Languedoc

A sentimental journey…

Sete, from Mont Saint Clair

Well it finally happened. Our time in France came to an end after 21 wonderful months and sadly, we packed up and made the journey back to Australia.

I put off my packing as long as I could, but with only a week until departure day, I could not delay any longer. I must be the queen of procrastination, as it has taken me just as long to write about our departure as it took me to face up to the packing! Thankfully, TC and I devised a future plan to have us back in our region, the Languedoc-Roussillon,  before too long so we do have great things to look forward to. We have some very kind friends who offered to store belongings for us so that when we do return, we have some household items and clothes to begin with, so that certainly made our sorting and packing easier.

Saying “au revoir” to our village friends was very sad and I admit to shedding a few tears… but at the other end of the journey was to be the reunion with all our family members and the friends we left behind two years ago, so it was a time of very mixed emotions.

When the day came, more wonderful friends drove us to Agde for our early train bound for Paris. The weather fitted our mood as the morning was cool and grey with a few drops of rain – the first we had seen for weeks after a lovely Mediterranean summer. Loaded up with all our baggage and some last bottles of wine from friends, our instructions were to enjoy a glass or two on the train and a picnic on the banks of the Seine before leaving France. After a teary farewell on the platform, we were off, taking long last looks at the countryside we will miss so much.

We arrived to a balmy Paris, left everything at the hotel and set off to enjoy the beautiful City of Lights one more time. This time, we discovered the area along the Canal Saint-Martin in the 4th and enjoyed looking at all the boats moored there, before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping, then heading off to the Seine for our little picnic of wine and nibbles. As usual, I waved madly at all the tourists on the boats – one simply MUST when one is picnicking on the banks of the Seine!  After sunset  we strolled through St Germaine des Pris and went for dinner at the very popular La Jacobine in the 6th.

Then it was back to the hotel for a decent night’s sleep before the long trip. For those who have never travelled between Europe and Australia, you’ve probably heard that it is a long journey. If so, you’ve heard correctly – it’s very long!

The trip began with a private car transfer to Charles de Gaulle that I had pre-booked for 8am Friday (fantastic value and highly recommended), a nice quick check-in followed by breakfast in an airport lounge then boarding the flight for Singapore (around 12 hours in total). We had a quick transit through Changi airport in Singapore with enough time for a refreshing shower, some cold drinks and a quick internet check, then boarded our second flight, to Perth (around 5 hours in total), finally arriving at 1.30pm Saturday afternoon.

I wore two things that were important to me on my journey. One was my new Croix du Languedoc pendant to remind me of our little corner of France. This cross is one of the emblems of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which is where we have lived for 16 months. I am not a big buyer of souvenirs, so this beautiful silver pendant is one of the only true souvenirs of our time in France that I have taken back with me. Another of course being a bottle of perfume from the Fragonard range that I love, a memento of a day in Grasse and a scent that will always take me back.

The other thing I wore for the journey was my football scarf. By this I mean Aussie Rules football, or AFL to us.

Our flight landed at a time that was right in the middle of the AFL grand final match, which my team was playing in for the first time in history, so of course I wore my team scarf on the journey all the way from Paris. We arrived home just in time to watch the final quarter on TV, but my team lost, so there is nothing more to be said about that.

Except that on arrival at Perth airport, we rushed into the immigration queue to have our passports checked then went off to the baggage claim area – and a number of airport officials, one after the other, kept coming up to me with very serious looking faces… I was quite startled thinking “What do they want me for, what have I done??”  until I realised I was still sporting the scarf – and they were just checking whether I was aware of the (dismal) score! And unfortunately I was, thanks to other passengers checking news on their phones as soon as our flight landed.

On to the next stage –  a hectic schedule of reunions with family and friends…  but for now it’s au revoir to the countryside we have grown to love.

Here are a selection of our last photographs around the area, and before I fill you in on our activities in Australia, I have quite a few more French posts to catch up on, so you haven’t seen the last of my travel pics yet! Enjoy…

The Port

Au revoir mon village… à bientôt!

