with a concert by the Sinfonietta Bardou in the parish church of Saint-Chinian. ¬†A programme can be found via this link.

If you are tempted to visit any of these events in Saint-Chinian, do let me know!  And if you are planning a holiday to the area, please have a look at www.midihideaways.com .

I hope you’ll understand that I’ll be hard pressed to write blog posts with so much going on. ¬†So I’ll be taking a little break for the summer months, and I will be back with more stories in the fall. ¬†In the meantime, I’ll be taking many photographs and will gather new material for new posts!!

I hope you’ll have a great summer too!

Spice it up!

In last week’s post, I hinted at my visit to two wineries. ¬†My first stop that afternoon, following the morning‚Äôs wine tasting, discussed last week, was at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. ¬†I had come not to taste wine, but to look at the “Art en Cave” – enormous works of art which are painted on the fronts of the wine tanks in the cellar. ¬†The project started in 2013 and since then at least one new painting has been commissioned each year.

Each year a new cuvee is created in tandem with the new artwork.  The wine is issued in a limited edition, with the painting featured on the label of the bottle.

When the project was first started, it was a unique concept. ¬†“Art en Cave” is now a registered trademark!

After my visit to the cooperative winery, I went on to say hello to my friends Nadia and Cyril Bourgne at Domaine la Madura.  For the occasion of the winery open day, they had decided to pair visual arts with their wine.  I enjoyed the paintings of Stéphane Villafane as much as I enjoyed the wines of Domaine La Madura!!

This will be my last post this year – I’m going to take a break for the holidays. ¬†So, here is my Christmas present to you: my recipe for mulled wine! ¬†I recently made a large quantity of mulled wine for a Christmas concert in Saint-Chinian. ¬†The lucky visitors went through 15 litres of it!

Mulled Wine

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A wonderfully fragrant and tasty mulled wine, ideal for the holidays. The quantities in the foreground are for one bottle of wine, the quantities in the background are for 10 litres!

It’s not necessary to use an expensive wine for this recipe, but if you use a decent quality wine you’ll end up with great mulled wine. ¬†The secret is to ensure that it does not get too hot – use a sugar or yoghurt thermometer if you have one.

Ingredients

  • 6 cloves
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 orange, zest only, peeled thinly
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 bottle red wine

Directions

  1. In a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or enamel) heat the wine with the other ingredients to 80 degrees celsius. Use a thermometer if possible.
  2. Leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes over a very low flame.
  3. Strain and serve.

If you want to make a non-alcoholic version, substitute red grape juice or a mixture of grape and apple juice for the red wine, add the juice of the orange and omit the sugar.

Leftover mulled wine can be bottled and kept for several days.  Reheat gently

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Drink responsibly!