Weekend in France 2006

đź“· Photographs

Friday, 1 September 2006

We arrived in Saint-Pierre shortly after midnight and checked into our accommodation, RĂ©sidence Les Iris. We have a very comfortable apartment with a large bedroom containing two beds: one queen, one single. The other main room contains a dining table, desk (with high speed Internet connection), and mini-kitchen with sink, refrigerator, microwave oven, kettle, coffee maker, toaster and two burner stovetop.

Because we came in so late the night before, we had breakfast at Les Iris: yogourt, coffee, and deliciously fresh croissants and pain au chocolat.

We spent most of the day trying not to run into Susan’s parents while doing some exploring and putting in some supplies! Lunch was at the brasserie in l’HĂ´tel Ile de France – we both had salade d’endive terre et mer (saumon et canard fumĂ©), washed down with a demi pichet du vin rouge and accompanied by very acceptable bread.

Then came the big moment … we arrived at the restaurant La Voilerie at about 7:20pm. Erika, Graham, Murray and Jean were already seated at their table for four … M and J with their backs to the door. We walked up behind them and said “Happy Anniversary … mind if we join you?” Dad said later that he wasn’t surprised by the anniversay wishes but did wonder why perfect strangers would want to join them for dinner!

It was a wonderfully enjoyable evening. We started dinner with feuilleté de chêvre followed by magret de canard avec ses pommes et sauce Calvados for Susan and brochette de crevettes et coquilles St. Jacques avec sauce hollandaise for Steve. This was accompanied by a very nice Bordeaux and followed by a delicious cake which consisted of raspberries, several layers of light pastry and cream.

Everyone had a marvelous time and it was well worth the effort getting there for the occasion!

Saturday, 2 September 2006

We spent the early part of the day with Susan’s parents and their travelling companions (Susan’s sister and her husband – Erika and Graham), before seeing them off on the Atlantic Jet.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

We hiked through some of the lovely Saint-Pierre countryside today, covering the Anse Ă  Henry and the Cap Ă  l’Aigle trails that are to the north and east of the town of Saint-Pierre. It was a beautiful day for hiking – we were on the trail for about five hours.

We walked about 35 minutes from our residence to the trail head and then set out on the well-marked Anse Ă  Henry trail, which runs basically straight north until you run out of land at Grand Colombier. Then we turned east and south along the spectacular Cap Ă  l’Aigle trail (which is poorly marked), as we slowly worked our way back to the town of Saint-Pierre.

Monday, 4 September 2006

After our long hike yesterday, we didn’t do much today. But, that’s how we spend most of our holidays!

Since the HĂ´tel Ile de France was closed today, we couldn’t get our morning espresso until nearly 10am, which borders on disaster for us! Nonetheless, we finally got our espresso and then purchased a few supplies for a picnic lunch that we had decided to have and eventually walked down toward the harbour. We had planned to walk around to the south side of the harbour for our lunch, but found a nice bench near the Yacht Club and had our lunch there.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Our flight to Montreal (on Air Saint-Pierre) didn’t leave until 1:30pm, so we were able to spend some more time wandering around the town of Saint-Pierre. We took a few photographs and then went back to our nice little apartment where we packed a light lunch to eat at the airport (Pointe Blanche) prior to flying out.

The flight actually made a brief (about 15 minutes) re-fuelling stop in Moncton before arriving in Montreal about 3:15pm, local time. An uneventful drive back to Peterborough found us home by 9:30pm.

We’ve had a great time here and would certainly return if the opportunity presents itself.

Toulouse Plus 2005: Toulouse

Friday, 7 October 2005

Our last major travel day, as we leave the lovely Corbières region for Toulouse. We travelled northwest from Lagrasse on some secondary roads that we hadn’t previously gone on before picking up the autoroute. About 90 minutes later we were navigating the unknown streets of Toulouse.

We got lost immediately, but recovered quickly; found our hotel, double-parked and unloaded; drove to the train station and dropped the rental car; walked back to the hotel and checked in. Congratulations all around on a job well done (navigating and driving). All of this just in time for lunch, so we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather (a perfect 3.0 today) and found a sidewalk cafe near the Marché Victor Hugo, grabbed a table in the sunshine and had some wonderful moules et frîtes.

