Birthday dinner, 16 Sept 2013
16 September — Laroque des Albères to Domaine Blancardy, Pyrénées Orientales to Hérault
First stop, in honor of Fotini, was Grotte de Clamouse. Not only was she an enthusiastic visitor to the cavern her parents took her to when they were living in Bordeaux, she impressed her grandfather no end by licking the mineral specimens he introduced her to in London.
Unusual crystals of aragonite in addition to the usual calcite.
Bad photo through glass, but I had to include this because the creature reminded us of the "hoooman feeesh" pointed out to us in Postojna Cave about forty years ago.
Even though we knew the "Désert" in this place name was used in the old sense of wild rather than arid land, Michael was keen to see where the town's eponymous founder (c.755-812) had built a remote monastery and an abbey to house a splinter from the "True Cross" given to him by Charlemagne. The cloisters were disappointing, not surprising since most of the original columns are now displayed in NYC's Cloisters Museum. The last photo shows the forbidding countryside that surrounds this picture-book pretty village. Like Sand, Michael's new book on deserts leads us to destinations we would otherwise have missed.
Note the scallop shell on the wall, a sign that pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela in Spain would be welcomed.
Les chardons (thistles) are supposed to bring good luck. The dried versions are also used to predict weather, depending on how perky their points are.
A glance inside at the old stone arches typical of the village. I couldn't convince Michael to choose a birthday gift at either the very good and reasonable mineral shop or the blacksmith's.
Note the ubiquitous satellite dishes.
Next stop was the 11th-century church in St-Martin-de-Londres, another limestone/sandstone village that was also home to an irresistibly cute cat.
These stained glass windows reminded us immediately of Juan's geometric artwork.
We spent this night and the next at Domaine de Blancardy, billed as an "Auberge de Charme," which it turned out to have in abundance. Alain Martial is the vigneron and his wife, Laure, oversees the kitchen in this restored manor house. Oh dear. I just discovered when googling that the estate is for sale, price tag 9.5 million euros. Michael had better buy up some of their terrific Syrah asap.
We had chosen an inexpensive room in the annex on booking.com, but though small, it was attractive and comfortable.
Foie gras for Michael, pissaladière for me.
The birthday boy had duck with morels; my main course was a casserole of local lamb.
Inspiration: a succulent garden like this would be perfect on our lower level patio.