Where there’s wine, there’s bound to be an Australian…

It’s not very often that TC and I call in on perfect strangers and introduce ourselves, but perhaps we should do this more often. Today’s adventure starts with a recommendation from our friend Thierry back in Perth.  Thierry owns and runs the fabulous Whisper Wine Bar in Fremantle’s Essex Street,  a place close to our hearts as we spent many hours over a chilled glass of white, plotting and planning our “escape to France” before we came here.

What has that got to do with wineries here in the Languedoc? Well, Thierry told us that a young man who had worked for him a while back, was now back in France and working in a winery not far away from us and what’s more, the winemaker at this winery is also Australian. Not needing any further  excuse than to say “hi” to a friend of a friend from Australia (and the chance to meet another Aussie living and working here), we set off as soon as we could.

Which of course was the very next day, why delay?  On the bikes and off to Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian!

The ride through local wine country was lovely. Sunny and warm, we arrived having worked up a decent sweat.  Just outside the winery is the 12th century prieuré – gorgeous!

Priure de Saint-Jean de Bébian Bike against wall Courtyard

Coming through the gates into such a pretty courtyard that I could have just sat and soaked it up all day. We were met in the cellar by a lovely lady who, on being told that we must say hello to Benoit, rushed off immediately to fetch him. After passing on the greetings from our mutual friend, we had a look around the cave (that’s just the name of the cellar door in France) and then started tasting some of the wines.

Well the wines were great (we managed to squeeze four bottles into our backpacks, despite also having our water bottles taking up space!) and had a wonderful chat with the winemaker, Karen Turner, who was so lovely and friendly that, despite these two strange Aussies turning up out of the blue (and in the middle of the harvesting season!) was kind enough to show us around a little and explain some of their wines and processes.

I LOVED the barrel cellar with its thick covering of cobwebs on the windows – deliberately left there to help keep flies at bay – and we were shown the nifty rack system they use for the barrels. Each one is on individual rollers in its rack, allowing the barrels to be rotated to stir the wine and also allowing single barrels to be removed easily  – something quite impossible if barrels are all stacked against each other!

 

 

 

Unfortunatley, there was no vendage happening while we were there. Karen explained that they only harvest in the mornings so that the grapes are fresh and while they had been harvesting some of the white grapes, the reds simply weren’t ready yet so there was to be a break for a few days.  A pity for us, as we would have loved to see the grapes being brought in, but this day it was not to be.  We did get to see the original stone tanks still used by the winery for the resting and maceration of the red wine grapes.

Chatting with Karen, we discovered that she and her husband also have their own winery, Domain Turner Pageot, specialising in biodynamically produced wines in the Languedoc region. A little more snooping on my part revealed they are part of a group of wine producers called “The Outsiders”, describing themselves as:

“…a group of Languedoc-Roussillon wine producers. Working in the south of France, they are creating exciting wines which make full use of the region’s highly diverse soil types, climatic conditions and grape varieties.”

If you get the chance to try some of these wines, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed and, even better, if you get the chance to call into the winery here just outside the beautiful town of Pezenas, you definitely won’t be disappointed!

Cheers and santé!

Winery sign

ps Yes, West Australians can taste some of these wines in Whisper’s… but shhhh…. I’ll be back there soon, leave some for me!!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

Sea. What kind of emotions does the sea or ocean make you feel?…. “Wooohoo”

Some visiting friends out on the water on a summer’s evening

A little rocky ride at Roquebrun

One of the great things about the south of France is the fantastic summer weather, which makes all sorts of outdoor activities that much more fun and enjoyable. Who doesn’t love cycling in the sunshine with blue skies, gentle breezes, butterflies and bees flitting around?

This week we took to the water for our activity of choice and headed over to Roquebrun for some kayaking with friends on the river Orb. Of course it was a beautiful day, warm enough for swimming – yes, including the unexpected kind- but not too hot for sitting in the kayaks for a few hours.

