“January in the Languedoc conjures up images of wood fires burning steadily, walks in the afternoon sunshine, greeting friends at the markets, and a slower pace of living.” Andrea Swan in the recently published Travels in Languedoc, Secrets to a Memorable Visit.
I recently had a chance to talk to Andrea Swan about her new book, which takes us through the region month by month. Andrea and her husband Andy spend six months a year of their retirement in a village house they bought ten years ago near Beziers, and six months in their home town of Victoria, Canada. Andrea bubbles with energy, she loves her life here and explained, “You can be busy every single day of the year here if you want, there’s so much to do!”
I agree–a slower pace does not mean that nothing’s on. You just need to know where to look. Today marks the first in a three-part series highlighting winter activities and traditions here in the Languedoc. For this post we’ll be highlighting some of the seasonal events the region offers. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at local associations and activities as well as more traditional cultural events in arts and music.
Like much of France, January and February’s highlights revolve around food and drink. If you’ve wandered into a boulangerie in January, you’ll have noticed a plethora of round golden cakes and crowns on display. The galette des rois marks Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas or “King’s day” and dates back to the 14th century. This frangipane filled tart has a fève or small porcelain figure baked into it. Traditionally, the youngest child sits under the table and calls out who gets which piece and then whoever finds the fève becomes the King or Queen of the day. You can learn more or try out the recipe yourself at Anglophone Direct.
Another food highlight of the winter months are the prevalent foire des truffes, or truffle fairs. Producers and consumers alike eagerly await this delicacy, which can sell for over 1,000 euros a kilo! Don’t worry, a little goes a long way in adding flavor to your morning baguette or spicing up an omelette. Truffles can be preserved and eaten throughout the year, but it’s only in the winter where you can find them fresh (and at their best) at the fairs in villages all over the region. You can find a list of truffle fairs throughout the area at the Languedoc Living site and learn more here for buying tips and recommendations.
If you are looking for the perfect wine for your truffle dinner, you may want to check out the Millésime Bio, a unique organic wine fair held in Montpelier every January. With 4800 trade visitors, this is largest organic wine event in the world. Of course, winter is also a wonderful time to visit some of the smaller, local domaines as wine-makers have more time to chat and explain their wine making process. Just call ahead and make an appointment in the off-season, we’ve had great luck learning the ins and outs of wine and doing some tastings in these winter months.
After all that eating, you may want to work out a bit. We are very lucky here to have easy access to skiing and all kinds of winter sports. With the Pyrenees, Cevennes, and Alps within a few hours, there are mountains galore to explore. Many French families spend a week skiing during the two week February school holidays, so if you can go before or after, the slopes will be quieter and the prices lower. And of course, before you go, you may want to update your ski-wear at the January ‘soldes’, the massive sales found throughout France in January.
Like Andrea, we’ve found that the winter offers up wonderful walking and hiking opportunities. Even on overcast days, the sun typically peeks out, promising a bit of sun. In our next post we’ll highlight one of the numerous walking clubs started by local expats who stroll monthly all year long. If you have suggestions for other winter fun, just let us know in the comments below!