|Subject: Our Languedoc visit - Part 2|
Hi Ziners, Here's another installment of our trip and once
more it has a lot of food items because we planned our daily
excursions to coincide with markets in the area towns and
villages. I've included some web links for additional
Day 6 Today was a down day because we had been on the move so much and it was time to stop and smell the roses. However, "down day" is relative. We started at the village restaurant for our morning café crème, a read through the International Herald Tribune and a half-hour working on the crossword puzzle, while absorbing the atmosphere and sounds of the village square, saying "Bonjour" to everyone who passed by. By this time, we had become a familiar sight in the village and were on conversational terms with the merchants. The day's activities reminded us of why we travel - to experience life in other places.
Dinner was another feast of beef brandade roasted with potatoes, carrots and onions. Today, we ate the beets we bought at the Vaison market. Delicious. We cracked open our white "vrac" - crisp with a slight hint of apple. (A vrac is a five litre plastic container that buyers bring to the local wine co-operative and fill from a hose in the wall with red, white, rose or sparkling.)
Day 7 Carcassonne: the biggest disappointment of our trip. We had great hopes because we'd read so much about the Albigensian wars and the elimination of the Cathars by the Catholic Church. The castle is impressive in size and location and walking around the large grounds gives a good view of the surrounding valley. At the first gates, there is a miniature train for visitors, a carriage drawn by two very large horses (with Clydesdale-like hooves) and a double- decker 19th century carousel. This was a precursor to the further disappointment inside. First, it's amazingly tacky with its tourist stores situated right at the inside gate and Provencal bric-a-brac everywhere. This is Languedoc- Roussillon!
Because Languedoc was independent of France for such a long time, the residents spoke a separate language # the langue d'oc. The area of Roussillon was Spanish until the mid 17th century but there is little evidence of the sophisticated Catalan style in Carcassonne. With Catalunya just over the border, it's surprising. To us, Carcassone was lifeless. Unlike les Beaux de Provence, it holds no ghosts.
There are guided tours but no available self-guided audio tours. I suspect this may be because of the volume of tourists who come through but it all added to my feeling that the purpose of this place is have people spend money. It's unfortunate because there are some beautiful spots in Carcassone # the Cathedral being one # but little opportunity to really enjoy them.
There are a few art shops and we visited a nice photography exhibition but these were not the norm. There are a lot of restaurants and awful little "museums" including a House of Horrors (torture implements). We felt that all of this was out of place and geared toward separating the tourist from his/her Euros.
But Ziners can judge for themselves - here's a site to check out. http://www.carcassonne.org/
Once you leave the main squares, there are some quiet spots with welcoming restaurants. We had lunch on the terrace of Restaurant St. Jean, tasting our first traditional Cassoulet (steaming hot, hearty and fat laden with beans and sausage), accompanied by a fine tasting Chateau Salitis, Cabande # a local wine.
Back at "our" mas, we ate coquilles St. Jacques and chicken from our local grocer. We weren't quite prepared for the chicken but we decapitated and declawed it, cleaned out the innards, dressed it with our garden herbs and stuffed it with onions, apricots, figs and Ardeche mushrooms. Served with herbed potatoes and haricots verts, it was delicious. It's all part of the experience.
Day 8 Today we explored our village and shopped for more food. It's astounding how much you can eat on holiday. Today's purchases were minimal (honey bread and melons) because we had dinner at Le Verger du Pape in Chateauneuf- du-Pape. Dinner was taken on the terrace overlooking the hills and we imagined the clergy proudly looking out over the 3000 acres of the Comtat Valley planted with vines many, many, many years ago, as we supped. The meal at this restaurant was as good as the view: tomato confit w/beet salad/goat cheese glace (yes, very cold like ice cream), salmon marinated in oil, Dorade poele, roast pork with mixed roasted vegetables, vegetable lasagne, a cheese tray of dry and semi-dry chevre, bleu d'Auvergne and Camembert followed by crème brulee au peche, nougat glace and tarte au citron with apricots and meringue for dessert.
Chateauneuf#du-Pape was the summer residence of the Popes. The only remnant of the fortress castle is a wall and some rooms under it. The fortress suffered great damage during the Religious Wars and was also bombed during WWII. Today the remaining rooms are used for local village events. The town is small and charming for a walk. Everyone congregates at the fountain in the main square, from which all streets radiate. Here's a site to check.
Day 9 Today was the Uzes Saturday market. It's a favourite for visitors but we found it too crowded and disorganized and so not a pleasant experience. But we did buy dinner supplies (mussels, brochettes of beef and lamb, vegetables, a variety of tapenades (tapenade au basilic, tapenade aux anchoise, caviar de tomates seches, confit de poivrons aux olives) and artichokes marinated in olive oil. We stopped for lunch and had heaping cauldrons of mussels, frites and salads.
Uzes is a pretty town with a long history. The town fathers took advantage of cultural funds made available in the 1970's to renew many of its houses and the former home of the Duc d'Uzes has been renovated and is beautifully situated. However, because siesta is taken seriously in this part of the country, most places close down promptly at 2:00 p.m.
On our drive back, we stopped in Pouzilhac, which is close to our village. It is beautifully situated on a hill and in many ways typical of Languedoc villages.
Day 10 Ile Sur La Sorgue: one of our favourite stops in Provence. Sunday is market day and it is spectacular. Get there early. On our day it was 36 degrees Celsius but it was a pleasure to walk this lovely town situated on the Sorgue River and linger at merchants' stalls. There's an old water wheel in the river, swans and ducks galore and interesting artwork that lies at the bottom of the river. This is the place to indulge in Provencal items # the soaps on offer are wonderful and cheap # and to pick up antiques. Many of the vendors in the local markets move from town to town, but they all converge here. It's renown throughout the South of France. There are musicians around every corner and walking the streets. We listened to a group of three Cree/Ojibway musicians and almost felt like we were back in Canada!
We lunched at a pizzeria overlooking the river and feasted on a local southern dish # Anchoises de Collioure (strips of anchovies laid on a base of roasted red peppers) and watched the vendors close up their stands. The streets of all French villages and towns are narrow and we were always amazed at the patience of the drivers and the lack of noisy horn- blowing.
Dinner chez nous was brochettes with an antipasto of beets, zucchini and tiny white radishes.
More to follow later. Lucy, Toronto