Wednesday, June 13, 2012

France Day 3 - A couple of moulins, then Brian's Waters

Bounded out of bed with a view to having a decent breakfast at last, so after quickly getting dressed and looking more agreeable, I gambolled across the village square to present my self at the shop for lashings of fresh bread, butter and jam.

The shop was closed.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disenchanted at the prospect of being fresh breadless than I was that disappointing morning. So with a heavy heart I headed back to the gite and attacked yesterdays stale, dry bread with as much enjoyment as I could muster, which was precisely none.

So after breaking bread in the least satisfactory way possible, we piled all our stuff into the tank and headed into the wooded wilds of Aude. First of all we stopped at a paper mill, in fact the only working paper mill left in the region, down from the 67 along this stretch of water in 1845. This moulin, which is located near the village of Brousses and settled along the banks of the river in the valley of La Dure., still produced hand made paper using the power of the water to drive its machines.

We were predominantly here because Sarah had expressed a keen interest in going to it, and as it happens, our arrival coincided with its opening. So as the only people there we had a small chat with the guy who opened up, and then, Sarah having decided against it after all, as it looked ‘a bit boring’, mooched around amongst the tourist pamphlets eyeing an opportune moment to make our escape with the least amount of embarrassment. In the end we just decided to leg it, and with nary an au revoir hanging in the air, we made good our escape.

Next up was a moulin of a different kind, this one was of the wind variety. The Moulin à Pech Rouzaud, situated near the village of Villeneuve-Minervois, it is almost 200 years old and was restored to its current state of perfection in 2001. This area abounds with windmills, most of them in ruins, because due to its position it is fairly breezy for most of the year. They also have their fair share of modern windmills now, the turbines that harvest the wind for energy.

Again, the only reason we were here was because Sarah had requested, no, insisted that we come, so as we parked up, and again as we were the only ones here, we attracted the attention of the guide behind the desk. Sarah then pulled out her camera and started taking some crafty pictures of the mill. I knew exactly what was going on here, get some pictures without paying the entrance fee and then swiftly depart.

The Moulin with sails up, thanks to our ever vigilant guide
It was time I put my foot down and made a stand, actually it was time I put both my feet down to correctly make a stand, so that is what I did. And my stand was indeed both accurately accomplished and well placed, as we spent the next couple of hours learning all about windmills in a most interesting fashion. Apart from an introductory film about how the windmill was restored, which was both boring, and in French, but would have been equally as boring, perhaps even more so, if we could have understood it. So after about 5 minutes we decided to leave the plinky plonk music and regional craft fair like programming behind and request the tour start proper.

The rest of the tour though was great, the young lady who showed us around had a pretty good grasp of English and was extremely knowledgeable about the history and workings of the mill. She set up the sails and got them turning, which she seemed more than happy to do, but it did feel a bit wrong to be standing around while this petit mademoiselle was moving these sails around, which must have weighed a ton. She showed us how the wheat was ground and all the different grades of flour, how it was sieved and all manner of windmill based shenanigans. She also hung around without complaint while we took endless pictures of the windmill and vineyards it sits amongst. Then after all that we had a bit of wine tasting, and learnt all about how the wine tastes different depending on where it is matured and in what temperatures etc. So well worth the entrance fee to be sure, and well worth leaving a tip for a very enjoyable tour, which we didn’t.

Moulin with picturesque cart and path
By this time we were ready for lunch, so after stopping in a couple of places and deciding to go to neither of them for reasons that escape me, we then spent far too long driving through village after empty village in the hope they might have a rustic café we could make use of, but they seemed to have been in short supply. So after about 2 hours we ended up in La Liniviere and had a well deserved feed. Afterwards we stopped to get a few shots of the vineyards just outside Cannes Minervois The minervois region being real grape country, specialising in rich red wines.

Vines leading off towards the Black Mountains 

These vines, although small are over 100 years old
Had a quick look at a 13th century church in Centelles which looked suitably ancient, but is still in good repair and occasional use. Before heading towards Minerve, classed as one of the ‘Most beautiful villages of France’. This medieval town is built next to the Brian gorges, which in turn were created by the Brian waters. Who this Brian is I haven’t the faintest, but he did a cracking job as the scenery is lovely.

Had a wander through the old streets under the baking heat, this was the hottest day so far, every incline, and there were a lot, seemed to produce a fountain of perspiration from my brow, and every piece of shade was readily used, even for a moment, to get a respite from the pounding heat. It did give us the excuse to have an ice cream though, which was much appreciated. So after an hour or so of soaking my camera with my face sweat, we climbed back up to the car and carried on our way.

The fabulous Brian Gorges, with the Brian waters far below (out of sight). Good old Brian.
A view of the amazing bridge, which is closed to traffic, as all beautiful bridges should be.
The 11th century roman style Church of Saint Etienne with boisterous clouds above.
Sarah posing next to Brian's finest. OK the gorge was also carved by the river Cesse, but Brian gets my vote
Next we stopped at BizeMinervois, another attractive town, with its fair share of small, difficult to negotiate, dead end roads, many of which I managed to find in our brief visit. So after trying to back out of another road to nowhere and managing to stick it straight into a wall, despite my reversing sensors, which can’t have been working of course. I decided I’d seen more than enough of Bize bloody Minervois so took the decision to carry on.

After an age we arrived back at the gite for a quick comfort break and then barrelled to Saissac again, in the hope of getting a decent shot of the castle, but it was not to be, it was all in shade. So we contented ourselves with a fine looking pizza each. Well we would have if the pizza place had been open, but as it turns out, it was closed on Tuesdays. Seeing as this pretty much exhausted Saissac’s gastronomic offerings and it was about 9pm we jumped back in the car and headed back to the gite, in the hope that the local bar was still serving something, if in fact, it was even open.

Luckily for us it was not only open, but so was the kitchen, I had a plate of charcuterie to begin with and then a dish of pasta and Roquefort for main, and it was delicious, plus very reasonably priced, so what with that and a carafe of some decent plonk, it was a rather good end to the day.

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