Chateau de Commarque — from prehistory to (almost!) present ­­­­

9A0E939E-24FA-4A85-937F-D574957180C4

Picnic area below the chateau.

­This is a special place, and well worth the 10 — 15 minute walk in from the carpark. The track down through shady woods is not difficult and the rewards are many. You are delivered into to a pretty green valley with a stream, meadows and picnic tables and on one side, the towering ruins Chateau de Commarque.

Your entry fee comes with a booklet for your self-guided tour. You start with the troglodyte caves, well-presented to give a snapshot of what life was like.

2F62A519-3367-4654-A791-818258498581

Troglodyte living area in caves at the base of the cliffs, with work benches and sleeping areas and carved into the rock.

Then you begin the climb past the remains of church and a grand house to the castle and tower. The authenticity of what is on offer is palpable, it gets through to you, giving you a real feel for the layers of history and life through the ages, and an appreciation of the painstaking restoration that is taking place here.

There are lots of steps and stairs, but you can take your time — two hours should be enough to see it all, although you could easily spend the best part of a day here.

BAEEC43B-7B62-4C79-9EAC-780536E03E57

View across the valley from an upper floor of the chateau. The wonder of this place stayed with us for days.

 

Take a picnic lunch with you, or buy a sandwich from the cafe at the foot of the castle (please note, though, so as to preserve the integrity of the stream, there are no toilet facilities down here, they are in the carpark at the top of the track).

 

Our local vendange

grapepickers

One glorious, sunny day in late September this year we took part in our local vendange. Joining neighbours and friends with secateurs and buckets in hand, we harvested the grapes from properties around our local district. About 20 of us – men, women and children – spent a long morning filling buckets with ripe grapes and dumping them into vats on the backboard of a tractor. Some of the grapes were planted in long rows, just like a real vineyard, but many (like ours at La Vieille Grange) had grown over trellises and along fences to provide summer shade in front of houses and barns.

The sturdy vines grew exceptionally well during the year, thanks to abundant rain in early spring followed by a hot summer with occasional downpours accompanying storms. The grapes were fully ripe weeks ahead of their normal harvest date.

This pitching in by local farmers, most of whom had over generations planted a few rows of grapevines on their properties, is a well-established tradition in the area and many of the farms have a stone-built cuve into which the crushed grapes were poured to start fermentation. Most of the grapes we picked were of an obscure local red variety, similar to merlot or tannat, but with a few white grapes thrown in because they were there. The wine is therefore a ‘blend’ of local varieties.

Once picked, our grapes joined the others to be taken to the underground cellar of a friend to be crushed and cleaned of any leaves, spiders’ webs and other contaminants before the magic of fermentation and winemaking took place in the following weeks.

But the celebration of this joyous occasion (and in truth, the real reason for the event) was the delicious vendange special lunch where the pickers were invited to sit at a long table, eating plates of local produce including duck parmentier, local cheeses and, of course, few glasses of local red. The meal started with a glass of just-picked grape juice, the raw material of the winemaking process – and it tasted particularly good. We can’t wait to taste it when it turns into wine – the real fruit of our labours!

meal2

The true heroes of the day were not the pickers, but the providers of the splendid lunch – for providing not only food and drink but the opportunity to gossip, laugh and get to know our neighbours, make new friends and look forward to next year’s wine tasting.

La Vieille Grange came with a few locally barrels which for many years were used to store wine made from grapes grown there and fermented in our own stone cuve. But they were in poor shape for storing wine these days and have been pressed into service as useful surfaces in the BBQ area we now refer to as our ‘barrel room’.

 

 

Summer colour

In Spring the flowers put on a fine show

A clump of hydrangeas at the entrance gate (planted decades ago by our old friend, the previous owner Henriette) rewards us each summer with a splendid display of deep pink blooms.

Hortensias in vase

Guests are welcome to pick flowers and herbs from the garden. We usually have tomatoes growing, as well.

Progress, but little by little

New shuttersThere was progress on the Spanish restoration last year that saw shutters installed and painted pale green, a new colour for us. The roof with its 200 year old tuiles plat was completed almost two years ago but only last year were we able to close the window openings and tidy up the surrounds to the house. Makes you think it could be a house again. And, of course, there is still a bit of crepi to finish. We plan to do it this year!Spanish house with roof and shutters

Le Cantou, our local ferme auberge

IMG_4426Just a five to ten minute walk up the road to Chateau Fenelon brings you to Le Cantou. In the fields below the poultry (ducks) roam free-range. Everything on the menu here is natural too, no conservatives, no colurants. Though, for  vegetarians, there is not much in the way of meat-free (or in this case, duck-free) dishes. For here, it is all about duck in its many forms — pate, fois gras, mousse de fois gras, rillettes, gesiers and magnet seche (both in their delicious saladeperigourdine), confit, cassoulet…

There is a very pleasant outdoor eating area overlooking the fields and forested hills but, for our most recent visit, unseasonally cool August weather saw us eating inside. The dining room is a converted barn, with the original mangers still in place. The evening menus start at 20E, for soup, entre (salade or mousse de canard) confit de canard with a deliciously morish creamy potato bake for a main, and a choice of desserts (we both choose creme brûlée noix, yum). Hard to go wrong, here. Then, stroll home down the hill to La Vieille Grange. Continue reading