With a quick phone call the day before to Canoe Roquebrun, we had our timeslot booked, so we packed up some picnic food (baguette, fromage, jambon of course), our friends brought the rosé and off we set.

The counter staff were ready for us on our arrival so it was all very quick and easy. Equipped with our kayaks and paddles, lifejackets and waterproof tubs to carry our picnic food and other gear, we climbed into the minibus which took us and the kayaks 10km up stream to Vieussan. Once there, I listened to some quick instructions (it’s been a while since I’ve been kayaking!) then we launched ourselves in to the river and we were off.

Pont de Ceps, Roquebrun

Pont de Ceps, Roquebrun

Getting the canoes ready

Getting the canoes ready

Before leaving, we were instructed that after passing the first bridge (the Pont de Ceps, picture above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)  we were to look out for the “big rock in the middle”, at which point we must go to the right bank, get out and drag/carry our kayaks past the little bridge, then we could get back in, as this little bridge was far too low to go under. However – that plus some very large signs telling us going under the bridge was forbidden – didn’t stop two other guys from giving it a go! Thank goodness they made it ok, I definitely wouldn’t recommend that though!

Do not go under this little bridge

Do not go under this little bridge

Onwards downstream and before we knew it we were going through several sets of rapids. I’ve never been through rapids before so what an exciting adventure that was for me! Luckily I remained on my kayak, despite some moments I thought I was going in… unlike TC who ended up having three unexpected swims for the day – and spectacularly went down one small rapid backwards – while the rest of us giggled of course. What else would you do?

About halfway down we pulled up on the riverbank for our picnic, then headed on, enjoying the scenery. We saw some fish, brightly coloured birds (possibly kingfishers?), something that looked like a beaver, some glossy looking goats who all ran down the river stones for a drink, and a little frog who sat by to watch us enjoying our lunch.

Enjoying a swim after a picnic lunch

Enjoying a swim after a picnic lunch

Pulling in at Roquebrun, we couldn’t help but take some snaps of this absolutely gorgeous, picturesque little town, and what a beautiful view we had from down on the river. Of course, in true French fashion, we had to stop for a picher of wine or two at the guingette on the banks after our lovely adventure.

The prettiest view of Roquebrun - from the river Orb

The prettiest view of Roquebrun – from the river Orb

If you happen to be in the Languedoc area during summer, I highly recommend kayaking in this spot, or even just doing as many other locals do and find a nice swimming spot somewhere along the river and enjoy the cool, crystal clear water.

Rolling rolling rolling….

IMG_2018 Well everything has been all about cycling for me lately.

I have been so busy for the past month or so that I’ve hardly had time to post,  but I am now going to do my best to catch up.

The first change to my cycling habits came when, through a chance conversation with a Swedish man in our local bar one Friday night, I discovered there is a social group in our village who go out for an organised ride every week. Of course the following week I turned up on the designated morning and voila – I met a lot of lovely French people on bikes, as well as an English couple who live in our village and also cycle with this group.

The next change for me came in April, when I joined in a cycling challenge called 30 Days of Biking. This came about because I was trying to increase my cycling anyway (in an effort to decrease my expanding waistline) and I thought what better way than to have a commitment for a whole month where I had to get out on my bike every single day, no matter what.  And due to the cool spring weather, yes, that meant actually going out in the pouring rain a couple of days. Silly? Yes, but I am glad I actually did it.

This all meant that I cycled over 1000km during the month, saw much more of the countryside than before and became the bearer of a waistline trimmed down by 1.5kg that month- what a great result, and what great spring scenery I saw.

Here is a little photo summary of my past month on wheels…

Wet days by the beach

Wet days by the beach

Remains of a roman bridge

Remains of a roman bridge

Medieval mill on le Rive Herault

Medieval mill on le Rive Herault

Poppies everywhere

Wildflowers everywhere

Spring in the Languedoc is spectacular

Spring in the Languedoc is spectacular

A church outside Clermont L'Herault

A church outside Clermont L’Herault

Quick stop in a neighbouring village

Quick stop in a neighbouring village

Passing a local vineyard

Passing a local vineyard

Playgrounds on the beach

Playgrounds on the beach

Those popup restaurants are now open...

