Thursday, 11 June 2015
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 155 m, descent 184 m
Map 174 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
The comforting patter of rain on the tent had stopped by the time we woke up, and we discovered that our washing, strung between two pine trees, had even dried during the night.
There was no need to repeat the muesli feast of last night, as we looked forward to a substantial breakfast in Bizanet, only two kilometres along the track.
It was a cool, grey morning, so we did not hurry to leave and it was almost 8 am when we finally set off.
The track meandered prettily around the base of the forested hill that had caused us grief yesterday, rising gently through grassland until it joined a small road that descended into the village.
We soon found one of the restaurants, la Forge (closed at this hour), and pressed on up the main street in search of a bar, but did not find one.
Eventually we asked a woman who was shaking a mop in her doorway, and she called her neighbour, and between them they decided that the nearest bar was at Ornaisons, four kilometres away in the wrong direction.
Disgusted, we went back down the street and sat on a bench to eat some dried fruit, the only food that we had. As we were leaving the village we noticed a bar in a side street, but it was either closed for the day or defunct.
The road out of town was a graceful avenue of plane trees meeting overhead, like the nave of a church.
Just past the graveyard we turned off through the fields, around a rest area of the autoroute and then under it, where we soon joined the quiet D123 and went along through the vines for a few hundred metres, past a fine old stone windmill with no sails.
It had been repaced by modern windmills, a line of pale, slender giants, amongst which was one rusty survivor, looking like a toy beside the others.
Turning off again, we found ourselves on a stony cart track that wound its way through undulating fields, mostly pasture or vines, and came out on the main road into Boutenac, which was at the bottom of a fold of the hills.
We entered the village worrying about whether there would be a bar, especially after the disappointment of Bizanet.
All we could find was a Vival supermarket, so we went in and asked the bored teenager behind the counter, and he directed us up the next side street to a little square with tables and chairs set out in front of the bar.
It was a cheerful sight at first glance, but a second glance revealed that it was closed.
I went back to the supermarket to ask, and the kid remembered that Thursday was its day off. So we bought half a baguette, some cheese and two cold cans of soft drink, which made a surprisingly pleasant little breakfast at the bar tables.
The square was charming, with a fountain, a big plane tree and straw sunshades held up by barrels.
The houses around it were of golden stone or pink plaster, with the crenellated eaves characteristic of the south. We almost expected a toga-clad Gallo-Roman merchant to emerge from a doorway.
Much revived, we stepped out along the D161.
This would have taken us all the way to Ferrals-les-Corbières, but we had a better idea – an old tree-lined road that branched off after a couple of kilometres and led to a farm track through yet more vines, then a narrow local road curving gracefully down to the village.
With some difficulty we found the main intersection, where there was a bar, or what we thought was a bar, but it turned out to be a sort of lunch spot, where a few people were eating sweaty squares of sausage and cheese from wooden boards.
The terrace was cramped and the tables, supported on barrels, were uncomfortably high. Barrels seem to be the accessory of the moment in this area.
We ordered coffee but there was no milk, so I got the powdered milk out of my pack and we had the first caffeine hit of the day, at 12:30 pm. The barman was huge, tattooed and menacing looking, although no doubt a model citizen, and with him was a small bulging three-year-old thug, practising armed hold-ups with a toy gun.
It was hard to know which street to take out of town, so we asked a man in his garden and found that he spoke neither French nor English (his car had Norwegian registration), but he got the idea and pointed ahead encouragingly. Over a bridge and past the graveyard, the little road followed the curve of the river, emerging into yet more vineyards.
Across a swampy tributary we saw the two square towers of the village of Fabrezan, our destination for the day and a very pleasant sight. Soon after that we joined the D611, crossed the river and cruised into the main street.
A few steps around the corner we came to a large, busy bar opening out onto a pavement shaded by ancient plane trees. After three disappointments in a row, we were in a proper French village at last! Another round of coffee – real gran’ crèmes this time – slipped down delightfully.
Then Keith walked down a side street to investigate the camping ground, coming back to report that it was desolate, dry, devoid of showers and probably defunct.
This did not matter, as there was a hotel further on, le Clos des Souquets, which we finally found after a mystery tour of the village. It was a single storey building set back from the street in a Spanish garden – gravel, palm trees, flowering vines – behind the swimming pool and restaurant. A woman came out of the kitchen and escorted us to a room with its own little walled courtyard, utterly luxurious compared to the barren camping grounds of the last two nights.
We had showers in the gleaming bathroom, washed our clothes and hung them in the courtyard, then slept for the rest of the afternoon. It was too late for lunch and anyway we had no food.
About 6 pm we pulled ourselves together and set off to investigate the dining scene. The streets of Fabrezan were a complicated web of lanes, narrow and picturesque, but apparently not very much visited by tourists.
We only found one restaurant apart from the one at the hotel, and both seemed unusually expensive. There was a cheaper Café des Arts on the road to the dead camping ground, but it looked rather uninviting inside, and it was too cool to eat outdoors.
In the end we decided to eat at the hotel, but before going back there we had apéritifs at the bar under the plane trees where we had arrived.
Once again it was delightful. We sat on the pavement amongst the local drinkers, and people kept stopping to shake hands and chat (to each other, not to us) as they walked past.
Back at the hotel, the main dining room was already full and we were shown into the elegant “garden room”, which opened onto the pool. Soon that was full too. There were flowers everywhere and the glass walls kept off the evening breeze. We were still amazed at how expensive everything was in the south – both camping grounds and restaurants – compared to what we were used to, so we chose the cheapest menu which was €19.50.
While we waited for our order we sipped the wine, a nice dark Corbières red, which came with a ‘mise en bouche’ of tapenade and toasts.
For entrées Keith had gazpacho and I had salade fraicheur, with asparagus and melon (I gave the melon to Keith).
For the main course I had salmon and Keith, who is a bit of a beef specialist, chose carpaccio de boeuf, which looked too light for what was really our only meal of the day, but it is amazing what a couple of baskets of bread can do. Both these dishes were delicious, and Keith finished off as he meant to continue for the next month, with a crème brûlée.
It was a lovely evening all round, and at the end we only had to stroll a few steps to our wonderful room.