In August, I made the 2.5 hour train trip from Agde, France to Barcelona, Spain for dinner with my EatWith colleague Papa Serra. What an evening it was! My AirBnB rental was in one of the old areas where the narrow streets aren’t accessible by car. As the apartment was a fifth floor walk up (6th floor in the US!) and the room looked directly into the window across the way, I gained a good understanding of what it must’ve been like to live in a Lower East Side tenement! However, as it was clean, comfortable, safe, inexpensive and only two blocks from Joel, it suited me very well. The neighborhood was an interesting, ethnically mixed one with many small restaurants, bakeries and shops.
I couldn’t help stopping for just a few tapas and a glass of Cava (dry, sparkling Catalan wine) before checking in! Time for Papa Serra! After over two years of knowing each other on line, we were very happy to finally meet in person. Papa has a FABULOUS apartment on Trafalgar with a roof terrace of MONUMENTAL proportions and stunning views of Barcelona. I felt lucky just to BE there let alone attend a dinner party there! On this evening, he was sold out with 24 guests. Whilst Joel’s family originally comes from Barcelona, he has spent time living in Tazmania and New Zealand as well. His marvelous cuisine reflected these influences in each the five courses. He personally introduced each course and questions were welcome.
The table setting chic but not fussy and invited guests to feel at home. Most of the 24 guests were from Germany (he’d just been featured on a German travel show), but I sat next to two charming (and fun!) young ladies from Edinburgh. As with every EatWith event, eating a home cooked meal around a table together, especially with a host like Joel “Papa” Sera. You’d be making a mistake to visit Barcelona without eating with him. Read all about him here. I caught a train the next day. I’d only spent 20 hours in Barcelona, but, thanks to Papa Serra, my time there is a memory I will always treasure.
The Minervois, a region of the Haute Langue D’Oc famous for its wine, is so rich in beauty, history, wine and gastronomy that it is impossible to cover it one short, sweet post (or 100 posts). Instead, I will share one dazzling day I spent there last month. The day began with a one hour drive, gradually climbing from seaside Agde to the lively market village of Olonzac with its particularly poignant WWI era war memorial.This was one of the most beautiful French drives I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken many beautiful drives throughout France. It stunned me, truly. With the vendage (the annual grape harvest) underway, I often found myself behind harvest machinery and trucks laden with just-picked grapes. Given the incredible scenery all around me, I didn’t mind the delays. I stopped to admire vines set in a landscape of gently rolling vineyards interspersed with warm brown villages and church steeples for as far as one can see. At the time of vendage, the vines are so heavily laden with grapes that seem ready to burst!Lunch was in Olenzac, a salad of fresh anchovies and tapenade accompanied by a chilled rosé. The vendage machinery rumbled through the town and the smell of the harvest filled the air. The vendage is the most important time of year, and you can feel the excitement. After lunch, I drove upward to the ancient Cathar village of Minerve, in 1207 the site of one of the last Cathar sieges and massacres. Cathars were a threat to the power of the one Church and thus were pronounced heretics. Set high on a natural rock outcropping amongst sheer, deep ravines in a gorge carved by the river Cesse, one can easily see its fortress attributes. The drive to Minerve and the walk across the stone bridge spanning a deep ravine to the village (no cars allowed) is dramatic and beautiful. Leaving Minerve, I climbed higher, entering the Park Natural du Haute Languedoc. The landscape becomes more austere. Here and there lie the ruins of communal farms abandoned long, long ago. Fencing and the occasional sight of horses or cows shows that this land is still being utilized.
The Parc has many well-marked trails, and I spotted a few hikers . As I drove back down to the sea, I passed many lovely and graceful châteaux. Most were built in the 18th century by vintners who grew rich on the wines of the Minervois. The downhill perspective of my return was equally enchanting. This is one drive I could never tire of!