With the days getting warmer and the outstanding wealth of spring flowers and butterflies in the Languedoc in spring this is the ideal place to start your summer early. The temperature is pleasanter than in summer and the crowds are still to come.
The joys of walking in the area in spring are well summed up by the Visitors Book entry from a couple who stayed in No. 5 during the Spring 2004.
"What a wonderful place this is!! Physically beautiful, peaceful, gorgeous weather. Although much of our time was taken up with work, we had ample opportunity to explore the surrounding country, its culture and its people. The hill walking in the Causse du Larzac and the Cévennes is splendid. We particularly enjoyed walking in the valley of the Coudoulas around Aulas. The hike up to Prenticastails provides some spectacular views and the flowers in spring and early summer are gorgeous. We managed to photograph over fifty different species. Another great hike is along the Ravin des Arcs (about 15 mins drive from Brissac on the Montpellier road). The walk up to the Roc Blanc on the Montagne de la Serrane (above the castle) is very agreeable, up to Notre Dame du Suc and then on up to the ridge."
And from another guest who stayed in early May 2006:
"The wildlife is the major attraction for me and in the throes of spring has been stunning. It is great to see the landscape which we know in summer as parched and dry, now green and coloured with wild flowers. The nightingales have been beautiful: singing at night and all day. Walking in the hills it is often possible to pick out 4 or 5 or more competing with their songs. The frogs were less tuneful but you get used to them at night suprisingly quickly.
"There are three short toed eagles living around and about - one morning we saw one fly past carrying his breakfast - a long long snake. A good place to see them seems to be the walk up the Buèges valley near St Jean de Buèges where we saw them twice. They look a little like pale buzzards from a distance but have quite a distinctive sea-gull call the book describes as "mee-ok"! There are also black kites nesting aplenty outnumbering the buzzards and a pair of buzzards nesting in the château as well as on the cliffs beside the castle at St Jean.
"Lastly - surely the most beautiful European bird - bee eaters. We heard them many times, but they often fly very high and are difficult to spot. One evening driving on the D1 from St Mathieu de Treviers to Notre Dame de Londres we saw a small flock nesting on the telegraph wires beside the road - magical"
A simple meal to enjoy the first new fresh produce of the season.
Put the lamb chops into a metal oven tray which can be used on the hob. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and drizzle a light olive oil over. Heat the tray and sear the chops on both sides on a high heat. If you don't have a dish which can go on the hob, do this part in a frying pan. Then put the lamb in the oven at approximately 180 degrees centigrade.
Wash the potatoes and cut larger ones into half. Cover them with water in a saucepan, and put on the hob to boil. Also prepare any other vegetable which looked good in the market.
Summer in the south of France is well known - the cicadas volume rising with the heat, lazy days by the pool or on the beach, or swimming in a local river to cool down, or reading in the shade of a tree. When moved to do something there is a whole variety of options from canoeing the Herault, to visiting a local town or historic place of interest, to enjoying ice cream from a street cafe while watching the pasing scene, or by the weir at LaRoque watching the canoeists negotiate (or not negotiate) the weir, to wallking or hiking in beautiful countryside. The Local Attractions page describes some of the many possibilities for a trip out from Brissac. Each house has a huge selection of brochures from local, and not quite so local, places to visit. It's worth spending part of your first evening on the Rue Caterine going through these brichures for ideas of where to go and what to do during your holiday.
Every nearby village has its fete de village over one weekend in summer. Brissac's main annual event is the Brissac festival, held from Friday to Tuesday on the last weekend of July. Local traditional events are featured such as competitive petanque, performances for children, a small fun fair, a torchlight procession through the village, an outdoor dance every night (which you can hear from your cottages until the small hours), and of course food on the village green in Bissac le Bas.
There are more unique events like concerts and performances than would first appear. Discovering them is a matter of keeping an ear to the ground, and being flexible when one is discovered. One last minute event that we encourage is a raptor release by the local Hopital pour la Faune Sauvage in Ganges: when animals that have been brought to the hospital for treatment are ready to be returned to the wild we sometimes hear about this and can go haring off in search of the release, which is a typically French event with many interesting words, some in appalling English, followed by the swift and happy disappearance of the now-healthy and still very wild birds.
Terroir has nothing to do with scaring visitors. It is the local name for locally produced specialty foods, and usually indicates a trail worth pursuing. Practice your French on those who produce terroir and you will find some interesting byways in the region.
Produce is plentifully available and oh so fresh. You can go to a different market every morning of the week, starting with St Martin de Londres on Sunday, where you find fresh vegetables, beautiful cheeses, a good epicerie, and a fine selection of non-food stalls as well. Thursday it's Anduze, Saturday Le Vigan, Sommiers or Uzes, and on Friday is the biggest, and possibly the oldest, market of them all, in our local shopping town of Ganges, only 15 minutes away, where you will find everything necessary for life in this part of rural France, from locally produced food and wine, (look for "Producteur" on the stall), seafood fresh up from the coast, to live animals, furnture, clothing, linens, and even a stret musician or two and the knife grinder. Some vendors travel to Ganges from over 100 km away, and the variety of goods offered for sale there is unsurpassed in our region. On Sunday morning there is a big flea market in Ganges, while other flea markets can also be found not too far away. The Tourist Information Office in Ganges is the best source for up-to-date information on these markets.
A recipe typical to the local area.
Wash the courgette, then grate using a grater with large holes. Leave in a sieve or colander to drain for several hours, occasionally pressing the courgette with a spoon to extract more liquid. The resulting liquid, used fresh, can add a delicious hint of courgette to a soup or other dish. If several hours are not available, you can also place the grated courgette in a clean tea towel and sqeeeeeze to extract not more than ¾ of the liquid.
Mix the other ingredients in a bowl, add the grated courgette and mix well.
While the oil heats, form the courgette mixture into little balls 1 to 2 centimetres in diameter.
When the oil is hot fry the balls, turning frequently so they darken evenly and cook right through, about 7 to 10 minutes per batch. Drain on a paper towel. Either serve immediately as they come out of the pot, which is much the best option, or allow to cool and serve cold.
The summer crowds thin out, leaving continued good weather. The grapes are being harvested, also mushrooms from the fields and woods.
In 2010 one of our guests wrote in the Visitor's Book:
"The first two days of torrential rain suggested that our autumn visit in mid-October was a bit foolish! However this was followed by five days of glorious sunshine, and what a perfect time of year it turned out to be here. Yes, it's definitely 'out of season' with most of the restaurants closed, but it was stlll warm enough to eat outside on the terrace [of No 5], or to have breakfast on the balcony - what a view! Also the countryside is a stunning range of colours. We highly recommend a drive up to the Parc National des Cevennes, to do the walk from the Cascade des Organes, a beautiful 8.3 km circular walk."
The other great joy of autumn is the vendange, the harvesting of the grapes for winemaking. Tractors drawing trailers full of grapes clutter up the narrow roads, yes, but at the same time the colours across the fields are changing to wonderful hues of russet and gold, giving great photo opportunities. The pickers are in the fields, and you can visit the vinyards for a tasting and to purchase wine 'En Primeur' - come back next year to collect your wine, or get the domaine to send it home to you once it has been bottled in the Spring. There are some fantastic vineyards in the area - several even being noted in the international press. So designate a driver, and make a tour (not forgetting to buy some bottles so your driver can have a tast at the end of the day - safely sat on the balcony watching the sun set over the hills). For an unforgetable experience you can even join the pickers to help harvest the grapes on a few domaines.
Autumn is also the season for big boar hunts, which you can follow in safety from your balcony. First you hear the excited yapping of the dogs, each with a little bell on its collar so the hunters know where they are. Then the hunters give their traditional inarticulate cries to encourage the dogs, and off they go to drive a specified tract of land, having stationed shooters wherever a boar may be tempted to exit. Finally you often hear shots. Many shots indicate that the boar escaped as usual, as much alcohol is consumed in the course of these hunts. Sometimes the hunters actually get a boar, but not often enough, becuse it is the hunters who pay for the vinyards to be surrounded by low electric fences to protect the grape harvest from the boars. At the end of the hunt the hunters all retire together to a hall for an excellent meal, which is what it is really all about. Usually one is left with the feeling that the boars know where the hunters will be, and trot off the night before, leaving the field to the hunters and their dogs.
Its mushroom season in the fields. An interesting walk can lead to harvesting some of the ingredients for your dinner that evening. But please, if you are in any doubt about the identification of mushrooms, leave them in the field and purchase your wild mushrooms in the supermarket or at the marché, where safe wild mushrooms from knowledgeable collectors are regularly sold at reasonable cost.
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
Chop an onion into cubes, and fry gently in olive oil until translucent but not yet turning brown. Towards the end throw in some peeled and crushed garlic cloves, then when done empty into a separate dish. Toss some pint nuts into the frying pan and toast lightly on both sides. Add to the dish with the onions and garlic. Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms (chunky is best), then fry gently in the pan, stirring occasionally to ensure they cook evenly. These will take several minutes to cook down.
Meanwhile, check on the pasta. When cooked remove from heat and drain, then return to the pan.
When the mushrooms have cooked spoon in a reasonable amount of créme fraisch, and add the onions, garlic and pine nuts back into the pan. Stir to mix, then pour over the pasta.
Ensure the creamy mushroom sauce thoroughly coats the pasta and put into a serving dish. Sprinkle over some finely chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.
This can be eaten on its own, or as an accompaniment to roast chicken breasts, with a little salad on the side. There are endless variations to try out if you feel like getting creative in your kitchen.
The Rue Caterine is a great place to go to relax for a short break, or longer. Take that stack of books you've been meaning to read, and snuggle around the wood burning stove, or enjoy having the time to cook as you always mean to with good fresh food bought earlier that day.
Although the weather is less clement, with a lot of rain, and even occasionally snow, the qualiy of light is still good. When the rain stops is a good time for unplanned bracing walks in the quiet countryside, with a cozy home to retreat to at the end, replete with a mug of hot mulled wine or steaming chocolate.
There are many different recipes for mulled wine. Winter guests will find that their cottage includes a box of fresh spices specifically for mulling wine.
Mulled wine is usually prepared from red wine, warmed and spiced with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, star aniseed, citrus juice and sugar.
Mrs Beeton notes that the spices are to be boiled in water or even better citrus juice first to extract their flavour, and that to avoid flavoring the wine the pot must be scrupulously clean, even reserved solely for mulling wine.
For more up-to-date mulled wine, wash your citrus fruit to remove the wax, then remove large strips of peel to add to the saucepan before juicing the fruit into the saucepan. Add a cinnamon stick, a vanilla pod, a few cloves, some freshly grated nutmeg, a half to one teaspoon sugar per glass of wine, and any other spices you feel might be interesting. Simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, then if necessary boil to reduce to a thin syrup. Strain through cheesecloth into a clean bowl to remove all the spices, then return to the warm saucepan and add the star anise and the wine. Stir well and heat just enough to get the wine to the required temperature, but DO NOT BOIL. Serve immediately as keeping the mixture hot will encourage the alcohol to evaporate.
Wash the cheesecloth, the cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod while the wine is heating, and set out to dry, ready for your next batch of syrup.
The wine should just be gently warmed to avoid burning off the alcohol.