The rest of the day we rested and oriented ourselves a bit before enjoying the early evening on our small balcony for an apértif anisé (wonderful chilled with fresh lemon and ice). Then a light supper in our room at the open balcony door, enjoying the evening air.

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Toulouse is sometimes known as la ville rose because so much of it is built in red brick. It is a very lovely and vibrant city, with many diverse and distinct neighbourhoods. We are staying within sight of the Marché Victor Hugo, a huge market that is open every day (except Monday) until 1:30pm. So, it is only a short walk to pick up whatever victuals we might need for the day. Our favourite boulangerie is about a 10 minute walk on Place du Belfort, while we just go around the corner for morning noisette and pain aux raisins at the Dame Brioche.

Since we have no specific plans while in Toulouse, we spend a great deal of time just walking around. And, it’s a great city to do that. Just to the south of our hotel is huge Place du Capitol (which was taken over by roller-bladers on Friday night), and a very short walk east of that is Place Wilson, which is circular and has six streets running into it.

We lunched today (al fresco) at La Gourmandine, having a very nice tarte au jambon et oignon accompanied by une salade composĂ©e. And, because we ate out for lunch, we ate in for dinner, supplementing our usual fare with some tasty gravlax from a Norwegian stall in the market! It was very good, comparing favourably to Susan’s wonderful rendition. We accompanied our in-house feast with some of the Fitou wine we had purchased on Thursday.

The great weather continues – another perfect 3.0 today.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

As our trip slowly winds down, so do we. Nonetheless, there is lots to explore in Toulouse, and we are doing so (after a fashion). This morning we stumbled into a huge flea market, which completely circled Basilique Saint Sernin (we subsequently found that this particular market is weekly and called l’Inquet). It took us some time to get out, because at the time we were just looking for a place to enjoy our second cafĂ© of the day. Because it was Sunday, there were fewer places open and it took us some time to find an appropriate place, finally settling for a sunny spot on Place du Capitole. The coffee was good, but a bit pricey – location, location, location. So, we enjoyed the continuing good weather (yet another perfect 3.0) while doing a little Sudoku and people-watching.

We were also able to get the week-end Guardian (which isn’t available in Toulouse on Saturday) today, which we both enjoy. The weekday versions (Monday-Friday) are available same day. Occasionally we also buy l’Equipe to stay abreast of the latest French football goings-on.

Our meal out today was a very nice Italian lunch at Piazza PaPa, which is a small chain (ten stores) in southern France. Homemade pasta for both of us, which was excellent. After our evening repast, our post-prandial stroll found us back at la Garonne, where we tried some night photography (only somewhat successfully). However, the river and the bridges are quite beautiful in the conditions that we enjoyed tonight.

Monday, 10 October 2005

One thing about Toulouse that stands out is the amount of well cared for public space that exists. There are parks (small and large) everywhere. Today we picnicked in one of them – the Jardins des Plantes. While today’s weather was not perfect (rating a strong 2.0), it was great for a long walk to the park; a leisurely picnic; and a long stroll back (different route, of course), which included a stop for cafĂ©.

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, so we went out to dinner in France at an Italian restaurant. Seemed about right!

After a shared entrĂ©e of insalata caprese, Steve had pasta Ă  la carbonara and Susan had tagliatelle Ă  la mer – everything was very tasty. As we have been drinking very good wine at lunch, we simply had a pichet of red with dinner. A while later, back at the hotel, we had dessert – amazing chocolate bought at a nearby artisan chocolatier the other day. Yum!

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Our last full day in Toulouse (and, France) was ‘typical’ (for us). The MarchĂ© Victor Hugo was open after a one-day respite, so we were able to fill a couple of small orders for supper tonight: smoked salmon and a tomato. This went nicely with our remaining chèvre and a flute campagne.

Earlier, after another great lunch at la Gourmandine, we took a long walk southwesterly to Pont Neuf and crossed to the left (west) bank of la Garrone. We explored there a short while and returned via Pont Saint-Pierre.

