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France

The Vineyards of Languedoc

sunny 24 °C

The clocks have been turned back an hour and autumn is evident all around us, but it’s still in the low twenties by day, although there is a noticeable chill once the sun has set. With a little persuasion the garage door finally opened and we now sit around the fire each evening eating roasted, freshly picked chestnuts and drinking the local wine.
Languedoc Roussillon is probably Europe’s best kept secret. While well-heeled tourists have their pockets picked in the tarted up medieval villages of Provence and Tuscany, the savvy traveller seeks the authenticity and relative tranquility of this exquisite region at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.
Here in Languedoc Roussillon there are quaint medieval villages by the bucketful and more ancient castles than you can cram onto a chessboard. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, the canal-du-midi is a serene aqueous artery and the local food and wine is a gourmet’s delight.
It is the wine, and the vines that grow the grapes under the sub-tropical sun that shapes this part of the world today. Wander into any wine merchants’ anywhere in the world and you are likely to find a Minervois, or a Fitou or a d’Oc, or Corbiere or Cotes du Roussillon. Not to mention classic aperitifs and dessert wines like Dubonnet, Rivesaltes and Banyuls. All of these wines, and many more, are produced within an hour or so of our new home.
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The valleys and plains between the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, the Corbieres and le Montagnes Noire, trap both sun and rain and provide the perfect climate for viniculture. But unlike Spain, where olives, oranges, almonds or grapes are each grown in specific regions to the virtual exclusion of all other crops, in Languedoc the vineyards are liberally scattered across a landscape which includes woodland, scrub and pasture.

Now that this year’s crop has been safely picked, pressed and bottled, the job of the vine’s leaves are over for another year and they turn golden and red in the sun.
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But all is not well in the vineyards of France. Protectionism, over-production, cheap labour and hidden subsidies in many New World countries - including Canada - are forcing many traditional French vignerons like Henry Carbonnel to rip out their vines. Here’s Henry’s son-in-law, George, proudly selling Jim a bottle of his finest rose‘, pressed from hand-picked organically grown grapes, for a little more than the price of a Starbucks’ cappuccino.
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It is frustrating that due to punitive taxation designed to protect Canadian growers we have to pay eighteen dollars a bottle for the same wine that costs only a few dollars here. But wait a minute… bottles of wine for just two dollars all year round ... maybe you can have too much of a good thing!!

Posted by Hawkson 07:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

Two Weeks in Languedoc ....

rain 20 °C

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Two weeks in Languedoc - Not … “A Year in Provence.”

Dorothy, our SatNav senorita, put on a French accent once we had crossed the Pyrenees to pick up a car from Mr. Hertz in Perpignan. We gave Dot the address of our next domicile in Cuxac-Cabardes and sat back to enjoy the ride. She didn’t hesitate - she took us all around the one-way system in Perpignan straight back to the car hire office. Did she know something? Maybe she was trying to warn us?
“Rustique” would be the kindest description of our new home-from-home in the French mountains just north of the Pyrenees. “Our” house must be at least 300 years old and the plumbing, heating and electricity may well be original! We had three power cuts during our first evening.
“C’est normal,” explained our helpful neighbour, a kindly native who is prematurely aged by curvature of the spine. She later came to our door with an enormous bag of chestnuts. We didn’t want to appear greedy so took a few handfuls - not enough apparently, so we took more. After many “Merci biens” and “Bon soirees” she left. Five minutes later she was back, insisting that we should take the lot - but not the plastic grocery bag. She needed the bag, she joked, to put over her head so that people wouldn’t laugh at her in the street.
After a month dealing with the many different languages of Spain it’s nice to be able to converse with the locals here with a reasonable chance of being understood. And when we have slipped, we’ve often slipped into Spanish.
However, when it comes to dealing with the baker our French may not be up to snuff. The baker is the best informed person in any French village. Everyone goes to the Boulangerie and everybody gossips there. Our Boulanger is a wheezy, pot-bellied man who’s eaten far too many of his own loaves. On our first visit we found him plucking several songbirds that he had just shot - nothing is too small or pretty to end up in a French oven. He handed us the bread - who needs clean hands or wrapping paper - and carried on plucking.
Then we needed wood for the fire. This may be the south of France but up here in the mountains it can get mighty chilly at night so we asked him where we could buy some. “I can sell you a little …” he suggested, as if he would be sacrificing his own meagre supply. “For a very good price.” We agreed, we thought, on a small stack of wood for twenty euros. However, when the stack arrived it had doubled in size and price. “Too much,” we protested, but he didn’t really want to hear. “It is very good wood,” he explained.” “Undoubtedly,” we agreed, “but there’s no way we can burn that much in two weeks.” “It’ll keep,” he protested. “We’re only here for two weeks,” we said, but he wasn’t deterred. “Maybe when you come next year …”
We almost won in the end - half the load for half the price. But, for that price he could not deliver it all the way to the garage - he would drop it by the roadside and we would have to carry it the remaining fifty feet.
We carried it to the garage and triumphantly shut the door - and it locked!
We had opened and closed the garage door several times without a key - it didn’t have a key - and it didn‘t have a window either. So there we were, with twenty euros of the baker‘s finest firewood locked in our garage , facing a bleak night in the Black Mountains of Languedoc-Roussillon.

To be continued …

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Posted by Hawkson 01:41 Archived in France Comments (1)

Down to Earth

sunny 18 °C

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From our apartment high atop the red mountains of l'esterel in Provence, we look across the azure Bay of Cannes to the snow capped peaks of the French Alps .... Sounds idyllic doesn't it? Well it is, and we would coax anyone with a son or daughter to suggest they live here so as to have a reason to visit. Here is another view showing the Alps.
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However, after 4 months in S.E.Asia, we finally bumped back to earth yesterday when we had lunch in little snack bar on the beach in Theoule sur Mer.
Theoule is a sleepy seaside village about 15 kms west of Cannes and in some ways it reminded us of Phu Noi in Vietnam where we also ate in the beachside snack bars. Yesterday's lunch was, in South East Asian parlance, Same-Same ... but it was very different. The biggest difference was the price. Lunch for two in Vietnam - 5 dollars, including tip. Lunch for two in Theoule - 75 dollars, not including tip! There were four of us in Theoule and the bill for lunch was equivalent to 5 months wages for the average Vietnamese!
Now the sun has finally been turned on, the temperature is rising and should hit 18 today - a vast improvement from the wintry temperatures we encountered when we arrived. The mimosa trees are golden with blossom in the bright sunshine and summer is just around the corner. The beaches of Cannes and Nice will soon be packed with northerners desperate to escape the colder climes.
Here is a view of one of our favourite towns on the Cotes d'Azure ... it is Antibes with its medieval buildings and Napoleonic fort.
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Floating in the Bay of Cannes is the island of Ste. Marguerite. The island's fortress is the legendary place, (as readers of The Dave Bliss Quintet will know), where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned from 1687 - 1698. The actual cell can still be visited ... it lies behind the second window from the left.
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Posted by Hawkson 02:56 Archived in France Comments (4)

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