Hedgerow colours

A recent post on the blog Life on La Lune spurred me into action – I had to get out and photograph some wildflowers before they faded!!  Today was the perfect day – we’d had rain yesterday and nature looked so lush and clean!

Sturdy shoes – tick.  Camera bag – tick. Spare camera battery – tick.  Macro lens – tick.

In Saint-Chinian we are so lucky to be able to find great walks in pretty much every direction.  Some walks are a little more challenging, such as the one I took today, but it is still an easy walk.  I set off along the D177, leaving the market square in the direction of Assignan.

Centranthus ruber - red valerian

Centranthus ruber – red valerian

In Languedoc, there is something flowering at any time of the year, even if it’s just common daisies.  I promise you that you’ll always find at least one kind of plant flowering, whenever you go for a walk!

Bellis perennis - common daisy

Bellis perennis – common daisy

I kept my eyes open as I walked along the road – there are many flowers along the verges!

Allium roseum - wild garlic

Allium roseum – wild garlic

Trifolium pratense - red clover

Trifolium pratense – red clover

Ranunculus acris – common buttercup

Urospermum dalecampii - prickly goldenfleece

Urospermum dalecampii – prickly goldenfleece

Trying to identify the plants whilst writing this post has been very educational!  In order to differentiate whether the above plant belonged to the genus of taraxacum or hypochaeris, I would have had to have a look at the flower stem and the leaves!  I won’t be able to tell for sure, since I didn’t photograph either…  Luckily, help was at hand – my friend Gill Pound at La Petite Pepiniere identified the flower for me!!  Did you know that in French, dandelion is called dent de lion and also pissenlit?  Yes, it really means “pee in the bed”!!  The young leaves of the plant are added to salads, and they are supposed to have diuretic properties, hence the second of the common names!! 🙂

The orchid below grew just on the other side of the ditch which runs along the road!

Orchis purpurea - lady orchid

Orchis purpurea – lady orchid

On my walk I saw a number of tassel hyacinths:

About 1 kilometre along the D177, a track turns off on the left and climbs the hillside.  That’s where I  continued my walk!  Soon after the turn I came across this pretty flower – it was absolutely tiny, smaller than the nail on my little finger.

Vicia sativa - common vetch

Vicia sativa – common vetch

This plant with the pink flower bud was growing close-by, but I’ve no idea what it could be!  Do you know what it could be?

I was able to identify the following plant – ribwort plantain.  This simple herb is supposed to be highly effective for treating coughs and respiratory problems!!

Plantago lanceolata - ribwort plantain

Plantago lanceolata – ribwort plantain

A tiny thistle grew by the side of the road:

Carduus pycnocephalus - Italian thistle

Carduus pycnocephalus – Italian thistle

The path climbed fairly steeply until it came to a junction with Chemin de la Rouquette.  I turned left here – the path continued level for some time, before it started to descend gently back towards the village.

Wild thyme is flowering everywhere, and insects love it!  I’ve not been able to identify the insect in the picture below left.  I think the one in the picture below right is a bumble bee.

In our area, wild orchids can still be found quite easily – these three beauties were in a field.

hegartybabette@gmail.com

Orchis purpurea – lady orchid

A little farther on, I came across this orchid:

Cephalanthera longifolia - narrow leaved helleborine

Cephalanthera longifolia – narrow leaved helleborine

The following two lady orchids grew within two metres of one another – one appeared to get more sun than the other.

Coronilla forms large shrubs, which flower abundantly in spring!

Coronilla valentina - scrubby scorpion vetch

Coronilla valentina – scrubby scorpion vetch

Certain types of euphorbia flourish in our area – it’s a genus which has around 2000 members.  The poinsettia we see at Christmas time belongs to it.

Euphorbia characias - mediterranean spurge

Euphorbia characias – mediterranean spurge

Euphorbia cyparissias - cypress spurge

Euphorbia sp. – spurge

This delicate pink flower looked so beautiful – there was a little wind, so taking a photograph was challenging!!

Lychnis flos-cuculi - ragged robin

Lychnis flos-cuculi – ragged robin

Another orchid – the first of two bee orchids I saw:

Orphys scolopax - bee orchid

Orphys scolopax – bee orchid

Orphys scolopax - bee orchid

Orphys scolopax – bee orchid

And this is the other one:

Orphys sp. - bee orchid

Orphys sp. – bee orchid

It was thrilling to see so many different orchids in one afternoon!!  But there were many more humble flowers to be looked at!!

