Fall in France means wind. In this corner, anyway. October was a long slow late summer, hot afternoons in the high 20s, no winds, but with progressively colder nights. The peach trees and vineyards all around us turned golden orange and then brown. Mornings in our farmhouse became progressively darker and chillier. The heat source is the mysterious aga, the wood oven, which stayed untouched throughout October, though we shivered in the morning awaiting the hot afternoons.
The minor inconvenience of single digit morning temperatures had no impact whatsoever on Jordan’s decision to wear shorts everyday. By mid October it was the excessively long two week half-term school break. At home he’d shiver in shorts and a t-shirt or drape himself in a blanket; complaints from his parents following him as he dragged it around. Out and about we’d keep our eyes peeled to see if any other person was insane enough to be in shorts or if he was the only one. He was pleased either way.
For 4 nights over the break we took the van, dropped off the cat, and drove a couple hours west to Foix, stopping on route to climb up to one of the Cathar castles sprinkling the area. Persecuted in the middle ages in a pope-sanctioned crusade, the Cathars were a christian sect repeatedly and violently attacked from the north. Greedy northern lords trying to increase their wealth and territory had the handy excuse of religious fervor (*my interpretation*), and the castles are the epitome of defense.
They perch on high rocky crags with arrow slits and dungeons and places to roll out the hot oil by knights in chain mail. Templar knights drinking jugs of wine, probably with the Holy Grail stashed away somewhere, minstrels wandering around, etc., etc. Kate assured me that oil was too expensive and the defenders typically used burning sand, but either way life looked truly miserable for all concerned. For kids in the 21st century though it makes for a neat place to explore and, naturally, engage in hand to hand combat with each other.
Meanwhile we had rather risky booking in the middle of nowhere with few reviews but that fit nicely in our budget. We usually compare our options to camping to see if we like it, and at $45/night the little house ringed by mountains, in a little french village, beat camping hands down. Sometimes it doesn’t go our way but here we sat for a couple evenings by a woodstove, playing cards and chess, with the proprietor bringing us by homemade tarts. The hiking was superb and the kids didn’t complain once. Actually they complained dozens of times but I’m sure it was good for them.
Then we blew the budget and stayed at an apartment in an turn of the century baths for the second two nights. This region is peppered with hot thermal springs (when added to the spectacular mountains, Cathar castles, many medieval towns, endless sunshine and nearby Mediterranean, it seems to me that they’re a bit spoiled around here). We were happy to partake, and our lovely apartment was in one of the old bath towns where it was fashionable to come take the waters and stay for a cure.
Escouloubre-les-Bains is a tiny village in a deep valley, dripping with nostalgia and a whiff of decay. Outdoors on site was a roman bath filled with natural hot springs of 40 C, just the place to soak in the cold night air after a day hiking as the stars and milky way came out over head. The proprietor made us fresh bread and cut us herbs and lettuce from her garden, and invited us out to a bonfire to roast marshmallows.
The kids are now back in school, break over, which coincided with the arrival of the tramontane winds. Fierce and cold, bringing snow to Canigou, the wind rushes inside through the multiple cracks, in fact some cracks bring substantial leaf litter if we don’t plug them. Maybe that’s how the bats have gotten inside. We’ve moved more of life down to the warm kitchen where we have finally initiated ourselves into Aga use and even like to leave a pot of hot water “on the hob”. And are rather relieved we change homes after Christmas. The wind can blow here for days, screams along, and to be outside is to lose your breath. Gentle fall is done, this one means business.
So much so, that it has convinced Jordan to step outside with pants on his legs.