Putting a passion into words, explaining why you are smitten with anything – a person, a job, a country – is never easy. But in the case of the Languedoc, the land speaks for itself. The appeals of its thyme-scented garrigue (the rough scrub that covers the inland hills), idyllic pastureland and sun-baked valleys are self-evident, but it’s the abrupt flashes in temperament that delight us, the distant mountain crags that suddenly encroach on a serene valley, the fertile plains that give way to flawless beaches, the eerie flat landscape of the Camargue and the coastal lagoons known as ètangs.
Food critic and writer Angela Murrills along with her husband, Peter Matthews, an artist who charmingly illustrates this fascinating book, recounts their journeys of discovery through Languedoc in the South of France, whilst searching for a French second home. We discover the people of this region with their ancient customs and language and Murrills recounts its long and sometimes troubled history. I was particuarly interested in the information she gave about us about the Cathars, persecuted for their Protestant beliefs, who held out in fortress strongholds such as Montségur in the Pyrenean foothills; about the building of the Canal du Midi, an impressive feat of engineering started in 1666, linking the Mediterranean with the River Gironde, which runs into the Atlantic Ocean; about the life of the locally born artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and about the places which caught the eye of painters such as Henri Matisse and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of whose paintings they find semi-forgotten on the wall in a small hotel. Murrills takes us through Languedoc not only area by area but dish by dish too as this is also a culinary journey and she gives information about regional wines and drink, food preparation and the varied cuisine, including some local recipes for the reader to try at home.
Just before my holiday I had wandered into our local library – in case they had any Langudoc guide books I had missed – and was fortunate to discover this newly shelved foodie travelogue. This type of book helps to bring a holiday alive and ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ certainly helped us discover, and try, the regional delights, both culinary and tourist, of the Languedoc. I had intended to just ‘dip’ into the chapters covering the area where we were staying but in the end the book was so good I read it all!