All posts by maristravels

There are still some countries I haven't seen and some things I haven't done and won't do now (like trekking in Nepal) but I've covered a fair bit of the globe as a traveller. I've been a professional travel writer, blogger, and photographer for some years now, love cinema, theatre, books and art. I try to cover these subjects in blogs when they crop up in my travels. I live in the UK and these days I travel mainly in Europe and Asia.

How long is a Week?

Last time I blogged I said I was taking a week off on my eye consultant’s advice but this has turned into many more weeks than originally thought.

Still no improvement on the eye front but having another series of eye injections. One eye has more or less given up on me, and the other is stable at the moment but has periods of behaving badly. Bright sunshine makes for difficult days when I have to keep the blinds drawn indoors and can’t venture outside and my reading, computer work and tv watching, are all drastically reduced.

However, I did manage to get away for a 3-day trip to Gothenburg for a 50th birthday party which was brilliant. No time for sight-seeing, as it was purely to visit family and talk but great to be able to hug and be hugged by family again.

And last week I was invited to lunch in the New Forest with a friend who was driving there, making it all possible. We had a glorious day and we drove through the wilder parts of the forest, avoiding the towns and villages, pretty though they are, and just enjoying the sight of the wild ponies and donkeys along the roadside.

Lymington Quay

We had a late lunch in the lovely old Ship Inn on the Quay at Lymington (high recommended by the way) and watched the swans in the water for a few minutes before catching the ferry back to the Isle of Wight. A few pictures here of my day out.

Meantime, I’m still rationing my time online, time spent reading and time watching TV but I’m now managing to read some of the blogs from those I follow. I don’t comment yet, but I’ll be back soon!

A Break from Blogging

Apologies to the many people on whose blogs I regularly comment but unfortunately, I have to take a break from looking at the screen for at least a week. I’ve had a major eye problem for some time now and yesterday, the new consultant I saw recommended a break from all screens – including TV – for a week to see if that helped the problem. I also have to have some more calcium deposits lasered off my eyes, but I’ve had this done before so I know what happens. It’s just a hassle because they don’t do it in my area and I have to travel to the mainland for the procedure.

I know that easing off the screen time will help, as I found this to be the case when I was trying to be my own doctor!

I’ve been logging on and reading a few blogs but unable to comment because the ‘comment’ screen comes up white whereas I can view your blogs on my normal screen which I have set to black to make it easier for me to look at.

So, I hope to be back again soon but meantime, if you don’t see my comments, it’s not that I’m not bothering, it’s just that I can’t read them at the moment.



It was while staying in the village of Bize in southern France, that I came across the Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide, a former Cistercian monastery that sits in the foothills of the Corbières, 15 kilometres south-west of Narbonne.  There are many abbeys in France, but the Abbaye de Fontfroide at Bize is special, located as it is in the heart of the unspoiled Fontfroide Massif and nestled in the heart of a typically Mediterranean landscape.

The exterior view of the Abbaye

This sumptuous 12th and 13th century Cistercian complex consists of large terraced gardens, a rose garden, a good restaurant and rooms to let. It also holds an annual orchid festival, and produces its own wine.  What’s not to like about that?

The monks would use the cloisters as a passageway to read and to meditate. The original cloisters had a wooden roof but through the centuries it was expanded and marble pillars were added

Founded in 1093 by a few Benedictine monks, Fontfroide was linked in 1145 to the Cistercian order and quickly became one of the most powerful abbeys in Christianity, growing in status and power, due in no small part to having been gifted land by the Viscountess Ermengard of Narbonne.   During the Crusade against the Albigensians, it asserted itself as a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy in the face of Catharism.

It seems it had a rocky history from then on under the ownership of three different families in the 14th and 15th centuries, with further depredations taking place in the 15th and 16th centuries when the commendatory abbots (ecclesiastics/laymen) took more and more of the income from the abbey to the point where it became increasingly poor. By the time of the French Revolution, it had to be abandoned.

Things seemed to be looking up when, in 1858, the monks from the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes formed a new community at Fontfroide, but sadly, they were sent into exile in Spain in 1901 due to legal changes, and the monastery was once again abandoned.

But in 1908, fate stepped in again when French painter Gustave Fayet and his wife Madeleine Fayet purchased the abbey and began its restoration which is an on-going project. It is still privately owned and throughout each year there are festivals and artistic presentations, including the orchid festival already mentioned. The Abbey produces AOC Corbières wines and one can have lunch at their “La Table de Fonfroide” restaurant or café where the wines can be sampled and bought.

Truly, a place worth visiting.

  • Address: Route Départementale 613, 11100 Narbonne (in the Aude department)
  • Open: daily from mid-May to the end of December


I wondered whether to write about Bize or not because it is such a small village and not one that seems to attract many visitors. When I mention Bize, people usually say, ‘Do you mean Beziers’ (a town not very far away from Bize)?

With a population of approximately 1,000 it is well served by two bakers, two general stores, a post office, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a wine cave, several restaurants and a couple of bars and a general market every Wednesday morning throughout the year. About a quarter of the houses are second homes, a fact I think that stands as a testament to its charms.

So why do I like it so much. I think it’s because despite being a village housing many second home owners, Bize-Minervois, to give it its full title, located on the banks of the Cesse in the middle of a mountain gorge surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, has retained its old world charm.

The old stone houses, some covered in ivy, their shutters brightly coloured and their decorative iron balconies draped with red and pink geraniums, green ferns and leafy plants, the old fashioned little shops and narrow cobbled alleys lends Bize a sleepy air. It should all feel a tad overdone, rusticity applied with a trowel, but somehow it doesn’t. It is also eerily quiet in the afternoon, which I love, and the street cats aren’t feral!

