It can be difficult to find fresh herbs for sale in the supermarket and even the markets. In the south of France, flavourings in the regional cuisine is defined by the herbs that grow wild and free in the fields and wild lands: thyme, rosemary, savoury, bay, even lavender.

So although there is demand for these herbs, if you can forage these ingredients for free, or can effortlessly grow them outside your kitchen door, why would you pay for them?

Bay (laurel)

Last visit, I resorted to harvesting a handful of bay leaves from bushes growing in the precinct gardens of the abbay at Caunes-Minervois, and parsimoniously eked out their use through the following weeks.

L'Abbaye de Caunes Minervois

The cloisters at l’abbaye de Caunes Minervois

Behind the abbaye, with bay laurel growing in the precinct

Behind the abbaye, with bay laurel growing in the precinct



















This visit, I noticed—a sign perhaps of my improving mental health—a massive bay hedge across from the Mairie in Belloc. Right next to the bottle and paper recycling bins. And it’s not as if we didn’t have reason or opportunity to notice said hedge when we were unloading our glass-ware and paper last time around…. However, there we are: a boundless source of fresh bay, of which I availed myself a number of times for the purposes of making soups and other savoury dishes.

Oregano (0rigan)

This herb grows wild on the approach to, and within the confines of, the ruins of Roquefixade fortress. Culling the herb was a reason to stop and catch my breath on the way up.

Fennel (fenouilh)

The Aude Departement of France has many towns named for this aromatic herb. I found fennel going to seed along hiking trails leading out of the village of Hounoux in the Razès region and along a seldom-used road west of Fanjeaux.

Rosemary (romarin)

I didn’t need to forage for this herb, as there is a pot of it growing on the terrace in front of the house we are renting. However, I did find it growing wild on the hillsides west of Fanjeaux.

Fanjeaux barely visible on the hilltop

Fanjeaux barely visible on the hilltop

Thyme (thym)

Wild thyme is stronger and more distinctively flavourful than domesticated thyme, and is a key addition to herbes de Provence. Even though the Aude and Ariège regions are hundreds of kilometres from Provence, and lack the “garrigue” or limestone-hilltop scrubland that Provence is known for, the Aude does have terrains de genêts: similar, and similarly aromatic, scrubland.  This herb grows in great perfumed profusion along the westerly Crêtes d’Hounoux (Hounoux ridges) hiking trail, and the most-western slopes of the Boucle de la Hille (La Hille circle) trail out of Fanjeaux.

Savoury (sarriette)

My will broke when I saw live savoury plants for sale at the Esperaza market. With Victoria’s cool summer nights and the multitude of insect pests that the area’s mild winters don’t kill, I haven’t been able to grow savoury since I left Drumheller.

I bought a plant and inserted it into one of the planters at Mirepoix. Now that autumn has arrived—bringing intermittent rainy days—it might even survive until next summer. Regardless, I tipped the branches and was able to season my sauces with the leaves from this particular plant throughout September.

Chateau Roquefixade

Gaston and I caught the Friday market in Foix, took a heap of photos as the light was crystal clear—that would have been the first day of Autumn light—then departed to conquer Roquefixade.

We’d been intimidated by this chateau on previous visits. The approach appears vertiginous.

The pog of Chateau Roquefixade

Chateau Roquefixade: the wee red flag at the top of the peak marks the ruins of this Cathar stronghold.

First visit to the area, which encompassed only six days, we gazed at it from Montségur and noted the cathar-cross flag flying at the top of the peak. On visit #2, we explored the town at the base of the cliff, climbed to the rock face, then decided, “Another day.” I believe a mild case of food poisoning or airplane stomach-bug played a role in that choice.

Even this time ’round, as we drove towards it from the west and saw how steep the outcrop on which the ruins are perched, Gaston and I were each dreading the endeavour. But, of course, we didn’t say anything. Which I think is mighty big of Gaston, who has confessed to me that, actually, he really doesn’t care for hiking, and especially doesn’t care for hiking up steep inclines, especially when it is warm out.

Does this mean he was humouring me? Who cares!

It turns out the hike to the chateau is deceptive: it isn’t nearly as rigorous as it appears from up the valley or from the village.

Roquefixade village

At the base of the village, overlooking the valley to the southwest, was a small “villa” (modern house) with a million-dollar view and cracks so large in the walls, you can see into the interior. Said house is for sale “on condition of unbuilding.” The edge of the hill beneath the house is subsiding. What a heartbreak for the owner who invested.

Don’t believe me? The trail winds around the base of the rock to the back side of the pog, then ascends at fairly reasonable, albeit still steepish, incline to the back of the fortress.

And we saw our first Griffin vulture whilst lounging at the top: a freaking HUGE, black bird that was riding the thermals off the crest.