view garrigueBefore the cassoulet dinner, there was a 2.5-hour hike in the garrigue. (1) It’s a good idea to burn off some calories before indulging in cassoulet. (2) It’s a good idea to hike in the garrigue with a guide who knows all the paths well.

Our guide, M., grew up in the village. M. could be retired but works at the maternelle, or preschool, as an assistant, mostly wiping little ones’ butts and noses. Once I was having a hard time fixing something, and my kid, then under M.’s charge on weekdays, informed me, “You should ask M. She can fix anything.” Another time, I got a cut, and my kid said, “M. can fix it. She’s a doctor.” Which she isn’t. However, my kid is right that M. is superwoman.

dry rapids
What would be rapids in a stream bed, completely dry.

The randonnée, or hike, drew only three people, plus M. She considered the possibilities, then asked whether we’d be interested in seeing something whose name I didn’t catch but it involved something volcanic. I said sure.

bridgeWe quickly left the road to walk along little tracks along a trickle of a river. I’ve walked along there, but on the road, without ever spying this path. How is this possible?

We soon came to a clearing where the trickle traversed a rock basin: “la gourde de la dame,” or the lady’s gourd or water jug. M. informed us that the lady of the local château would come here to bathe, and that usually the basin was fed by a spring. However, this August, it’s too hot and dry and water levels are extremely low.

gourde de la dame
La gourde de la dame

M. and another hiker, also a native of the village, talked about old times, like when they had races through the garrigue for gym class. They also said they had washed at our house, which used to be a municipal shower before the town got running water in individual homes in the mid-1960s. The showers operated only on Saturday–the whole village came once a week.

We came to the barrage, or dam, built by the château’s owner to provide irrigation. Usually the water is much higher. A few boys were fishing.

The very old dam
barrage water
The water behind the dam

We went up and down hills, but mostly up. M. is part of the VTT club, or all-terrain bikes. They also do hiking, and M. leads groups twice a week. She also maintains the paths, many of which are barely visible, especially if you step to the side a bit. Rocks and trees are painted with indicators.

A path

Finally, M. announced we were nearly at the top. We climbed a steep bit, turned around and saw:

solar panels 1
Clean energy: solar in the foreground, wind on the mountaintop.

“Voilà, les photo-volcaniques!” M. exclaimed. I had to be careful not to fall on the ground laughing. After all, M. knows a million things. If we both were stuck in the wilderness, she would be able to survive. Not me. I respect that knowledge. She can be forgiven for a malaprop like photo-volcanique instead of photovoltaic.

solar panels 3

The panels were impressive in their quantity. The site previously had housed some windmills, but they were of an earlier generation and the owners, a Spanish company, had removed them. I had no idea they’d been replaced by solar panels. You could see the windmills from la Cité, but you can’t see the solar panels until you’re right next to them.

solar panels 2
Almost like rows of grapevines

From the hilltop, we had amazing views. To the north, la Montagne Noire, the Black Mountains. Including a gold mine that’s been closed for over a decade, having gained notoriety as the most polluted site in France.

The mine pit

It’s really so sad. The place is so bucolic. We didn’t hear anything, not a single motor. Just birds, wind and of course cigales.

A ruin nestled in the mountains

viewview 2

view 3

And to the south, Carcassonne and the Pyrénées in the distance.

view cite
Can you make out la Cité of Carcassonne? Look for towers, right in the middle of the photo.

It will be a while before I venture into the garrigue again. M. warned us that hunting season started Aug. 15 for sanglier, or boar. She urged us to wear fluorescent vests and orange caps and to make plenty of noise. I’ll just wait until hunting season ends Feb. 28.

18 thoughts on “Sunny South of France

  1. Love the photos, love the views (particularly the one facing down to Cmapagne!) love the sound of M and I REALLY REALLY love the fact that your house was the municipal showers!!!
    I don’t know how far you go back on my blog but I did once post about our courtyard (with ancient gully to river) being the pissoir for the old village cinema behind. And our house was of course assorted animal shelters, a barn and a covered area over the old well.
    What unromantic histories our houses have!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The views on the hike are amazing. I can’t find the meaning for volanique. Is it like voltage? Thanks for the tip on searching for a home. Do you know anyone who wants to rent their home or an apartment next May while we search for a home?


  3. A really good idea to exercise before a feast….the food taste better. I love the stories about houses….the histories. I wonder what history future owners of our home will dig up, as we are the first owners. We put crystals in the concrete foundation….supposed to be good energy….very new age. The contractor who built our house thought that I was barking mad.
    Maybe that’s why everyone who visits never wants to leave….

    It’s tinderbox dry here as well. No real rain for two months. Wildfires are a concern with severe water restrictions in effect.


    Liked by 1 person

      1. In southern California, it would quickly be covered with soulless housing developments named after the natural elements that they displaced. “Opening soon! Gated communities: The Garrigue, Les Cigales, La Gourde, starting at $1,199,000!”

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved this post as I’ve never been to that part of the world. That water level, both in the river bed and the dam, is just so frightening. It’s happening all over the world of course. No, I would not want to walk there alone: much better with such a good guide!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can get to the dam without getting lost; it’s getting to the photovoltaic farm that’s tricky. At least if you don’t take the road (obviously they drove trucks up there to build it).


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