The End of the Earth

21. JUNE 2012 - SEPTEMBRE 2012 - 288Bugarach, a tiny village in the foothills of the Pyrénées, is at the end of the Earth in both senses of the term. Well, sort of.

The sign means campers can’t park between 10 p.m and 7 a.m.

It was supposed to be the only place to be saved when the world ended on Dec. 21, 2012 (or Dec. 12, 2012, depending on your source). According to certain interpretations of Mayan calculations, the planet Nibiru was to hit the Earth on that day, reversing the poles and making the Earth spin in the opposite direction. However, the extraterrestrials would either come out of their hiding spot in the caves and around the supposed underground lake of the mountain Bugarach, under whose shadow the village sits and whose name it carries, or they would swoop in from space and pick up folks smart enough to be there.

The top photo was taken a few years ago, on a summer day; this one was from May 1, moody and rainy and lush.
From the other side.

Bugarach (the mountain) is indeed unusual. First, it stands alone and looks pretty impressive with its bare pech (in Occitan; pic in French or peak), which at 1231 meters is the highest of the Corbières. Tectonic movement caused it to be “une montagne renversée”–an upside-down mountain, in which the bottom layers are older than the top layer. Supposedly this also causes the magnetic poles to be reversed there, which is why–presto chango–the mountain would be saved during the cataclysmic global pole reversal. IMG_4989IMG_4967IMG_4963The predictions were inflated by the Internet, drawing an international throng of ufologues (believers in UFOs, though the French term is OVNI–objet volant non-identifié–same thing), illuminés (crazies) and zozotériques (a local’s fancy word for zozos–more crazies). The little village of 200-ish people was flooded with folks who went to the mountain to conduct strange rituals in the nude and who collected the mountain’s supposedly magical rocks.


Bugarach was big news in late 2012, and I kept meaning to check out the hippy dippy village–it’s about an hour and a half south of Carcassonne, a beautiful drive. Since then, it has eased back into quiet isolation. It’s a good 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the next village, making it feel quite a bit like the end of the earth…even though the world didn’t end, whether due to the nonexistence of Nibiru, miscalculations by the Mayans, or what.

The view in one direction.
The view in another direction.

IMG_4975This week was the start of De la Ferme en Ferme–From Farm to Farm–and the May 1 circuit included a loop from Rennes-les-Bains to Rennes-le-Château, passing through Bugarach for some sheep’s cheese. The two Rennes aren’t next to each other at all; Rennes-le-Château gained some notoriety with “The Da Vinci Code,” because of a fake buried treasure a local priest cooked up, spawning conspiracy theories. Rennes-les-Bains is the site of some Roman baths, of which there are many in the area.

Of course there are ruins.

IMG_4969Bugarach’s history also goes back to the Romans, who had a mine nearby in the first century CE. Then the Visigoths turned up around the fifth century; a cemetery remains. During the Wars of Religion, Calvinists from the north sought refuge in what would have seemed to be a safe place at the end of the world, but, no, they were hunted down in several massacres between 1575 and 1577. In the 1700s, Bugarach became known for hatmaking (up until 1990, and Queen Elizabeth and François Mitterand supposedly wore Bugarach brand hats). By 1831 Bugarach had more than 1,000 inhabitants, three hat factories, five water mills and many other businesses. It held three fairs, which must have been good, because it would have been difficult for folks to get to. I imagine many residents back in the day never left the village. Today the road is smooth tarmac (but only wide enough for one car; if you meet another vehicle, one has to back up to where the shoulder is somewhat wider to let the other pass), but when it was just a dirt track, it would have taken a long time to travel those dozen miles to the next town.IMG_4968

I love the sign: no entry, except those having the right.

IMG_4956Bugarach today is very cute, starting from the view from afar. Everything is little.IMG_4991

The preschool.
The post office.
Even the opening hours are small.


City hall.
The main drag (entire length).

What was left of the château was restored and turned into a community hall and exposition space, in what I thought was a decent mix of ancient and modern–something that doesn’t always work.IMG_4971IMG_4974

The town also has two charging spots for plug-in electric vehicles, which seemed exceptionally forward thinking. And three restaurants plus a table d’hôte for a town of 200! It shows how Bugarach continues to pull in people who today come to hike and enjoy the countryside.IMG_4959IMG_4966

Doe, a Deer

signPart two of Ferme en Ferme fall: our postprandial yet still gastronomic promenade through the Black Mountains.

Can you spy the deer between the trees?

Picarel le Haut, run by Catherine Souef near Saissac, has 120 cerfs (deer), biches (does) and daguets (brocket deer–a small species), as well as 30 Arab pure-breed horses. (Saissac is a great day trip from Carcassonne, with ruins of a Cathar castle in a very pretty village perched on a mountainside.)

