|Subject: Our Languedoc visit|
Hi Ziners, I've written about the Paris part of our France
visit in late August/early September. Here is the first bit
about our Languedoc stop. Upon reflection, I realize that
much of this is about the food we bought, cooked and/or ate
in restaurants. So I leave this to you to read and ask
detailed questions about places we visited.
Day 1 To travelled to Avignon on the TGV from the Gare de Lyon. Paris Metro stations are not friendly to the disabled or to the traveller with luggage; stairs everywhere and most surprising, stairs at the Gare de Lyon stop from the platform to the first level underground, then thankfully some escalators. However, the TGV is a charm. It's clean and efficient and we had reserved seating. The countryside became rural almost immediately outside of Paris and the trip was 2 hrs. 44 min. as advertised. We had lunch on board, our first croque monsieur of this trip with wine. We arrived in Avignon and were greeted by the marvelous hot weather of the South. We arrived at our rental house in a village that is about 25 miles outside of Avignon and immediately went to the local grocer to buy food and wine to dine al fresco on a meal of cold cuts and salad.
Day 2 Our village has a castle that is in the process of being restored so we took a hike up to it. The upward trek was hot work and the cold beer we carried with us to the summit was welcome. On the way back to the house, we stocked up on groceries again including steaks, pork loin for roasting, veggies, flageolet, water, wine and cheese.
We dressed for dinner and headed out to L'Industrie (our local restaurant). Dinner consisted of salads (ham/melon and Roquefort/walnuts/apples) mains (truite aux amande, filet de taureau), desserts (Ile flotant, crème brulee, crème caramel, lemon pie), a cheese tray, coffees and wine).
Day 3 Up to the village square for morning coffee. I had promised myself, after our last stay here, that I'd have my café crème in the morning as often as possible. I completely missed this morning routine on our last trip. Why did I think it wasn't on offer the last time? Sometimes the seasoned traveler misses the most obvious thing. So here we have our first morning crème, feel relaxed and good about beginning this morning tradition, not knowing that we will all regret it later.
When we finally got on the road, we drove to Chateauneuf de Pape for some wine purchases. We stopped at the first restaurant in the square as three of us were feeling pretty low with weakness, unsettled stomaches and cold sweats. A general malaise had settled in and we surmised that it was the morning coffee # the only common element we shared in our food consumption. Two of us started to worry about this state, being reminded of past bouts of food poisoning that can lay low the traveler for days. As a result, we had a low-key afternoon and an unusual lunch # no wine. Our lunches consisted of croque monsieur and salads and milk. Dan's comment was priceless for this, and any other, vacation: "We should take a picture of this". Even the waiter seemed amused as we ordered Canada Dry ginger ale and milk without any wine!
We wandered around the town and discovered a lovely restaurant below the palace, overlooking the hills (Le Vergere du Pape # the Pope's Garden) and pledged to return for dinner. It's interesting that we hadn't discovered it on our previous trip
We stopped for a degustation at Chateau la Bois de la Garde, a 19th century built chateau. I did not taste, unwilling to upset the stomach one more time. I suppose everyone else was feeling better. We met a group of Belgians who were buying in bulk. We bought six bottles.
Back home for dinner, we ate a usual sumptuous meal (BBQ steak). The steaks were cut thin so we noted to buy thicker cuts next time but it was a fabulous meal with salad with tomatoes picked fresh off the vine and basil cut from the garden, all dripping with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The evening made up for our ill health with a full moon dipping in and out of the clouds.
Day 4 On the road by 10:00 and head to les Beaux de Provence. Les Beaux is reputed to be the second most visited site in France after Mont St. Michel but it wasn't overly busy the day we visited. It is spectacular and overlooks a beautiful valley. There is so much history here. The castle ruins are large and the self-guided audio tour allows one to meander over the property at an individual pace. It took us each about 1-1/2 hours in very hot weather. Everyone was enthralled by the site and we lingered over all of it # the donjon, the keep, the reconstructed trebuchon and battering ram, the dovecote. Life in the Middle Ages was constricting, according to our standards, with rules for every class of society and every individual. As comforting as it may have been to the individual at the time, it would stifle us with our modern notion of individuality. For example, dovecotes could only be maintained by the upper levels of society.
We lunched on the terrace of the Hotel Baltazar (the figure of Baltazar looming large in the history of Les Beaux) on goat cheese salad, lasagne and rabbit served with stacks of vegetables. Castle touring is thirsty work so we started with beer and sangria before moving on to wine.