Mostly, we just got sorted out for our return tomorrow, packing, etc. We scouted our route to the nearest pickup point (there are four in the downtown area) for the airport shuttle (la Navette AĂ©roport), so that there wouldn’t be any surprises in the morning. And we cleaned out our wine cellar (kept nicely on our north-facing balcony) with dinner. We had parts of four bottles remaining, all purchased in the preceding two weeks and all rather good.

Another nice day, easily hitting 2.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

We were able to leave this morning without undue haste, as our flight (from Toulouse to Paris) didn’t depart until 10:35am. So, we indulged in our morning cafĂ© (noisette) and pain aux raisins at Dame Brioche before checking out. One of the great things about a place like Dame Brioche is that by the third morning (sometimes the second!), you are a ‘regular’: just a simple confirmation when you walk in, because they remember you (and your order) from prior visits. And, that is the rule, rather than the exception.

After checking out, we trundled our bags to the pickup point for the airport shuttle. It was only five minutes from our hotel door, so with rolling luggage it was a snap. The shuttle is a great deal: 3,90€ (each) and we were at the airport in about 20 minutes. The return to Peterborough was somewhat tiring (as usual), but uneventful.

Until next time (we were humming April in Paris on the way back). And, as you often hear in France upon leaving any commercial establishment (whether you’ve purchased anything or not): Au revoir, merci!

Toulouse Plus 2005: Lagrasse

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Today was mostly a travel day. We did our usual morning things and then hung about the hotel packing and relaxing. After our usual lunch, we set out for our next stop, a small town (about 600 people) called Lagrasse, which is in the Corbières wine region between Spain and the Mediterranean. On the way, we made a small detour to a winery which was, unfortunately, closed on Sundays. For the entire 150 km trip we were in sight of a vineyard.

We found a great restaurant for dinner tonight – Les trois grâces. It is only about 100 metres from our nice little gĂ®te (apartment) in the village centre. We have two rooms on the ground floor (separated by the hallway leading to the upper floors where the owners live). In effect, a mini-suite, which we enjoy.

Dinner was excellent – we both had the plat du jour which was coquelot rĂ´ti au parfum de reglisse – very different and very good. We ordered a 50cl bottle of wine only to realize once we had it that we’ve drunk it at home and possibly still have a bottle of it in our cellar! It was good, but broke our rule of only buying wine that we can’t get normally.

Today’s weather: a not uncomfortable 1.5.

Monday, 3 October 2005

While the weather was somewhat marginal today (a solid 1.5 on the Knowmark Weather Scale), we got quite a lot of sunshine, which is the most important thing. Because the village is quite small, there is only one boulangerie, and today was its weekly closing day. So we drove to St. Laurent de la Cabrerisse (about 10 minutes away) for our daily bread and pastries. The bread turned out to be particularly good.

Since our gĂ®te has a washing machine, we got caught up with some laundry. And, we visited a winery, because it’s almost impossible not to! We went a few kilometres north of Lagrasse to Château de Vaugelas (near Camplong d’Aude) and tasted three of their wines. All were impressive, so we bought a couple of bottles: one to drink here; one to bring back.

And, dinner again at the Les trois grâces: we shared an assiette des trois sauveurs – toasts with three different (all delicious) spreads; Steve had confit de canard; Susan had admired the brochettes des supions the night before and had her heart set on that. We had a pichet of red wine which was very good – something from nearby Camplong. We will definitely be returning here for dinner tomorrow night!

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

We were kind of lazy this morning – we had originally planned to head into Lezignan-Corbières to the market and then swing back around by a winery or two, but then we suddenly realized that it was only Tuesday and the market there is Wednesday morning. Unable to locate a Tuesday market as close as we liked, we ended doing some catching up on our trip journal before heading out to Château La Sabine where we were unable to buy the wine we were looking for (Juni PĂ©rus 2002) as it hasn’t been bottled yet. We tasted the 2000 vintage of the same wine and enjoyed it a lot, so we ended up with a bottle of that instead.

