Just a couple of weeks ago I was waxing on about the arrival of Spring - the almond blossom was in full bloom and the Aude valley was slowly awakening with the first leaves on the trees, the first meadow flowers and the sap rising in the vines.
The last two days the temperature has soared to over 30 degrees in the sun and there hasn't been a cloud in the sky since last Monday - full on Summer has arrived with a bang a good two months earlier than expected. It's such a contrast to last year when the cold dragged on and on and we had snow in early May - the weather has gone completely bonkers! My wardrobe is still full of jumpers and jeans when what I need is shorts and t-shirts!
The temperature may be Summer but the countryside is still very much Spring. The cherry blossom has replaced the almond, the vines have their first growth, the poppies and irises are highlighting the roadsides in lipstick red* and purple, the new grass and new leaves on the trees could not be a more vibrant green if they tried and the birds are twitterpated (ahhh, Bambi)
It is very definitely perfect weather for cruising around the countryside with the roof down on the Audi, which is what we were doing today. There was no particular purpose to the drive and it ended up being a bit rambling as a result, taking in the Alaric mountains, the Corbières and the banks of the Etang de Bages where gawky flamingoes waded in flat calm water and a shimmering heat haze in the late afternoon.
In the midst of all that, like true francophiles, we stopped for lunch, at Auberge Côté Jardin in Conilhac Corbières. "Why haven't you brought me here before?", said Debrah as we walked into the tastefully cool terrace restaurant.
Conilhac Corbières is what I would call a main road village - it sits on the Carcassonne to Narbonne route nationale and suffers from the trucks that plague all such villages, whether in France or the UK.
From the front, on the main road, Coté Jardin doesn't look at all special, but don't be put off by that. Drive into the car park and walk into the terrace garden and you are a world away from the busy main road even though there is just a building between the two - traffic noise is replaced by bird song.
For a midweek lunch we opted for their two course formule at €20 - more than the average formule but this is much better than the average restaurant and worth every centime. The food was beautifully presented and delicious although our insistence on no bread or potatoes amongst the vegetables was met with slight incredulity and confusion. The carte was temptingly impressive and the wine list was excellently full of brilliant locally produced wine.
Our bill, with a half bottle of white, a bottle of fizzy water and two coffees came to €63. I thought that was excellent value.
Auberge Côté Jardin, 11200 Conilhac Corbières 04.68.27.08.19
* pantone 1795 according to Debrah - the design guru