|We may be deep in the countryside and 4 miles from the nearest shop, but we are:|
|There’s a lot yet to be added to this section, but here are some headlines:|
|Belpech:||Will meet most immediate needs. Most of the shops are open from 7.30 till 7, but closed from 12 to 2, and on Sunday afternoons and Mondays. Bakers: there are two, of which Garcia (closed Tues), on the right as you enter the village, is by far the best. Don’t just buy their baguettes, try their other specialist breads (especially the Fougasse au Roquefort which they often have on Saturdays). Their patisseries are wonderful. They don’t automatically deliver to Le Domaine de Loustalviel, but if you ask them, they’ll happily add you to their delivery runs on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Bar/Restaurant: the Vixiège is a perfectly good place for a beer or a cheap, decent meal (closed on Wednesdays).
Butchers: can be found opposite the covered market, and is a real butcher – high quality meat, excellently cut and prepared. If you want anything special, give him a couple of days’ warning. He also does eggs, and occasionally local cheeses which are well worth trying.
Garage, Petrol and Repairs: the Renault dealer, on the left as you leave town on the Pamiers road is an old-fashioned mechanic who can repair anything. Closed, including for petrol, on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and between 12 and 2 the rest of the week.
Mini-Markets: there are two; we tend to use the Casino, next to the butchers. They have most staples, and are a useful source of last-minute barbecue charcoal (you have to ask, because it’s not on display).
Pharmacie: there’s just the one, but they have everything you might need from eye-liner, through antibiotics to incontinence trousers – and they are a useful port of call if you aren’t feeling too good before you resort to one of the three doctors in the village.
Newsagent/Tobacconist: apart from the obvious, they also develop films, arrange laundry and dry cleaning; go at 10 or 11-ish, and they may still have yesterday’s English papers.
Weekly Market: this is on Wednesdays, and is worth going to, if only to see what a non-tourist market is like (two fruit and vegetable stalls, and one stall selling 1950’s frocks!).
|Castelnaudary:||They will tell you that this is where cassouletwas invented, and there isn’t a restaurant in the town that doesn’t claim their version as the original, and the best in the world – and there are a lot of restaurants!It’s a pretty town, with good shopping, and with a splendid tree-lined central avenue – worth a trip just to sit in the shade in a pavement café and watch the world go by. It’s also worth taking a walk along the tree-lined Canal du Midi to the Bassin which is the high point of the canal.
The two main supermarkets, Géant and Intermarché, are perfectly good, but not a patch on the Pamiers offering.
Other shopping is excellent, just what you’d expect from a fairly cosmopolitan, but still provincial, French market town.
|Pamiers:||This is the birthplace of Gabriel Fauré.Go to the town centre, and you’ll find plenty of attractive, reasonably priced and well laid-out shops, as well as a good range of restaurants, and even billiard halls and (somewhat provincial) night clubs.
But Pamiers also has two excellent supermarkets Carrefour – our preference (turn left just before the level crossing as you enter the town, and left at the next traffic lights) – and Leclerc. They stock pretty well everything you could reasonably need, and, in particular, have top class fruit and vegetables, delicatessen and fresh fish counters.
If you have a car problem, all the dealers (Citroen, Ford, Honda, Opel [i.e. Vauxhall], Peugeot, Renault, Volkswagen/Audi) are clustered together in the Village Automobile just behind the Carrefour supermarket
|Mirepoix:||The galleried square at Mirepoix is a picture-book sight; when it’s full and bustling on market day, it’s irresistible to sit in one of the cafés under the arcades (while waiting for the freshly-cooked poulet fermier which can’t be collected before noon) and watch it all happening. The supermarket (Super U) is adequate, but not brilliant, but the shops round the square are well worth the trip – in particular the three women’s clothes shops with their own unique collections; everybody thinks one of them is “their own” – but nobody can agree as to which one it is!|
|Chèvre:||Try the Farm Joutet, (signed to the right just as you emerge on the far side of Pech Luna).|
|Brebis:||A large selection of ewe’s milk products available from the farm Le Bosc, including yoghurt, crême fraîche, a huge range of flavours of the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted, curds and fromage frais.Head north along the D625, and turn right, following signs to St Amans. Le Bosc is about 1 km along on the right. Make a point of going here; it’s well worth the 10-minute drive. The farm shop is open most afternoons between about 4 and 6.30.|
|Confit, etc:||M Gaec Lassalle is your man.Go towards Belpech; at the 2nd bridge, turn right towards St Sernin; follow the winding, gently climbing road as far as the T-junction, and then turn left, signed towards Bastide de C (away from St Sernin). Look out for a sign on the right to France (this is M Lassalle’s farm). Except Saturday, Sunday and Monday, they are usually away at market until mid-afternoon. They also do fresh, oven-ready chicken and pintade.|
|Foie Gras:||This is the local speciality. It’s usually made with duck, rather than goose, liver. And the locals claim it beats anything you’ll find elsewhere in France. We’re inclined to agree.
DON’T buy the supermarket stuff. Go to the local farms which have signs by the roadside (BelleMayre, for example, on the left on the D217 as you’re heading towards Belpech), or the butcher in Belpech (see above). No recommendations here, because they’re all different, and you’ll have your personal preferences.
|Markets:||Note that they almost all close soon after midday.|
|Mirepoix (an absolute must) and CastelnaudaryPamiers and Carcassonne
Belpech (the big time!)
Revel (probably even better than Mirepoix, but much further away).
|Wines||There used to be a vineyard at Loustalviel. Now you have to travel a bit further.20 kilometres to the West of the Domaine is the wine-growing region of the Malepère (mainly reds, but some quite exciting and original whites. 10 kilometres beyond that, the Limoux , and they also do some of stunning whites. We buy all over the place, but keep coming back to three places:
Just beyond Montréal (a 20-minute drive), you’ll find the Appellations Contrôlées of Malepère and Limoux.
We recommend a visit to Domaine le Fort (04 68 76 20 11), between La Force and Montréal. It’s not very posh, but offers a wide choice of red, white, rosé and sweet wines grown and bottled on the Domaine, and ranging from 1€10 a litre (take your own container – it’s unleaded!) to 9€ a bottle.
Or go to Limoux and visit the cellars of Sieur d’Arques for a range of sparkling (Crémant de Limoux claims to pre-date, and to be better than Champagne) and still white wines – not cheap, but we think classy, different, and mostly good value-for-money (04 68 74 63 45).
Finally, we’re becoming more and more seduced by the wines on offer at Château Gayda. Not easy to find (it’s just outside Brugairolles near Limoux, which you’ll have to find – with difficulty – on the map). There’s a wide choice of whites and reds ranging from about 5€ a bottle to well up in the teens. We think they’re all good value, and we’re not at all surprised at the rumour that they supply the house wine for Gordon Ramsay’s gaffs – f-ing good stuff!
There’s a lot to be added to this page, but at least the above will give a feel for what is available in the vicinity.
(And if there are things you think should be added, please leave a note in the visitors’ book.)