29 Apr 2013
And the last evening we were off to Azille, a village about 20 minutes from here. Every year there is a 3-day “Feria” – a Spanish-style fair. There’s no bull-fighting as such, but the riders (known as the ‘gardians’) are from The Camargue, with their famous white horses and black bulls.
It’s a demonstration of their skills and the bulls are released from the backs of trucks and ‘coralled’ along the main street by the riders. I’d never attended a feria before, so it was all new and exciting for me too.
There were the resident ‘yobs’ who appear to be fairly fueled with alcohol who try to grab the bull’s tail as it passes by, and inevitably get trampled and tossed about. Health and safety is a little different here……….. While we the spectators were safely behind barricades, the tail-pullers were actively encouraged by the guy in charge with the microphone!
I've visited the l’Oulibo Olive Factory/Co-operative at Cabezac a couple of years ago. But that was before the big building expansion and setting up of a very professional and comprehensive tour, complete with a film show. They've really done a good job and it was well worth doing. It went for nearly two hours, and finished with sampling of the different oils and then tasting the olives. We were lucky to have a charming English-speaking guide who gave the whole tour in English as our group of 12 or so were Australian and American.
An early morning start for a walk along the Canal between Paraza and Ventenac. I parked the van off the road, amongst some vines as we only wanted a relatively short walk, given our limited time. And then we decided we could make it even shorter by scrambling up the side of the bank of the Canal, to the tow path. Effective, but not dignified.
Sadly, this is an area where a lot of the plane trees have been removed due to the water-borne canker disease and the gaps in the rows at the canal side is really evident.
We spent a very pleasant rest of the morning at the Narbonne markets, in the food hall and the general markets (where everyone separated and went their own way for a while – and three managed to buy exactly the same tablecloth!).
The afternoon was a visit to Fontfroide Abbey, west of Narbonne. As I’d done the tour before, I took the opportunity to stretch out in the back of the van, plug in and listen to an audio book….. my idea of a relaxing couple of hours.
Another day out, we headed to the caves at Niaux, about a two hour drive from here at the foothills of the Pyrenees. The drive was spectacular – clear blue skies and snow on the mountains. The van was fun to drive, even when we got spectacularly lost on some very minor and unplanned roads on our return journey and ended up exploring some fairly off-the-beaten-track places.
The tour of the cave consists of walking approx. 1 kilometre in, using only a torch, over sometimes wet and uneven ground. Unfortunately I didn’t read the bit about ‘sensible shoes’ but came to no grief. At the end were the prehistoric cave paintings which were indeed impressive. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the cave, but I’ve included a couple from Wikipedia.
We also managed to fit in the obligatory visit to La Cite at Carcassonne before heading south to Niaux, and consequently missed all the crowds.
25 Apr 2013
The ‘girls’ have arrived – my friend Anita and 6 friends from her book club group in Perth. I picked them up at Narbonne train station and then the hire car. Well, not a car really – a 9-seater Mercedes van! Previous drivers have obviously not had a lot of luck with it, as there are lots of dents, scratches and bits missing, but it quite new and drives like a dream. The seventh member of the group arrives tomorrow.
Anita’s prepared a full-on itinerary and we have two days under our belt already. What a fun group and they’re loving everything so far. Especially yesterday when we had the first walk/picnic of the year with our walking group.
And what happens sometimes is that we have lunch at a hunter’s hut and for two euros, we can have sausages grilled over the open fire by the nominated ‘chef’ of the group.
Weather was gorgeous, the food was shared out and just kept coming, ditto the wine and all the home-made liqueurs (not for the “chauffeuse” unfortunately) and in no time at all we’d replaced all the calories we’d used us from our 2.5 hour walk, and then some.
And then, to everyone’s amusement, we were off to the Cave Cooperative at St Jean de Minervois to taste muscat for which the area is famous.
The grapes for the sweet variety – the most well known – are grown in fields of white stone which helps keep the heat in the ground and produces the best sweet grapes. Looks like a snow field … such a pretty area. And then because there were still some hours left in the day, a quick trip up the road to the Combabelle Goat Farm which produces some pretty special cheeses.
Oh and because it was on the way back - a quick stop again at the caves "La Grande Grotte de Tournal a Bize".
19 Apr 2013
18 Apr 2013
A walk along the plateaus at Barroubio, above the River Cesse near St Jean de Minervois on Tuesday – the hottest day of the year so far. Down into the gorges, and then up again. One woman fainted – thin/French (it definitely wasn’t me) …. nothing to eat all day and had not taken any water.
As usual, the scenery was spectacular and a lot of the wildflowers and orchids are out. At the end, we did some wine tasting at a vigneron’s cave from St John de Minervois. The region is famous for its sweet muscat and I never would have thought I’d develop a taste for it, but it’s delicious. We certainly felt we’d earned it that day ….
Next week is the first walk/picnic of the year and I'll have a full house. My friend Anita (from Perth) and her book club arrive on Monday, and I'll be the driver/guide for a week!
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