One of the nicer things about food in France is that it is so fresh. We had figs straight from the tree that were just delicious; peaches were firm and luscious. You can hear the vegetables in the various markets saying “please buy me – look, I’m gorgeous AND I’ll excite your taste buds”. And that’s what we did, we let the produce seduce us into cooking and preparing our own meals. We didn’t eat out, we just bought the local produce and turned it into something delicious. Even the bread sold in local bakers had an attitude. I’d never seen so many types of bread as I did in St. Jean de Fos. Some of the grizzlier specimens were sold by the kilo (which I’d never seen before and only rarely since): It was as if it was saying “You want some of me? – YOU’LL HAVE TO PAY!” – and when you did it was wonderful, crispy, chewy (teeth were in danger of bending under the impact of such texture), full of flavour and even the shapes had temperament. Needless to say, I haven’t eaten much of the cotton-wooly, namby-pamby pap we have1 to put up with back home and I have been tempted to start making my own again. However, that takes time and effort, both of which are under pressure at this time.
One morning, early in the week, we spent the time just driving through the hills and mountains of the area – l’Herault. The river gorge that is formed here is very picturesque and had it not been so hot (it was getting warmer every day now and less cloudy) it might have been nice to set off walking in the hills with a picnic.
However, the roads are narrow, twisty and need a lot of care. The villages are pretty, but it’s hard to see where their living comes from. The trees around the area were all pretty much the same, but very few of them olive trees. The farmers in the lowlands are being given grant to replace their old vines with olive groves, something they are doing with the usual French panache. You will see mile after mile of vines, both young and old but here and there are small pockets of land planted with olive trees. Obviously, the grants are sufficient to make it worthwhile pulling up their least productive vines but not enough to alter the landscape too much2. Nevertheless, I honestly think that if there was to be a grant for planting porridge trees, French farmers would find a way to claim the grant – but not at the cost of their vines.
We stopped at the river beach for the afternoon. This is a very pretty place, formed where the mountain suddenly stops at the edge of the 30-mile plain that runs to the sea. The momentum of the River Herault is suddenly stopped by the lack of gradient and large, very deep pool is formed, underneath what is known locally as Devil’s Bridge. Here, like its namesake in Wales, there are a succession of bridges built (over time) one upon the other, at the gateway to the Herault Gorges. The beach itself is shale and pebbles (uncomfortable) and the water is very cold. Nevertheless, as the week went on it did warm up enough for me to swim. We could I suppose, have carried everything we needed to the river and left the car behind but it was over a mile back to the flat, so we didn’t. We drove the car to the beach and left it to melt in the hot sun.
Coming up – suicidal youngsters and the caves.
1 – And haven’t for a long long time now. https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/chorleywood-bread-sic-process/
2 – Wines from Languedoc were JUST becoming more popular at that time and looking back, it seems to have been an odd suggestion (ripping up vines).