Grapes at Domaine Leduc-Frouin

ripening grapes in the Loire

ripening grapes in the Loire

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Christmas in the Aveyron?

entrayguesAs northern Europe settles into an unwelcome late autumn/early winter, memories of a balmy French summer  fade. Which is why a missive from the Aveyron is so welcome – evoking some of the magic of the region – and making the prospect of a winter break in the warmer climes of the Lot Valley almost irresistible especially with a tempting special offer at Sweet French Cottages self-catering neat Entraygues-sur-Truyere:-


Rain Heron, the Americal owner of the cottages writes:-

Autumn has arrived. The decades-old chestnut trees in the ancient forests are dropping their huge copper-colored leaves, followed dutifully by their fruit, the spiky chestnut. In just a few days time, the almost-fluorescent lime green of the chestnut husks will fade into a fantastic shade of gold sienna, making the fallen chestnuts resemble a huge colony of sea urchins. In contrast, the shiny, smooth dark chestnut brown of the nuts will become strewn about on the forest floor and along the country roads, making them quite easy to harvest. The acorns follow suit, although the forest animals, including the red squirrels like the original ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ of Beatrix Potter fame, seem to scavenge them with great gusto.

The fall weather is truly heavenly in the microclimate that we enjoy near the Lot River in the Lot Valley with its crisp, chilly mornings giving way to warm, sunny days reaching up to 80º F in the afternoon sun. The sun becomes lower in the sky at this time of year and the cooler evenings are perfect for pulling on your favorite jumper and gathering around the fireplace with the smell of fragrant woods on the fire (I also like to throw a handful of rosemary in the flame for an extraordinaire, herbal perfume). You can also roast chestnuts right in the open fire with one of the chestnut pans with their heavy perforated bottoms, which gives off a heavenly and distinct aroma.

The change in season here is clockwork. The trees begin turning cheerful shades of yellow, gold and orange right on cue. The garden follows suit with the regional harvest of nuts including walnuts and hazelnuts with the delightful fruits of late summer becoming ripe for the picking, such as figs, apples and pears followed closely by the most gorgeous eating grapes at all the market stands. With the advent of the season, the geraniums and roses are still in full bloom and the hydrangeas are stubbornly holding onto to their summer blooms, now turning the most gorgeous shade of burnished red and the palest of pinks.

The banks of the rivers are laden with freshly fallen heart-shaped birch leaves and the leaf bed is soft and colorful. The silhouettes of the birch trees — particularly the silver birches — are quite dramatic against the clarity of the fall skies. The rivers change from their summer greens to deeper shades of blue, contrasting beautifully with the still green hillsides.

This is my favorite time of year to go on long walks through the French countryside. I enjoy walking along country roads where the pavement looks inky and the crushed granite shines likes diamonds in the gravelly parts in the bright, crisp afternoon sun and the clouds billow effortlessly. The gentle autumn wind caresses my face and the sound of the rustling leaves captures my imagination. The vistas of the patchwork-colored pastures and vineyards and stone farmhouses along the river are postcard-perfect. I marvel at the way the autumnal light accentuates the myriad of colors, particularly late in the day when the landscape resembles the painting, “Chestnut Tree in Bloom” by Renoir. The late afternoons turn to sunsets that are softer and subtler, with their signature corals, pinks and lavenders unique to this time of year.

Once again, it is “Au revoir” to summer and “Bonjour” to autumn. Autumn is here in its full regalia and I, for one, find it an unforgettable, comfortable and insightful time of year.

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