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Posts from the ‘Walking’ Category

A retrospective: summer of 2010

Yesterday was the last day of summer. Through the lens of my camera, this is the story of the past few months.

English Countryside: Beautiful Oxfordshire

South of France: Restful Provence

London suburbs: Dulwich

Stillness and peace: Switzerland

Statuesque: Greece

Tell me about your summer. Did you see new places? Take up new hobbies? Discover new eateries? Fulfill your goals?

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Stillness

I spent last weekend in Switzerland, and it rained. Mostly. Every day. I attract the bad weather. Jinxed I tell thee. Despite this poor show on the meteorology front, we went to this beautifully peaceful place called Champex-Lac. The stillness. The stunning surroundings. It brought peace. The photos speak for themselves.

I have no recipes for you this week. I did make Heidi Swanson’s Pierce Street Vegetarian Chilli when I was there. It was delicious and the texture was perfect! I’d add some smoked paprika to give it a little more depth. I served it with some potato wedges with melted Gruyère. I’ll be back next week with some new recipes.

Belle & Sebastien

I am back. Oops. I got lost. So where were we… ah yes. Holidays. So…

The Hautes Pyrenees, peaceful, beautiful, low key yet impressive.

Gorges de Kakouetta: Truly impressive, the walls of the gorge are up to 300m high and barely more than 5m apart in some areas. The lush vegetation is jungle-thick and waterfalls fill the air with a fine spray. This is best done early in the morning when there are no tourists, it gets crowded from 10am.

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Col de Tourmalet & Pic du Midi de Bigorre: We undertook a 4-hour walk from the Col de Tourmalet (2,115m), the highest road in the central Pyrenees and one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France, to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2,877m), which is renowned for its astronomical observatory. The weather was glorious but the air was fresh and after a rather uninspiring climb on rocky terrain, the views were breathtaking once we got to the top. We took a different route on the way down and were lucky to spot a marmot soaking up the rays on some rocks. I wanted to adopt it, John said no.

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Luz St Sauveur: This delightful little town, which used to be a 19th century spa, is the perfect place to stay if you want to explore the area for a few days especially if you are a keen cyclist or hiker. We found a room at the friendly and very affordable Hotel Les Templiers, which is run by an Australian lady and her French husband. The hotel is located opposite the Church of St-André, guaranteeing you a charming view when you open the shutters in the morning! I daren’t say romantic, John might squirm…

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Cirque de Gavarnie: One word: breathtaking. Its edifying size and stunning surroundings makes this Unesco World Heritage Site a must-see in the Pyrenees. The imposing rock amphitheatre, with its 400m Grande Cascade waterfall, rises to over 3000m and makes you realise how small humans really are. Again, this is an early morning jaunt as it gets very busy later on in the day.

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I want to go back. Soon. It is a very serene and stunning area of France from which you come back feeling relaxed and scrubbed shiny and new from the inside out.

Les Corsaires

Holidays. Abroad. To nice places. They should be made compulsory by the government. I have just spent two weeks in South West France and I am full of happy memories and new experiences. Needless to say I have the holiday blues. It’s very bleu indeed.

After flying into Biarritz, we caught a train south to St-Jean-de-Luz where we were spending our first two nights. This Basque seaside town has something for everyone with its friendly and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Old fashioned charm oozes from the narrow lanes, old buildings and fishing port. The restaurants are plentiful and overall the food was fairly good, with several affordable menus on offer.

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One of the reasons we chose this destination was because we both wanted to learn how to surf. John is rather gifted in the sports department so I thought that starting this new venture on an even keel might give me a chance to be as good as him! We took a couple of lessons with an instructor who took the meaning of laid-back to a whole new level. Both in his attitude and instructions, it should be said! Surfing was fun but hard. The waves keep coming at you as you fight to get into position to try and catch a wave. Swallowing sea water and scraping your limbs on the sand at the bottom of the sea make for exhausting work. When you manage to stand up, it is exhilarating. You want to keep going and going and going.

