Amanda on March 12th, 2011
gariguette strawberries

Gariguette Strawberries

Glorious sunshine gilds the drab landscape as spring finally makes her debut.

 

In the forest glades dark carpets of leaves are punctuated by a scattering of violets, like a stolen hoard of amethysts, hurriedly discarded. And every now and then the paler daisy-shaped jewel of an anemone blanda, so charming, so delicate and as tough as old tree roots. Overhead the first green has begun to appear, long lines of chartreuse willow and tangles of hawthorn and honeysuckle, complemented perfectly by a froth of blossom from the early blushing brides, wild cherry, almond and blackthorn. A triple wedding – a promise of good times to come.

Down in the market everything had changed. The last of the winter vegetables stepped back and the spring beauties flounced into the limelight. Read More »

Spring In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on March 9th, 2010
Blosson In The Quercy

Early March Quercy Blossom

Early March and spring rushes in to relieve the chill of a long, hard winter. My almond trees are spreading their delicate petals to the seeping warmth and the Rosemaries have suddenly exploded into a riot of pale blues. The sun is hot now, despite the still-cool air, hot enough to eat lunch outside – and on the spreading pavements and boulevards of Cahors that is exactly what they have been doing.
Outside one of my favourite cafes – just beside Gambetta’s statue – a party of English tourists noisily settled into a large table for eight, excitedly rustling their maps and expressing wonder at the glories of the architecture. Dressed in pale creams and beige linen, newly streaked hair perfectly groomed, they pushed their up-to-the-minute shades into their hair and looked expectantly at Florian. He was busy juggling beers for a pair of regulars, stopped en route to the bar to kiss my ears, and shimmied in without seeming to notice his suddenly expanding clientele. Long years of experience. Read More »

March In The Quercy – Spring At Last from French Life

Amanda on July 1st, 2009
Apricots

Apricots

July heralds the start of the tourist season here in southern France. Markets swell to five times their winter size, chefs sharpen their knives in eager anticipation and the rest of us try to remember where we found that tiny nook that was always available to park the car. But in congested Cahors, things have changed a little, with the opening of the long awaited Parking de l’Amphitheatre. Why is she telling us about a car park for heaven’s sake? I hear you all cry from your collective desks in the grey north. Well hush and I’ll illuminate. This is not just any old car park, it should have three Michelin stars and a mention in every guide book worth its salt. It is a work of art, a day out on its own. You descend into the gleaming depths of a brand new underground parking area, and are confronted by the staggeringly beautiful remains of Cahors’ ancient Roman amphitheatre. There it is, all laid out for you to see, with detailed guide and a plan to show you just how it must have appeared in its glorious past. All this and parking thrown in. Fabulous. When you have feasted your eyes enough, you will want to ascend to the sunlit place, now beautifully landscaped and planted with trees, to stroll and muse and end up in one of the cafes on the boulevard. Read More »

Lunch at the Poule au Pot from French Life

Amanda on June 1st, 2009
Moissac

Moissac

Out on the terraces a thousand thermometers boil, cicadas scream from the trees and the oleanders have shaken off their reticence and burst into a riot of bloom. It’s high summer and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of windsurfing. This can be a fortunate circumstance for me, because the resident man’s favourite puddle for this sort of daredevil activity is the huge lake caused by the confluence of the rivers Tarn and Garonne. It’s just south of the historic city of Moissac, and that happens to be a very convenient spot for me to meet a friend from the Gers, it was time for a highly indulgent lunch. This is one of the perks of the laid-back lifestyle in southern France. When the going gets hot, drop everything and cool off, which is just what we did, in our varying ways, last Thursday. Read More »

A Delightful Lunch in Moissac from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2009
Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

Last week as I drove south down that most characteristic of holiday routes – the A20 – from Cahors to Montauban, I gazed out at an enchanting landscape. The chequered fields and woods were newly green and the fabulous orchards of the Quercy Bas appeared in a haze of white blossom, as if somebody had shaken a feather pillow over the land. Closer to home, the vines are breaking bud, violets spread their purple mantles beneath the oaks, delicate lemon cowslips throng the verges, and every now and then I spot a cluster of deep blue gems among the rocky outcrops, wild grape hyacinths hide their startling colours like sapphires carelessly discarded. Redstarts sing boisterously from the top of our pigeonnier, cranes flap laboriously past and cuckoos call from the deep woods.

