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Friday, November 29, 2013


Cordes-sur-Ciel, France
Editor’s note: Beth and Steve Hagman retired nine years ago and moved to Ireland.  But after growing weary of the rain in the Emerald Isle, these former North Parkers have recently taken up residence in the sunny South of France. 

A PRIMEUR—Travel By Beth Hagman--“...It’s been a busy week here in France… our first Primeur event, our first French Christmas market, we finally get our little French auto today and we’re driving it 6 hours to visit friends up near Tours tomorrow, sharing Thanksgiving with them.

Ex-pat North Parker Steve Hagman
visits the first Christmas markets
of the year
A Primeur is the first tasting of this year’s wines, and this year Gaillac area wines all did theirs last weekend. We have quite a nice family-run winery in own own village, Domaine Salvy -- we had met the owner on one of our daily walks and got a personal invitation. We had to walk maybe 100 meters to their primeur, held in a big modern barn built next to Patrick and Anne’s home -- their parents live on the other side of the village. The whole family was there, along with a few vendors (selling crepes, cheeses, pates, honey, maccarons and chickpea products including flour, bread and oil). There was a band, and oysters, mini quiches, bites of cheese bread and a local dish of tripe and potatoes to accompany the wine tasting. When we arrived, there was a good sized group sipping and singing -- people came from all over, it’s a big social event as well as an opportunity to taste and buy the new wines. Dave and Diane Smith (the people we replaced as caretakers) came, and we had a nice chat with them… We’re still struggling when it comes to carrying on any real conversation in French, but the local folk have been very forgiving.

Sunday was the first Marche de Noel of the season -- nothing to do with marching, marche means market. The little towns in the area have small, one-day Christmas markets, usually on Sunday, while the cities -- Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne -- have bigger ones, often extending through Advent. Since we’re not going to our beloved German markets this year, we’re determined to make the most of local events.

The first was in Cordes-sur-Ciel (Cordes in the sky) -- one of the better-known bastide towns in our area, a place we’d been intending to explore. So we parked at the bottom of the hill and climbed the steep cobbled streets to the top, where the market is held in a covered square. The walk up (and back down) through the bastide, with amazing views, interesting old houses and shops, was the best part of the day. The market itself was very small, and nothing like a German market. There was one food vendor with some kind of stew and cake and little plastic cups of hot spiced wine that we liked very much, though it bears little resemblance to gluwein. The local crafts on display were uninspired, though there was some nice pottery, a Santa who played Christmas carols on the saxophone and a lovely honey that we bought after having a taste.

A bastide, by the way, is a walled town built circling the top of hill for protection, generally during the 12-13th centuries in response to the raging religious wars of the era. They are similar to the hill towns of Tuscany, and there are lots of them, though Cordes has maintained its historical character better than most. It has an inner wall, and then an outer wall built toward the end of the 13th century, when growing population pressure required more space.

There are also small walled towns along the Tarn river, different from the bastides because they are built on the flat, usually on bluffs above the water. We visited Lisle-sur-Tarn a couple of weeks ago, a walled town on the river, known for its weekly market in the arcaded square. Full of cats and fun to walk around, with narrow streets and old stone buildings.

Views of Cordes-sur-Ciel, France
Photography by Beth and Steve Hagman

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