Deer terrine (like a pâté)

Tastings included deer pâté and morsels of grilled doe steak. I’ve never been a fan of deer meat, despite having grown up in a family of hunters, but here biche is a classic for Christmas dinner. And now we know where it comes from.

Vacuum-packed deer steaks

The shy animals were well behind the trees of their large enclosure, and it wasn’t easy to get a picture. Did you know that stags shed their antlers every year?deer-headAnother stop was at the Ferme du Villemagnol, just west of Saissac, where Nadège and Corine Guinebault raise free-range pigs and sheep.saucissonWine-fueled singing wafted out from the tent for diners; clearly the customers were content. We were keen to pick up some saucisson, or hard sausage. The line stretched around the tent housing the butcher counter, even though the staff worked quickly to slice ham to order and wrap up sausages and other goodies.hams-2


From left: galabard (a kind of black boudin that includes tongue), snout, ribs, pâté
The sign says “Everything is good in the pig”

Our charcuterie experts decided, upon tasting, that it was worth the wait. “It’s nothing like what you get in the supermarket,” the Carnivore declared. “It’s nice to chew, it has no gristle or lumps of fat.” Yes, food gets analyzed in the same way wine does.goatsgoats-and-kidsWe also visited the Chevrerie du Colombier, near Fontiers Carbardès, where Cécile and Thomas Hollard raise goats to produce several kinds of cheese.cheese-softcheese-grayThere were the softest cushions of snowy white fresh cheese to heart-shaped cheeses covered with gray mold to great rounds of hard cheese, with thick crusts. The names include petit colombier, tomme, cabrichon and cabribert. Cabri is a kid–a baby goat.cheese-cabribert-stackscheese-tommeWe were disappointed not to happen on any goat-milk ice cream, which is a real treat. I suppose they didn’t expect the weather to be so warm.

These guys bought a live goat, who was not cooperative at all.

By the time we got home, it was clear what we would have for dinner: cheese, sausages and fresh baguettes. Just perfect.



Grilled Bull

gate-in-woodsSunday was another round of Ferme en Ferme, or Farm to Farm, this time winding through the Black Mountains north of Carcassonne.

mountain-in-fogIt was much more crowded than the one we did in the spring. And strangely, the license plates of the cars we saw were mostly from the region, compared with lots from far afield in the spring. A cloudy morning turned into a gloriously warm and sunny autumn afternoon, perfect for a jaunt in the countryside, and maybe everybody had the same idea.

Do you see the cows on the hilltop?

We examined the map carefully, knowing we could hit only four or five of the 17 participating farms, which stretched from Argeliers, well east of Carcassonne (with a snail farm), to Revel in the west (with a farm raising angora goats for mohair).

The reception area, with a fire grilling samples of steak, below.

steak-tastingWe decided, what the heck, to start off with La Calmilhe, about halfway between Cuxac-Cabardès and Mazamet. The road is impeccable, but so winding that it took us 45 minutes. The scenery was stunning–black forests (hence the name of the mountains!), distant vistas, lush pastures.


La Calmilhe, run by the Régis family, raises cows and taurillons (bullocks) of the limousine breed. We had been there before, only to discover that they had planned for 700 meals, had already served 900 and were turning away everybody else. We tried again over the years when they were on the program, calling to reserve, but always too late to get a spot. This time we went to buy their produce and didn’t expect to get in on the meal. We anticipated a roadside picnic, picking up baguettes to eat with cheeses and hard sausages bought at the farms.

To our amazement, there were only two cars in the pasture that served as parking lot (if you do Ferme en Ferme, make sure you don’t have a low-riding car or you’ll never get out–all the parking areas are in fields!). Even more surprising, when we admitted we hadn’t reserved, they said they could squeeze us in. Luckily we had brought our own flatware. Lesson: as soon as you get out of airport security, keep a pocket knife with you at all times so you are never at a loss when confronted with sausage, cheese or a bottle of wine that needs opening.

La Calmilhe runs a well-oiled machine: the lines were set up to pay (€14 for the meal including wine), get a ticket for either daube (beef stew) or bull steak, then get a tray with a salad, apple and choice of cheese/flan/rice pudding.

That’s boudin on the salad. The pocket knife is Laguiole.

Those choosing steak got theirs on the spot.

A vacuum-packed pair of taurillon steaks

After having the salad, the daube eaters could go to the daube stand to be served, while the steak eaters had to go outside to grill their own. Brilliant move–you can cook it how you like it.

Preparing the coals
Putting the grill over the coals
The Carnivore likes it either saignant–rare–or bleu–VERY rare.

steak-on-plateHaving arrived so early, we were the first in. It soon filled up, and people scouted for places to sit. The Carnivore found it funny that we were eating in a manger–and manger of course comes from manger–the French verb “to eat.”

The daube being heated in a bain-marie (double boiler)

daube-on-plateThe steak was judged tender and juicy by the Carnivore, who despite extensive research has had trouble finding bull meat that works on the grill.


