Now what? Life in rural Ariege

Burblings about adjusting to life in the deep south west of France or "la France profonde" as they call it here and the challenges of restoring a ramshackle collection of tumbledown buildings. I mainly write about local festivals, events and celebrations and, most of all, the weekly ritual of combing vide greniers and brocantes for pre-loved vintage treasures.

31 May 2012

Summer holiday

We had a great week in Spain, returning to the gorgeous resort of Benicassim after discovering it last year.

We shunned the pool and the Mediterranean, prefering to swim in thermal pools in the mountains.

We learned how to cook an authentic Spanish paella

We visited the amazing fort at Peniscola which was famously used in the film "El Cid"

We paused to look at the padlocks locked together by lovers on the bridge below the fort

We ate fideua within the fortified walls overlooking the glorious beach. I now have a favourite tree in Peniscola. I wonder how many people it has shaded from the sun, I hope I will see it again next year.

15 May 2012

Please come in

We have recently put our wonderful village house in Camon onto the market and a couple of weeks ago our agent immobilier wired an "A vendre" board to our downpipe. Since then there has been silence from our agents but clamouring within the village.

 Camon is a medieval bastide village and is one of the 100 most beautiful villages in France

The locus of most village activity is the tiny epicerie / depot de pain run by Camonaise born and bred Madame Dumay. Almost as soon as the for sale sign had appeared she told me that a local man might be interested in purchasing it for his son and that another village family had friends in Lille who would love to buy a maison secondaire in Camon. Fair enough I thought to myself. The local interest has ramped up in the last couple of days with another Camon resident ringing the doorbell asking to be shown around the house. Apparently he has a friend in Toulouse who holidays regularly in Camon and would like his own property here. At the end of the guided tour he thanked me and told me he would tell his friend all about it. Amazingly he phoned me the following evening to tell me his Toulousan friend was not interested as Camon is too far!!! A rather elaborate ruse to have a nosey around our house I thought to myself.

Please do come in - just knock on the door!

It hasn't stopped there though. Standing on the doorstep yesterday were the formidible pair of Madame Dumay and her elderly auntie (who already lives in the village). Tiny Tantie wanted to look around the house and proceeded to admire everything in her line of vision starting with Jeff's pot in the entrance hall

 what a beautiful pot!

She read the silver labels on our decanters wanting to know how to pronounce "sherry", she sat on the sofa and stroked it lovingly. She climbed all the stairs to see every part of the house. "elephants" she exclaimed delightedly in the downstairs cloakroom, in the bathroom and in the ensuite.

spot the elephants!

Finally having shown her over the whole property she insisted that I come to see her house.

I was given the full guided tour and dutifully admired the collection of stuffed sanglier, deer and pike heads. I cooed over her grandmothers copper pans and admired the paintings of cathar castles on the walls.

The strangest thing for me is that if this happened in Britain I would be annoyed by this time wasting and the constant stream of curious villagers. Here, however, it makes me smile. I love the elaborate "I have a friend" excuses. I'm just waiting for the doorbell to ring again... better do the washing up.

13 May 2012


My last vide grenier at Lavelanet yesterday yielded some surprising finds. The items that impressed me the most were this lovely pair of antique distilling jars with hand carved cork lids


I couldn't help but think about the mobile still that we discovered in L√©ran last year. We had heard about its existance and had to go and take look. The directions were straightforward enough: walk out of the village over the bridge towards the Chateau, then take the footpath along the left river bank, cross over the next bridge and you should be able to see it. I must confess I did not have a clear idea of what a mobile distillery actually looks like, but correctly guessed that it was the metal shack on wheels surrounded by logs and fermenting barrels of fruit that was belching out smoke. √Čvidemment! And what a curiousity it was.


Monsieur Maury is the third generation of Maury distillers. His father and grandfather before him supplied local villagers with rather strong hooch distilled from their own fruit.

Monsieur Maury popped the lid off a blue barrel to show us the fermenting plums which were almost ready to put into the wood-fired still. He explained that the sugar in the fruit starts to turn to alcohol during the fermentation process. The fermented fruit is then placed into the still above the wood burner and the distilling process cunningly concentrates the alcohol. The innocent looking clear liquid that was dripping very, very slowly into the white enamel bucket you can see above (just to the left of the large blue barrel) is usually in the region of 84 – 86 percent proof.

Goutez un peu”, he suggested, proffering a tiny brass spoonful of today's moonshine.

Obviously in the interests of research I agreed. And WOW was it strong.

only 84 per cent proof?”, I spluttered, struggling for breath and wondering if my liver would ever forgive me for this latest atrocity.

C'est pas si fort”, laughed Monsieur Maury


So this is all the kit you'll need for the mother of all home-brew. I can see a possible alternative use for our old trailer, a couple of accro props and a bucket...

This mobile still was in Léran for nearly 2 weeks before moving onto another Ariege village. I'm still hoping that when Monsieur Maury's still is in our locality I'll have tired of making fruit jam and compote and will have sufficient left-over fruit to transform into firewater. Better start to rest my liver in preparation.

Bottoms up!