Why we are here

This guest post was written by Lori – her home town is in British Columbia, Canada and she co-owns Mirabilis, a vacation rental house in St. Chinian, with her husband Mark.

I wonder if we will ever get over the beauty of visiting the South of France,¬†ūüáęūüá∑ and for us especially the Languedoc area?¬†¬†With the vast differences in local landscapes, you can drive 35 minutes to the cool breezes of the sea or 20 minutes the other way to the stunning village of Roquebrun and the regional park landscape.¬†¬†At home in Canada this would require 2 different provinces and a 6-7 hour drive to achieve such diversity.

Right in the middle of these two landscapes, my husband bought us a renovation project vacation house in the loveliest little wine town called Saint-Chinian.¬†¬†Every year we manage to escape our regular grind of life and make our way to Saint-Chinian for a glorious three weeks of French bliss!¬†¬†We know we are home the moment we park our little rental car in the lay-by overlooking Saint-Chinian, with the mountains in the distance. ¬†We open the doors to be greeted by the sound of the singing cicadas. After a big deep breath, smiles take over our faces and instant relaxation sets in.¬†¬†We travel the winding road down the steep valley into the downtown with excitement to see what is the same and what has changed since our last visit. Driving down the road beside the market square, it’s wonderful to see the elderly people sitting on the benches, having conversations and watching life.¬†¬†As we turn the corner to drive down the road to our house, we ask each other the burning question: “Will there be parking available outside the house?” ¬†YES!
After unpacking, we start with the deliberations as to which of the many restaurants on the Main Street will we walk to for dinner, knowing full well that my favourite restaurant “Le Village” will be the chosen one!
After years of vacations, it is super nice to be recognized by the proprietors and villagers and sometimes overhear, “It’s the Canadians”.¬†¬†Market day I have to find our friend with the clothing stand for some idle chitchat and to purchase a couple of dresses, which is what he has come to expect. Summertime is amazing, with Artisan Night Markets, two major weekly morning markets, flea markets (like an immense yard sale) on Saturdays, outdoor movies on Thursdays, wine tasting events, music concerts, great restaurants, walking tours and endless people watching.

I would say that this is such a great spot to come and have a vacation because there is something for everyone. People fall in love with this area and they keep coming back!

If you ever wanted to have a vacation in this lovely area, then don’t hesitate!!! Until next year!

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Saint-Chinian, “the place to be”

In early August, an article appeared on the CNBC website which caused quite a stir in Saint-Chinian – thank you Julian for forwarding it to me! ¬†The article listed the world’s top 10 retirement destinations for 2017. ¬†I posted a link to the article on the midihideaways facebook page, so, if you’ve already seen the article you’ll know why it would have caused a stir – Saint-Chinian was listed in fifth position!! ¬†You can read the article via this link.

It was a little while before the local press found out about it, but eventually the story was picked up by Midi Libre, and it made the front page of the Sunday edition on August 20, 2017! ¬†Here’s a link to the Midi Libre article.

After that, things went a little crazy!!  Some locals started to get concerned that the village would be overrun by Americans.  Others welcomed the news in the hope that it would bring new people to the village.  On August 22, a TV crew from France 3 appeared in Saint-Chinian, looking to interview locals and foreign retirees.  Their video was broadcast later in the week, and can be found here.

The following morning, a TV crew from TF1 turned up, looking for people to interview! ¬†Their video aired the same day, at lunchtime, and you can watch it here. ¬†Please be patient, the adverts don’t take too long…

On Friday, August 25th, yet another TV crew turned up, this one from M6 Рtheir video was aired on the following day, and can be watched via this link.  Again, please be patient with the adverts!

Several articles have since appeared in the French media РBFMTV, RTL and Le Parisien.  The radio station for the region, France Bleu Herault, added its own take on the CNBC article, interviewing the mayor and Jeremy at Cafe Vernazobre.

The link from the CNBC article leads to a website called Live and Invest Overseas.  The full article on this website goes into a lot of detail as to how the best places to retire to in 2017 were chosen.

Ever since reading the article I’ve been intrigued as to how they came to pick Saint-Chinian, out of all the villages in France or even Europe!! ¬†I decided that there was only one way to find out: ¬†I wrote to Kathleen Peddicord, the author of the CNBC article, and founder & publisher of Live and Invest Overseas. ¬†Here’s what Kathleen replied:

“Andreas,

Thanks for your  interest and for getting in touch. We were all surprised and delighted to hear about the far-reaching impressions our English-language Index has made across the pond.

Our annual Overseas Retirement Index has featured the Occitanie region (under former name Languedoc) in previous years, because we feel it offers an excellent quality of life at a great value‚ÄĒand, more generally, that the south of France is a must on any list of the best living or retiring destinations in Europe.

This year we approached our methodology differently, dividing the Index into categories of lifestyle. Under this new organization, we included Small Towns as a lifestyle option, and thought that a small town within Occitanie would be an ideal addition to epitomize small town living for France and generally for Europe.

We‚Äôve known many retirees to villages and towns throughout Occitanie and have a particular concentration of contributors (or family members of contributors) who happen to live in Saint-Chinian. Based on their testimonials, it sounded like the quintessential small, southern French town‚ÄĒa perfect representation of small town living in Europe.

Within France for this category, we only considered a couple other towns in Occitanie and towns in Morbihan in the north. The south beat out the north based on weather and access to the Med. Saint-Chinian came out among our other southern towns as a particularly good value for cost of living, while being at what we felt were ideal distances from nearby larger towns, transport hubs, and the Med. But we only allowed for a winner and a runner up for each region in each category, so the other small towns we considered before narrowing one of the slots down to France took the entire Continent into consideration (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, and Greece in particular).

Please let us know if you‚Äôd like to know anything else about Saint-Chinian‚Äôs inclusion or the Index and how we do our rankings and gradings. “

So there we have it – Saint-Chinian beat off stiff competition and it is definitely the place to be!!

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Summer festivities in Saint-Chinian

For this post I have decided to concentrate on the many things that will be going on in Saint-Chinian this summer!

The very popular night markets will be starting on July 4, 2017 and will take place every Tuesday throughout July and August.

Every Saturday there will be a Vide Grenier, a flea market, in the shade of the plane trees on the market square.

On Thursday nights there will be open-air cinema in front of the town hall building РJuly 6th and 20th, August 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th.  Free admission!

On July 9th, Chateau la Dournie will be holding an open day from 10am to 6pm.  Visits of the cellars, wine tasting, craft market, picnic in the park.

The Fete du Cru will be taking place on July 23, 2017 Рa great day of wine tasting in the market square!  The Fete du Cru is organised by the winemakers of the Saint-Chinian area to showcase their wines and to allow the public to discover the great variety of wines on offer.

The music festival will take place from July 26 to 30 this year. ¬†Five days of concerts 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, New Orleans jazz, Latin rhythms, world music, choral, etc… ¬†Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

On August 4, 2017 the Cave Cooperative winery will hold its open day.  Free guided visits of the cellars throughout the day.  Unveiling of a new mural in the cellars, followed by an open-air meal and concert.

On Mondays during July and August, a guided visit of the architectural heritage of Saint-Chinian takes place, starting at 9am from the entrance hall of the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Tuesdays during July and August, there is a free guided visit of the Chapel of Notre Dame de Nazareth at 9am.  Meeting point is at the start of the path up to the chapel, where the D177 forks to Assignan and Babeau Bouldoux.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Wednesdays during July and August, you have the option of a guided visit of the Capitelles, the little huts built with just stones and no mortar.  The visit is free of charge, reservations at the tourist office.  The meeting point is at the windmill, and the walk starts at 9am.

Thursday mornings during July and August are dedicated to guided visits of the Cave Cooperative, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  The free guided visit starts at 10:30am and the visit is followed by a wine tasting.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The¬†Canal de l’Abbe is the theme for a guided visit on Fridays during July and August. ¬†This canal was built during the Middle Ages, originally to power a number of mills along the way. ¬†To this day supplies the vegetable gardens in Saint-Chinian with river water! ¬†The free visit starts at 9am from the town hall in Saint-Chinian. ¬†Reservations via the tourist office.

On Saturday mornings during July and August, a visit of the former Abbey is on the agenda, showing the evolution of the buildings between 1656 and 1950. The free visit starts at 9am in the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The windmill, which sits on the rocky ledge above Saint-Chinian, can be visited on Sundays.  The free guided visit starts at 9am at the windmill.  Reservations via the tourist office.

There’s never been a better time to visit Saint-Chinian, so book your stay now!

 

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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 Рhave 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 Рtwo days of amazing creatures flying in the breeze at Narbonne Plage.  I wrote about this a few years ago Рit 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 Solidarit√© avec le R√©fugies, 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 ‚Äď 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)?

 

Food and wine

Back in January, I attended a tutored wine tasting with food pairing at the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian (see post here).  Since then, I seem to have developed a bit of a fancy for this kind of event.  When the Maison des Vins announced a series of food and wine pairing dinners in collaboration with the restaurant Le Village in Saint-Chinian, I did not hesitate to make a reservation for the first one.  There are four more of these dinners Рfollow this link to see the list of dates!

The formula is simple Рthree courses and three wines, the whole for 25 Euros.

Menu soiree vigneronne – a food and wine pairing dinner.

The wines were presented by Elisabeth Poux from Domaine Pech Menel.  The meal started with steamed green asparagus and half a grilled artichoke heart, served with mountain ham and a mousseline sauce.   The mousseline sauce was made like a hollandaise sauce, using the Blanc de Pech Menel 2015 wine, which was served with this course.  Whipped cream was added to the hollandaise sauce just before serving it, to give it a mousse-like texture.  Mme Poux explained that the white wine was made with a blend of grenache, rolle (also called vermentino), roussanne and viognier grapes.  It was delightfully dry and crisp, with hints of honey and dried fruits.  This was the first time I had tasted the wines from Domaine Pech Menel, and I was impressed!