As for the daube, it was delicious. They just opened cans of their own product (smart move–they could easily open more or less as needed), making the case for buying a few cans to take home. If you can’t get here to buy some, try this link to 15 traditional recipes.



De Ferme en Ferme, la Fin

32 Puivert
The château of Puivert, which dates to the 12th century

I thought I had posted this last week, and was surprised to find it still lurking among my drafts. Apologies!

After the pigs and sausages and bees and honey, and, of course, wine, we stopped at a few more farms.

36 Puivert
Up on a hill, the better to see you with, my dear

Finally we came to Puivert, home of a Cathar castle.


29 Milk jug
The sign on the wall says “Milk Route,” like the “Wine Routes” elsewhere in France. Why not–this is the OTHER white!

As we started down the narrow road (many gasps as we passed other cars, each vehicle practically in the ditch yet nearly touching–unimaginable traffic of more than two cars in a day during this event!) toward Campserdou, the milk-drinker in the car got excited, recognizing a favorite farm.

37 Campserdou tasting

Here the milk is raw–lait cru–unpasteurized, unhomogenized and unbelievably delicious. Tastings included milk, chocolate and vanilla flan, cheesecake and divine confiture du lait–kind of like caramel and totally addictive.

Then we aimed east. We stopped along the way for lunch, since we hadn’t reserved at any farm. We didn’t lack for something to eat–plenty of saucisson from our earlier purchases. We first tried a different spot but were practically knocked over by the wind. Menacing clouds came and went and happily didn’t rain on us, but the wind never let up. Forging on, we found a more protected site.

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The afternoon was rounded out with more honey, since the next farm, le Gaec du Méchant Pas, has mostly fowl, under quarantine for the moment. No magret de canard today.

There were two kinds of liqueur made with honey. Never underestimate  French ingenuity when it comes to making alcoholic beverages.

46 cowsFinally we hit our last spot, le Gaec des Aouzines, home to more cows. Gaec means groupement agricole d’exploitation en commun, or a cooperative farm.

45 scenery
The hills are alive…

Really, the scenery is as much of a draw as the food.

47 scenery

…with the sound of music

If you missed part 1, or part 2, here they are.


De Ferme en Ferme, Part 2


28 magrie chateau
Just another farmhouse in Festes, France

Picking up with our pilgrimage through the French countryside, we moved on to les Ruchers de Magrie (the Beehives of Magrie), an apiculteur, though this lovely and her friends–not bees–greeted us at the entry.

21 magrie cow I’ll do another post just about the honey, because it was so interesting. Let’s just say, Winnie would have been in heaven. The different kinds have very distinct flavors.

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We also noticed vineyards nearby.

22 magrie vinesThe rose bushes are like canaries in the coal mine–they attract pests first, alerting the vigneron early. Like the honey, the wine is bio, or organic. They have flat whites as well as sparkling blanquette de Limoux. More on blanquette later, too.

Off we went, south toward the Pyrénées, through jaw-dropping scenery.

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We’ll be back on the road again with another installment tomorrow.

Here’s part 1, in case you missed it.

De Ferme en Ferme, Part 1

1 cochons noirs 1
The famous cochons noirs

Yesterday was the first of 2016’s “De Ferme en Ferme” events, where you’re invited to follow a circuit of open houses at farms in a region. This one was in the Haute Vallée of Aude, a favorite circuit of ours.

9 view petite ferme
Just your typical Aude countryside

We headed south of Carcassonne, past Limoux, then meandered along back roads to our first (and best) destination: “à la Petite Ferme” de Dimitri Duhaumont (a name that made our kid laugh, because you climb and climb to the farm and the farmer’s name means “from the high mountain”).  It’s near the hilltop village of Roquetaillade, which means hacked in the rock.

11 view petite ferme
Bienvenue à la Petite Ferme

The farm specializes in chickens and “cochons noirs Gascons” or black Gascogne pigs.

2 cochons noirs 2
Aren’t they cute?

There’s also an Old MacDonald’s assortment of other barnyard friends–geese, chickens, ducks and shy goats, all usually free range. But the fowl are at the moment kept in spacious, wild enclosures to protect them from bird flu.

We first learned about De Ferme en Ferme from friends who said it was great for kids. They not only see, and sometimes pet, animals, but there are also other activities.

We soon learned, however, that the main purpose is adult entertainment of the gastronomic genre. Besides a lunch–reservations required–there was plenty to taste and to buy to take home.

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8 bbq
Preparing grape vines for the barbecue

There was a restored capitelle, or refuge–where shepherds or vignerons could find shade or shelter.

17 capitelle
Outside…dry stone construction, without mortar
18 capitelle
Inside…the roof rises to a dome, whose photo didn’t turn out.

I had the four farms we visited in one post, which crashed my computer. So I’m breaking them up into separate posts. Come back tomorrow for the next stop on our farm tour.