06 October 2013

67!! — Day 4

From Mende, in the Lozère, back home to Laroque des Albères, Pyrénées Orientales, via the Tarn and Aveyron départements.

Our first stop on the way to the Gorges du Tarn was a disappointment. The village of Sainte-Enimie is quite pretty with its old stone houses but decidedly touristy. What was memorable is the grim legend behind the town's name. Enimie was a princess who, wishing to dedicate herself to Christ, prayed to be rescued from marriage to a suitor chosen by her father. The answer to her prayers was unusual: she contracted horribly disfiguring leprosy. Marriage pressure gone, she was then cured by the waters of a local spring and went on to found a convent.

The canyon formed by the Tarn River, flanked on either side with crags topped by causses (verdant limestone plateaus) and villages clustered near the shore, offers the sort of magnificent scenery that's difficult, for us anyway, to capture with a camera.


Detail from photo above.

A sad memorial like this is found in most French villages. So many names for such a tiny place.

A chausse.

How anyone gets to this hamlet of well-maintained stone houses on the other side of the river we haven't a clue. There were no roads visible, no bridge, and a sign on this cable prohibited use for anything but goods. Could the residents really do all their to-ing and fro-ing by canoe?

 Another chausse.

 We had our lunchtime picnic in the Gorges de la Jonte, a favorite destination of J-F's father.

Hardly worth doing, but if you look very closely here or enlarge the photo, you can see two dots in the sky that are the soaring eagles who watched us eat. There wasn't a sea like the one in Tennyson's poem, but his words certainly fit this setting.

From spectacles of nature to a marvel that's manmade. A few years ago we crossed the Millau Viaduct with Alan Smith on our way to the volcanic region of the Auvergne. In fact, despite our Garmin on this trip, I did find occasion to quote Alan's Yoda-like pronouncement that "There are many roads" when my navigational skills were once again shown to be deficient. Michael decided that the bridge would be even more impressive viewed from below. He was right. This 4-part Megastructures video shows what an amazing engineering feat building Norman Foster's design was: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4ZNMEpsocYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWrmelbagLAhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FXtQf9M88o; .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPM79xM5mIY. [Despite the pronunciation of Millau here, our neighbors in France say "mee-yoh."] A minute or two is missing at the end of part 4, but the dramatic union of the two sides has already been celebrated.

It was cutting edge to traditional as we next toured a Roquefort factory in the cheese-making town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, our last stop before getting on the motorway to head home. The romantic though no doubt apocryphal story behind the discovery of the blue cheese process has a young shepherd accidentally leaving his cheese and rye bread in a cave where he had rendezvous-ed with his sweetheart (or abandoned his lunch when he spied her in a distant field, depending on which variation of the tale you prefer). When he eventually returned to retrieve the food, voilà! — the distinctive blue veining had transformed his ordinary cheese into something very special. Michael, however, would think that delicious ewe's milk cheese was spoiled by the invasion of Penicillium roqueforti. Blue cheese is not his favorite.

Fractures in the rock like this (fleurines), open to the outside, provide the unique air circulation in the damp, cool caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

Our guide through the 150-year-old caves of RoquefortSociété. Her enunciation was so precise that even I could understand more than my usual "blahblah maintenant blahblahblah on doit blah" etc.

More photos of photos from the old days.

The dégustation following the tour.

A rond-point (roundabout, traffic circle) honoring the sheep whose milk is the basis for the livelihood of most local residents.

05 October 2013

67!! — Day 3

Domaine de Blancardy (Moules et Baucels, Hérault) to Hôtel de France (Mende, Lozère)

After purchasing several bottles of Domaine de Blancardy wine, we checked out and headed for the Musée Cévenol in Le Vigan. It didn't open until 10, so we spent about a quarter of an hour looking at the nearby 12th-century bridge and the old buildings crowded up against the river.

Not old but so attractively weathered.
The museum itself was superb. After the first room we were informed by the charming woman who let us in that photos were forbidden, otherwise there would be far more displays of rural crafts pasted below. I'm particularly sorry not to have any record of the exquisitely patterned silk stockings in the collection. The Cévennes was discovered to be an ideal spot to grow mulberry trees in the 18th century, and silk weaving peaked around 1850. The industry was rescued by Pasteur when disease attacked the silkworms, but imported and synthetic silk finished off the manufacturing that survived. The area seems to have been cursed. A deadly fungus destroyed chestnut trees (now magnificently thriving) and phylloxera hit the vineyards. Even with two world wars removing far too many young males from the census rolls, it's still surprising to read that the population of the Cévennes in 1968 was only 30% of what it had been in the mid-19th century.

An ingenious idea for letting light into buildings — presumably only those without roof insulation.

A forge.

Clay pipes like those we find broken bits of  when mudlarking along the Thames.

A lathe.

Two-man saw.

We liked this evocative way of showing a craftsman at work without a mannequin.

Three ways of working with natural materials.

Huge bellows.

Wooden hives, as shown in photo of photo that follows.

Ah. A solution. Even though I dutifully pocketed my camera after being gently warned, here are some silk stocking images via a booklet titled Au fil de la soie that we bought at this gem of a museum.

Here is one of the many old silk factories that we passed while driving. We had wondered what all these dilapidated buildings with their many windows once housed. This was on the edge of a town, Le Mazel, but many others suddenly appeared, splendidly isolated, in the middle of hectares of what is now uninhabited forest.

Silk factory seems to be in process of restoration, perhaps as offices and/or apartments.

We then drove through Florac to our next hotel in Mende, another excellent discovery on booking.com. The disappointment en route was our first bad weather, rain and fog obscuring the view, so we didn't bother to drive up Mont Aigoual, one of the must-sees Michael had marked on our map of Languedoc-Roussillon (which extends to parts of the Midi-Pyrénées region).

The town itself was well worth wandering through despite the drizzle. The roofing stones laid in a fish scale pattern are typical of the region.

Our gastronomic guide to the south of France recommended this bakery, but it didn't highlight a feature we had never encountered before: a 24-hour bread dispenser of loaves far, far different from a US supermarket baguette. Reminded us of the rotisserie rabbits available outside a deli in Bordeaux, another first.

Here, to emphasize the difference in convenience food between France and the US/UK, is the Bordeaux lapin roti vending machine.

Back to Mende. We're not sure why so many nails and other metal bits were embedded in these beams above doorways. 

Narrowest street in the town.

And, just because we like it, more rust.

Dinner that night was superb.
The amuse-bouche.

My seafood soup, Michael's foie gras.

My duck, Michael's lamb.

Most memorable of all, for a dessert lover like me, the crême brulée on a crispy base and the hotel's signature Grand Marnier soufflé.