Four Go Mad in the South of France

Given my usual stance on the French, it may come as a surprise to some to find out I do love France.  It is a truly amazing place, almost as beautiful as Canada, just smaller and warmer.  The Bone Family holiday this year took us to the South of France, to the Languedoc and a beautiful gite in Raissac d'Aude.  We drove down there, well I drove it.  Dad had just had an op and I was determined to get him and us down there as best I could.  Paris was a nightmare.  I've never visited the City of Light and to be fair, there are other places I have higher on my list.  Given the traffic and the utter ineptitude of the Parisian driver, it has slipped a tad further down the list.  Anyways, two days of driving, a sense of humour failure in a supermarche ten minutes from our destination on my part later and we arrived at a beautiful old farm house, home to Ingrid and her family and us for the following week.  Needless to say, we all headed for the pool and soon thereafter, I headed to bed.

Les Halles Narbonne

The best thing about holidays is the realisation that you actually don't have anything to do but to sit by the pool, play with your daughter and try rather hard not to burn to a crisp on the first day.  I love that feeling.  The knowing that each minute is your own, is rather wonderful.  So with a lazy day, our holiday began, which is the finest way to begin.  So is a trip to Les Halles in Narbonne.  Wandering around the beautiful market on a quiet Monday morning, gathering bits and pieces for lunch and dinner, taking coffee next to the Canal de la Robine.  Ellie, of course, went for Le Chocolat Chaud.  It was a pity that the weather was rather poor, but I do find Narbonne a fascinating little city.  With the canal and the remains of the Roman road outside the town hall, its a fun little place.  Following Narbonne, the next day we headed up to Carcassonne.  We had a great when driving along the Autoroute, Dad and I told Ellie to look at Le Cite as we dropped down the hills towards our destination.  "Is that real?" was her question.  Not a real question but a moment of childish joy at seeing a fairy tale city on a hill.  Wandering the overcrowded streets of the city, it was wonderful to see Ellie's delight at being there.  Of course delight soon turned to lunch (an incredible Cassoulet for Dad and I and a steak for Ellie) and then presents.  There are no shortages of places to find presents in walled tourist trap.  In 1355, Edward, The Black Prince of Wales, took one look at Le Cite, burnt the lower town and left.  The Black Prince wasn't known for giving up, at 16, cut off from his father King Edward III at the battle of Crecy, his Father famously replied, when asked if an effort should be made to relieve the young Edward, that if he were to be King of England, he needed to "earn his spurs".  The Black Prince broke the French line and turned the battle, at 16.  At 25, he couldn't take Carcassonne,  Today, he could have walked in and bought anything he liked from a T-Shirt to a foam suit of armour.  As I stood on the battlements, looking down on the former Lower Town, the modern City of Carcassonne, cameras clicking, wannabe Parkourists, or whatever they're called, falling off of basic bouldering problems, I had to laugh.  All that effort, expense for what turned out to be most famous for a film about the greatest English outlaw of all time, played by an American...

The Inner Fortress of Le Cite Carcassonne

But the highlight was an even older monument, one that had nothing to do with war, but water.  I've been to some amazing places in my life and count myself rather fortune to have been able to travel and see those things.  But, I do believe that the Pont du Gard may be the most beautiful place I've ever been.  Pont du Gard is an aqueduct over the Gardon River built around 2000 years ago.  Pont du Gard was part of the Nimes aqueduct that carried water 31 miles from Uzes to Nimes.  From the spring at Uzes, the aqueduct descends only 17 meters over the full 31 miles and the Pont du Gard drops only 2.5 centimetres from one side to the other.  It is an incredible engineering feat.  But more than that, it is heartbreakingly beautiful.  When I walked through the gates of the Taj Mahal, my heart skipped a beat.  Up until I set eyes on Pont du Gard, it had only every happened one other time in the intervening period and that was for a person.  As you walk down into the Gardon valley, you see the higher parts, the smaller arches of the aqueduct, before it plunges down into the valley, three huge groupings of arches spanning the river.  We walked down the valley on a stunning summer day.  The shimming limestone, gold in the sun, is an incredible sight.  Walking over the 19th century walkway next to the aqueduct itself, you work yourself down into the river valley and look up as the aqueduct towers over 40m high above you.  But the best part?  Well for me, it was swimming with Ellie in the Gardon below a construction that was started while Christ was alive (depending on which date for construction you take, I'll take 30 CE).  The river is freezing, but bobbing in the middle, being carried along by the surprisingly strong current, down to the aqueduct, we just looked at each our and shared a huge smile.  It is a moment I shall carry with me for the rest of my life.

The holiday was capped off with a visit, courtesy of my brother and Margoux at Corney and Barrow, to Domaine de Montmarin.  Domaine de Mantmarin is an vineyard that is not usually open for tours, but thanks to Margoux, we got to meet the owner, Philippe de Bertier and his stepson Mathieu.  We where taken around the vines, being shown the grapes and also how the wine makers of the region were diversifying into oils, sunflower and olive.  Fields of sunflowers and rows of maturing olive trees bookend the stunning rows of grapes, ripening in the southern sun.  I found it all truly fascinating,  Ellie and I were driven around by Mathieu, and it was brilliant to be shown the effort that goes into growing the grapes that make up some really lovely wines.  A quick look at the family "villa", a former 17th century royal hunting lodge, we headed to the pool side kitchen and a tasting all of the wines produced by Montmarin.  Wine tasting with the vintner of the wine you're tasting, rather than a salesman or sommelier, is fantastic.  In broken English Philippe, took us through his wines from the whites through to the reds, describing the balance and the make up of each one.  It was an education, if slightly spoiled by my parents complaining that they had to spit out the wine...

Tasting is a tough life

The fields of Domaine de Montmarin

Mathieu and Philippe


France Galleries

All photo's taken with a Sony Nex-5 with various E-Mount lenses.  Still figuring the beasty out, but I am rather falling for this CSC.

Milliau and Narbone


Carcassonne


Domanine de Montmarin

Raissac and Canet d'Aude


Pont du Gard