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 October 9th, 2009

Chestnuts

Chestnuts

Happy Birthday to You, Squashed Tomatoes and Stew!
Autumn has seeped inexorably into the south in the last few days.  I prowled around Prayssac market this morning admiring box after box of fat, glossy chestnuts and tempting over-sized quinces.  Cardoons are beginning to appear and knobbly, pink Jerusalem artichokes.  All the vegetable stalls have an abundance of late-season tomatoes, and they don’t seem to be diminishing… seasonal tastes are changing and the tomato glut is beginning to tell, prices have dropped to rock bottom and still they can’t sell them all.  The café and restaurant menus are undergoing a subtle change too.  Earthy soups, spiked with Quercy saffron.  Guinea fowl, deliciously pot roasted and served with lardons and chestnuts.  Desserts of apple and pear, quince and walnut replace the soft fruits and frothy, frivolous confections of high summer.  It’s food to go walking on. Read More »

Autumn is Approaching in The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on September 1st, 2007
Figs

Figs

It is early September and all the children are back at school. The fête tables have been packed away for another year and according to the calendar summer is over – but not here. Fortunately for those of us who have the luck to live and work in this enchanting little corner of France September is usually a particularly hot month, and so it is proving to be. The figs on numerous trees in every garden, potager and country lane are dripping with luscious purple fruit, the roads beneath them a slippery hazard to little old ladies with bent backs, flimsy sticks and bulging marketing baskets. I feel it’s my duty to pick the dropping fruit and relieve the anxiety, so yesterday afternoon I set off with a large basket, a stick and our neighbours dog – who wasn’t invited, but came anyway – to gather the surplus harvest. It’s a bit like blackberrying in the English hedgerows, but without the prickles, with a lot more wasps and very much larger rewards. Read More »

Sunny September Living in France 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 April 1st, 2007
Strawberries

Strawberries

April is sailing by and here in the beautiful Quercy glorious summer is already on the horizon; the weather is delightfully warm, our summer migrants have arrived – both birds and humans – and the stage is set for six months of outdoor living.
Asparagus, strawberries and globe artichokes are the quintessential signs of early summer, and the backdrop of the current market scene. I spent a happy hour wandering round the aromatic stalls in Cahors, picking the crispest of the new salads and choosing the sweetest fruit and the fattest, freshest artichokes and asparagus to grace the first all-afternoon outdoor lunch of the year.
The table was set on the terrace; old pine and creaky teak were neatly covered with acres of white linen cloth, two-dozen glasses and a stack of plates. Read More »

Summer on the Way from French Life

Amanda on March 1st, 2007
Blossom

Blossom

With a breathtaking suddenness, spring has arrived in the lovely Quercy. Willows drip slender green leaves, almonds turn their pale pink faces to the new sunlight and the hedgerows are lit with blackthorn. In the valleys all the rivers and streams are swollen with rain and melt-water, the Lot is in flood, lakes and ponds are brimming and we’re braced and ready for the droughts of summer.
Meanwhile, down in the markets, the jonquille sellers have arrived, little old ladies, their faces creased by the years, their hunched shoulders huddled deep into shawls.
Deux euros,” they cry, holding out a bunch of tiny wild daffodils, “trois pour cinq.” Read More »

Sunny Springtime in the Quercy 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

Amanda on January 1st, 2007
Thick Frost

Thick Frost

What a breathtakingly beautiful Christmas we enjoyed here in the Quercy. It wasn’t strictly white because it didn’t actually snow, but I’m sure if I hadn’t just allowed the secret to slip, you’d never have known. It was five degrees below zero, and the accumulation of over a weeks worth of frost on the landscape transformed our valley into a magical world of myth and legend. As we walked along the little lane, in a feeble effort to shrug off the lunchtime goose, we found ourselves in a tunnel of white. The laden trees bowed towards us, sharp rocks were slippery with ice and the only colour to be seen was the vermilion of the rosehips hanging like Christmas tree baubles in the frosted shrubs. Tantalising glimpses of the view revealed turreted farmhouses buried in frozen vines and dusted with icing sugar; witches castles from another world. Read More »

Frosty French Life from French Life

Amanda on October 1st, 2006
Morning Mist

Morning Mist

October has stolen in with her spectacular mists and temperate breezes bringing in her wake a flurry of seasonal activity. It’s the time of the vendanges and in the Quercy that doesn’t just mean the grapes but the walnuts too. All day long you can see the tall, blue harvesters sailing over the vineyards like land-loving catamarans. At night you can still hear the distinctive drone and spot the vineyards by the lights as an indefatigable workforce press on well after dark. By nine o’clock the buzz gradually ceases and lines of lights appear bumping down the tracks. It’s dinnertime and not even the lure of a bumper harvest safely gathered will come between a Frenchman and a good dinner. The narrow lanes are crowded with tractors now too; there are squashed grapes on every hairpin bend and the odd ancient beast, spewing disconnected fragments of rusty metal abandoned in disgust by the side of the road. Read More »

Misty Mornings in the Lot from French Life

Amanda on September 1st, 2006
Peppers

Peppers

It’s supposed to be the season of mellow fruitfulness, but there’s nothing mellow about September in Southern France, the weather is frequently hotter than August. This year, it seems, will be no exception as August was the chilliest since records began, according to our disgusted neighbours!