After our stint in St-Jean-de-Luz, we moved to the Tamaris Plage campsite near Guéthary. It was my first foray into camping since school days. The bungalow we rented was perfect for our needs… had the weather been nice. We had about three days of heavy rain and I think my sense of humour might have deserted me at some point. Cooking on a temperamental two-hob stove was certainly a culinary moment I won’t forget. My friend Justine described it as ‘shabby chic’. I think I’ll let her believe in this romantic notion a while longer.

When the sun was shining, it was glorious. The sea is a stone’s throw from the campsite with a beach a minute’s walk away. The sunset was dramatic, with shades of purple and pink lighting up the sky.

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Guéthary, which was recommended by my friend Hilary, is the place to stay if you are into surfing. Not as busy as Biarritz and what one would call a village, there is something really understated about the place. It is very refreshing. Seaside bars and restaurants are popular but never overcrowded and the food was always very fresh and full of flavour.

We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Cenitz. It is literally on the beach. If you are in the area, you must go. The food is delicious and the setting is idyllic. Book your table at the right time and enjoy the sunset whilst sipping on a glass of rosé wine.

This is a stunning area of France, it is easily accessible with cheap flights and the public transport links are pretty good. If you hire a car, it’s even easier. I’d return in a heartbeat.

Next week, our foray into the Pyrenees…

Veni, Vidi, Vici: Helvetia

Petit Col Ferret

Returning to my homeland is always a pleasure: the fresh air is reviving, the view of the mountains is always beautiful and the cheese is, well, delectable and invariably calorific!

 

 In 4 days, wine was drunk, food was consumed and mountains were conquered. Here is how…

 

The Wine

Grapes

Having recently bought a vineyard, my father took John and I to his 700m2 plot of land for a little apéritif. It was a sight to behold, row upon row of vines drooping with gleaming grapes overlooking the valley and mountains, and my Dad, secateur in hand, trimming away the excess grapes lovingly. By the vineyard, there is a small cabane (hut) containing a rustic wooden table and two benches. A perfect place to sip a glass of Fendant, a crisp white wine made from the Chasselas grape, after a hard day at work.

 

Papa VigneFor as long as I can remember, my Dad has always loved wine and this was the logical progression for his lifelong passion. This is his first year as a budding winemaker and the vendanges (harvest) will take place in September/October, with the bottles of wine ready in May/June next year. The whole family is awaiting the wine tasting with great excitement!

 

 

 

The Food

After the apéritif and once back at the chalet, there was only one thing to do. Yes, you guessed right: EAT CHEESE. Raclette to be precise, a semi-firm salted cow’s milk cheese from Valais. Traditionally, the raclette cheese round is heated by a special machine, then scraped onto diners’ plates. The term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning ‘to scrape’. It is accompanied by small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties), gherkins, pickled onions, dried meat and dusted with freshly ground black pepper. Raclette is typically consumed with tea , or with a Fendant.

 Raclette Machine

A modern way of serving raclette involves an electric table-top grill with small pans to heat slices of raclette cheese in, which is how we enjoyed it. You can get hold of raclette cheese in the UK: online at Natoora or in any International Cheese Centre shops. It’s never as good as the raclette cheese in Switzerland but it has certainly hit the spot when I have been craving some Swiss foodstuff.

 

The Mountains

Walk Ferret

And what better way to work off a cheese feast than a mountain walk. Two to be precise: one to the Petit Col Ferret (2490 m.), a pass, which separates the Mont Blanc Massif from the Pennine Alps, between the canton of Valais and the Aosta Valley and the other to Pas de Maimbré (2362 m.), at the top of the cable car in Anzère.

 

The first walk was a shock to the system after very little exercise recently but the views were magnificent and the pain was worth it. John, having spent a couple of weeks running up and down a few mountains, was speeding ahead whilst I lagged behind, huffing and puffing (and moaning frequently).

 Pas de Maimbré View

The second walk, which my Dad accompanied us on, was a little easier and quite different. The mountain was covered in scattered clouds so it made for more dramatic scenery. Nearing the top, we were greeted by bright sunshine and an arresting view of the valley below.

 

Switzerland is, and will always be, part of my heritage and I am thankful I spent my childhood and teenage years growing up there, experiencing all it has to offer. Returning there, if only briefly, is a small pleasure which I will never tire of. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder…