We hurried onto Meze, our night’s destination, feeling tired and looking forward to a quiet, early night. Meze is situated directly on the Thau Etang, an enormous lagoon filled with oyster and mussel farms.
The reality of our evening was very different. We find that when we self-book our accommodation we never know what to expect. “The Little House on the Harbour” was exactly that, a little pink house rising high from an assortment of restaurants and homes along a small harbour. However, instead of being what we imagined a small hotel, it was actually a bed and breakfast, and we were to share this home for four nights with Claude and Danielle Bon.
Claude and Danielle were extremely welcoming, showing us to our rooms and then settling us down with aperitifs, which they produced with aplomb and style, Pastis, (a French anise flavoured liqueur containing 40-45% alcohol), and port. To not participate was not an option. Claude was as quiet as Danielle was assertive, and we soon learned to follow orders and do things as the French do, “for our health”, we were assured.
Our rooms were interesting. Trevor and I were on the third floor, up under the roof. The middle of the room was fine, but the bed end and the bathroom had very low ceilings, and we developed strong stoops as we negotiated our ablutions, and we soon learned not to sit up directly in bed. However, the warm and caring hospitality we received from Claude and Danielle, two retired school teachers, was wonderful. We relished this experience for its uniqueness and ability to see inside a local home. Breakfast each morning, included in the €230 (per couple, for 4 nights) tariff, comprised fresh warm breads and croissants with juice, fig jam, honey from Mozambique, oranges from Spain, and bananas from Ecuador, plus tea and coffee. Beautifully laid out each morning, we were waited on hand and foot by this gracious couple.
On our first morning in the Languedoc Roussillon region, we visited Sete, a beautiful large coastal town close to where we were staying. However, with cold, rainy weather and it being market day, which meant that the inner town was overflowing with people, we did not find Sete very enjoyable. We went to La Ferme Marine restaurant at Marseillan, as insisted on by Danielle, and booked by her to ensure we obeyed. What should have taken 30 minutes to drive took over double that, with this restaurant being extremely difficult to find. However knowing we must obey orders we persevered, and we accosted several young men braving Antarctic conditions in the relentless French pursuit of dog walking, plus an unexpected but welcome Australian mariner with his family wintering on their yacht. Without his help we doubt we would have found the restaurant.
We eventually limped into the restaurant, cold, tired, grumpy, and hungry, half expecting lunch to be over. We were greeted and escorted to the waterfront table booked by Danielle, and were overwhelmed by the sight of a large table groaning with mountains of fresh oysters, mussels, crabs, snails, and other unknown sea foods, salads, breads, etc. Our moods lifted immediately. At just €26.40 to eat as much of this as we wanted, it was a tasty and welcome feast. Such a restaurant would not be known by tourists — local knowledge makes a great difference. The large oysters, raw and cooked, were some of the most tasty we have ever eaten.
A highlight of our time in this region was a day trip to the midi Pyrenees, about a one-and-a-half hour drive from Meze. Again it was a cold rainy day, but this mattered little when we saw the stunning Millau Viaduct, a construction of awe and wonder.
This viaduct was opened in 2004, and consists of 7 concrete piers, pylons and a steel deck. The tallest point of this highest multi-stayed viaduct in the world, is 343 metres. It is higher than the Eiffel Tower! It floats and shimmers over the mountains, and is truly a thing of beauty. After viewing it from every angle, we drove the short drive on to the village of Roquefort, home of the world-famous Roquefort blue sheeps’ cheese. We had lunch in a cave restaurant, enjoying crepes with Roquefort cheese sauce (€9.50), while Darrel luxuriated in a steak with Roquefort sauce (€16).
Before we commenced our travels, I had purchased a minuscule piece of Roquefort cheese for A$7.90 from our local supermarket. In Roquefort we purchased a whole quarter of an award winning Roquefort Cheese for Claude and Danielle for a bit less than €10. They even placed it in a special tin. Arriving home with this cheese and a large bottle of Pastis, we clearly had risen to family status. From then on we ate together and every evening after our health giving aperitifs, Danielle would concoct local dishes of delicious foods.
We wanted to visit Pézenas while in this region, but we were feeling tired and a bit over ancient towns. For the first time I failed to avoid the ever-present dog debris, which soured my estimation of this lovely old town. However, our spirits rose after our visit to the very helpful tourist office and their advise to visit the Molliere Wine Cave Co-operative.
We find the tourist offices extremely helpful in France – they are situated in the centre of most the towns we visit, and usually have good English. We encountered a most helpful lady in the Molliere Wine Cave Co-operative who, although we were only to purchase four bottles of wine, insisted she open many bottles to ensure we got just just the right ones. The wines we purchased ranged from €4 to €7 and these really were excellent wines. We were amused to see large cylinders of wine there, with a choice of red, white or rose, costing between €1 and €1.20 per litre, and watched people coming in with empty containers and filling them up.
The last morning we were sent by Danielle to the markets a short stroll away from our accommodation, and we purchased fresh oysters (€4.50 per kilo) and local fish, so fresh they were almost alive (€8.50 per kilo).That evening, after the inevitable Pastis, we banqueted on these oysters, and the fish cooked to perfection by Danielle (with the correct white wine), together with slithers of Roquefort cheese on warm crusty French bread (of course accompanied by the correct red wine).
We spent a day in Montpellier, exploring this interesting university city and enjoying some sunshine at last. We drove to the outskirts of Montpellier and caught a tram in (sometimes a wise thing to do in cities where roads can be extremely narrow and harrowing to drive through, and car parking difficult).
We are finding our leased Peugeot 508 big by French standards. While we can fit all our gear in it, it is sometimes hard to negotiate and park. In retrospect a station wagon for four people would have been a preferable choice.
Look out next week for Trevor and Paulene’s journey from Meze to Barcelona.