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My 81st-Birthday Outing—Day One

How much delicious food can I eat in one 48-hour period? That was the question I evidently tried to answer on the occasion of my 81st-birthday getaway.

Expresso, Attenderella, and I traveled two hours north into the Languedoc-Roussillon region (now part of Occitanie), where about a third of France’s wine is produced. The area is home to some of the best food and wine that French chefs put on the table.

On the way there, we passed a roundabout with huge sculptures of bronze ants. Expresso stopped to take pictures for me, capturing two of the crawling insects.

These ants make me smile

Although we had not traveled far from home, we might as well have gone a thousand miles given the entirely different geography we were now enjoying.

Lunch on the first day was at a restaurant in Lamalou-les-Bains, located about an hour west of Montpellier in the Orb valley of the southern Cévennes. The village offers commanding views of rivers, lakes, and mountains in Haut-Languedoc. But the healing spring waters people have used for three centuries, and perhaps longer, are the real attraction.

The abundant thermal water is considered a source of beneficial minerals: calcium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), iron, magnesium, and potassium. The springs also contain traces of manganese, zinc, cobalt, nickel, silver, copper, lead, barium, lithium, silica, aluminum oxide, rubidium, and strontium. And the water even contains carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and rare gases.

One treatment offered, balneotherapy, is recognized by the United States’ National Institutes of Health for its therapeutic effects for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

After we parked, we picked a restaurant that seemed popular based on the number of customers. Plus, the prices seemed quite reasonable. Wanting to try several of the specialties, we started with an omelet made with cèpes, a local mushroom that Americans know as porcini. Between the three of us, it didn’t last long.

The treasured cèpe mushroom

Currently in season, cèpe mushrooms are hunted by tourists and locals alike. (Expresso joined the hunt the following morning, albeit unsuccessfully.)

We then ordered three different plates to share. I ordered grilled daurade (sea bream), a fish that is a bit like red snapper.

Grilled daurade with parsnips, carrots, and pumpkin purée

Attenderella ordered lapin (rabbit) with noodles. I loved the intense flavor that had been cooked into the tender meat and wondered how it was achieved.

The flavor of the rabbit was superb

Expresso ordered something a bit lighter—an endive salad with black walnuts and a light dressing with a few orange cherry tomatoes.

Lighter fare: an endive salad

After exploring the town, we continued on our tour.

The scenery for the next few hours was beyond the power of my descriptive ability. Between the rock formations, mountain peaks, green valleys, woods, and vineyards, we experienced a visual treat of the first order.

We spent the night at a hotel in Fraisse-sur-Agout, a small commune of about 350 people where farming and timber harvesting are the main industries. My room was exceptionally clean and comfortable.

That evening we ate at the hotel, although a bit more lightly given our substantial lunch. I could easily have made a meal from the charcuterie buffet.

Too many choices!

The dessert buffet bar was pretty impressive as well.

The blueberry tart looks good

With a full stomach and a head full of beautiful pictures and lots to look forward to, I went to sleep immediately.