Latuca perennis - blue lettuce

Latuca perennis – blue lettuce

Linum perenne - blue flax

Linum perenne – blue flax

Vinca - periwinkle

Vinca – periwinkle

As I got closer to the village, there were a few lovely views!

What a wonderful finish to the walk – I feel so fortunate that I have all this on my doorstep!!

Advertisements

Follow the yellow line!

My very first post on this blog was entitled, “Do you enjoy walking?” That was back in March 2012 – nearly six years ago!!  I still enjoy walking a great deal, and I thought I would share a recent walk with you.  The walk is called Las Clapas, the Occitan word for the stone piles which line the path in places.  The stones were cleared from the fields and vineyards.

A leaflet which gives the route of the walk is available from the tourist office in Saint-Chinian.  Here is a link to the IGN map, which also shows the route.  The official starting point for the walk is in the main square of Saint-Chinian, but I cheated a little.  I drove up the hill and started from the car park near the windmill!  The views over the village and the valley are gorgeous from up there!

As I left the car park, I saw this tree trunk with a bright yellow marking, indicating a marked walk – hence the title of this post!

To start with, the path climbs a little – and not long after I’d seen the yellow mark, I came across another indicator:

Turns out that I wasn’t going to follow the yellow line after all – the colour of the Las Clapas walk markers is blue actually.  Ho hum 🙂

After about 10 minutes of walking, I was rewarded with a beautiful view across to the windmill.

I’ve walked this route many times over the years and in all seasons – each time is different, and the look of the landscape changes throughout the year.  Where there is a sea of green leaves in summer, in winter you see the lined up trunks of the vine plants and their bare branches – that is if they’ve not been pruned yet.

The plants in the picture below have had their shoots clipped back already:

This olive tree stood right next to an almond tree.  And the first flowers were already open on the almond tree – in January!!

I found a blue marker – does it look as though it might have been yellow once??  Or is that the lichen on the stone?

The path goes past someone’s garden – it is immaculately kept and looks more like a park than a garden.

A little farther along is this stand of cypress trees:

And farther still was this quirky entrance to somebody’s plot of land!  It looks as though the owner is into recycling!

Here’s another picture of a vineyard – beautifully kept and all ready for spring!

And here is what you can do with some of the many stones – if you have the patience and a steady hand!  🙂

The last picture was taken on one of my previous walks, when the skies were not as blue as on my last walk.  I’ll confess that I did not complete the Las Clapas walk in its entirety last time!  There’s a way to shorten it, if you continue straight on at the point where the map is marked with 235 above the blue line.  Either way, it’s a beautiful walk, and once you are familiar with the map and the paths, you won’t need to rely on the markings!

This is just one of the many spectacular walks around Saint-Chinian – you can experience them yourself during a stay in Saint-Chinian*!

*For accommodation visit www.midihideaways.com

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sailing again

If you have visited Saint-Chinian, you’ll probably know that there is a windmill standing on the hill above the village.  It was reconstructed as a fully functional windmill from a ruin a good many years ago.  During the summer months, volunteers from the association Richesses du St Chinianais used to offer guided visits and would make the windmill turn if there was enough wind.

Unfortunately, at some point the rot set in – in the main beam which held the sails and acted as the drive shaft.  One day, a couple of years ago, the beam just snapped off, and the four sails dropped to the ground.  It was a sad day for the village, but at least nobody was hurt.

The sails were put into storage, whilst experts looked at ways of repairing the windmill.  In the end, it was decided to re-make the sails and the external part of the drive shaft with steel rather than wood.  To my mind it’s been a surprisingly successful repair – you can’t really tell the difference even from just a few meters away.

With the sails replaced, the windmill was opened to visitors again last summer, and the volunteers from Les Richesses gave guided tours once more!  The day I visited, I arrived early enough to watch the sails being unfurled.  I shot a video, which gives you an idea of the tranquility of the spot, and what is required to get this windmill operational!

There was no wind on the day I visited, so unfortunately the sails would not turn.  But don’t be disappointed!  I did write about the windmill back in June 2013,  and I included videos of the windmill turning in that post – you can read the post here.

On your next visit to Saint-Chinian, don’t forget to have a look at the windmill – it’s worth the drive or walk for the views alone!!