Those popup restaurants are now open…

... making a perfect spot for lunch after a long ride

… making a perfect spot for lunch after a long ride

Another new thing I got into during April was some regular “randonee” rides. This is where the local cycle clubs (and it seems there is an active club in every village, and I mean EVERY village) organise Sunday morning rides that are open to all riders, comprising a short route (usually around 70km) and a long route of 100km. For a small fee you get a map, markings on the roads to follow, a decent refreshment stop along the way – and being French this does include wine and chocolate – and another at the end.

Along with TC and some of our new cycling friends from our village, I entered into three of these randonees, and what a lot of fun they are! We usually head off at 7.30am when the roads are nice and quiet, and are home just in time to buy a fresh baguette for lunch. Some of these rides also included some fairly decent hills I might add, so I was certainly challenged at times. And for those wondering, I did do the long route on two of them.

With all this gorgeous scenery, of course I set out to take lots of photos. The other day I was so pleased with all the shots I got, especially since it was the second time we rode this particular route, the first time being with our social group. Now with a group, you can’t really be stopping every five minutes to take photographs, after all the object is to ride and enjoy the morning out. So TC and I went out on the same route  a few days later, when I took all the great shots… only to get home and discover there was no storage card in the camera. Yes, that’s a fail.

However, I did manage to get it right on one day out – this lovely, sunny Sunday we rode along the Canal du Midi into Beziers, and had a picnic lunch in the Plateau des Poetes, a beautiful park in the middle of town. So I’ll finish with some of the nice shots I got that day. Enjoy!  IMG_4007  IMG_4011  IMG_4001  IMG_3980  IMG_3979  IMG_4008  IMG_4014  IMG_4015  IMG_3986  IMG_4018  IMG_4023  IMG_4029  IMG_4031  IMG_4030

Dress rehearsal scallops

scallops cauliflower mash 2

We have invited friends over for dinner this week and I have volunteered to cook the entree – seared scallops with a cauliflower vanilla puree and crispy pancetta.

Since I have never actually cooked scallops before (despite them being one of my ALL time favourite foods EVER), I decided to leave nothing to chance and have a trial run tonight. For someone who doesn’t do a lot of savoury meals (this is best left to TC in my opinion), I found it surprisingly easy. Granted, there are only 3 main ingredients to the dish, but I had heard so much about how not to cook scallops and how they must be cooked just right, it was a little bit daunting beforehand. However, TC pronounced them “approved” for the opening night, so that means they are (so far) a success. You do have to be quick with these scallops – I used a timer and was glad I did!

Please enjoy my dress rehearsal scallops – I do plan to make some fine-tuning changes on the night, so I will let you know how I get on. scallops cauliflower mash 1

In the meantime, TC and I enjoyed this rather special little entree with a nice drop of red. (Yes I know you are supposed to have white wine with seafood, but its cold out, and we were following this with a spicy pork stir-fry, so we just went with a nice red, ok??)  2008 Les Ferrandes Minervois la Liviniere

And quite a nice syrah it was too, especially for the price (7€). We have become quite fond of wines from the Minervios region (amongst others) as we taste our way through the amazing bounty there is available in the south of France.   I think we might need to get some more of this in for “the dinner” later in the week. This is also for The Drunken Cyclist, who asked in his post, “what was your wine of the week?” If you like wine, head over to check out his blog!

Bon appétit, à bientot!

Recipe:

6 scallops

6 slices pancetta

fresh thyme leaves, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, mild chilli powder

1/2 tbspn olive oil

knob of butter

200g cauliflower

200ml milk

vanilla pod

knob of butter

For the cauliflower puree: add the cauliflower, milk and vanilla pod to a saucepan, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10min or until tender. Strain the cauliflower, reserving the milk, discarding the vanilla pod. Process the cauliflower in a processor until smooth, adding just enough reserved milk  and a knob of butter to achieve a smooth and not too thick consistency. Set aside.

