Autumnal Delights In Southwest France
“Now that we have been living in the southwest of France for almost two years,” writes France Correspondent Lucy Culpepper, “I feel I can declare fall to be my favorite time of year in this part of the world.
“Most mornings are crispy fresh and misty, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As the sun rises, and the mist burns off, the views to the Pyrenees Mountains are breathtaking. The clarity of the air makes it possible to see clearly the Pic du Midi and its observatory, with a smattering of snow, some 60 miles away at an elevation of 9,439 feet.
“As the morning goes on, the temperatures can rise as high as 68 degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough to enjoy a meal out on the terrace.
“All around, the trees are turning. It’s reminiscent of fall in Virginia or North Carolina. This year there has been a bumper crop of all fruit, including fall nuts; we return from woodland walks with bags full of gleaming chestnuts to roast in the fireplace. Though the daytime temperature is springlike, the nights are chilly, and an open fireplace is a blessing.
“This perfect weather made our recent trip to the chili festival in Espelette in the French Basque region all the more enjoyable. Strings of bright red and luscious chili peppers bedecked the whole village. The rich chili color matched the red paintwork typical of Basque facades, making the houses come to life, rather like tassels on a show horse’s bridle. We wandered for hours through the lanes of the village sampling chili peppers, ewe’s milk cheeses, Bayonne ham, fresh cider, fruit beers, and delicious wines.
“An entire road was given over to selling the famous stripy Basque textiles; including espadrilles, towels, bags, and aprons. We fell for some chili pepper jewelry displayed on…yet more chili peppers. Espelette is also home to several boutique shops selling exquisite handmade crafts; this is a richly wooded region giving plenty of raw materials for some of the best marquetry I’ve ever seen.
“For the cherry on top of the pie (that would be a Basque pie), we wandered unsuspectingly into Parfums et Senteurs du Pays Basque, the ‘lair’ of Master Perfumer, Christian Louis. This dynamic gentleman – one of only 27 parfumeurs in France – twirled each of us around, looked into our eyes (quite a joy for my daughter and I but a little surprising for my son and husband!), looked us up and down, and then chose the perfume that he felt fitted each of us.
“Then he tipped our heads down and sprayed the scent onto the backs of our heads, under the hair. According to Monsieur Louis, it’s the best place for it. The scent sprayed here will last for up to six hours.
“Monsieur Louis’ perfumes are made just a few miles from Espelette and sold in Paris, online, and in boutiques across the Basque region (www.parfumsonline.com).”