Thursday, November 5, 2009


It’s another out-of-town excursion, this time to Pézenas, about 70 kilometres west of Montpellier. Pézenas dates back to, at least, the days of the Roman Empire. There’s even a sign on an entranceway that says that Julius Caesar had a fortress here. Its “modern” claim to fame is that the seat of government for Languedoc was located here in the 16th to 18th centuries. But history has now passed it by, leaving a small town with narrow cobbled lanes and classic buildings that are bigger than it needs. Today there's a vibrant and quaint community of artisans here. They've taken over the old buildings and converted them into ateliers: a mix of history and avant-garde.

We wander along the narrow streets, ducking into shops and ateliers when something catches our interest. Some of it is creative, some of it is kitschy and the artisans are happy to talk about their work. One of the shops specializes in cookies, chocolates, and caramels. We have to buy some chocolate olives. They look like huge Smarties but are the shape, size, and colour of olives – green, black, and purple.

Lunch at La Pomme d’Amour in the town square. We both took the Cuisse de Canard Forestière (braised duck leg in a reduction sauce with porcini and chanterelle mushrooms), a potato galette and carrots on the side, with a half-litre of a simple local red wine. It’s a classic and simple dish, well-prepared, the duck is tender and full of flavour: the type of food that we love. The server, a woman in her forties dressed as a teenager (tight jeans, stiletto heals), knows her job and does it well. She was moved neither by our praise nor by a complaint by the woman at the next table about her salad. The attitude is the one we see so often by experienced servers in French bistros: we’ve been here a long time, this is what we do and we know we do it well; it’s fine if you like it and it’s too bad if you don’t.

Pézenas is also "famous" for le petit pâté de Pézenas. These are small pastries, in the shape of a spool of thread, stuffed with a mixture of minced lamb, candied lemon, raisins, and brown sugar. The story goes that Lord Clive, who spent the summer of 1768 in Pézenas, brought the recipe back from India. We try them for dessert. It’s an interesting combination of sweet and savoury. Probably an acquired taste!

We took a longer route back, driving south towards the coast, through vineyards in Pinet (known for Picpoul) and Frontignan (known for Muscat). Once we reach the coast, we can see the immense oyster farms at Bouzigues (have to come back here!) and a huge flock of flamingos. We stopped, went for a swim (brrr) and a walk along the beach. Is there anything more relaxing than being next to the sea? I don’t think so.

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