A Travellerspoint blog

St Puy to Beaumes-de-Venise (Provence) - June 11

St Puy to Beaumes-de-Venise (Provence)

Travel day. Not much to write day. In and out of car day between 11am and 3:30 pm. Not many photos as a result either.

Sounds boring. This is what the French do when they are bored:

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It sounds boring but the scenery was amazing.

We cleaned up and left St Puy then headed south then east to Foix and St Giron. We drove through these towns near the base of the Pyrenees mountains thinking this area would be beautiful to visit and to walk in.

We eventually reached ye ole town of Mirepoix and its medieval square. A very helpful cafe owner spoke English in the sense she had lived there for years but Ingrid spotted her residual dutch accent. So we stayed in the hotel down the street on her recommendation. It has nearly got to the point that we order four coffees and a toilet when travelling between towns.

There I caught up on some blogging; checked out next stop and possible restaurants etc. You'll never guess what Ingrid and Karen did instead. You know already? Mirepoix was a little brocante heaven with a couple of stores entertaining them for 2 hours or more just in this one little square.

the village square.
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We ate there. Again well cooked regional food and a more than pleasant red for 7€.

An espresso, cigar and armagnac outside under leafy plane trees completed the meal more than adequately.

Bon nuit.

Posted by lesnkaren 09:52 Archived in France Comments (2)

St Puy - June 10

Today was a slow day. We woke slowly, started slowly, ate slowly and as a result the rest of the day went slowly. For example when we got to the nearby abbey out of Valence it was closed. It seems the French do the Spanish thing (I think I may have already mentioned this). Depending on the town you are in and the service you wish, things shut down between 12 and two for between two and four hours. This wonderful abbey entirely shut down for two hours from noon until two o'clock. But I am ahead of myself.

We mooched around at our home and after doing this slowly we eventually made it to the car in the driveway around 11 AM. After rechecking bearings with our English friend we moseyed on to Valence.

We spent some time in the township of Valence, drank a coffee while we noticed a chef and waitress/owner worked their butts off serving all the other people of the town who had taken lunch. If you're not a chef in a waitress/owner it is a good system.

We went back to St Puy and decided to lunch with an aperitif and a beer and a warm camembert with garlic oil over several greens. We must have behaved appropriately last night because Jean-Marc was still willing to serve us.

This got us to 2 o'clock in an acceptable manner. Back to the abbey at Valence and it was worth the wait. This abbey dated back to 1151 and the Cisterician order. There also happened to be an art show, the Simonow collection.

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Mr Simonow.
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Centuries ago this was a full working monastery where the monks got their hands dirty and preserved writing and winemaking. We checked out their garden and down the back their herb garden. We are not sure what they feed their vegetable gardens that the plants and herbs were stunningly healthy.

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Inside the courtyard.
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Two gorgeous French nymphs.
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Inside view of the brick oven from centuries ago.
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Back to St Puy and this time we went without our Ricard ritual in order to sort out her accommodation in Provence for some four or five days. We are also saving ourselves for our treat tonight.

The treat was to dine at La Table des Cordelier. The ambience worked for us. Set in the cloisters the furniture which was red and black matched the predominate colour of the stained gals windows.

The waiter and maitre d' was the one the Welshes had last time. They commented that he seemed a little less genuine this time. He was helpful but not always attentive as you would expect in a 1 star Michelin restaurant. For example he did not re-fill our glass during the mains. No excuse as the restaurant was not near full that night. We nicknamed him "laughing boy" as a result of his willing laugh but lack of sincerity. Wicked aren't we. The food however was mostly pretty good reflecting presentation and technique.

I fantasised that we were culinary consultants and our charge was to help them not lose a star and to gain a star. Chef's desert needed work, the cherry clafoutis did not work; laughing boy needs to become genuine and more attentive because even middle class aussies need tlc; the creme brulee was different which was ok but the texture was grainy.

That being said the rest of the experience was satisfying and our wallets continued to smile, not quite beaming, but smiling, after leaving.

