Week 40 (2–8 October 2023)

As expected last week, after my injury we had to cancel climbing this week because I could barely walk or climb stairs, so forget 150-meter walls. The thought of cancelling the entire trip was too depressing so we drove to Languedoc for the week anyway.

Languedoc trip

There's so much I'd like to say about the trip that I'm kind of dreading to even begin writing. To make things easier I think I'll do bullet points, kind of like for the Sicily trip.

Basically we split the week between:

  • three nights in the village of Saint-Jean de Buèges, where the plan was to climb for 3 days (Tras Castel, Saint-Guilhem, l'Hortus). Like I said this didn't happen so we did other things—we'll be back for climbing
  • one night visiting K in Montpellier for the first time!
  • two nights in the Haut-Languedoc, between the Caroux and the Montagne Noire mountains

So I'm dividing the bullet points into three rough areas: the Buège and Hérault valleys/the coast/the Haut-Languedoc.

The Buèges and Héraut valleys

  • you know you've arrived in the pays d'Oc when roads are lined with plane trees
  • also when it's October and over 30°C (wait that's not normal)
  • Saint-Jean-de-Buèges is such a nice village!! Nested in the Buèges valley, between the Séranne mountains and the Causse-de-la-Selle plateau1. It has a small castle, narrow medieval alleys with a lot of cats, and a lively café-bar-restaurant that opens year-round where locals meet up for breakfast lunch dinner, under centernarian plane trees. There are some hikers and climbers but otherwise it's out of most people's way, remote, secret
  • "shhh", said a local, keep it a secret (oops?)
  • the plane trees are between 250 and 300 years old, they don't know exactly
  • there's a plaque at the foot of one of them: "I knew your parents, I was there when their fathers were born, I witnessed how they lived their lives. Like them, remain faithful to our old earth, like me, anchor your roots to the country."2 (attributed to a Jeanne Azéma, 1992. Very bad translation by yours truly)
  • on the way there we drank Pic-Saint-Loup (wine)3 at the foot of Pic Saint-Loup (mountain). Tasting at Mas Brugières
  • other tasting at Daumas Gassac, famous estate, bottles in fancy wooden boxes that we should only drink starting 2035
  • sitting under the plane trees one afternoon, having a glass of wine4, I was passed by climbers walking back from the Tras Castel crag. Jealous
  • half an hour drive away, up to the plateau and back down along the Hérault river, there's Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. (On the Camino), one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France®, it's famous and pretty touristy. The first sign is that parking costs 5€ for 2 hours. But! The abbey and its cloister are among the nicest I've seen and you can just walk in, no queues no tickets. Calming, peaceful. And the light!!
  • in SGLD (gonna start abbreviating) another Robin at the tourist office gave us a ton of tips, he seemed to love the region very much, infectious
  • between SGLD and SJDF nice small walk to the 9th century Devil's Bridge (how many are there5), people swimming
  • épicerie in SJDF, café in SBLP
  • one of Robin's tips was that in Sète, down by the sea, there is a specialty called "tielle", a sort of pie with octopus and tomato sauce

The coast

  • that afternoon we drove to Sète
  • Sète starts with highways, a glimpse of the harbor, then free parking at Mas Coulet and a walk along the canals to the center. I hadn't been to a proper city since Geneva in June, all these people!
  • very good ice cream at L'Atelier du Flamant Rose
  • on the small Rue André Portes we sat at a small wine bar and got fresh oysters from the fish stall in front, straight from their farm by the Étang de Thau
  • tielle: we had three (I don't do half measures). Fav was the one from the fish stall
  • ~~ a couple of days later, Montpellier:
  • arriving: very complicated to get anywhere because there's construction everywhere and even Google doesn't know which street is closed or one-way or used-to-be-one-way-but-is-now-temporarily-both-ways. Street parking 40€ for 5 hours??? We ended up at a fancy underground car park, 27€ for 24 hours. Next time: park OUTSIDE of Montpellier, here for example, and take a tram
  • once without a car though the old town6 is one big pedestrian area and it's nice and walkable
  • specialty coffee shops! No use naming places, there's a high chance they'll be closed next time we're in town
  • wine bars!! ^
  • bookshops!!! La Géosphère is a super nice small travel bookshop and we left with a couple: a contemporary Chinese novel that was recommended to us, and a beautifully designed/illustrated biography of Nicolas Bouvier I couldn't resist
  • actually I do want to name the coffee shops and wine bar (posterity etc). ADN Café Café Cours Hôtel Pinard
  • next time I'd like to go to the Jardin des plantes
  • EVERYTHING is so cool and trendy in old town Montpellier. Cool cafés cool restaurants cool shops. It's almost too much? Gone is the feeling of having found a hidden gem, gems are all lined up in plain sight7
  • met K at her flat! It's super well-located and beautiful, art plants books, old stone floor. She's been here for something like 12 years, about time I visit
  • coffee in the morning, C fetches pastries from ikonka, K's rec
  • lucky us: Saturday is market day at the foot of the Arceaux, the arches under the Saint-Clément aqueduct. It's a beautiful morning, still fresh, soft sunlight on plane trees. Farmers stalls, street food, crafts, lots of people
  • at 10 in the morning I'm eating fougasse aux grattons (flatbread with pork cracklings), a Montpellier specialty
  • leaving Montpellier, oyster stop by the Étang de Thau
  • AOC Blanquette de Limoux, Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth, AOC Picpoul-de-Pinet3
  • also brasucade de moules, another Sète specialty, BBQ mussels with an oil-garlic-herbs sauce
  • drive through the Picpoul-de-Pinet area, vineyards and pine forests

