Category Archives: Episode w/ Elyse

Saint Bertrand de Comminges, a Day Trip from Toulouse, Episode 177

Saint Bertrand de Comminges


If you are staying in the Toulouse area long enough to look around at some of the other hidden gems of Occitanie, we recommend you consider a visit to St Bertrand de Comminges, a bucolic and inspiring village in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

In today’s episode, Elyse tells us how the gorgeous Cathedral came to be built and about other interesting sites nearby such as the Basilica of Saint Just Balcarère, the painted neolithic cave of  Gargas, the spa resort of Bagnères de Luchon and the Roman ruins at Montmaurin. 

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

St Bertrand de Comminges Episode Highlights with time stamps

About Join Us in France

[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 177. Join Us in France is the podcast for where we talk about France, it’s many quirks, it’s history, it’s language, and of course, destinations in France you might want to visit since you’re probably someone who loves to travel. This episode is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the Tour Company that specializes in small group and custom tours in France. And we’ve a great tour coming up in May, check it out here.

 

Saint Bertrand de Comminges city sign and illuminated Cathedral
Photo Annie Sargent

On Today’s Episode: Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[01:05] Bonjour Francophiles, I’m Annie, and on today’s show I chat with Elyse about a really small and charming village an hour south of Toulouse called Saint Bertrand de Comminges. Definitely out of the beaten path but at the same time a center of French history and culture. This episode goes entirely to the depth of knowledge we aim to bring to you about France because this is certainly not a place lots of people Google about! But we talk about it anyway because it’s interesting to people who love France and want to understand it better.

French History Brief: Richard Coeur de Lion

[01:44] The French History Brief at the end of the episode today is called Richard I of England aka Richard the Lionheart aka “Richard Coeur de Lion”. But did you know he also had a nickname? They called him “Oc e no” which spoke to me because that’s an Occitan expression, and as you know, that’s where I’m from too! More on that after the episode. Here’s the song I mention in the episode.

The Show Will Go Dark Between Dec 20th and Jan 10th

[02:14] The next episode coming out next week on Dec 20th is going to be the last of the year and then I’ll take a couple of weeks off and will come back with new episodes in the new year starting on January 10th. And now, on to my conversation with Elyse on Saint Bertrand de Comminges!

A Great Day Trip from Toulouse

[03:10] Why Saint Bertrand de Comminges makes for a great day-trip from Toulouse.

An Organ Festival at the Foothills of the Pyrenees

[04:35] The Saint Bertrand de Comminges organ sounds great and the concerts there are top quality.

St Bertrand de Comminges Historical Background

[06:10] St Bertrand used to be on a major trade route under the Romans

Roman Villas Established in the Area

[07:48] Roman traders established lavish villas in the area

Herod the Kind from the Bible in the Comminges

[09:00] Herod the King was kicked out of Palestine with his wife and he took his retirement in the Comminges.

From Roman Baths to Early Christianity

[10:00] St Bertrand de Comminges went from Roman settlement, to early Christianity settlement, to a County overseen by a Count

A Large Cathedral For Its Time

[12:24] The Cathedral at St Bertrand de Comminges is surprisingly large for the time

Geology and Archeology in the Area

[13:54] The area has interesting geology and several active archeology research sites

St Bertrand Is a Low Population Area Today

[14:57] The village has a lot of empty houses today because there are many home owners who only go on week-ends. We recommend you visit on a week-end or during the festival when it’ll be more lively.

Roman Ruins

[15:57] Besides the Cathedral, you also have a site of Roman Ruins to visit nearby with beautiful frescoes.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges in the year 1000

[20:00] Bertrand de l’Isle Jourdain was a bishop in the Gers, then went to Rome, built the Cathedral on top of the hill, then as made a Saint.

It’s Hilly!

[21:28] Watch out for narrow streets! Most of the houses look really nice.

Best Time to Visit Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[22:50] Go on a week-end or in the summer or on a day when the festival is on.

Saint Just de Valcabrère

[23:45] This is Saint Just de Valcabrère, a beautiful and World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, it was closed when Annie Arrived.

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Either Eat on French Time or Bring a Picnic!

