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Nine Weeks in Country, France, 2012

phirhon

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Trip Description: Highlights of a nine week trip, from 24 March to 26 May 2012, in nine different regions of France.

Introduction
This was our fourth trip to France and a chance to visit some new areas. We had hoped to spend a few days in Paris at the end, but family committments prevented that. Next time.

It is a long trip from regional Queensland - over thirty hours from walking out our front door to landing at CDG at 5pm on Friday. We stayed overnight at Ibis CDG before flying out next morning for Bordeaux. Here we collected our leased car and began our adventure - on the wrong side of the road for us!
 

phirhon

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Week 1: Gers, 24 - 31 March
I have a book called "Memories of Gascony" by Pierre Koffman which tells of childhood vacations spent on his grandparents farm in the Gers region. So I was looking forward to our first week in this rural area and we were not disappointed. The weather was glorious - so warm - and the country patchwork of green and plowed fields.

Our gite was in a hamlet near St Clar which had all the facilities we needed. This area has wonderful villages and bastides, some of which are Plus Beaux Villages. Many have lovely arcades and halles that are typical of this area. Over the week we visited Lavardens, Fources, Lerressingle, Auvillar to name but a few. We saw the very fine cloisters at Moissac, the amazing collegiale of La Romieu (two towers to climb) which dominates the village,and the simple austere church at St Chapelle, which hides a flamboyant Baroque interior with galleries that are almost theatrical.

We sampled Armagnac and enjoyed our bottle of the aperitif Floc de Gascogne. This area is also known for its poultry products and these were very evident in the markets we saw in Fleurance and Lectoure. It was a lovely week. We could not believe the weather.
 
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phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 2: Aude, 31 March - 7 April
Our next destination was the Aude region. On the way we stopped in Foix around lunch. An impressive chateau over looking the town. Our stay this week was an apartment in Couiza, between Lomoux and Quillan, which we found a good base to explore the area. The weather continued to be warm.

This area is a lot more rugged and we enjoyed drives up into the hills - one day had great views and a wonderful drive back along the rushing Aude river. One day we drove down the narrow Gorges of the Galamus before visiting the ruins at Queribus and Peyrepetuse - both amazing experiences especially the latter. One of the highlights of our trip. Of course we had to visit Carcassonne, which is quite impressive as you drive in. Lots of tourists.

We also visited Mirepoix, Camon, Alet-les-Bains (lovely), Rennes-le-Chateau and St Hilaire. The market at Limoux was busy on Good Friday and we enjoyed the new season asparagus we bought. Also enjoyed a couple of bottles of the local sparkling wine, Blanquette de Limoux.
 

phirhon

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Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 3: Aveyron, 7 - 14 April
On Saturday we set off up through the hills with stops at Lagrasse and later at Brousse le Chateau, both Plus Beaux Villages. We especially enjoyed Brousse, despite what had become a cold, wet day.

This week we had an apartment below the owners' house on the edge of Marcillac. What a lovely village - red sandstone with black slate roofs - with an excellent boulangerie/patisserie and an intermarche with an excellent cheese counter. Plus the region has AOC wines. What more do we need! This is the area of the Causses, so deep valleys and high plateaux, great views and lots of pretty villages. It was very scenic, lush and green with hedged fields.

Over the week, we visited so many beautiful villages - Belcastel (I loved the stations of the cross in the church), Sauveterre de Rouergue, St Eulalie d'Olt, Muret le Chateau, Espalion, Entraygues, Estaing, Panat. One day we went to Conques which is quite gorgeous. We really enjoyed the Tresor -lavishly bejeweled and enameled religious artifacts. Later we meandered along the looping Lot river. How beautiful. The weather had turned cold and a bit showery, but we really enjoyed our stay in this lovely area.
 
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phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 4: Haute, Loire, 14 - 21 April
It was quite cold as we set out heading for the Haute Loire. We were staying in the small village of St Beauzire, near Brioude, in what was once the Casino epicerie. It has been cleverly converted into a comfortable gite with an impressive wood fire which we put to good use in what was to be a very cold week.

Sunday was awful - so cold and wet. On Monday we woke to find there had been a light fall of snow which was very exciting for us (definitely no snow where we live). Later that day we visited the lovely village of Lavaudieu on the Allier river, and then drove up through the Livradois forest to La Chaise Dieu. It was like being in a Christmas card and seeing the magnificent church and cloisters blanketed in snow was magical.

A must do this week was a trip to Le Puy en Velay, and we really enjoyed wandering the narrow streets and climbing steep stairs. Of course we climbed the rocher to the small chapel and looked into the distance from the lovely cathedral. Another day we drove down the Gorges of the Allier with stops at several interesting villages such as St Ilpize and Lavoute-Chilhac (on a loop of the river).

There are several Plus Beaux Villages in this area and we saw a few - Blesle, Lavaudieu, Montpeyroux and St Floret. I had seen photos of St Floret taken from above, so we were delighted to find the vantage point at the old chapel of St Chastel. It is a lovely little church with a very old cemetery with exposed tombs and a small ossuary. Another wonderful week.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 5: Charente-Maritime, 21 - 28 April
Our next stop was in the Charente-Maritime where we had a very comfortable place in a hamlet near Aulnay. Aulnay has a good small market on Sunday. This is a very pretty area - lots of golden canola and wheat fields interspersed with patches of grape vines. Unfortunately, we had the worst weather ever on our trips to France - cold and wet all week.

Still we managed to get about and visit lots of places. Saintes is an elegant town on the river with a lovely cathedral, an arc de triomphe, roman ruins. We managed a reasonably fine morning for our visit to Cognac which we liked. We are not really brandy drinkers, but did enjoy our bottle of Pineau de Charentes. We have not had much experience with coastal France, so we really enjoyed our trip to La Rochelle.