The weather wasn’t really conducive to having an outdoor picnic, so we headed back to town and had our picnic indoors instead. The goat cheese was local, although we didn’t buy directly from the producers – not quite as good as Didier’s (near Lodève) we think. After lunch, we set out to find more wine and some cheese from the source. We ended up tasting (and buying) some Château Gaubert CavayĂ© 2003 and had a very nice chat with Corinne and Gilles CavayĂ© who just finished their vendange (grape harvest) four days ago. The smell of fermenting grapes was everywhere. Yum! (No luck on the goat cheese unfortunately …)

Dinner tonight was again at Les trois grâces where we had reserved a table on the advice of the waiter last night. (Apparently it’s the only restaurant in the village which is open on Tuesdays and so it tends to be rather busy.) We both had the plat du jour which was filet mignon du porc avec sauce armagnac et pruneaux; it was our best meal of the three there and that’s saying something! We had a very nice after-dinner chat with a couple who live nearby occasionally (he is Flemish, she is Dutch). Unfortunately, this will be our last night eating here as they are closed both Wednesday and Thursday. We are going to try to find some cĂŞpes in the next couple of days so we can make our own dinner on Thursday night (our waiter has made a recommendation for Wednesday, so that is taken care of!).

Another day of so-so weather (a nice 1.5 on our scale). However, the forecast would indicate that things are on the upswing.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Because of the inclement weather this morning (it turned better, rating 1.5 for the day), we delayed our trip to Le Château de Termes and went to the L’Abbaye de Fontfroide. It is a huge complex in a lovely setting, as many of these old religious (it no longer functions as such) sites are. It was started in the 11th century. We strolled around some of the grounds in the slowly lifting mist for some time. Then off to Château la Domèque for some wine before slipping into LĂ©zignan-Corbières to catch the end of their market. We were able to get the necessities for tomorrow night’s dinner (Susan is cooking at ‘home’) plus supplement our supply of chèvre from a local supplier (Ferme de Carrus) whose farm we had tried to visit yesterday!

After lunch, with the weather clearing in Lagrasse, we headed south (back into the mist) to visit one of the many Cathar ruins in the area – Le Château de Termes. Along the way, we rounded a corner and saw the stunning Château Durfort. Le Château de Termes was built in the 12th century and used until the 17th century when it was ordered destroyed. The remnants are still impressive, as was the fact that we climbed (what seemed like straight up at times) steadily for 30 minutes to reach the top! It was not our intention, as the task seemed most daunting, but as we got closer, we just kept going. It was well worth it, with some incredible views which don’t show in the photographs because of the vastness of the area (and, the remnants of the misty day).

We had a very nice dinner tonight at les Temps des Courge. We shared une assiette de cruditĂ©s and each had tartiflette “les corbières” which was described as pommes de terre, lardons, oignons frites, crème fraiche, fromage de ferme Merron fondue et gratinĂ©e. Very rich (neither of us could finish it) and very delicious!

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Today’s main project was lunch near the (Mediterranean) sea and the weather cooperated nicely by providing us with a 2.5 rated day. We set out to visit the Fitou wine region which consists of two sub-regions: Fitou Maritime and Haut Fitou. After stopping in La Palme to taste and buy some Saint Pancrace 2001, we headed towards Leucate. This town is located on a peninsula which connects directly with the Mediterannean, unlike much of the coast around here which borders on various etangs. We ended up at La Franqui which has an incredible beach with surprisingly few (we counted 14 at one point) people on it, given the beautiful day. We spent quite a bit of time just walking in the sand and surf as the tide slowly came in, enjoying the sun.

After a while, we moved on to Leucate for lunch. It’s a pretty town with many buildings having brilliantly coloured shutters. We chose to have lunch outside at Le Bistrot de la Place – a trio of tapas: calamari Ă  la romaine, salade des anchoies frais marinĂ©s and gambas façon leucategais. This was naturally accompanied by a demi-pichet of red wine, a particularly decent one.

On the very scenic return journey to Lagrasse we tasted and bought more Fitou wine. The entire Corbières region is beautiful. Very rugged, but laced with arable patches in every little valley (mostly vineyards). It can be quite spectacular in places. Dinner was prepared by Susan in our little kitchen: an omelette made with cèpes and local chèvre both of which were bought at the market in LĂ©zignan. An avocado-tomato salad and some excellent Corbières wine completed the meal. The rest of the evening was spent packing – tomorrow we begin the last phase of our trip!