Gariguette strawberries

Gariguette strawberries

Welcome to the Quercy in lovely May, where the first strains of summer can be heard drifting through the villages and across the fields.
Every month of the calendar year has its own special charm, but I have to admit, May has the edge. The verges foam with cow parsley, underplanted with the renowned orchids of the region. Meadows are knee deep in blond grasses studded with numerous wild flowers. Rape gilds the fields and the ravishing white stone houses are pillowed by the new lime green of the oak forests. As I drove down into the valley yesterday, my car windows were wide open. Soft, warm breezes wafted delicious fragrances as I passed through hamlets garlanded with wisteria, plumped with blowsy peonies and studded with the pale lavender irises that mirror the colour of the wisteria and seem so very popular here. The sweeping vineyards drifted past, burgeoning new green, the walnut groves were tentatively putting out their first, delicate bronze leaves. From behind a collapsing old borie, a young deer eyed me curiously before springing to the safety of the forest, flashing her creamy rump.

In Cahors market the first artichokes are appearing and the first delectable cherries, tart and shining in their cheerful scarlet. There were whole stalls dedicated to strawberries, a reminder that the seasons here are four weeks ahead of England. Musicians have claimed their summer stand, and all morning they play for locals and tourists alike. Sweet notes echoing round the old market place seem to galvanise even the hard-bitten characters into smiles and laughter.
As I approached my favourite stall I spied my goal, a pile of freshly picked fèves. Next door tiny new potatoes, the size of my thumbnail reminded me that my herb garden is billowing with new mint. The chives are in full bloom now, so are the rosemaries. The sages and lavenders are just breaking bud and a glorious spectrum is appearing from the palest blue to deep shimmering violet. Oregano, coriander and lovely tarragon are all romping away, and best of all I now have basil, the very essence of summer.

Freshly Picked Fèves

Freshly Picked Fèves

I trundled on, past the small trailer laden with fresh goat’s cheese, and couldn’t suppress an involuntary smile, for there, haphazardly parked on a rickety chair, were two full boxes of local tomatoes, huge, misshapen globes just waiting for an olive oil dressing and a scattering of the precious leaves. I bought eight enormous specimens and they weighed over three kilos. Oh yes, summer has definitely arrived.
I staggered out of the market, weighed down with produce, and went to seek refreshment. A sunny outside lunch is something nobody does better than the French, and there’s nowhere better to sit on a summer’s day than the central place in beautiful Cahors. The archaeologists have finished their excavations now. The ancient amphitheatre has been uncovered and preserved and a new underground car park built round it, to ease the chronic parking problem. Valiant Gambetta has been restored to his plinth and the trees are being replanted. I plumped into a spare chair facing the sparkling, dancing fountains, picked up the menu delivered by a skating waiter and received a blown kiss from the proprietor. Lunch-time in warm southern France, I mused, glass in hand, there really is nothing like it.

The season of the fêtes has begun too. Tournon d’Agenais held its famous May-day flower show last week, the whole medieval village was crammed with flowers, plants, stalls and people. You could hardly move. Later this month Albas will have its even more famous Fête du Vin. Six thousand people squeeze into the narrow, cobbled streets of this ancient little village overhanging the river Lot. Nine domains take part, freely distributing last year’s wine. There’s a truly enormous lunch, several food stalls and onion soup at midnight – just to be on the safe side. Rock bands pulsate from every cave, blues bands find little niches for themselves in the crowded streets. It’s pandemonium and absolutely wonderful. If you’ve never been, you must go. Saturday 23rd May.
I’ll see you there.

© Amanda Lawrence 2009

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May Market Life in France from French Vie

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