[24:35] This is not the sort of place where you can grab a bite to eat any time of the day. Either eat on French restaurant time (arrive at 12:30 PM or 7:30 PM) or bring your own food! We’re not even sure there are any restaurants open year-round in St Bertrand

The Cathedral and Cloister

[27:17] The Cathedral and Cloister were commissioned by one of the French Popes in Avignon called Clement V. He had been bishop of the area and when he became pope, he built a large Cathedral there (large for the area, you’ll see bigger ones lots of places!). The Monastery has been gone for a long time. The organ and wooden choir is gorgeous.

The Summer Music Festival

[30:19] The Festival is over 40 years old, started out with Organ music, but now they also have chamber music and sacred music. It attracts music connoisseurs who are usually older and better off.

What to Do Nearby: Gargas Painted Cave

[32:04] You can visit the painted cave of Gargas where you get to see the actual ancient paintings, lots of hand prints. (http://www.grottesdegargas.fr/)

[34:19] You can also stop at Martre Tolosan where there are ceramics with nice designs.

[36:09] For an over-nighter you could go to Banières de Luchon where they have spas, thermal baths, go hike in the mountains. Luchon is a lot bigger than St Bertrand de Comminges and has a lot more happening.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges Cathedral at dusk
Photo Annie Sargent

 

 

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Mont Saint Michel History, Episode 175

Mont Saint Michel History


If you’re wondering some of the things you might need to know about Mont Saint Michel history before visiting Normandy, you’ve come to the right place!

Licensed Tour Guide Elyse shares with us some of the highlights that will help it all make sense. And they will also help you look around with a different eye. Did you know that the Monastery on top of Mont Saint Michel was a prison for 200 years? Did you know that the Mont wasn’t always an island? It’s all in today’s episode!

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Other Episodes About Mont Saint-Michel

Red half-timbered house on the Mont Saint-Michel; Mont Saint Michel History
Photo Phil Roberson

Episode Highlights with time stamps

[02:00] Phil Roberson visited the Mont Saint Michel in September 2017. He took the train between Paris and Rennes and then rented a car to get to the Mont Saint Michel.

The Mont Saint-Michel Gest 2.5 Million Visitors Per Year

[02:45] Elyse will be answering the question “Why go to the Mont Saint Michel?” One reason is that it is the 3rd most visited cultural site in France after the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. It is extremely popular. The first tourists started going there in the 19th century. It became a historical monument in 1874.

Where Is the Mont Saint-Michel?

[04:00] It is in the southern part of Normandy and right at the border between Normandy and Brittany. There has been a historical debate as to which region it belongs to. It’s about 1.5 hours from Bayeux.

The Mont Saint Michel Was Not Always an Island

[05:45] The top of the rock is 92 meters high. We think there used to be a pagan site on the Mont. They used holes in the rock to place religious artifacts. It used to be called Mont Tombe which means elevated mound (and not “grave” as one might think).

High Places Used as Religious Sanctuaries

[08:00] We know from several places in France that high places were often used as pre-Christians religious sanctuaries. When Normandy became Christianized they also setup the area as a religious sacred site. It is not a burial site because it is solid granite, but they placed objects there.

Hermits Lived on Mont Saint Michel Long Before the Monastery

[0940] Places like that were also used by hermits as a refuge from the world. One of these hermits created a shrine to Saint Etienne (Saint Stephen) half-way up the rock. And another one of these hermit shrines was placed at the base of the rock. The area was surrounded by forest at the time. By the 6th Century, Christianity and the Francs had taken over and that’s when it first became a monastery. Vikings were next, arriving from the Seine River.

Norsemen Became Normans

[14:10] In the 700s King Rollon promised to protect the rock which allowed the monks to start building the precursor to the Monastery. Saint Michael is a popular Saint at the time and Charlemagne wants to dedicate the rock to him. That’s when it becomes called Mont Saint-Michel. The early name was “Mont Saint-Michel in the Peril of the Sea”.

Legend About When Mont Saint Michel Became an Island in the Year 709

[18:30] Elyse tells the story of the natural disaster that turned Mont Saint Michel into an island supposedly over-night, but it most likely happened over a long time. It’s more likely that the land eroded slowly. They built the first church on the Mont late 8th century under the Bishop of Avranches. That is why Normandy has more of a claim on the Mont Saint-Michel than Brittany does.

The Mont Saint Michel as a Major Center of Learning

[22:15] The Monks at Mont Saint-Michel became the center of intellectual development in Western Europe and are the first to translate Aristotle from Greek into Latin. Between the 11th and 14th Century Mont Saint Michel is a major center of learning.