John commenced with "l'asperge" and was blown away by the mix of asparagus froth with strawberry. Karen chose the Tarte a la tomate and loved it as did Ingrid. Les had the presse de foie gras aux figues and thought he was king.

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foie gras pressé.
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Mains for Karen and Ingrid and John was the lamb with aubergines.

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lamb with aubergine.
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Beautifully presented but did not totally grab their senses and throw them round the table. Les chose the monk fish with shitake on stick and a mushroom froth whose texture complimented the dish well.

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monk fish.
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The winner for Les was the nectarine tarte which was perfect. The sweet of the pastry with some caramelised crunch standing proud against the tartness of the sweet-tart fresh nectarine along with the nectarine sorbet through him round the table. Yummificent!.

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The menu.
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We waddled home, somebody said goodnight.

Posted by lesnkaren 09:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

St Puy - June 9

semi-overcast

Bon matin mes amis. Before I showered we drove to a local village to buy a baguette from the local boulangerie. The Baker was a friendly chap whose mood clearly indicated he must have been taking something. We couldn't order that but we did get the baguettes which were tasty and a croissant which was second rate.

We checked out the local market at Condom to be quite disappointed. The one the previous day we reckon was superior and our English friend confirmed that later in discussion.

We had another fun day today. Taking the lead from our newfound English friend we explored three villages within 20 minutes of the town of Condom. The town of Laressingle was our first, a small old town still with its ramparts largely in place and in various states of disrepair. A sign told us a local gentleman had trouble raising funds for the repair of the town and travelled to the US and succeeded in getting a bunch of dollars from various people in Boston.

Karen also had the delight to follow a bouncing red squirrel some 50 m or so whilst it was going about its business.

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Inside the walls at Laressingle.

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Outside the walls at Laressingle.
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We then drove on to Seviac which contains the remains of a Gallo Roman villa. Unfortunately we arrived during their siesta and couldn't enter the site. From what we could tell peering over the fence is that the foundations have been uncovered were several items of tiling and pottery. Although it would have been interesting we were not moved enough to return in the late afternoon after their siesta.

For once we decided to make lunch wait and we continued on to the town of Fources which was described as a small bastide town and quite intact. Whilst we didn't see great defensive barriers surrounding the town, it was a pretty little village with the layout forming a circle around a large circular 'square'. Aside from cafes and other tourist oriented businesses on the ground floor around the square other businesses serve the locals as well. One specialises in renovations and reconstructions of old buildings with some interesting before and after photos in their window.

Just because we said hello to a friendly looking sheepdog we were followed around the town by this happy fellow.

Apologies for unedited video. Dog is cute though.
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It was a town for animal watching. I stumbled across a couple of skinks soaking up the sun and posted this video especially for you Jeff. One skink scampered off as I moved closer with the camera, the other a much braver specimen.

The photo doesn't show well the yellow-ish tinge along the top of the back.
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Our stomachs won and we returned home from a quick lunch followed by a nanna nap by most of us. Feeling refreshed we left Ingrid to snooze on and we returned to town to access our e-mail and to visit the local Armagnac Museum. This area is pretty passionate about their armagnac and we learnt a little more about the process and the equipment used over a century ago. One of the presses was magnificent with two large beams being hewed from a single oak in each case. Unfortunately there were no tastings offered. We got over that problem later as you will read.

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Brocante abounds next to Chez Vous. This where our English 'friend' lives for the moment.
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It was that time of evening and we continued with the Ricard ritual, currently a favourite aperitif. We had booked in to the local restaurant "Chez Vous" which had come with a couple of good recommendations. It really was great, we arrived at eight and left at midnight. The night was warm and we sat outside with a couple of others in the great halle which the restaurant has commandeered for their use. We reckon this venue is the perfect place for a spring or summer wedding or any great occasion due to the ambience of the size of this "halle".

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Love this Halle.
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Our host, Jean-Marc, spoke pretty good English, and a great slightly cheeky sense of humour and explained the local menu to us. His wife is involved in the restaurant and the wine, he waits and cooks and assists the chef. Their three older children aged 3 - 12ish played around us all.