It doesn’t take long to walk through Bize but along the way you will be intrigued with the little jokes that the inhabitants have placed here and there. Sculptures of animals and some peculiar faces will peek out of walls and on corners but you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to see them.

In much need of repair

Apart from the hidden sculptures, things to look out for are Bize-Minervois’ ancient main gate, Porte Saint-Michel which dates from around the 8th century and which leads in turn to a small square where gardeners once sold their produce – the Place aux Herbes,

Two kilometres from Bize you will find L’Oubilo, my main reason for visiting when I’m in the area. For me this is olive heaven, a co-operative that sells the Rolls-Royce of table olives cultivated only in the Languedoc – the lucques. Lucques are not your usual olives, they are buttery, creamy, totally smooth and very moreish. I’ve never managed to find them in the UK.

L’Oubilo also does a good line in wines from their own vineyard. Tastings are always available and it will be hard to resist driving away without a couple of boxes of really great wines – and some olives of course and the by-products of the olive, tapenades and oils. If you are hiking or cycling you will just have to sample on the spot and maybe pack a bottle or two?

Cycling or driving, the most important sight-seeing spot in the area is the beautiful Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroidede which you can read about here. It is also a good spot for a midday snack, or a more substantial meal if needed, plus a glass or two of the wine produced by the Abbey.

For a day’s total relaxing, head for the wide, wide beach at Guissans, where the sand is soft, the swimming is good and there is a wonderful fresh seafood restaurant right on the beach.

And if it’s history you’re after then a visit to the Cathar village of Minerve, perched on a column of rock in the gorges of the river Cesse and one of the most beautiful villages in France, will deliver food for the mind and scenery to delight the eye.

Before you leave the area, be sure to drive or cycle down to La Somail on the Canal du Midi, relax by the waters while you watch the boats go by, nurse an aperitif while you peruse the menu before dining in the lovely L’O de la Bouche, a restaurant invariably full of locals.

One thing’s for sure, you won’t be short of options for spending time in this lovely area of France.

Walking along the banks of the Cesse


Debbie’s theme word today is Fame.

I suddenly realised I knew a few famous people in the jazz world so digging deep down I came up with these two.

  1. First up is the great Adelaide Hall and a photograph that I think was taken sometime in the 1970’s on a visit to her flat in London. She was a lovely lady.
Adelaide Hall

2. For the next one I go further back, to the late 1950’s when I was on holiday in the Netherlands with Britain’s own Beryl Bryden who sang with most of the UK jazz bands and the top Continental groups, especially the Dutch Swing College Band and the Fatty George Band in Germany. In the UK, apart from the many bands she worked with, she played washboard on Lonnie Donegan’s famous Rock Island Line, the first skiffle success.

Their fame never rubbed off on me but their friendship was valued.

Beryl Bryden & Mari in Holland (Beryl was working with the Dutch Swing College at the time

Link to One Word Sunday at Debbie’s  here

Another fine mess I’ve got me Into

Intrigued by the recent email from WP I thought I’d have a look at the new themes they are offering. I shouldn’t have!

I seem to remember that in earlier days I could activate a theme to see how it would look on my current site but this didn’t happen. Instead clicking ‘Activate’ meant that I accepted the site – and of course, I didn’t like it – but I couldn’t remember the name of my old site, nor could I find it again.

Many changes of site and I’m still befuddled, left with a site that has caused me to swear and shout at the screen. It actually transported a page from the site I’d tried earlier (but with that page’s wording etc. not fitting with my content) and I had to delete the pictures and text block by block and then save the blank page!

For tonight I’ll leave it and I maybe able to get back to it tomorrow but if not, you’ll know why my site looks odder than usual.

It’s probably all my fault. I should leave well alone, but it’s like touching the surface when it says Wet Paint – Do Not Touch, I just can’t resist clicking to see what is hiding behind the italics!

Odds & Ends 189.

Linked to Lens Artist Challenge Odds and Ends,

I started trawling through my archives sure I would find heaps of oddities but somehow when I came across oddities I found myself thinking, hold on there, you could use that in something else one day. I did have some though, and here they are.

This is a ruby on a banknote, or so the seller tried to convince me, when we stepped into a jewellry shop in Bangkok to have a watch strap repaired. Never do that! If you walk into a jewellry shop in Bangkok you have only one reason for doing so – according to the seller – you want to buy something.

Two very odd tree trunks I found in a village in the Pyranees.

No, neither do I! Nor do I know where it was taken: it was probably somewhere near Malaga, going by the surrounding images.

Another Trio

Something a bit unusual I think, for Mama Cormier’s Thursday Trios.

These are total immersion suits that will keep you alive for at least 6 hours in freezing water. I photographed these some years ago when I visited the workshop of Survitec in Sweden. Survitec is the worldwide group that manufactures and maintains rescue craft for ships, planes, oil rigs and container ships, as well as the above survival suits. Chances are that whatever cruise line or airline you are travelling on, its life rafts will be serviced and supplied by Survitec.

It’s something we take for granted, but I saw at first hand how important it is for this safety equipment to be in perfect order and how thorough the inspection is – right down to the medicines for pain, the batteries for the torches, and the bottled water, carried on board. So, a big clap for SURVITEC for keeping us safe, in the air and on the sea, and for the engineers and mechanics who test everything in freezing waters.

Join Mama Cormier’s Thursday Trios HERE