Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Wild Blueberry Picking in the Mountains of the Limousin

On our Saturday visit to the distillery, the brewmaster mentioned that she was expecting a batch of blueberries from a local grower, as it's now the season for the fruit. Our ears perked up. Blueberry season?! Back at the house, I leafed through our hiking book and found a drawing of "la myrtille sauvage" which grow at an altitude of 800 meters on the northern exposure of Les Monedieres, small mountains to the south of Limoges.

And so we set out at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning. Compared to the cow pastures and meadows around Limoges, the landscape in the Correze, near Tulle, is completely different: the mountains loomed blue, covered in pines and evergreen forest. At the summit (911 meters), the wind tore across the shrubs. The only other sound was a loud (uncannily so) buzz of bees zipping from blackberry bush to bush. From the highest point in the region, the view is heartstoppingly gorgeous.

It was cold on the mountain and we wrapped in fleeces and began the search for the elusive blueberry bush. The temperature reminded me of cool mornings in Maine. We walked a loop around the summit, underneath towering evergreens, and finally stumbled upon a patch of bushes with big, plump berries. Aha! We noticed that the leaves turn red as the berries mature. We fell on our hands and knees, giddy with excitement, and plucked those tiny berries until our hands and teeth were stained blue. After an hour and 15 minutes, we had picked at least 2 kilos. Then we set out on a 3+ hour hike.

The hike-- Le Cirque de Freysselines-- is 11 kilometers through rapidly changing terrain: from the wind-swept summit, descending into timbered forest, the trees covered in moss, through fields and small villages, past a lake (and much warmer temperatures in the valley), and then back up along the slopes covered in beautiful pink blossoms and low brush. We even saw a herrison (hedgehog).

Back at the top of the mountain, adventurers were hang-gliding, families were scouting for blueberries, and we realized we had beaten the crowds that morning. When we arrived earlier, the mountain belonged to us. We also realized that most of the area was fenced off as private blueberry farms. An older woman put a finger to her lips as she sneakily picked a few blueberries on the roadside.

Near the car, a man had set up shop selling blueberry confiture and honey, and we bought some honeycomb, which is the most divine thing I have ever eaten (though the beeswax can get caught in your teeth), especially with goat cheese.


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