We selected some local wine and later Jean-Marc kindly insisted we try a red made from by his friend some 20 km away. We enjoyed all the wines. Karen began with an aperitif of champagne, Armagnac and an orange liqueur. Les quickly followed with a floc, which is Armagnac and white wine combined.

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A peek at Chez Vous at night.
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Us part way through the meal.
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Karen paced her way through foie gras aux pommes (foie gras with warmed apple), Les a foi cru cuit au sel (which is foie gras cooked in salt but only barely cooked). It was followed with a dish of duck in a pepper sauce which Jack would love, (canard facon tournedos au poivre). We were gathering momentum at this stage. Les resorted to a standard crème brûlé and Karen a chocolate fondant.

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foie_gras_aux_pommes

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canard facon tournedos au poivre

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Something else Karen enjoyed at Chez Vous.
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It was necessary to have a digestif because Armagnac was on the list. We chose one, at least the boys did, Karen chose a Poire William, a pear liqueur tasting strongly of pear. Ingrid chose a mint. The boys couldn't contain themselves and ordered a second Armagnac and asked for a different one if possible. Apparently there are three different growing regions for Armagnac because of different soil types and it is claimed the flavours are different. Certainly the second one we tried seemed to be more complex with overtones of straw and grass whereas the first had distinct tones of honey and caramel. We yummed and hummed our way through the tasting.

We really had a great night with all factors combining well. Great host, great venue, great food, great drinking, great conversation with our host and with her English friend and her other friend who happened to be at the neighbouring table.

We finally got home safely and sleep quickly took over.

Posted by lesnkaren 09:43 Archived in France Comments (0)

St Puy - June 8

semi-overcast 21 °C

Once again we woke in France. We do that well now.

Being just a little interested in food we decided, on recommendation, to visit the market at Fleurance, a nearby town we thought was uninspiring as we drove through it. Once again we find that we can be a tad judgmental of towns we pass through. It was quite pleasing to walk through. Mostly oldies shopping there but a few of the rest as well. The market was comprehensive and we happily purchased items for a dinner that night.

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market at Fleurance.
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different architecture in Southern France.
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Almost all the French people we have met have been friendly and helpful. Sometimes they make a seamless switch to English after listening to our poor attempts to communicate. Sometimes there is a twinkle in their eye before they switch to English and make things easier for us all.

I fell in love with a coffee van. Mr Coffee-man has a great lifestyle we romanced. He travels a few markets, can roast beans at his factory or in his van, gets to work in aroma filled atmosphere and gets paid for it.

I had the responsibility of choosing fromage à la five. After brooding and studying two outlets we choose a roquefort paillion (we had been told by the Joly's this was preferable to societe), a goat's cheese pyramid, a brie du meaux, a fromage du vache from the midi pyrenees, and another with a pimento flavour. Some great pain du levain, white asparagus, prunes from Agen, cherry, tomate, jambon blanc, green olives we liked, entrecote for mains for dinner etc.

Lunch was a small affair as you can see with a cheap tasty rosé. Food and wine are quite cheaper here.

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Lunch, a small one.
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does any one out there remember De bono?
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Les being force fed ham, bread and roquefort.
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A quick visit to the nearby town of Condom revealed a church I really liked. Goes back several centuries I believe. Elsewhere in town was some work by a visiting sculptor, I really liked his work which stood nearby a site to learn about the local hero, Armagnac (not a muskateer silly, a sprit which goes back to before the 12th century).

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I think this is by Jean Paul Courtier working with lead, clay and cardboard.
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They do some interesting things with their trees, grafting ends of branches I think and creating an interesting effect.

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Before dinner Karen and Ingrid discovered a brocante run by an English woman with a delightful posh-ish accent and slight touch of likeable sassy, she is enjoying "playing over here". She allowed Karen and Ingrid to purchase some items (je respire, j'achète). Next door a building had been gutted in order to repair its structure; very interesting to stand by and study.