Aulnay has a magnificent church which is a stop on the pilgrim route. We did pass a couple walking in the rain. We also saw our first Lanterne des Morts in a lovely setting at Fenioux, as well as several pretty villages on the river. Despite the weather (what can you do?) we made the best of it and still enjoyed our week.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 6: Brittany, 28 April - 5 May
We fell in love with France on a very brief trip (four nights) to Brittany in 2004. So we were delighted to be returning to Brittany at last. Our gite was in a hamlet near Yvignac-la-Tour, south of Dinan. It was a very pretty setting. The days were getting longer and we enjoyed several evening walks along the country roads.

On Monday, we drove around several villages, Becherel being one. We thought the villages were lovely - very neat and tidy with nice gardens. We then revisited Dinan (where we stayed in 2004) which was as lovely as I remember.

On Tuesday we headed over to the coast, first stopping at Erquy followed by a walk around Cap d'Erquy. Then on to Cap Frehel with some spectacular views. Wednesday was a gorgeous day (at last!). Just perfect for a walk around the walls and old part of St Malo. Lunch was some delicious oysters on the beach at Cancale.

We got up early on Thursday to drive to Mont St Michel and were pleased we did. It is such an impressive structure and we managed to go around before the hordes. The people were pouring in by the time we left around 11:30. Home via Combourg which has an attractive chateau overlooking the village by the lake.

Friday was again showery and cool. After a visit to jugon les lacs, we went for lunch at the bistro in Yvignac. Here we had that sought after "eat where the locals eat" lunch- lots of inexpensive, good food and mostly French people in the 60 - 70 diners there. A great experience. Another lovely week over. Next stop Normandy.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 7: Calvados, 5 - 12 May
On our way to the Pays d'auge in Normandy, we stopped in Villedieu les Poeles (the copper pot town) and Suisse Normandie.

Once again our countryside gite was in a very pretty setting. The weather continued to be cool. We had been hoping to sit outside by this time.

This area saw major battles in WW2 and we had a lovely experience chatting to an elderly gentleman in the village of Chambois. The countryside was lovely - very lush, flowering apple trees, fat cattle and the attractive half timbered houses everywhere.

We were near St Pierre sur Dives, which has the remains of an abbey, a lovely cathedral and magnificent market halles. On Monday we stopped at the very big, busy market. It is really one for the locals. There were lots of tourists in the chocolate box pretty Buevro d'Auge.

We visited some chateaux. Vendeuvre has an impressive miniature collection and large grounds, and Mezidon canon has lovely gardens. Also the lovely checkerboard chateau of St Germain de Livet. We also enjoyed our visit to the lovely Basilica at Lisieux. While it is not old compared to others, it is certainly impressive.

One day we wandered around the pretty country past several private chateaux. Also stopped at Roche d'Outre and later Falaise, home of William the Conqueror.

Normandy is, of course, home to several iconic cheeses and we enjoyed them all over the course of our trip, also some great cider and a bottle of Pommeau. Have to love these aperitif.
 
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phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 8: Picardy, 12 - 19 May
This week was important for us as we were to visit the battlefields of the Somme - so significant for us as Australians.

We had a very comfortable gite in the village of Caulaincourt, between St Quentin and Peronne. While our village was pretty enough, the villages as a whole do not have the charm of other areas. The result of the war I suppose.

Over the week we saw so many war cemeteries. All were beautifully maintained and it is sobering to see how many lives were lost. We had a very moving visit to the Australian memorial at Villers- Brettoneux where we found our neighbour's uncle's name on the wall.

Both St Quentin and Amiens have wonderful cathedrals. We had a lovely day down to Compiegne, where we saw the chateau and Pierrefonds as well another day we drove to the forest at St Gobain, which is very pretty. The weather was still cool. Next stop Champagne.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Week 9: Champagne, 19 - 26 May
Not a long trip this week, so we stopped in the hilltop town of Laon for a wander and a very nice lunch. We also stopped in Martigny-Courpierre to see the wonderful Art Deco church.

Our last gite was in the champagne village of Bouzy - what a great name. How we felt after several bottles of bubbly over the week - from a champagne house in Oger. On Sunday we went into Epernay, booked a late afternoon tour at Moet before driving the wine route south.

Monday morning was very wet, but it stopped early afternoon. So we took a short drive up to the Faux de Verzy which is a forest of gnarled and misshapen beech trees. A lovely place to wile away an hour or two and would be most impressive in winter with no leaves.

The fog set in and lasted until Thursday midday. So the views we hoped to see were "murky" to say the least. But we still enjoyed our drives around the countryside. We drove along the Marne as far as Dornans with its impressive war memorial. Also to Chalons and out to L'Epine with its cathedral. Had another nice lunch here. We did go down to Troyes which has a lovely old center. But the work going on meant we did not see it at its best.

Friday dawned a beautiful day of course as it was our last day. One last day to wander the country and pretty villages. Our special last night dinner was at a pretty restaurant in nearby Tours sur Marne. Very nice.

Hard to believe nine weeks is over. We had all day to meander our way back to CDG, so took lots of green scenic roads, had a huge lunch to keep us going and dropped off the car late afternoon before flying out at 11:30pm.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Conclusion
After four trips to total 26 weeks, we have seen a lot of France. But we do love our visits, so we are already thinking of our next trip. Hopefully 2014. At least two weeks in Paris (start or finish?) and a re-visit to some areas ... Provence? Burgundy, a favorite? Dordogne? Maybe a new area - Annecy? It will be a change in lifestyle as DH will be retiring. So no time restrictions but also reduced income. We hate to think we will not return, so continue to dream

A bientot.
 

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