The Benedictines Take Over

[24:00] The Brothers fell away from austere religious life and Benedictines came to take over. On the site where the Monastery stands today there used to be a pre-Romanesque church. What we see today is late Romanesque / early Gothic.

Because of the work of the Benedictines, the Mont became an important pilgrimage site. When you visit you’ll see two Saint Michel statues, one from late 1500s and the other from the end of the 19th century when they did some renovations.

The Abbey Is Turned into a Prison

[27:40] By the 17th century, most of the brothers have left because of wars between England and France as well as the wars of religion. The brothers leave starting in the 16th century and eventually it gets turned into a prison. It was a Royal Prison.

Before the French Revolution it had turned into a prison for men, women and even children. They were turned into indentured servants. This lasted over 200 years. They called it “Bastille de la mer” because it was such a horrible prison.

[30:00] In 1810 there were over 1000 prisoners there. Victor Hugo wrote about it. Over time there were 14,000 prisoners at this jail.  The jail closed in 1863.

The Mont Saint Michel Becomes a Historical Monument in 1874

An elderly Violet-le-Duc starts the renovation of the Mont Saint Michel with the help of two students. What we see today is neo Romanesque because of the way Violet-le-Duc renovated things. He liked pointy roofs.

Modern Tourism Started at the Mont Saint Michel in 1880

[31:40] Mont Saint Michel was famous because of the pilgrimage and the outrage of the prison and 100,000 come see it that year. It was a great way to rebuild a fresh image for this ancient site. Pilgrims start coming back too at that time also. The big boom of tourism in the area started after WWII.

What Attracts the Pilgrims to the Mont Saint Michel

[32:30] What do pilgrims go to see there?  They have a relic of a rock that contains a footprint from Saint Michael and and some cloth. It’s hard to believe The Monks there now are from the Order of Jerusalem. But the biggest draw for people to this day is that it’s so spectacular. It is beautiful both from a distance and from inside.

To Be Continued in Episode 176 Next Week

[37:00] To prevent this episode from going too long, you’ll get the rest of our conversation next week!

Annie’s Personal Update

[38:15] Thank You Patreon supporters!

Questions for this week: what can I do to make the show better in 2018? What do you think about the video teasers?

French Tip of the Week

[44:50] Est-ce qu’il va pleuvoir demain ?

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Mont Saint Michel history, medieval door to enter the city
Photo Phil Roberson

Conclusion

Now that you know a few important things about Mont Saint Michel history you’ll probably get a lot more out of the time you spend there.  But no matter how much you learn about history, the real reason why people go is that it’s so beautiful both up-close and at a distance. It’s a photographer’s paradise!

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving, Episode 172

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving


Today we talk about traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving. By that we mean recipes you can use to bring a little bit of France into your own family traditions, although you will hear in the episode that Annie and Elyse don’t quite agree on what that means.

We don’t talk about “French cut green beans” (which are NOT a thing in France!) but rather talk about all the traditional French foods that would fit in well on your Thanksgiving table. Sometimes putting together a Thanksgiving Feast in France requires a some creativity, but Annie and Elyse do it with good humor. 

Whether or not there is room on your Thanksgiving table for new dishes imported from France, we hope you have fun listening to this episode and have a wonderful celebration with your friends and family! And remember: you should try some traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving!

Leave a Voice Mail for the Show: 1-801-806-1015

The Extra for email subscribers this week is a classic French recipe card. This is going to be a tested recipe with measurements in both metric and Imperial so you can hit it out of the park the first time you make it.

If you’re interested in this episode, don’t miss Table Manners in France, Episode 93.

Recommended in this episode

Balsamic Glaze, Foie GrasRoasted ChestnutsTapenadePitted PrunesTruffles, Macarons

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

 Roasted Chestnuts; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving

Episode Highlights with time stamps

Typical French Salads that Work Great for Thanksgiving

[08:25] Salade de chèvre chaud. This is a green salad with grilled goat cheese toast on top. To make this recipe, Annie uses a balsamic glaze to decorate the plate first. The goat cheese we mention is pictured below. You don’t have to get that brand, but this one works well. I am quite sure I have seen this food item in America at the better grocery stores such as Target.