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repairs begin.
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Eventually dinner had to happen.

The idea was a shared aperitif of ricard, orgeat syrup, ice and water then an entree with asparagus and vinagrette, crusty bread, steak cooked on coals from the local grape vines, ratatouille and potato bathed in a freshly made goats cheese and bread for afters.

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one way to do a aperitif ritual.
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The strawberries from the market where rich in colour and full flavoured, juicy and sweet.
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I got to light the fire fuelled by grape vines. Better still, the French can buy this gel to start a fire. Napalm we reckon. The old dry vines burn well and generate a hot bed of coals.

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John getting the credit.
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entree of white asparagus.
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dinner at home.
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The food was well accompanied by another Cahors malbec. The steak (entrecote) took on much flavour from the vines giving it a strong smokey falvour and by accident we found it was well complimented by a 15 year old peaty malt whisky, Laphroaugh. We did enjoy ourselves, total team work in the procuring, preparation and partaking of produce.

As I type the bells from the village of St Puy chime as they do on the hour. You know, it is great to have some physical space a veranda on which to mooch around, relax and take in the view.

Bon nuit!

Posted by lesnkaren 08:50 Archived in France Comments (0)

Ferme Fleurie to St Puy - June 7

sunny 26 °C

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Our Ferme leurie, Les and Karen had the upstairs room just to the right of the front door

We left our ferme fleurie after a simple breakfast with cake and very nice baguette. But not before a long walk in their extensive garden with many flowers and a wander through a wood walking on leaf litter with dappled sunlight through oak and other small trees.

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delightful dappled walk

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a free French champgne to she/he who knows the species shown above

Today was the day to head further south.

Our first stop was Monpazier. A lovely town, smaller and more basic but as well kept as its reputation for being a well preserved medieval town. Some interesting architecture. A coffee in a bar there hit the spot.

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old market place Monpazier

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another free French champagne to he/she who knows what these are

We moved on towards Auch via the town of Agen, planning to "see what happens on the way". Agen was a poor town, most unexpected. We decided not to stop deciding it was a deservedly missable town, no offence intended to the Agenians. We pushed on until bladders and stomachs demanded a stop around St Mere. That we did without discernment and discovered what French truckies eat; chunks of bread with a simple cheese or ham or sausage.

We finally arrived in Auch. It was a bigger than expected town, a centre historique , with the Spanish influence showing in the architecture we reckon. Somehow we found the information centre, and were redirected to the Gers tourisme place. It was amazingly hard to find but when we entered it was a buzzing with activity. A lovely Nicole spoke English and did us well locating a "gite" for 4 days near St Puy. The house was a breath of fresh air so to speak. We had space to lounge, washing machine, iron, refrigerator and a view over the owner's vinyards and undulating ground to the town some kilometre and a half away.

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View of St Puy from our verandah. Vines are reminiscent of another great wine region in Australia

I forgot to let you know that Gers is a department or small region south of the dordgne. Our French tutor came from thereabouts.

Dinner occurred, funny that, at restaurant which was open on a Sunday night in Condom next to the huge church. I chose a galette poireaux which was buckwheat crepe in a leek and cream sauce with jambon and cheese.The proportions were nicely balanced with a solid leek flavour throughout. Karen's "salade gourmarand" with duck and foie gras was superb too. You know a small highlight of the meal was the impassioned sounding conversation of a French family at the next table. The three teenage daughters talking with mum and dad and each other for quite a while.

Just prior to entering the restaurant the local police made sure the boys hanging around the square weren't up to mischief. I don't think they were going to.

Desert was shared, both Karen and Ingrid choosing armagnac, prune and ice cream which Karen liked. (Another win for the cocktail cabinet). The owner and waiter had good humour arriving with very small spoons for the "gourmet husbands" then with a wink pulled out the same the girls had. Karen wanted to take him home.

Coming home we nearly knocked a small fawn over when it startled us by running in front of the car. Handbags were thrown forward but the fawn was unscathed.

Bon nuit!

Posted by lesnkaren 08:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

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