A starter of steamed asparagus, mountain ham and grilled artichoke heart, served with mousseline sauce and accompanied by Blanc de Pech Menel white wine.

After a little pause, to allow us to finish our wine, the main course arrived, accompanied by a different wine. ¬†The wine was¬†Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel 2009, a full-bodied, deeply coloured red wine, made from¬†70% mourvedre grapes; carignan and grenache grapes made up the rest of the blend. ¬†This wine¬†was a wonderful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb, which was served with home-made fries and a medley of vegetables. ¬†The lamb was tender and succulent, the fries were lovely and crisp, and my only criticism could be the colour¬†of the plate the dish¬†was served on! ūüôā ¬†Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but on the whole I prefer food to be served on white plates.

Slow-cooked lamb with home-made fries and a vegetable medley, accompanied by Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel red wine.

The dessert was all chocolate Рperfect for me!!  On the plate in front of me were three different kinds of chocolate desserts: in the picture below from left to right Рmoelleux au chocolat, a kind of moist chocolate cake; mousse au chocolat, chocolate mousse; and crumble a la banane au chocolat, banana and chocolate crumble.  All three were delicious, but my favourite was the banana and chocolate crumble!  To accompany this dessert, Mme Poux had chosen a red wine called No Name.  This was a fairly young red wine, a 2013 vintage, made from a blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and cinsault grapes.  It was a fresh tasting wine with a hint of smokiness, and it had a slight petillance, very different from the wine we drank with the main course, but a perfect foil to the richness of the chocolate.  No Name could be a wine for every day drinking, and could be perfect for an aperitif if served slightly chilled.

It was a great evening, spent with good food, good wine and good friends!! ¬†Having discovered the wines of Domaine Pech Menel, I’m looking forward to visiting the winery and tasting their other wines.

Dates for your diary

Courses Camarguaises – May to October 2017

If you want to see a bull-fight, but are not into blood sports, then a course camarguaise is for you!  The bull always leaves the ring alive, and the men in the ring have to be very nimble on their feet.  I wrote about one such bull-fight here, and you can find all the dates on the official website.

European museum night – 20 May 2017

Since 2005, European museum night has been enchanting visitors every year. ¬†It’s a free event, which gives¬†visitors the chance to discover the treasures of museums all over Europe in different ways. ¬†You’ll be able to find the whole programme on¬†this site¬†.

Les Feeries du Pont, Pont du Gard – 2, 3, 9 and 10 June 2017

The Pont du Gard like you’ve never seen it before – lit up with flames¬†and¬†fireworks. ¬†It’s an unforgettable show, and I was lucky to see it some years ago! ¬†More information via this link.

Pont du Gard

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 4 June 2017

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause. ¬†The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

Balade Gourmande, Saint-Jean-de-Minervois – 4 June 2017

This gourmet walk has become a very successful and enjoyable annual event.  I went on this gourmet walk back in 2015 and enjoyed it very much.  If you want to give it a try yourself, you can find out more via this link.

A wonderfully fragrant spot

A wonderfully fragrant spot

Fete de la Musique, all over Europe – 21 June 2017

Don’t miss this wonderful celebration of music all over France. ¬†It’s a great¬†occasion to listen to all kinds of music. I’ve written about some of my experiences¬†here¬†and¬†here. ¬†The official website for the event can be found via this link.

Fesitval de Carcassonne – 1 to 30 July 2017

Once again, Carcassonne is hosting an array of famous French singers and musicians during its summer festival!  For the full programme visit here.

Re-opening of the Fonserannes site, Beziers, 1 July 2017

The site around the staircase lock at Fonserannes on the Canal du Midi, on the edge of Beziers, has been given a complete makeover!  I am looking forward to when the site re-opens again in its new splendour.  The staircase lock is a marvel of engineering and worth a visit if you are in the area!

Feria de Beziers – 12 to 15 August 2017

With four days of bodegas, parties and bull fights, the feria in Beziers attracts visitors from all over.  If bull fights are not your thing, the party atmosphere in the town in the early evening is lovely to experience, with pop-up restaurants bars everywhere.  You can find out more via this link.

Fete du Fil, Labastide Rouairoux – 14 and 15 August 2017

This fete is a must for lovers of all things textile.  The textile museum will be open to visitors free of charge, there will be several exhibitions and the flea market.  Full details on https://lafetedufil.jimdo.com/

Fete de Saint-Louis, Sete – 17 to 22 August 2017

The Fete de Saint-Louis celebrates the patron saint of Sete with five days of concerts, street performances and the all-important water jousting tournament!  Full details can be found via this link.

Start of La Vuelta, Nimes – 19 August 2017

La Vuelta is Spain’s answer to the Tour de France, and this year the city of Nimes hosts the first stage of this race. ¬†A must for all lovers of cycling!