Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You call this an easy day?

Tuesday, May 17
We plan today to be a "light day" - that is, we do something near to Thézan so we can do some chores in the morning and still get home for dinner. Since it's market day, that is our chore for the day. Janis and Clark swear off espresso after dinner as they were both awake past 2 AM and slept badly. Oops.

But by 9 AM, Janis, Clark and I walk down to the market on the square by the Mairie to buy fruits and vegetables for the next couple of days.

We also stop at the butcher's to order lamb to grill for Thursday's dinner. As usual our butcher lady helps us get the right meat. We order it to be ready on Thursday morning, buy a paté de campagne for aperos and some Luque olives. (Can you believe the big jar is already gone? I guess I owe Dave an apology.)

Once home we quickly put the food away, pack up our lunches and head out with a goal of hiking the Gorges d'Héric and then doing a wine tasting in the Faugères region. Both of these locations are not far (in distance) and should allow us to be back at a reasonable hour for preparing dinner.

Our first destination is Roquebrun on the way to the Gorges. It's a typical French town in a beautiful setting. We take some photos from the center of town and then move on.

On the road to Roquebrun

Then on to the Gorges d'Héric to hike the 3 km up to Héric and then back down the same way. Dave and the girls have hiked this trail before on a pretty grey day, managed to get lost trying to extend the hike, and ended up hiking 14 km. We don't want a repeat of that! The plan today is to just take the paved road up and back - a "short" hike, if you are among those who think 2 miles uphill and 2 miles downhill is a short hike. We note that the "guard rail" of small upright stones on the edge of the road would not give us confidence to drive this road. But we do, once, meet a car coming down this road.

Luckily today is beautiful. Clear, sunny, warm but not hot - a perfect day for a "short" hike. And the scenery is spectacular.

Once parked, we head off on the wide (car-wide) path that is also the road for those that live in Héric. But the gorge is gorgeous. Huge boulders tumbled into a fast-running stream. The hike is uphill all the way, Héric is 514 meters at the top. We start up the path. There are several other people along the path, but not enough to spoil the feeling that we have the gorge to ourselves. It is interesting to watch what seems to be a college geology class who are inspecting the rocks closely. I try but I can't understand what they are saying as I expect there's lots of geology terms that aren't in my vocabulary. Drat, it would be interesting to know what they find so special in the rocks they are investigating so closely.

We walk for half an hour then find a fabulously private picnic spot where a side stream spills down the rocks to join the Héric River. It fills a pool in the shade of the trees growing in the rocky, inhospitable soil that is just off the main path. The noise of the waterfalls masks any activity on the trail and we feel we are the only ones who have ever seen this idyllic spot.

After lunch, I walk a bit further with the group, then find some rocks along the path where I can do needlework while they finish the path. The spot is shady with only the sounds of the waterfalls and birds. There is a nice flat stone for a seat with another for a footrest. Very comfortable.

We've done 2 bridges when I split with the group. They continue up to the top, stop for a drink in Héric and return to pick me up.

While everyone makes it to the top, both Clark and Janis (and I) are worn out from the hike. They wonder if Dave is trying to kill them! I'm glad I didn't go any further. Just making it down from our meeting spot is difficult on my knees, even though the scenery is spectacular. This gorge is really a must-do. The setting is incredibly beautiful and there's always the option of scrambling over the huge boulders to get to the water to swim and cool off in pools and waterfalls. We see several groups of people doing just that on the way back down. It's not warm enough today for us to consider doing that, but we can see why it would be popular.

Once down, we now head toward Roquessels where Clark has found the name/address of a wine cave where we hope to taste wine. Roquessels is barely a village, but surprisingly, and with Olga's help, we find the vintner's cave. We're not sure where to go once into the vinyard, but eventually find the tasting room. It has a doorbell to ring to let someone know we are here. A man comes out and I speak first in French, then he asks if we speak English, and it turns out he is the British vintner we've read about and yes, indeed, we can taste wine. Simon (the vintner) gives us a tour of his wines and how they are grown/made and we begin to taste. He's only owned this land for about 4 years and is clearly impassioned for the wine-making process and especially his "terroir" (land whose aspects of soil, altitude, sun and moisture impart particular characteristics to the grape and hence to the wine).

After about 40 minutes and 4 different wines, Simon's wife, Monica, arrives and takes over so Simon can get changed to attend a winegrowers association meeting. Clearly, in small businesses, the owner must wear many hats. We're glad to have had the opportunity to meet Simon and his wife and we know his vinyard is in good hands and will make great wines. We purchase 10 bottles, pay in cash (credit card not accepted) and leave for home. Dave misses a turn specified by Olga and we end up in someone's vinyard, snap a couple photos and find our way back home.

Once back in Thézan the aperos and dinner prep begin. Tonight we have raclette so aperos and dinner blend into one long meal. It is delicious and reminds us of our travels in Switzerland. Dinner conversation includes questions about how Dave considered this a "light" day when he marched us all to exhaustion. Although we all have to admit it was a great day with beautiful scenery, a gorgeous walk (ok, hike) along the Héric gorge, topped with wine tasting. Another shitty day in paradise, as Dave would say.

We wonder if Duane and Judy have made it back safely. Hopefully we'll get an email from them tomorrow to let us know they're back.

Tomorrow, for us, is a "long" day. The weather is supposed to be clear and sunny and we plan to do the tour of the Vermeillion coast - that's the beach towns of Collioure and south to the Spanish border along the Mediterranean Sea. Sun and beach, here we come.

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