The Haut-Languedoc

  • onward towards the Haut-Languedoc, coffee stop at Pézenas
  • super nice town! Medieval streets with a lot of artist studios cum galleries, we stop at an secondhand/antique bookstore. I get a secondhand copy of L'usage du monde for my shelf, and a slim 1957 booklet, "Scrimshaw: Folk Art of the Whalers"
  • also Pézenas has petits pâtés!! A local specialty, little dough pockets filled with a lamb-spice-etc mixture that tastes... sweet? And lemony
  • we swap plane trees for chestnut trees, feels like home
  • eve: Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux, a pioneer in Languedoc nature wines. Christine is super welcoming and warm and serves amazing wines
  • Olargues: another Plus Beaux Villages de France® village, on a small hill with the Jaur river circling it, must have been good for defending it. Climbed to the tower, walked the streets, escalier de la Commanderie (love that one of the sights is a staircase), small Sunday morning market
  • favorite thing in the village was this épicerie fine, local wine food crafts
  • drive to the other side of the Montagne Noire, goodbye chestnut trees hello garrigue, dense green oak forests
  • middle-of-nowhere lunch by the vineyards of the AOC Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois3 (sweet wine, aromas of pear)
  • Minerve: yet another Plus Beaux Villages de France® village
  • BINGO—visited all three Plus Beaux Villages de France® in the Hérault
  • 5€ parking here and 5min walk to the village along the Brian gorges (nice cliffs). Or free parking down the road but that's 20min walk away and not an option with my knee
  • rivers of Minerve: Cesse, Brian (translates as "stop, Brian")
  • things we do in villages: walk around the streets, visit any bookshops and épiceries, get ice cream
  • Domaine Cavaillès, independant winemaker with a small caveau in the village. Tasting with the winemaker's wife, AOC Minervois3, powerful wines, at 5-7€ a bottle we took a box. At some point the winemaker walked in, straight from the fields where the vendanges were just wrapped up, hands still full of dirt
  • drive across the Montagne Noire again, causses and gorges give way to the garrigue gives way to chestnut/broadleaf trees
  • we can see all the way to the Pyrénées! Pic du Canigou says PeakFinder
  • amazing views of the Caroux mountains (trad climbing on gneiss, next time!) when arriving near Olargues from Saint-Pons-de-Thomières
  • at the flat we rented: cheese bread, AOC Saint-Chinian3 (Château Blanquette, Absolu 2018, cherry smoke), macaronade, most from the shop in Olargues
  • Maison des Vins de Saint-Chinian: shop run by the association of Saint-Chinian winemakers, great for tasting a selection and asking questions before visiting the domaines
  • ~~ 4h drive back home
  • bakery stop for a sandwich in Faugères, walk in the village
  • next time: try AOC Faugères3 wine
  • in the Pic Saint-Loup area in a single week summer became fall, colors completely different, warmer softer
  • coffee stop(s) at the village of Sauve in the Gard. People on terrasses under plane trees, large bright village squares, narrow dark fresh medieval streets, artist studios, Guaté Mao stencils—nice village alert
  • ~~ home!
  • 8

Watching, reading


Ah no actually I did read a comic I found at K's:


  1. on this photo (not mine), taken from the Peyre Martine (in the Séranne), we see: the village, the Roc the Tras Castel above to the left, the causse de la Selle to the right. And in the distance, Pic Saint-Loup and the Hortus

  2. the original is nicer if your read French: "J'ai connu vos parents, j'ai vu naître leurs pères, j'ai été le témoin de ce que fut leur vie. Comme eux restez fidèles à notre vieille terre, comme moi accrochez vos racines au pays."

  3. a helpful map of the Languedoc-Roussillon AOCs 2 3 4 5 6

  4. Domaine Coulet, the local domaine, AOC Terrasses-du-Larzac3

  5. French Wikipedia says 169 in France, without citing a source. It's interesting that many of them share elements of this tale: Devil asks for soul of first person crossing the bridge but is fooled e.g. when an animal crosses first, usually proceeds to jump off the bridge

  6. nickname: "l'écusson", the coat of arms, because they were on shields and the old town sort of is shaped like a shield. Escutcheon?

  7. rough thought: this is why Bermondsey was nicer before the Beer Mile became "official". Or why La Vineria is the best bar in Berlin

  8. lateral thought: I would love to document/share this kind of stuff in map form. Don't know if this shows but a lot of how I process space is maps, they're core to how I move and travel. It would be really cool to have a tool that makes it easy and fun to annotate/draw on maps, most tools I can think of (uMap etc) are very GIS-y and that makes them more cumbersome to use, less playful. Something like this but maintained. Should I build it?