Down in the markets the change is heart-warming. Asparagus spears lie in stacked bundles side by side with innumerable boxes of that sweet, fragrant and amazingly early strawberry of the Quercy, the Gariguette. Tourists are beginning to arrive for an Easter break, they sit in carefree, laughing groups outside the sprawling cafes, shuffling maps, guides and café crèmes. Happy just to be here, sit in the sun and watch the world go by. Read More »

I Do Love Cahors! from French Life

Amanda on March 1st, 2009
Lemons on our Tree

Lemons on our Tree

Welcome to spring in the Quercy where the last few days have been as warm and wonderful as May. My lemon trees have been hauled out of their winter quarters to waft their delicious scent over the sunlit terrace; they’re chock full of waxy blossom and in dire need of a few bees. The herb gardens have had an explosion of tender new growth too, creating another fragrant assault on the senses whenever one happens to brush past. Almond trees have shyly unfurled their pale pink petals and, most significant of all, the lizards who’ve spent the freezing winter months holed up in deep stone cracks have started to creep out and sun themselves on rocky outcrops. Summer is just a few degrees away. Read More »

Lunch in Puy L’Eveque from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2009
Cahors Market

Cahors Market

Whilst England shivered under a blanket of snow, all last week the Quercy languished under sparkling blue skies. They lured me out for the day on Wednesday. It was market day in Cahors and by the time I rounded the chilly corner of the Rue Marechal Foch into the blazing sunshine opposite the cathedral the morning was well advanced. I exchanged some halting badinage with one of my favourite stall holders about the state of the English weather, bought an armful of magnificent leeks, admired the truffle he had unexpectedly unearthed that morning and moved on to the man with the birds. Read More »

Lunch in Cahors from French Life

Amanda on December 1st, 2008
Autumn Vines

Autumn Vines

We were to arrive at 12.30 on a Sunday afternoon – which means at least half an hour later as naturally nobody ever arrives on time in France. We were looking forward to this encounter, but with some trepidation, as our neighbours speak absolutely no English. This is fair enough of course and on its own we would have been able to cope with it quite well, but they add to this minor hurdle by having extremely strong southwestern accents. This means that when confronted with a polite: Read More »

Lunch with the Neighbours from French Life

Amanda on November 1st, 2008
Café Noir

Café Noir

Lunch in this café is a one-menu-for-all affair, and very good it is too. I began with a small plate of shiny, plump violet and black olives, a bowl of cornichons and a slice of nutty, air-dried ham from Bayonne. The bread came from the bakery on the other side of the church, a good chewy, yeasty flute, to be consumed with pace and care. I refused a glass of wine, to the frank amazement of my neighbouring diners. They were workmen in dusty overalls, cold and hungry, their bellies budging the table to and fro as they reached for the bread or salt. Read More »

It Could Only Happen in France from French Life

Amanda on January 1st, 2008
Plat du Jour

Plat du Jour

Living in the heartland of French gastronomy can be an exceptionally rewarding business. No more so than on a cold winter’s day when you blow into a warm, bustling café a few minutes before twelve-thirty, chilly, hungry and teased by the tantalising aromas wafting from the kitchens. It’s one of the great pleasures of life in France.
Ah Madame, vous allez bien?’ The proprietor greeted me, as I hauled myself up the marble staircase in one of my favourite eateries. He didn’t wait for a reply, but bestowed two quick kisses and a hearty buffet on the shoulder, then whisked me down the crowded room to a cosy table in the corner – narrowly avoiding collision with two speeding waiters, loaded to the elbows. I sank into the chair with a thankful sigh, shook out my napkin and prepared to enjoy myself. Read More »

Lunch in Cahors from French Life

Amanda on August 1st, 2007
Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Welcome to the steaming Quercy in high summer. And steaming it certainly has been, the weather still can’t make up its mind and switches from scorching sunshine to refreshing showers with little warning. Good for the vines, say the old-timers, good for the peaches and plums too, not so good for the cereal crops. We can see winking lights from the vast harvesters, crawling like locusts across the landscape, as we sit on the terrace in the evenings with a jug of red and a bowl of shiny violet olives from the market. The weather is so capricious this year that they’ll work all night to ensure a perfect harvest. The sunflowers have been delayed too, usually they’re in full, dazzling bloom by early July, this year they’re three weeks late, but what a sight they are. A field full of these golden beauties, faces raised to the sun, absorbing its warmth and reflecting its glory, is a sight to brighten the dullest day. Read More »

Quercy Living in High Summer from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2007
Iris

Iris

As I pick my way carefully down our little lane, avoiding rocky outcrops and sharp stones, I notice a few pale green shoots and swelling buds, hopeful harbingers of spring.
It is the middle of February and there are a mere two chilly weeks of winter left. It’s a waiting time, most of the work in the fields has been done, ancient, rusty ploughs have turned over great slabs of milk chocolate coloured earth, liberally scattered with white chocolate chips, the hallmark of the Quercy Blanc. In the vineyards all the vines are clipped and neat. In the ancient oak woods old and weak trees have been felled, yielding comforting piles of stacked logs, fuel for the winter after next. The crowded landscape has been swept bare by the freezing winds and in the little hamlets and villages there are few souls about. Read More »

Joys of French Life – Lunch! from French Life