There’s change in the air. Rentrée has hit the children, work has hit the adults and the myriad visitors are packing away the Ambre Solaire and heading back to London, Paris and Lille. Out of date fête posters flap lazily from the many billboards and trees they decorated throughout the summer as the gallant men from the commune sweep up the last of the plastic cups. You can almost hear the land heave a huge, poignant sigh, the party’s over. Meanwhile the skies clear, the sun comes out, the temperatures rise and life returns to normal. Read More »

Early Autumn and the Heat Goes On from French Life

Amanda on June 1st, 2006
Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

We’re all recovering from one of the most arduous fetes of the year! Albas Wine Festival is an outstanding event. Six or seven thousand people – according to the Mairie – crammed tightly into one of the smallest and prettiest villages on the river. Naturally we always feel obliged to attend, as we happen to be in the commune of Albas. So – purely in the course of duty – we went along to sample this year’s vintages. It happened to be an exceptionally hot day and by six o’clock the narrow road that winds downhill to the little medieval village was shimmering in a heat haze. After payment of our statutory twelve euros and receipt of the little glass engraved with the legend:
Le bon air est dans les caves
27th Mai 2006 – Albas

We were free to wander the cobbled streets and imbibe as much as we liked of the nine wines on offer. Now if you happen to be doing this in a truly scholarly sense – as of course I was – it soon becomes a little tricky to distinguish one from another, if you happen to have an empty tummy as well it rapidly becomes rather difficult to walk in a straight line! I reached this point in the cool darkness of cave number six. These caves are the original cellars of the village houses, hewn out of the very rock on which Albas was built. I found myself leaning against the wall grinning inanely at the Maire. Shortly afterwards I was force fed a Rocamadour sandwich to sober me up. Read More »

Albas Wine Festival 2006 from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2006

Welcome to the Quercy in the sparkling springtime!

Cowslips

Cowslips

We’ve finally shaken off the last of the winter clouds and spirits are soaring. All along the grassy banks little darns of lemon yellow have suddenly spread to become huge patches of glorious cowslips. The willows are a delicious lime green, the almonds and wild cherries laden with delicate white blossom.
In the towns and villages café tables have spread onto the pavements, overflowing with people enjoying the first few outdoor lunches of the year, their pale faces raised to the sun, the clink of glasses a fitting celebration.
In the markets the produce has changed completely. Gone are the stalwart cabbages and leeks, elbowed aside by the glamorous drama queens of spring, asparagus and strawberries. The first of the new crop of broad beans has appeared, there are exquisite new peas and potatoes, sprouting broccoli, herbs and a dozen varieties of new spring greens. Read More »

French Life in Sparkling Springtime from French Life

Amanda on March 1st, 2006

Welcome to early spring in the Quercy!

Cahors Market

Cahors Market

It’s still a tad chilly here, cold nights and warm afternoons. There are few short-sleeved-shirts, with the strange exception of café waiters who seem to have an internal central heating system! There are fewer still bared shoulders, but there is an almost tangible air of expectancy, because when the warm weather comes to this land, it comes in a rush. Suddenly you’re wondering where you put the brolly because the terrace isn’t yet shaded by the old vine and whether or not to risk sitting outside for lunch if you can’t find it. Meanwhile the lemon trees that have spent the winter languishing in various cellars are cautiously re-appearing on terraces and balconies.
Read More »

The Joys of French Life in Spring from French Life

Amanda on February 2nd, 2006
Quercy Truffles

Quercy Truffles

Welcome to the late winter treats of the glorious Quercy. Foremost among winter indulgences in this famously gastronomic region must naturally be the truffle. Now is the time for it, the prices are a little lower in the late season, 800 euros a kilo last week, but that’s quite reasonable! If you feel the desperate urge to indulge in this edible delight, Lalbenque is the place to be. Every Tuesday afternoon at 2.30, from November to early March, the village is closed for the truffle market. It will be freezing, so dress warmly, it will be chaos, so be prepared, but it will be an experience you’ll never forget and, provided your wallet is fat enough, you should come away with a rare little nugget to reward you for your endurance.
Read More »

Winter Treats in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2006

Welcome to early spring in the Quercy!

Cahors Market

Cahors Market

It’s still a tad chilly here, cold nights and warm afternoons. There are few short-sleeved-shirts, with the strange exception of café waiters who seem to have an internal central heating system! There are fewer still bared shoulders, but there is an almost tangible air of expectancy, because when the warm weather comes to this land, it comes in a rush. Suddenly you’re wondering where you put the brolly because the terrace isn’t yet shaded by the old vine and whether or not to risk sitting outside for lunch if you can’t find it. Meanwhile the lemon trees that have spent the winter languishing in various cellars are cautiously re-appearing on terraces and balconies.
Read More »

Early Spring in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on January 5th, 2006
Winter Frost

Winter Frost

The festive season has arrived!  And here in sunny southern France the Quercy has been frozen into a Narnian landscape, enchanting and exceptionally beautiful but wickedly cold.  A wardrobe full of fur coats would be a definite asset.
The markets are winding up for Christmas, the geese are already fat and glorious and the Christmas Eve market in Cahors will be the centre of the commercial celebrations this Saturday.  Magnificent, be-ribboned birds will be laid out in all their glory. Ducks, guinea fowl, black turkeys and pheasants will all be jostling for position if you don’t fancy – or can’t accommodate – the traditional bird.  But the famous Quercy goose will take pride of place and comes away with all the honours. Read More »

Christmas in the Quercy 2005 from French Life