Week 38 (18–24 September 2023)

Heavy rain early in the week (cf. last weeknote) followed by clear skies with perfect daytime temperatures around 25°C (feels warmer with the sun, still wearing shorts) and around 10°C at night (= fewer mosquitoes, sweater in the morning, warm duvet back in the bedsheet). Face is still half paralyzed (cf. last weeknote again). Besides this life is good.

September hikes

September: warm but not too warm, late in the season so not too busy, beautiful autumn-is-coming colors, wild fruit snacks. And if it's a bit too hot (or if you're brave enough), jump in the river. The ideal hiking month.

Beaumont botanic trail

This was technically week 37, not 38 (if I remember correctly), but I forgot to mention it over there. A 5.2 km loop with 376 m positive elevation, roughly 3 hours.

We parked by the pont du Gua, where my family used to swim in the Beaume river when I was a kid. The hike starts with a short but steep and shadeless climb to the village of La Roche, I guess that it makes up most of the 376 m. Then it's almost flat for most of the hike, under trees, crossing small streams. We ate the last blackberries (a bit watery by now) and wild apples.

On the way there are plaques about flora, châtaignier buis etc. Finally learned the name of the flower that grows in small purple bushes and looks a bit like thyme: calluna (callune in French). Pretty name. Unlike thyme it doesn't smell like anything unfortunately.

The final stretch of the hike is on a small road winding back down to the river. We passed the house of a guy who sells pizza that we've heard is good in his garden (Flacouze Pizza), but he only opens in the evening in this season. A very friendly dog followed us all the way to the river and took a swim with us. She looked heartbroken when we drove off without her.

Sentier des lauzes

Sunday. A well-known, 15 km loop from the village of Saint-Mélany, in the Drobie valley. 555 m positive elevation, 5 hours, took us a bit under 6 hours including breaks.

Sunday morning, from Easter to All Saints, is market day in Saint-Mélany. We drove there via what F says is the most beautiful road in the region, a small bumpy single-lane road from Le Chastanet (where they make excellent goat and sheep cheese) to Pourcharesse. I agree (about it being a beautiful road). Incredible views of the Beaume valley and Tanargue mountains at first and—after a pass—of the Drobie valley. The market was very small, we bought a few veggies (pattypan!) and had lunch at the village café, Au Bon Port.

The hike is mostly well-known because it's an "art trail": there are artworks all along the path, plus a wooden cabin where artists can apply for a residency. One I particularly liked was the 2007 work Oto Date, by Japanese artist Akio Suzuki, which basically encourages people to stop at given spots on the path, and listen. One of them was a sort of seat built into a dry stone wall, near a small stream. Sounds of water rushing down the valley and insects buzzing. This is nothing incredibly special, something we've all heard before, but hearing is not the same as listening. Really nice, and a good reminder to actively listen to noises more often.

The sentier des lauzes is a "real" hike, not just a casual walk, and it took us the entire afternoon—ymmv if you're used to hiking 15 km. It's incredibly rewarding though: after leaving Saint-Mélany the path cuts through the woods, with wild grapes to glean in this season. Then after a climb through a pine forest it emerges on the ridge between the Pourcharesse and the Sueille valleys, and follows it past a small chapel all the way to the village of Dompnac, roughly halfway through the hike (and with a drinking-water fountain!). Plants: chêne vert, genêt, châtaignier, callune. Then the path goes back down to the Sueille river and follows it downstream, beautiful swimming spots if it's warm enough, we'll be back in the summer. The final kilometer or so is on the paved road back to Saint-Mélany, where the exhausted hiker can get food or a drink at the café, "Au Bon Port" means to get to the right place, safe and sound.

  • Topo
  • website with more information about the art, events etc. (French)

Forbidden grape harvest

This weeknote is already too long and too late so this will be quick.

In short this week we also went harvesting grapes twice more (after the Gamay last month), this time it was prohibited varietals with L who makes wine with them and gifts it to those who join his association, circumventing the sales ban. First we harvested Couderc Noir in a steep vineyard in Chazeaux (the varietal is also called 7120, that was the identifier of the graft, something like the 71st graft in the 20th row), and a few days later we picked Baco Noir on a trellis in Barnas (where I spent half the harvest cuddling a very cuddly cat).

We were the youngest in a small group of 4-8, mostly retired people, and had lunch together after both harvests. Drank less wine than after the previous one (is this wisdom?). This group wasn't in it for a sort of passion for fine wine, going as far as drinking Heineken at lunch (I couldn't). They mostly just know L (long-time friends, neighbors, family) and help out with the harvest every year. They drink wine as casually as they would drink juice, there's no premier nez, second nez, arômes délicats de poivre de Madagascar. It strikes me that this is probably what wine used to be for people back in the days, when everyone in these parts used to make their own house wine, and when a jug of all-the-varietals-in-my-garden-mixed-together red wine was always on the table.

After lunch, without rushing because it's fine if the grapes stay in the trunk a bit longer, we brought boxes back to L's chai in Chazeaux. Then L destems the grapes and puts them to ferment in big plastic tanks. Contrast this with last time, when we rushed back to the chai and delicately put the entire grapes in shiny, brand-new stainless steel tanks for carbonic maceration! Different worlds. L's wine is truly very good, and it's also more approachable, uncomplicated. It's easier to pop open a bottle or two without a big occasion.

Anyway I said this would be short and it wasn't. TL;DR it was nice to help L harvest grapes, and to witness another approach to wine!