Friday, 29 July 2011

Foix, and all that jazz

Arriving in Foix provided an instant hit of pleasure on seeing in real life the vast chateau towering over the town that we'd seen so so many times in pictures since we started planning this trip.

It rises out of a vast plug of rock, with it's three towers (none original) standing like short, irregular cricket stumps with no bails.

After dropping off our bags at the former coaching inn where were we staying, right on the side of the Ariege, we headed straight into the town itself, through a tiny square with half-timbered buildings and a delightfully decrepit (but still working) fountain.

The streets are narrow and utterly irregular. This really is a medieval city that grew up around the castle's foot.

There was no way, though, that we were going to attempt it that day.

Instead, we found a delightful, old bar - Auberge Miranda - and sat to relax with Leffe blondes, a Belgian white beer that seems enormously popular in the area and is indeed very refreshing.

A further wander and a further beer at another bar, Henri IV, filled our afternoon entirely pleasantly and we headed back to the hotel to freshen up.

The hotel has a restaurant - as do many hotels, of course - but this one has a terrace that overlooks the river; heavy wrought iron, with red geraniums everywhere. The restaurant, according to a guidebook, also has a decent reputation for it's food. So we had decided to to dine there.

The setting is delightful and was worth it. The food was over rated. Okay, it wasn't dismal, but it had pretensions beyond it's capabilities.

They make nods to silver service, but it really isn't up to that.

However, seeking to further explore regional food, I had a gizzards salad, which was vast, but also a tad dry, followed by local wild trout, a treat I'd been dreaming of for some time, but which was also a bit dry, and over swamped in the almonds I'd assumed would be less a retro touch and more something quite  authentic for the area.

The next day, were pared ourselves for the climb - and surprised ourselves by finding it easier than expected, much helped by taking it very slowly.

Wandering around the castle, which had been the home of the counts of Foix from around 1000, when it is first documented, was a pleasure.

At one point, The Other Half spotted a huge bird gliding around not far from us. We caught a flash of brown on it's belly, but the clearest way to identify it was by the tail fathers, which form a sort of fan shape. It was a Lammergeier, or the bearded vulture - the rarest vulture in Europe. And what a magnificent figure it cut!

After lunching at Henry IV (where I had a very pleasant four cheese pizza) we ambled some more and then opted for a rest back at the hotel.

Later, we sat outside the first bar we'd find with another beer, listening to a delightful Old Orleans quintet playing in the street, which seemed to be a key fixture in the town's jazz festival.

We'd briefly heard them the previous evening, when they burst into the title song from Hello Dolly, which had me singing straight away - and then again later in the shower.

After this aperitif, we dined at a small restaurant that we'd spotted called Le Jeu de l'Oie.

In my case, that started with six - yes, SIX!! - slices of local foie gras and toast; and boy, it was very, very good; followed by sautéed rabbit in a sauce based on hypocras, a sugar-sweetened wine, and accompanied by duck fat-fried chips. It was super - the best rabbit I've had, and the sauce was lovely too, and the chips were hardly slouches.

I finished with a coffee gourmand, as I revelled in the novelty of drinking coffee after a meal without it upsetting my stomach: the key is simply to let it cool.

And with that, it was time to waddle back to the hotel and get some well-earned kip before the next stage in our little tour.

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