The last of the season

With winter marching in and Christmas on the way, I thought I would share some pictures of the glorious autumn colours we had in Languedoc this year.  I took the photographs on a walk last week, a couple of days before some wet and stormy weather moved across Languedoc.  I’m sure there are still a few leaves clinging on out there, but mostly the leaves are gone now.  Not surprising really, it’s early December after all!

Here’s where I started my walk – this field is just a few steps away from the main street in Saint-Chinian.

img_6946

Look at how these leaves glow in the sunshine!!

img_6952

img_6956

img_6961

A little farther on, the trees appear to have shed most of their leaves, but the leaves on the vines beyond are still almost green, and of course the evergreens around the vineyards stay ever so green!

img_6962

At Clos Bagatelle, this vineyard was a myriad of different shades of orange and russet.

Just around the corner I found this bottlebrush plant (callistemon) flowering its heart out.

img_6977

Daisies seem to thrive everywhere!

img_6979

At Chateau La Dournie, the predominant colour was yellow!

img_6981

img_6985

This wonderful stand of trees is right by the Vernazobre river:

img_7000

Some plants thrive in the shelter which these trees provide.

img_6994 img_6999

At La Rive, the market gardens had some very neat looking rows of cabbages!

img_7006

Returning towards Saint-Chinian, I caught this view of the windmill with the vineyards below.

img_7011

This mushroom is not edible, but looks quite attractive.

img_7024

And here is the last picture from my walk, the flowers and fruits of an arbousier (arbutus unedo).  I’m not sure if there are many plants which bear fruit and flowers at the same time, but this is definitely one of them!!

img_7030

If you’re planning a visit to Saint-Chinian, and are interested in following in my footsteps, I give you below the map of my walk.  I hope you’ll enjoy it!

map

Now you see it, now you dont!

One recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove to the village of Aigues Vives for a guided visit around the river Cesse.  A fairly large group of people had gathered on the square in front of the town hall – perhaps because the weather was so beautifully sunny?

P1010399

Once the guides had settled who would do what, we started on our walk towards the riverbed.

P1010402

When you are in Aigues Vives, the river Cesse is nowhere in evidence.  But head north, along Avenue de la Cesse, and you’ll see signs that the river isn’t far away!

P1010435

 

P1010403

As you leave the village, the road gently slopes down to the riverbed.  At the bottom of the hill we took a left, and soon we were standing on the banks of the Cesse.  It looks a bit dry, wouldn’t you agree?

IMG_4018

Here’s the guide who explained why there was no water in the river:IMG_4020

It was a rather fascinating explanation!  The Cesse can be divided into three distinct sections, the upper, middle and lower sections.  The upper section, from which the river springs, in Ferrals-les-Montagnes, resembles a mountain torrent which runs pretty much all year.  About 16 km downstream from the source, at a place called Moulin de Monsieur, the middle section starts, and the river appears to dry up.  The middle section is about 20 km long and ends at Moulin de Madame, where the river resurfaces again.  The lower river flows all year round from Moulin de Madame through Bize Minervois and on to join the Aude river at Salleles d’Aude.

We were looking at the middle section of the Cesse, and on average this part of the river is dry two-thirds of the year.  That’s not to say that there is no water at all.  The area is made up of limestone, and over millennia the water has carved away at the stone.  If you drive to Minerve, you’ll get a good idea of just how much has been cut away.  The theory is that the river runs underground in the middle section, and only surfaces when there is enough water to fill up the river bed.  That usually happens during winter when it has rained enough.

Just to give you an idea of what it can look like, here is a picture of La Caunette, taken a few years ago, at a time when there was plenty of water:

P1010479

And here are some pictures (also from a few years ago) when there was water flowing just outside Agel, downstream from Aigues Vives.  This was taken not far away from Moulin de Madame, and you can see the old dam and a sluice gate for the mill.

Let’s track back to our walk in Aigues Vives though.  The walk continued along the river, and we came to a place where you could see what looked like two big piles of stones, on either side of the river.  One of our guides explained that they were the remains of a footbridge, which had been built in the 17th century.  Wooden walkways rested on a central pillar in the riverbed, and allowed people to cross to the other side, even at times of high water.  Unfortunately, the central pillar was swept away by the floods during the winter of 1999, and with it the bridge.  The force of water is not to be underestimated!!

The path turned away from the river and we started to walk through the vineyards.  Even though the vines are dormant right now, the vineyards can look so pretty!!

