What a year 2020 has been! The COVID19 pandemic affected us all, and I hope that you and your loved ones have come out of it unscathed so far. Although we’re not there yet, a vaccine is in sight and hopefully 2021 will be a better year. Even though we aren’t allowed to travel freely as before the pandemic, I hope that La Ramoneta made you virtually travel to this beautiful part of France.
Between lockdowns, I tried to continue discovering as many new places as possible. Like so many others, I was stuck at home for quite a few weeks (months…), with a trip to the supermarket as my highlight of the week. Despite the pandemic, I did manage to find new treasures though. To continue my little Ramoneta tradition, I will give you a list of this year’s highlights. Because there were highlights too, mostly found in the simple things of life and closer to home. In 2021 I want to continue taking you along with me on my adventures.
I wish you a very happy and healthy new year. May it be joyful and adventurous in a good way!
1. Favourite village: Rennes-le-Château
Although I feel like I have seen just about every village in the Languedoc region, there are still a few interesting places left undiscovered on my part. One of the most intriguing places I visited this year was Rennes-le-Château. I accidentally stumbled across this small hilltop village whilst exploring the Aude department. However, it wasn’t the village itself that made me stay longer than expected. Instead, learning about the astonishing history of Father Bérenger Saunière and his mysteriously gained fortune lured me into an extended visit.
2. Favourite town: Sète
Living not too far from Sète, I had visited this important fishing port on the French Mediterranean Sea numerous times before. However, I realised that I hadn’t featured it on the blog yet. Therefore, I went back for a closer exploration to discover its true soul. And I went back again, and again, because there was so much more to discover! Like the Mont Saint-Claire with a beautiful view over Sète unfolding in front of me. Also, I finally visited the Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette Chapel and the maritime cemetery, dedicated to fishermen and their families. Of course, I didn’t skip the town centre with its fantastic covered market Les Halles. And I ended my visit in the quaint fishermen’s neighbourhood of La Pointe Courte with its many magical still lifes of drying fishing nets and traps.
3. Favourite festival: Festival des Lanternes in Gaillac
There weren’t many festivals going on in 2020, but luckily, I had visited the Festival des Lanternes in January of this year. I had heard and seen pictures of this Chinese lantern festival, the biggest in Europe, and it was a must-visit on my wish list. It was as spectacular as I had imagined it to be, and worth the 2.5 hours’ drive (one way… Chéri now definitely thinks I’ve lost it). This year, the festival obviously won’t take place due to the pandemic, but if you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend it. And maybe combine it with a stay…
4. Favourite shopping town: Pézenas
Now and then I like to take the time to discover local shops. Especially during these hard times, I feel it is important to buy close to home and support local businesses. The little, cobbled streets of Medieval Pézenas hide a great selection of original boutiques. In combination with an interesting mix of craft workshops and antique shops and brocantes, the town will keep you busy for a couple of hours. I went back several times to write the post about my favourite shops, and every time I discovered new ones. Therefore, it is very much worth going for yourself and adding new finds to the list.
5. Favourite activity: photo workshop with Camargue horses
Looking back at the activities I have done this year brought a big smile to my face. It was difficult to choose a favourite but doing a photo workshop with Cécile Domens from ‘Stages Photo en Camargue’ was a definite highlight! On a beautiful summer evening, I headed to the Camargue to find myself eye to eye with a herd of galloping horses. Just before sunset, my fellow photographers and I went to the wetlands to start the action. Armed with our cameras, all ten of us stood lined up, ready for the galloping horses to come towards us. It all went so quickly, and all of us clicked away. It was not easy to get a sharp picture with all the fast-moving animals! But thanks to Cécile’s explanations, we all managed to get some great shots.
6. Favourite cultural site: Le Moulin à Papier in Brousses-et-Villaret
With the kids being home for six months, I figured that I should include an educational day trip to their homeschooling. So, the twins and I drove off to Le Moulin à Papier, just a stone’s throw from Carcassonne. This is one of the last working paper mills in Europe, and it brought us into the magical world of artisan papermaking. Due to the pandemic, it was only possible to do a guided visit. But I didn’t mind, as the passionate guide explained all about the history of paper. When visiting the actual papermaking workshop, the guide showed us how Le Moulin à Papier still makes its sheets of paper, now in its seventh generation of papermaking. The kids could even try to scoop a sheet of paper for themselves. Altogether, it was an informative outing that made a change from homeschooling.
7. Favourite tasting: La Gorge Fraîche in Béziers
It might surprise you to find a beer brewery in the land of wine. But the last few years, I have noticed quite a few craft beer breweries popping up everywhere. One of my favourite beers comes from around the corner from where I live: La Gorge Fraîche in Béziers. Ever since the idea sprouted from the brains of old mates Mathieu Debilliers and Ludovic Lasserre, their local beers have been a big hit and sell like hotcakes. And now it is possible to actually visit the brewery slash bar in Béziers! Their premises, aptly named ‘Canal du Demi’, are located along the Canal du Midi in an industrial building that used to be a former sugar refinery. The perfect spot to quench your thirst with a refreshing beer.
8. Favourite hike: Lac des Bouillouses
After cancelling our holiday to Norway, Chéri and I decided to take the kids for a few days in the French Pyrenees. We stayed in Font-Romeu, where we had stayed before in the winter. But it is also a great destination in the summer! I had set my mind on walking the Boucle du Lac d’Aude, including a tour around the Lac des Bouillouses. And after some preparation on my side, we hit the 10.5 kilometre trail in good spirits. The hike had everything I hoped for, from dramatic mountain vistas to reflections of the surrounding landscape in the crystal-clear water of the Lac des Bouillouses. Another successful hike ticked off my wish list!
9. Favourite restaurant: Chez Lanchois in Sète
In between lockdowns, I discovered a great restaurant that I had heard of through the grapevine. It’s a gastronomic gem, called Chez Lanchois, hidden in the outskirts of an industrial area of Sète. Not the sexiest place on earth but wait until this unique restaurant reveals itself at the edge of crystal-clear water overlooking the Étang de Thau. And then the food… The food! Chef Joshua Lanchois is the namesake of the restaurant. He and his team offer a minimalist menu with some surprising options and beautiful local wines. Chéri and I usually order different dishes so that we can try as many new flavours as possible. A true gem that I hope to go back to soon!
10. Favourite market: Mirepoix
I love buying my food at local markets, although I have to admit that I don’t go as often as I would like to. This is especially true of the weekly market in picturesque Mirepoix with its colourful timber-framed houses. Although Mirepoix is not remotely close to my home, it is a great joy to visit this medieval town on a Monday morning! This day of the week, the central square turns into one of the biggest and most beautiful outdoor markets in the region. For centuries, the Monday market has attracted people coming from near and far to fill their baskets.