C'est La Vie en France
The end of the first half of my 3rd year adventure is soon approaching, and it is time for my final blog post from the South of France. Even though the whole reason for being here is the work, travelling to new places, meeting new people and tasting new food is what will really leave a mark. So, for my final French update I shall be sharing what I have been getting up to when the apron is off!
The location of Chateau L’Hospitalet, where I work and live, is far away from anything else. It’s a 15-20minute drive to the nearest town, which costs up to €35 in a taxi. The roads aren’t safe to walk or cycle on either, so it is tricky to get around. However (for my sanity) I made a pact with myself to bite the bullet and reluctantly pay for the trip to the train station every second week. I make the most of my little weekends away and manage to keep myself busy whenever I do stay here too!
The weekends I stay here are filled with hiking and relaxation. A walk through the vineyard brings you to the beginning of a gorgeous trek called ‘La Clape’. I have spent hours upon hours exploring the route, which overlooks the never-ending stretch of vineyards below, framed by the Mediterranean Sea and sunny blue skies. Having access to a route like that at my doorstep has made for some pretty amazing Monday morning scenes!
Whenever I make the effort to leave the hotel at the weekend, I usually make the most of it and take a train to a nearby town and stay overnight. This has brought me to thoroughly explore the brilliant city of Montpellier inside and out. Montpellier is seen as the capital of the Languedoc region and is a hub for students and creative young people. The winding side streets are filled with gorgeous restaurants, cafés and bars. It is the home to many artists and creators which is visible through the stunning workshops and colourful craft stores that brighten up the cobbled streets. The main square, Comédie, is always bustling with people, which is a stark contrast to the peaceful surroundings of my vineyard home! There will be Christmas markets soon which I will hopefully get to see too.
One of the highlights of my stay here has been a visit from my mother and aunty. I took a week off work and hopped into their rental car to stay with them in their Carcassonne apartment. Carcassonne is one of France’s most visited cities outside of Paris. It is small enough, but the highlight is undoubtedly La Cité, the UNESCO world heritage protected walled old city. Its tragic history now makes for an utterly interesting trip. Exploring Carcassonne off-season allows for a more comprehensive meander through La Cité, but most restaurants and places are shut down. That didn’t stop us from getting some great food though!
Having the rental car granted us the opportunity to visit places which would otherwise have been inaccessible. We visited the unusual but gorgeous streets of Pézenas and the port town of Sète. One of my favourite trips was to Lastours, home to four stunning castles, built together on a hilltop. A hike to the top gave for some pretty incredible views.
Eating out is the best treat in France. I have been lucky enough to try some of the most amazing local produce, and of course, wine. A trip to the Saturday morning Carcassonne market was a really special experience. Place Carnot, the little square in the ‘new town’ was filled with a rainbow sea of fruits, vegetables, breads, charcuterie, cheese, shellfish and more. Choosing the best of everything and cooking an entire meal using only local products was amazing. Nothing but quality, freshness and flavour!
Back at work, I have really noticed a huge improvement in my culinary skills and in my French. I won’t say it hasn’t all been a huge challenge, but I know it’ll be worth it. The past few weeks has made me a little clearer on what direction I want to take with my career too, as I have been looking into my interests with sustainable and ethical living much more, and have had the time to start my own blog ( EachtBia.com ).
So that brings me to the end of my final French blog. If you are considering Chateau L’Hospitalet as a place for you placement I would really recommend it for pastry. However, I would be adamant about the lack of facilities and access to transport, being stuck here some weekends and feeling a bit lonely won’t suit everyone. I also recently had to move into smaller accommodation so no longer have access to a fridge/microwave which limits eating options at the weekends. Other than that, don’t let the speaking French issue put you off. If you have the basics and learn some kitchen vocab, common sense and practice will see you by. Wherever you go and whatever you do, challenge yourself and do something a bit different. This year is all about finding your own feet and learning as much as you can.
That’s it for now. I am off to Venlo in the Netherlands to study in February so shall be sharing my experience of that soon. Thanks for reading!
À toute à l'heure!