Thursday, August 9, 2018

Summer in Southwest France

Trip date: August 2017

Tuesday 6am, leave for airport. American Premium seat from Seattle to Philly. No seat back entertainment, no electricity, no complimentary drink or snack, 5 1/2 hour flight. American Premium, Philly to CDG Paris, aisle seat in a middle four configuration with the two center free, 7 hours. 

Arrived in Paris at 8am Wednesday. 10am, train from CDG to Montpellier, 4 hours. Transfer Montpellier to Narbonne, 1 hour train. Transfer Narbonne to Avignonet, 1 hour train. Desperately fought to stay awake.

12 1/2 hours of flights & 6+ hours of train rides later I arrived in a tiny town about 45 mins south of Toulouse, France. I exited the train in a field of sunflowers and pulled my suitcase along a dirt path to the main road where friends Luke and Spencer drove up and loaded me in the car. I was done!

Nic and Luke had kindly invited me to be their guest for the next week so I was hanging out with an incredibly fun and great group of friends in a big farmhouse called Domaine Marandou in the Southwest of France. Labastide-d'Anjou is a hamlet in the Languedoc-Roussillon region about 80 miles north of the border of Spain. 


10 adults, 5 kids ranging in age from 5 to 16, and a few drop in guests over 7 days. So. Much. Fun. Most days were spent playing in the pool, lounging by the pool, and relaxing with pool drinks.
Most evenings Luke would grill something for dinner, we'd all pitch in making drinks and sides. Plates of cheese would come out after. Then we'd keep opening more and more bottles of wine while playing games until late. So. Much. Fun.

One day Nic, Jennifer, Forest, Mel and I set out on a girl's adventure day. Our first stop was l'Oulibo, an olive oil and olive product cooperative in Bize. Olive growers can bring their fruit here for pressing and can also sell their finished products. We left with a lot of oil and tapenade!

From here we drove a short way to Homps and had a wonderful lunch at En Bonne Compagnie. The restaurant sits right on the Canal du Midi, which runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean. I had a lovely whole roasted fish with vegetables and a spicy aioli. And lots of rosé!

After lunch we made a brief stop at the Dolmen des Fados. This 5000 year old tomb is also the largest in the South of France. And unlike the dolmen that Forest and I so persistently searched for in the Loire, this one was hard to miss!
Our final stop of the afternoon was at Domaine de Gourgazaud in La Liviniere for some wine tasting. The manager was busy with some product issues so she just set out all her wines and left us in the cellar to taste our way through! As with most of France, the wine in this region is ridiculously inexpensive!
When we arrived back home Alain and Anna and two teenagers had arrived from Paris. We had a big table for dinner that night at the restaurant Relais de Riquet, also on the Canal du Midi, but the part of it that goes through our town. 

Each time I've come with these friends to one of their August holidays, Luke always does a huge market shop at least once a week. This time I got up early and joined him, Mel, and Charlotte for the market day in near-by Revel. The Saturday market here takes over the entire town square!

Of course there are all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese. But this market also had some vendors selling prepared food like paella, steamed mussels, and aligote!
Luke filled the minivan full of flats of produce while Mel, Charlotte, and I bought bags of pain au chocolate and wedges of cheese. Being a market lover, it was well worth getting up early for!

This part of France is known for cassoulet; a hearty dish of beans, sausage, and duck confit normally eaten in the fall and winter. However as we were in the same town as one of the most highly regarded cassoulets in the country, the six of us girls headed to Hostellerie Etienne so that this American could eat cassoulet in the middle of summer.
We weren't the only ones, the outdoor terrace was full of French folks eating this amazing dish. Sounds so simple, right? It's anything but. Forest was nice enough to share this with me. It's also the first time I'd seen an actual "cassole" the clay v-shaped dish with a special notch in the side for a spoon.  And in case you happen to be in this region, the restaurant sells bake-at-home versions! I grew up with take-and-bake pizza. Not-the-same.

After many bottles of wine, one of the guys came and picked us up (honestly don't remember which one!) and we went back to the house and had cheese for dinner. As you do.

I was so taken with those cassoles that I just had to buy one! Jennifer led Forest and I to Pottery Naurouze in neighboring Montferrand. I bought a small one that serves 4-6 for 7 Euros!!!
mine at use at home!
I love that on these vacations everyone pitches in. One night the boys grilled up a bunch of sausages and ribs and Mel and Naoise made a cake for dessert!

One morning, before we all hit the pool for the day, Forest made bloody mary's with meat straws I had brought from Seattle, while Anna made a huge brunch of truffled soft scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes.

Thibault made delicious gyoza for lunch one afternoon, while Forest made Pad Thai for 13!
I took my turn and made tacos, beans, and slaw one night, using tortillas, black beans, and canned chilis I had brought from home (they don't sell that stuff in France!).

Of course there were always pool drinks that everyone took turns doing!

And one day Spencer removed an absolutely gigantic spider from the ceiling of my bedroom. Jesus!

On one of our last nights us girls had a big, fun, drunk dance/singing party out by the hot tub, under the amazing Milky Way. I think we broke some furniture. It's fuzzy. But I know it was fun! And there were so many stars!
The last night we had worn ourselves out and we were all in bed pretty early. It was such a wonderful week, spent laughing, singing, eating, and drinking with people I feel lucky to know and don't see often enough.
The next day Thibault, Forest, Jennifer, and I drove to Toulouse and caught the train to Paris. It was a high-speed train and travelled 300+km/hour through fields of sunflowers, corn, lavender, and the wine country of Bordeaux. A lovely end to an absolutely wonderful vacation. Merci mon amis.

All photos from Southwest France here.

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