IMG_4015

 

Where one vineyard ends another one starts, but sometimes they are interspersed with a few almond trees such as these:

IMG_4029 IMG_4033

There’s nothing as beautiful as white blossoms against a bright blue sky on a spring day!

After our walk I had some time to wander around the back streets of Aigues Vives.  As in Puisserguier (see last week’s post), I had never really stopped to explore the village. It has an interesting mix of old and older buildings!

I wonder if the name of this road means that it can be windy here??

P1010439

These two beauties were enjoying a nap in the sunshine.

IMG_4036

They were very happy to pose for the camera!! 🙂

The bakery which this sign points to has long been closed, unfortunately.

IMG_4065

But I came across the restaurant below, the Auberge Minervoise, which is very much open for business.  I’ve put it on my list of restaurants to try!

IMG_4062

So there you have it – a wonderful afternoon walk, with plenty of interesting information!

 

 

A gourmet walk

The small village of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois is home to one of the oldest AOCs of the Languedoc region.  AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee – a geographical quality certification.  The wines of the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois are sweet wines, produced from the muscat grape, with a high amount of residual sugar.  Fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol, before the yeasts have had time to consume all the sugar.  The result is an amazingly fragrant sweet wine, which should be well chilled before drinking.  The growers also produce a number of other wines, such as dry muscat (white), rose and red wines, which are not classified under the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.

On June 7th, 2015 the winegrowers of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois organised their second Balade Gourmande, a gourmet walk; last year (2014) was the first time they had organised this kind of event.  A Balade Gourmande is a walk with a number of stops along the way, where you eat and/or drink, allowing you to enjoy the countryside without having to schlep the picnic!  Numbers were limited to 300 persons, and for this year’s event, the participants were assigned a time to depart in groups of around 30.  A guide or two led each group, to ensure that nobody got lost on the walk through the vineyards.  I had booked with a few friends and we had been assigned the first departure at 11am.  Somewhat early, I thought, but as it turned out it was perfect!

reception area for the walk

The reception area for the walk

The reception area was just across the road from the cooperative winery in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, and there were plenty of parking spaces.  Upon registration every participant was issued with their walking “kit”:  A yellow hat, a glass with a kind harness to hang around the neck (very important 🙂 ), a book of vouchers for the food we were to eat along the way, a pen, a set of cutlery, a napkin, and a booklet giving details of all the food and wine, along with prices of the wine, and contact details of the domaines.

Soon everyone was wearing their hats and getting quite excited!

Getting ready for the walk

Getting ready for the walk

 

Our guides were Anne and Karine, both of them winegrowers with an intimate knowledge of the terroir.

meeting our guides

Meeting our guides

The walk was about 6km long, and there were stops approx. each kilometer, either for something to eat or…

So off we went:

The vineyards at the start of the walk

The vineyards at the start of the walk

The trail was well signposted, just in case anyone struggled to keep up or had to take a little break.

Signpost along the way

Signpost along the way

Our first stop was for a welcome drink:  a glass of sparkling Muscat sec.

After a brief rest, we followed our guides as they led us down little known tracks – only someone who had spent their entire lives here could be truly familiar with them all!

Walking along the vineyards

Walking along the vineyards

I could not resist this lovely clump of poppies along the way:

poppies along the way

Poppies along the way

You’ll notice the white rocks surrounding the poppies.  The area of the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois is on a limestone plateau, and the sun bleaches the rocks to an almost pure white.  It is quite a dazzling sight!

We next came to another dazzling sight – one of the canyons which cross the plateau:

Canyon crossing the limestone plateau

Canyon crossing the limestone plateau

And here is a vineyard with the typical “white” look.

A typical Saint-Jean-de-Minervois vineyard

A typical Saint-Jean-de-Minervois vineyard

Before long we reached our first Etape Gourmande, a food stop!  This was where we would eat the starter:

First "Etape Gourmande"

First “Etape Groumande” – starter

A tent had been set up, in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and the chefs from Les Cuisiniers Cavistes in Narbonne were hard a work to prepare our starters:

The starter was named Du Causses a la Mediterranee” – a crispy puff pastry base covered with sheep’s cheese (from the Causses), topped with crunchy vegetables and pieces of home-smoked fish (from the Mediterranee).  The whole was dressed with a vinaigrette prepared with vinegar made with Muscat.   It was a very delicious morsel!!

"Du Causses a la Mediterranee"

“Du Causses a la Mediterranee”

Wines from Domaine Montahuc, Domaine de Barroubio, Clos du Gravillas, Domaine Marcon and Cave le Muscat were there to accompany the starter.

