Bugarach and apocalypse 2012

Bugarach is the highest peak in the Corbiere hills, 40km from our holiday cottage and B&B in Languedoc. There has been unprecedented interest in this tiny mountain village due to the impending date of 21 December 2012, regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count Calender, now associated with the Maya civilisation (250 to 900 AD, source Wikipedia). A New Age interpretation of this date suggests Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, others suggest 21 December 2012 marks the end of the world.

Made of limestone with galleries of caves beneath it, the peak is a geological oddity as its top layers are millions of years older than its bottom ones, making it an “upside down” mountain. In the 60s and 70s Bugarach was a popular hippie hangout followed by New Age followers who believed the mountain had mystical powers, helping to spread the belief that the village would provide a safe haven in the 2012 apocalypse. Cult followers believe aliens reside inside the mountain and will save people who decide to leave the planet with them [on 21 December]. Maya scholars refute these interpretations saying they are misrepresenting Maya history and culture.

Bugarach in the Corbiere hills, Languedoc

The number of visitors descending on the tiny village of Bugarach has caused the Mayor to call for access to the mountain to be banned during December. I am afraid our B&B in the south of France has added to the Mayor’s angst; guests from Moscow, Canada, Portugal and Holland, have all visited and reported experiencing, “the positive energy which emanates from the mountain”. Mystery indeed.

Review of our holiday home in the south of France

Tammie was our guest in our 18th century holiday cottage in Languedoc during October / November …“I booked 3 weeks in the gite near Chalabre and stayed another week. This has been a true home away from home (but with maid service!). Nick & Carolyn are so gracious, friendly yet respectful of your space. Interesting and informative too about the area and where to go. I love this area, an excellent base for exploring Cathar country. I shall return. The bathtub rocks too!”

Medieval Mirepoix, the best market in the region

Tour de France 2013

The route for the Tour de France 2013 shows Stage 8, Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, coming close to our B&B in the south of France when it passes between Limoux and Quillan. Limoux is 26km from our French holiday home in the hills south of Carcassonne. Our holiday cottage is booked already but we have rooms available in our very French bed & breakfast on the tranquil village square near Chalabre.

Tour de France, Chalabre 2012

Vegging out in the South of France

At Chez Maison Bleue we are seeing increasing numbers of vegetarian and vegan guests. They commonly complain that outside Paris, France just does not cater for vegetarians and vegans who fare even worse. The most common meal that they are both offered is an omelette! The term vegan was coined in 1944 as a word to describe “non dairy vegetarians”. The principle is that man should live without exploiting animals. There is some debate within the vegan community as to whether products from insects are permissible, Vegan Action says that eating honey and wearing silk is a matter of individual choice and conscience.

The biggest difficulty we find here is sourcing vegan wine. Most wines are fined (the process which clarifies the wine) by using animal products. Some pragmatic vegans have decided that it is permissible to depart from strict interpretation if the culture of where you are makes it impractical and they use this to enable them to enjoy a nice glass of wine with an otherwise vegan meal. This type of pragmatic interpretation of rules is very typically French and it is no surprise that it is known as the Paris exemption!

The strange thing for me is that France has such an abundance of wonderful vegetables that it is really easy to produce fabulous vegetable dishes. Here at our B&B in the Languedoc we grow our own fruit and vegetables organically (and from next year will keep chickens) we serve vegetable dishes where there is only a matter of minutes between the vegetables being harvested and going into the pan. This means that they cook very quickly and are absolutely delicious. This area also produces large quantities of pulses from the wonderfully meaty haricot blanc, mainly used in cassoulet, to great puy lentils. Legend has it that these were introduced into France by Catherine de Medici, Comtesse de Lauragais when she was given some seeds newly brought back from America as a wedding present on her marriage to the Dauphin of France in 1533. I use them as the main ingredient in a great non-meat loaf. Other dishes on our menu include stuffed peppers. At this time of year the market in Mirepoix, the best in this part of south of France, has an amazing variety of squashes. Some of the larger ones are great for a vegetable roast. Slice off the top and take out the seeds and soft flesh from the middle then roast and fill with other roast vegetables. Pile them inside the squash when they are all cooked and serve. You have an edible oven to table serving dish!

 

Squash stall

So whether you are vegetarian, vegan or a meat eater who likes different fresh and tasty vegetables with your meat, Chez Maison Bleue, our 18th century holiday home in the south of France is a great place to veg out!

Biker friendly B&B

We were delighted to welcome more bikers to our biker friendly accommodation in the south of France. Angela livened things up in the foothills of the Pyrenees for a few days, she wrote in my guest book…”good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.” Ha, fabulous.

Our biker friendly B&B south of Carcassonne

Celebrations at our bed and breakfast in the south of France

We were delighted to be part of a young couple’s very special day when they become engaged at Chez Maison Bleue in the summer. The bride to be knew nothing of secret preparations arranged by her [now] fiancee and which included a special meal on arrival at our B&B and champagne and rugs and cushions on the hill at the back of the house with moonlit views of our ancient village and church. This was where the question, along with the the champagne would be popped! Our engagement present to Caitlin and Thomas was a celebration meal on their return visit, which we hope they are able to cash in soon. It was a privilege to be part of their special time and we are pleased that our B&B nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees, deep in the south of France, will always be a special place to them.