Two of us took in some shopping # linens at a Soleido outlet and soaps from a local vendor. It's amazing how many table coverings it's possible to own. Fortunately the patterns and colours are standard and timeless so it is possible to add to sets years after an initial purchase. The soaps didn't seem to be the same quality as we remembered but we may have a romantic view from our previous visit. Shopping means the suitcase going home won't be sufficient so it was an opportunity to buy a woven carry-bag that will see much use back home.
The trip back was slow and meandering, passed fields of vines, olive and lemon trees. We stopped at the Lirac co-op to buy our first "vrac" # 5 litre jugs of local plonk, one red and one white # and a citron aperitif called Aperitif a Base de Vin et de Citron from a winery in St. Laurent des Arbres. Sounds positively exotic but translates simply to "Aperitif with a base of wine and lemon".
Back home we sipped cocktails while preparing dinner # roast pork with potatoes, carrots, flageolet, apple confit and salad. Once again, we used our garden herbs and freshly picked tomatoes. The sunset sky tonight was especially beautiful with its Matisse pinks and Renoir blues so we had plenty of opportunity to take pictures.
Day 5 Breakfast on our terrace # fried egg sandwiches and pots of tea # before we packed up the car for market day at Vaison de la Romaine. We drove through rolling countryside and arrived in the lower part of Vaison. On our visit five years ago, we concentrated on the upper part of town, the reason "Romaine" is in the name. This time we bypassed it. The market was huge, beginning at one square and branching off to side streets before reaching another square. Everything was on offer including meats, fish, cheeses, breads and pastries, vegetables and fruits, clothing, wine, honey, leather and straw products, wine and dry goods from the stores. There was music everywhere and lots of cafes.
We shopped for food, buying salmon, blueberry tart, figs, apricots, carrots (freshly picked), cucumber, cheeses, pears and lemons. We bought Ardeche mushrooms, which the vendor guaranteed were the best mushrooms available. They're large, brown and succulent. We managed to sneak in a purchase of Thai silk scarves and espadrilles.
We lunched at L'Annexe Terrace on roquefort and pear salad, the plat du jour (salad, carpaccio, frites with two fried eggs proudly sitting on top, galette (also with fried egg and ham), beer, wine and café au lait.. As we ate our meal, we watched the vendors dismantle their stands and move out of town for the next day's market somewhere in the region. We surreptitiously took a photo of a young woman eating her lunch with her Jack Russell terrier perched on her lap. The French take their dogs everywhere. It is such a civilized approach to life and the dogs are generally well-behaved. It may be tradition, or it may be the fact that Europeans live outdoor lives that allows them to have a rational approach to eating with animals in tow. It's an interesting contrast to Canadians who have the myth of the great outdoors # something we cherish and which defines our psyche # but we have rules about our animals that Europeans don't share. It has an upside (caring for the animals) and a downside (they are peripheral parts of our lives).
The streets were unrecognizable when we left the restaurant and headed back to our car laden down with our purchases. We visited the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Nazareth. It's a medieval church with clear clean lines, rectangular in shape with no outside ornamentation. It's also clean and crisp inside. These churches are surprisingly airy.
We skipped the old town and the Roman ruins and drove small country roads toward Gigondas. We stopped at Segurat (reputed as one of the most beautiful villages in France). It's clean, well-maintained and very small and there is definitely money here. Next we stopped at Sablet to buy water # we missed the covered streets # before we reached Gigondas where we tasted a few wines. We were of mixed opinion about these and first decided on a Cote du Rhone but later bought one Gigondas, after all: "We're here. We should buy one." Back on the road, we were all a bit weary but we stopped in Carpentras because it was on the way. It's a busy town with pedestrian streets. Headed to the Cathedrale St. Siffrien, following the recommended tourist route and, as directed by the guide book, circumnavigated the church to view the Porte Juive and the Roman Arch.
In Carpentras, we had our first use of street side toilets. Insert a Euro, use the facility and step out. After exiting, the cubicle door closes and the contraption begins to clean, disinfect and deodorize itself. It sounded like an airplane getting ready for take-off but it's merely a 21st century version of the street pissoir
We ate on our terrace once again with a feast of today's purchases. We baked salmon with apricot confit, haricot vert, cob corn and the blueberry tarte for dessert. Fresh cooked beets can wait for another day.
The weather was very predictable. We had cool mornings (20 celsius) then it became hot in the afternoon (we experienced plus 30 degrees), followed by a strong breeze anytime after 7:00, which cooled the temperature again down to 20 where it stayed until bedtime.
Lucy, Toronto (but in my mind still in Languedoc)