Touring to Hugh's House in the South of France - 2003

When I went to Birmingham University in 1959 I was allocated a room in Mrs Johnston's boarding house in Edgbaston, where I met and became good friends with Alan and Hugh.  Although we had kept in touch over the years we had never all been together since Hugh and Kate's wedding in 1963.  Finally, in the summer of 2003, we had a reunion at Hugh's holiday home in the south of France.

Tasting champagne at Piper Heidsieck in Reims

Alan and I with our wives decided to drive south through France, beginning our tour at Reims.  It was very hot with the temperature in the mid thirties centigrade, so we chose to visit as many cool places as we could find.  Since Reims is the centre of the champagne region it was inevitable that we found ourselves seeking refuge in the cool of a cellar with the bonus of a tasting.  Piper Heidsieck kindly obliged.

A trip to the magnificent cathedral proved to be another cool option, but our search for the smiling angel was frustrated by the restorers' scaffolding.

Our next stop was in the medieval town of Beaune, famous for its ornate roofs, opulent food market and splendid Burgundies.  At dinner time we were spoilt for choice, but chose well and enjoyed a traditional French meal well into the warm evening.  The local homeopath successfully cured Elsa's sore throat.

It is surely a place that deserves more than the single day we spent there.

Beaune's roofs
Hugh's house

Hugh's house is in Lézignan Corbières between Narbonne and Carcassonne.  It has three floors and five bedrooms with a small shaded garden at the rear, so there was ample room for all five of us.  He had worked hard to prepare everything for our visit, decorating, providing new furniture and installing another shower.

At the time of our visit France was experiencing very hot weather, and every day the temperature climbed into the forties.  Behind the house there is an electric railway line with a pulley and weights to maintain the tension in the overhead cable.  This proved to be a very accurate thermometer.  By counting the number of weights above or below a conveniently painted marker we could establish the temperature, which was always within a degree of the garden thermometer!

The Corbières region is among the most rugged in France, adjacent to the Pyrenees but barely half an hour's drive from the warm waters of the Mediterranean.  It is also rich in splendid Medieval towns, dotted like fairy castles across the landscape.  We had a good look at Lagrasse, Narbonne and Carcassonne, and briefly enjoyed many others while touring the area in Hugh's new Mercedes.

Everything stops for lunch - around one 'til three.  Doing anything during this period is well nigh impossible, except eating and drinking of course!

Carcassonne Near Cruzy

Like all self-respecting areas of France, Corbières has its own distinctive wines.  One very hot afternoon, 44°C so told, we went in search of a cool cellar to sample them and found one at Château Etang des Colombes.  Theirs are mostly aromatic and spicy reds made from Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan grapes.  They also make an excellent rosé, which we liked enough to find room for six bottles around the spare tyre.  During our visit we were offered a generous tasting of six wines, including a delicious dessert white which now features in our home stocks.  The tasting tradition is ubiquitous and invaluable in an area new to your palette, but the wine was far from cheap even when bought directly from the maker.

Wine tasting at Château Etang des Colombes
Hugh - Brian - Alan Enormous Schnauzer in the Station Café

After a week of exploring, eating, drinking and reminiscing we bade Hugh farewell and made our way north.  We drove up the Massif Central to Clermont Ferrand, then explored the Loire valley from Orléans, and finally spent a day in Arras before crossing the Channel for home.

We had journeyed over two thousand miles in fifteen days, eaten many fine meals, sampled lots of new wines and experienced temperatures higher than any of us had ever met before.  But most memorably we had renewed our friendships, begun as teenagers and which had stood the test of time.  Let's hope it's not another forty years before we all meet together again!

The oldest house in Arras
Statue of Joan of Arc in Orléans Alan, Pam and Brian at the Calais Hoverport