Nicely chilled wines

Nicely chilled wines

After this very pleasant break we continued on our walk.

Walking through the vineyards

Walking through the vineyards

Our next stop was a Halte Artistique, a break to rest and enjoy some art.  In this case it was music:

IMG_2328

I took a video for you also – e-mail subscribers, please remember to visit the site for the video.

There was chilled water available, both still and fizzy.  Suitably refreshed and rested, we headed off to find the next stop! 🙂  On the way we passed a wonderfully fragrant spot – Spanish broom was flowering all around us, almost intoxicating us with its beautiful fragrance.

A wonderfully fragrant spot

A wonderfully fragrant spot

Before long we reached the next stop – the second Etape Gourmande, where we were to be served our main course.

2nd "Etape Groumande" - main course

2nd “Etape Groumande” – main course

The installation was very impressive – a covered seating area with big kitchen area behind, AND there were toilets!

The title of the main course was “De L’Aubrac au Causse”.  The Aubrac region is famous for raising high quality beef and we were served a piece of beef filet with a sauce prepared with Grenache (wine) and veal jus, accompanied by spring vegetables.  The beef was perfectly cooked and ever so tender – I’m salivating at the memory of it!!

Main course being served

The main course being served

Looking through my pictures I realised – horror of horrors – that I do not have a picture of the main course!!  “Oh no” – I can hear you say – “how could that have happened??”  Perhaps I was too distracted by the lady who was singing popular French chansons whilst accompanying herself on the accordion.

Accordionist

The accordionist

Wines were provided by all the wineries previously mentioned, plus in addition, Domaine du Sacre Coeur.

After this wonderful interlude, our guides led us to a marvellous spot.  From the top of one of Karine’s vineyards we had the most wonderful view over the whole area covered by the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.

View towards Saint-Jean-de-Minervois

View towards Saint-Jean-de-Minervois

We were now well past lunchtime, and you can see a bit of a build-up of clouds in the above picture.  Over on the far left it started to look a little black, but the sun was still shining!!

Our next stop was another Halte Artistique and there was more music.  In a shady copse, benches, deck chairs and even a hammock had been set up, so we could rest our weary legs and relax with some music.

relaxing music

Relaxing music

Here is a video for you:

After the rest and relaxation we were ready to walk onwards to our next Etape Gourmande: the cheese course!

3rd "Etape Gourmande" - Cheese

3rd “Etape Gourmande” – cheese

A selection of three cheeses were accompanied by Muscat from Domaines Barroubio and Montahuc and Cave Le Muscat.

Cheese Course

Cheese course

The two goat’s cheeses were from Combebelle near Villespassans; the blue cheese was a Fourme d’Ambert and served with a muscat jelly.  Below is Anne Camelot from Combebelle with a helper.

Cheese course being prepared

Cheese course being prepared

It looked as though the storm building in the distance was headed our way, so we needed no encouragement from our guides to get to the next and ultimate Etape Gourmande: Dessert!!

Final "Etape Gourmande" - dessert

Final “Etape Gourmande” – dessert

The chefs were busy putting the final touches on our desserts.

Desserts being prepared

Desserts being prepared

The title of the dessert was Quand St Jean devoile son exotisme”.  Dessert was an exotic composition of tender sponge cake, mascarpone with passion fruit, and roasted mango and pineapple, served with a mango and passion fruit coulis.  With that there were three different muscats to choose from – perfect harmony and sheer bliss!!

Exotic and tasty dessert

Exotic and tasty dessert

All too soon it was time to move on and return to the reception area and the car park.  On the way I photographed the remains of the windmill near the Cooperative winery in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.  The light was extraordinary!

Ruined windmill in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois

Ruined windmill in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois

Back at the reception area there was coffee and a tasting of spirits from the Distillerie du Petit Grain.  I was lucky and did not have to drive that day.  Their Gin is absolutely exquisite!  All of the wines we had tasted throughout our walk could be bought at the end.

end of our gourmet walk

The end of our gourmet walk

What a wonderful day!!  The storm which brewed in the distance, and which made for such dramatic skies, stayed in the distance, and we didn’t get wet!!  🙂  I came home with some wonderful wines, and I am planning to sign up for next year’s walk!!  Why don’t you join me?  If you want to stay close by, you can rent L’Ancien Cafe in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois