Tag Archive for: south of france

Catastrophe at the B&B

The black redstarts unceremoniously evicted by Nasty Nick from the porch have been setting up residence on one of the huge beams that criss-cross the terrace at our bed and breakfast in the south of France. Guests had to move from the porch in order that the redstarts could enter with food for their young but even so… Their nest that was perching precariously on the beam is now lying on the ground. Poor little birds, all that effort, however, Nasty Nick has promised to redeem himself and first thing will fix a ledge to the beam so the width is extended. If we put the nest back then perhaps the redstarts, that have the sweetest “bobbing habit”, will return. They are more timid than the bold Great Tits that build their nests in the stone walls of the porch and simply swoop over your head while you are enjoying your coffee and croissants.

Quite rare in the UK, the black redstart thrives in the warmer climes of the south of France

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!

Great reviews for our holiday home

June has been a very busy month for us in our holiday cottage and bed and breakfast in the south of France. And it is soooo satisfying to get some great reviews for what we are doing here at Chez Maison Bleue. All from our guest book in June…”5* hospitality, accommodation and food” – Roy & Elaine, UK, “Great service and friendliness, fabulous place for hiking and bicycle rides” – Robert & Catharine, Germany, “What a welcome to this part of France, nothing was too much trouble and no effort spared, the best gite we have stayed in” – Terry & Elaine, France, “A wonderful place to stay, great company, we have loved it” – Deane & Ella, Utah.

This is our first year running our business in this beautiful part of Languedoc / Midi Pyrenees. It is interesting to see what our guests are choosing to do – walking the GR7, cycling,  the towns and cities, especially Mirepoix and Carcassonne, wine tours including Blanquette de Limoux, the ruined chateaux of the Cathars, and now that the weather is baking, swimming in the river and in the lakes at Puivert and Montbel. So you could do something different every day, or you could simply put on a CD, pick up a book from our library, and lounge on your terrace ’till the cows come home (literally) it’s up to you.

Puivert Chateau, a magnificent backdrop for swimming in the lake

Baby friendly holiday home

A great review for Chez Maison Bleue in the south of France from guests who stayed with a young baby…”A beautiful, traditional yet modern gite in the most peaceful and idyllic setting, a real home from home! Wonderfully accommodating and hospitable, we have had a fantastic week exploring Carcassonne, Mirepoix, and venturing as far as the coastal resorts of Argeles and Collioure, definitely worth the 2 hour drive.” Photos of the Mediterranean courtesy of our guests.

Beautiful, quiet Mediterranean beaches, 2hrs from Chez Maison Bleue

Another lovely guest book comment

“Delicious food and very warm and welcoming hospitality, amazing house – great work on the restoration and decorating.” A young couple from Canada who stayed at our B&B in the foothills of the Pyrenees at the end of April. We are just loving what we are doing here at Chez Maison Bleue in the south of France!

Cheap flights into Carcassonne

Flights from Stanstead into Carcassonne during May, £44 return, from Liverpool, £36. Fields behind our holiday cottage filled with wild flowers, alfresco dining on the square. A perfect time to visit the south of France, avoiding the crowds – and £100 reduction on weekly rates for our holiday cottage. What are you waiting for…

Sandy beaches and swimming at Lac Montbel

Jazz Festival Limoux

Extensive programme for the Jazz and Big Band celebrations (en français) in Limoux, 26 April – 1 May. Limoux is about half an hour from our holiday cottage in Sonnac sur l’Hers, a lively, very French town deep in the land of the Cathars. Combine a trip to the Jazz with a tasting at one of the Blanquette caves, we collaborate with Antech (en français again) and lunch on the square to the sound of the water splashing into the fountain, a perfect way to assure some R&R in the spring sunshine of the south of France.

Another great review

Another fabulous review on our Holiday Rentals listing for our holiday cottage in the south of France…”Where do I start, everything about our stay was fantastic!…” We are looking forward to our first full season here in Languedoc. We are putting the final touches to our cyclist friendly B&B and will be ready to open for Easter. Loads of opening offers for the Spring!


Chef in Languedoc

As a chef I do not subscribe to Henry Ford’s view that “history is bunk”, the great chefs of years gone by have a lot to teach us, from Escoffier to Elizabeth David to the chefs of today, all have their own ingredient to add. My intention in all that I cook for our B&B in the south of France is to learn from the masters but be prepared to adapt and experiment. The key is, of course, the ingredients. Fresh produce that has been cultivated with respect is essential to any good dish. In the Languedoc we are spoiled for fruit and vegetables, raised in the sunshine but watered by refreshing rain from the Pyrenees. Equally we have easy access to the abundant seafood of the Mediterranean. When I cook for my mother she tells me not to “mess with it” and that is a big influence. Whilst I do have my own variations, my aim is to let the natural flavours show through, the twist is the combination of those flavours! My blog from Chez Masion Bleue, our holiday cottage and bed and breakfast, is a mix of foodie talk, historical context and some rough guides to the dishes I cook.

Produce of the terroir

A load of tripe

Narbonne Market

The butchers in the market in Narbonne displayed together cows feet and tripe, a clear invitation towards “tripes a la mode de Caen”. Somewhat surprising considering we are in the South of France and that is a classic Normandy dish. It is cooked for about 12 hours, usually in large quantities and is a combination of tripe, ox feet, carrots, onions, leeks seasoned with herbs and quite a lot of pepper, in cider and Calvados. Traditionally in Normandy it would be cooked in a special dish, a tripiere, which is rather like a tea pot that has been squashed, with the small opening ensuring as little evaporation as possible. The tripiere would be taken to the boulangerie to be cooked in the oven after the bread. One of the most famous recipes for this is in Escoffier’s Guide to Modern Cooking, but the quantities are a bit daunting almost 2 kilos of onions 1.5 kilos of carrots 2.4 litres of cider and 0.75 litres of Calvados. Certainly after eating this you would need a trou Normand, a glass of Calvados, as a digestive. Bear in mind also that in a traditional Norman feast this would have been course 2 of 6! Thank goodness I don’t cater on such a scale at our B&B in the South of France. The fresh caught fish and interesting varieties of vegetables were what really caught my eye. At this time of year I sometimes find it difficult to be enthusiastic. The winter veg are becoming tired and limited but the spring has yet to arrive. Thinking up different variants on the excellent cabbage and leeks for supper at the B&B is fun but after a while it begins to pall. Roll on the spring and the tender young produce and then the profusion of the true tastes of the Languedoc, aubergines, courgettes, peppers and of course lots of different varieties of tomatoes. Bring on the summer at Chez Maison Bleue!