[12:20] Salade de foie gras. You can get foie gras on Amazon, serve on a bed of lettuce with some lightly toasted white bread.

[14:40] Endive salad with Walnuts and Blue Cheese. Use the white chicory to make this.

French Soups for Thanksgiving

[17:00] Sweet Potato Ginger Soup. In France we can get a variety of sweet potatoes now as well as butternut squash and “potimaron”. You can get acorn squash in France so far.

[19:54] French Onion Soup. The secret is a bit of brandy or marsala wine.

[26:06] Soupe Auvergnate aux Chataîgnes. This is made with roasted chestnuts and if you’re looking for new yet satisfying flavors, you will love it.

French Side Dishes You Can Make for Thanksgiving

Gratin Dauphinois or Potatoes au Gratin. This one is made mostly of butter, cream and a little bit of cheese, plus sliced potatoes, of course. I recommend you serve that in individual dishes. It is better for portion control.

[27:44] Tapenade is another very French side dish you could serve as a nibble on toast. It is very salty, but if you want to bring a little bit of Provence sunshine into your celebrations, tapenade might be the ticket for you!

[28:19] Oysters on the half shell. Extremely typical of French festive foods. Oysters are the perfect food: tasty, low-calorie, nothing but protein. Of all the foods we’ve suggested so far, oysters are the healthiest. in France we serve this as a fist course.

[29:05] Pruneaux au lard. Pitted prunes wrapped with bacon. This is typical of the South West of France where Annie is from. If you start adding that to your traditional french thanksgiving recipes roster, people will ask you to make it again and again. The only trick is don’t cook the bacon so much that you can’t wrap it around the prune!

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving that Work for Vegetarians / Vegans

[29:44] Œuf en cocotte. Would work for vegetarian guests, not vegan. Delicious with small amounts of truffles.

[33:05]  Vegan Stuffing with Chestnuts. This is often done for Christmas, but it would work well for Thanksgiving. Dried bread, chopped up, a can of roasted peeled chestnuts, chopped up apricots. No eggs or meat, cooked inside the turkey, but you could bake it outside of the turkey.

French People Don’t Celebrate Thanksgiving

[34:45] Buying whole turkeys in France for Thanksgiving is impossible unless you go to a butcher. You can only find turkey parts until Christmas. And you won’t find the nice round Thanksgiving turkey.

[36:32] Another very French thing you could do without too much effort is to go get some fabulous bread to accompany your  Thanksgiving feast. Walnut bread, fig bread, focaccia bread, olive bread.

Traditional French Desserts You Can Use for Thanksgiving

[37:06] A typical French dessert is Clafoutis, and this is something you can make in advance. It’s a lighter dessert.

[38:10] Pear Cake with Black Pepper

[39:00] With French-Style Apple Tart you have to slice your apples evenly an

[40:00] Tarte Tatin is very French, but it’s more difficult to make at home, but so delicious with ice-cream!

[41:00] Here’s something easy: to bring some traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving wherever you live, buy some macarons. The ones from Costco as pretty good. You don’t have to tell them they are store-bought! The great thing about macarons is that they are light, will go down easy at the end of a big meal, and everyone wants to try them.

[42:30] Make Walnut Pie instead of Pecan Pie.

[42:00] No pumpkin pies in France!

[43:00] Serve a cheese platter at the end of your meal with some fruit. For important meals in France we serve both a cheese platter at the end of the meal and desserts! Note that we never serve a cheese platter as an appetizer in France. We may have cheese nibbles, but the platter is for the end of the meal.

Conclusion

So, will you do it? Will you include traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving? We think you should because it’s fun to bring a new twist to same-old, same-old. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration listeners!

Thanksgiving Table on a White Theme; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving

In France This Week

[48:47] Link to reserve a ticket for Dame de Coeur November 8, 9, 10 and 11.

[51:16] No Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées this year. I did an episode about it last year Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées. The city of Paris wants to go towards a classier Christmas Market going forward. In the meantime, you will be able to enjoy other Christmas Markets in Paris in 2017.

French Tip of the Week

[56:00] “une bonne journée”

Historical Tidbit

[57:30] How the people of Paris ate in the Middle Ages.

Voice Mail Feedback on Pickpockets in Paris

[61:30] John Murray tells us what happened to him in the Paris metro.

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French-Style Home-Made Apple Pie; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving