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.

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