The happy couple on the village square, Sonnac sur l'Hers

Potter’s Fair, Mirepoix

The Potter’s Fair takes place each August among the medieval “couverts” of Mirepoix in the south of France. Mirepoix is 14kms from Chez Maison Bleue, our holiday home in Languedoc, a few minutes drive or around 1.5hrs cycle through lush landscapes – fields of sunflowers this time of year. The Fair is a colourful day out and offers some beautiful pieces, very reasonably priced, there are past purchases dotted all around the holiday cottage and B&B. We were there in the lunch hours so the stalls were deserted, the cafes and bars packed – the French philosophy of life is conducive to wellbeing.

Potter’s Fair, Mirepoix

For more photos see Facebook

Cycling in the hills south of Carcassonne

A sixty km round trip from our holiday cottage in the south of France covered some beautiful terrain. It’s a marvellous time to be in the south of France, fields stuffed with sunflowers, grapes ripening on the vine, the sun mellowing the ancient stone of ruined chateaux that stand on rocky outcrops, testament to past conflicts of Languedoc.

We had an early start from Sonnac sur l’Hers following the old railway line through Camon, a plus beaux village de France, onto Mirepoix and Fanjeaux, all key strategic towns during medieval times and the crusade against the Cathars. Quiet roads, twisty cols (if you want them in this heat) and wide valley floors that sweep through vineyards and ancient towns and villages, make cycling Languedoc joyous. I was grateful for the old French law decreeing its people should always have free access to drinking water as I replenished my water bottle (and dunked my face and arms) in the centuries old lavage (communal washing facilities in a bygone age) in a tiny village by the roadside.

Biker friendly B&B

We welcomed our first bikers to our biker friendly bed and breakfast in the south of France recently. Jean and Mark are proper adventurers from the UK and it was great fun having them to stay. Quiet roads, twisty cols and valley floors that sweep through vineyards and ancient towns and villages, make for good biking terrain in Languedoc and the Midi Pyrenees.

Biker friendly B&B in the south of France

We have friends in the Somme who also run fabulous, biker friendly accommodation. Martin offers motorcycle tours of the battlefields of WW1 while Kate’s dinners, washed down with copious amounts of red wine are very welcome after a hard day’s riding. Visit Orchard Farm on the Somme. A decent road trip from Kate’s to Chez Maison Bleue, though you will need somewhere to stay in the middle I think.

 

An Eggcellent Dish

Here at Chez Maison Bleue we like to source our produce locally. We get our eggs from two suppliers. The main one is a man on Mirepoix market who has a small holding. The reserve supplier is our neighbour here in Sonnac sur l’Hers, and were it not for the walnut tree in the farmers garden we could actually see the hens from our terrace. The eggs we get are superb with lovely golden yolks that are not the result of artificial colouring. Those who follow my blog will know how the eggs make great meringue; well the whole eggs are fabulous for omelettes.

Our guests seem to really enjoy the herb omelette we serve for breakfast. The herbs are cut from where we grow them on the terrace only when the omelette has been ordered. Some guests even enjoy choosing the combination of herbs themselves. If you have theses nice fresh ingredients it gives you a head start in producing a great omelette. The key to a first rate omelette is to get the pan fairly hot and give the eggs a thorough whisking so when you pour them in the pan there are lots of air bubbles visible. Then as soon as it is in the pan draw a fork through it and keep doing this. You will scrape the cooking omelette in towards the centre and allow the raw egg on the top to hit the hot pan. Keep on doing this until the egg will no longer run into the gap. Then allow it to cook for a few minutes until it is a light golden brown on the underneath. For the herb omelette I start by briefly frying the herbs in a little oil and then leave them in the pan and pour the egg mix on top.

At Easter here in Sonnac sur l’Hers we have a village gathering, aperitifs followed by salad and barbecued meat but the highlight is the sweet Easter omelette. This is made with a hefty lot of castor sugar added to the eggs and then the cooking is just like a normal omelette to start with. The best bit is the finish when it is flambéed in the local eau de vie produced from pears grown in the village. It is a good job that most people walk to the event as the amount of eau de vie that goes into it would definitely put you over the limit! This year we had our aperitifs outside in the sunshine, so Easter is a great time to visit. The eau de vie is distilled by the man who arrives with his mobile still in November. The weather can still be quite warm even then and there is often an evening gathering of locals round the still which gets more and more animated as the produce is tested, so come in November too!

Sweet Lavender Omelette

As a desert at our B&B here in the Languedoc I serve a sweet omelette. Mine uses an ingredient for which our neighbouring region of Provence is famous, lavender! You can make it by gently frying a few lavender flower heads for a minute and then adding the egg and sugar mixture and cook as per a normal omelette. Flambé is optional and use what spirit you like but one with a delicate flavour. The omelette has a gorgeous sweet scented flavour, and as lavender grows really well here it too is cut fresh to order. So whether you want sweet or savoury get cracking and make some omelettes.