*Note – the puree can be made a day ahead and reheated for serving. I am trialling this and will let you know how it reheats tomorrow.

For the pancetta: to get this crispy, it may be best to sprinkle lightly with olive oile & bake in a hot oven until crispy.

“Note – I fried mine in a very hot, non-stick pan, but I did not achieve the crispyness I wanted.

For the scallops: remove the roe with a sharp knife or scissors. Season with salt, pepper and mild chilli pepper. Heat the olive oil and a knob of butter over high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the scallops. Add the fresh thyme leaves and cook for  1 1/2 minutes on each side. Serve immediately on the cauliflower puree. Top with the pancetta.

“Note – when frying the scallops, set them out in the pan in a clockwise direction, starting at the handle so that you know where you started and the order to turn them. I used a timer for exactly 1 1/2 minutes and I thought they were just cooked perfectly. I would possibly go another 30 seconds but no longer. Having the pan very hot is important to caramelise the outside of the scallops – just beware, they will splatter and splash at you so stand back!

P.S. If you look closely at my pic, you’ll see that I actually cooked the roe as well and hid it under my pancetta! If you’re a fan, like me, you don’t have to remove it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – It’s coming!

Its coming…  the winter beach will not look the same…DSC_1615  DSC_1598  DSC_1600  DSC_1601

So what is coming?

Pop-up beach restaurants!

The future is summer, the future is a restaurant strip right on the sand… the future is  becoming tangible and I intend to enjoy as much of it as I can DSC_1607   DSC_1612

The future restaurant strip, Sete Plages: DSC_1610

Check out other entries in this week’s phonography challenge.

All photos taken with my Sony Ericcson phone camera. Enjoy!

A land of olives, wine and water…

Browsing through lots of the entries in this week’s photo challenge on WordPress got me thinking that I would like to submit a longer entry. But then again, do I really want to do another on the same topic?

Yesterday we went for a long ride, mainly along the beautiful Canal du Midi, and I used TC’s phone to take all my shots. We rode for around 35km before turning back, so while it’s not exactly my “neighbourhood”, it is the area we have been living in and just love.

It was a gorgeous early spring day, sunny with hardly any wind, until this strange sea mist came in on our way back. So today, I just have a little photo essay on our region, as seen from my bike yesterday.

Enjoy!

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Olive grove

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Vineyard

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L’Heirault river, Agde

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Colourful canal boat

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Bridges in Beziers

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more bridges in Beziers

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Looking down the Canal du MIdi

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One of many locks, Canal du Midi

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Canal du Midi, early spring

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Canal du Midi, early spring

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Just a duck on a wall

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Canal boat B & B

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Stone bridge over the Canal du Midi

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Another lock

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Horses and the sea mist

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Horses waiting for their riders

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Free standing vines

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Spring flowers in the vineyards

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A beautiful house in our village

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and beautiful spring blossoms

Winter windup

Lately I have been a little caught up in real life which has kept me from posting. I’ve also come to the conclusion that while a cold (colder than I am used to) European winter is a novelty, it has been going on a little bit long now. I for one, am ready for some serious sunshine!

So to hopefully wind up my winter postings, I have just a small selection of pictures taken from my wanderings over the past couple of weeks.

Bring on spring!

After saying that, the next two days here are forecast to be extremely windy and wet – definitely no cycling.

Typical village street

Typical village street

Another typical village street

Another typical village street

A village church

A village church

Archways

Archways

Digging up our road

Digging up our road

Etang de Thau, Winter

Etang de Thau, Winter

Sailing into the Canal du Midi

Sailing into the Canal du Midi

Surprise horses on the beach

Surprise horses on the beach

Cafe at the Sete Beaches

Cafe at the Sete Beaches