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Our autumn in country France - Ten weeks wandering the back roads.

phirhon

100+ Posts
#1
We recently spent ten weeks in France. This is my report which I will post region by region.

Well, here we are again. As a quick introduction, we are an almost mid sixties retired Australian couple and we have been travelling to France since 2006. We are slow travellers and prefer the country to the city. Because we travel for ten weeks, we need to keep it affordable. Staying in self catering is the solution for us and we eat out once, sometimes twice a week, usually an inexpensive lunch.

It was with a sense of relief that we boarded our plane in Brisbane. In June I suffered ill health which resulted in three short hospital stays and three surgical procedures, the last of which was a week before we left. It was never going to cause the cancellation of our trip, but it did put a dampener on our preparations and did impact my stamina, paricularly in the first couple of weeks. But all is well now.

We flew Brisbane - Singapore - Munich - Lyon and arrived on August 31. After collecting our lease car, we booked into the Ibis at the airport. After a welcome shower we set out for Cremieu which is about 25kms away.

Cremieu is a nice old medieval village with some attractive buildings in the centre. There is an old Augustin convent with cloisters, fountain and gardens. The centre was quite busy and has shops, cafes and wonderful old market halles. When we saw the halles we really felt we were back in France. We had planned to have lunch but were going to have to wait for a table and we were tired. Even the boulangerie had a long line out the door. So we went to the supermarket and bought some fuel ( lease cars do not come with a full tank ) and bread, cheese and charcuterie and went back to the hotel.

WEEK 1 - THE DROME

We slept well and were on the road early . As we did not have a big drive, we had planned a couple of stops. It was great to get away from the surrounds of Lyon and the airport and into the lovely countryside and small villages.

Our first stop was the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives. This was the dream of a country postman and his vision of a fairytale palace. He worked on this over a period of 33 years and it is a wonderful example of naive, imaginative art. There are figures, animals and birds, plants, different cultural styles, little nooks and passages and just too much to describe. Every time we circled it we saw more. It is really quite amazing and fascinating.

Once we left we passed through lovely country with fields of corn, sunflowers and walnut trees. St Antoine l'Abbaye is a Plus Beau Village ( PBV ) and the abbey presents an impressive view high up above the road in to the village. It is reached by a long set of stairs and is large with a lovely tympanum. The church then opens out on to the attractive village square lined with plane trees and tall buildings. There was a lady with a horse drawn wagon ( not a carriage ) taking people around the village. The church spire has a clamshell design tiled roof as do some of the other buildings. It was lovely to be back exploring picturesque villages.

We spent a week in 2010 in the Drome Provencal to the south. This time we were further north in the small village of Combovin in the foothills of the Vercors National Park. The owner of our gite was very welcoming but did not speak any English. The gite, which used to be the cure's residence, was comfortable and well equipped, only lacking a freezer, but we coped. We had stopped at the Casino in Chabeuil on our way for non perishables and after unpacking we went to the Intermarche in Montellier which was the same distance. The only commerce in the village was small restaurant which was closed for the annual vacance.

We were starting to feel the lingering affects of jet lag, so decided on something simple for dinner. Poitrine fume is really just bacon, I suppose, but it is a different cut, thicker, and tastier than bacon at home and has become a favourite. Maybe it just tastes better in France!! Anyway, a simple salad of lentils, beetroot, eschalot, my vinaigrette and lovely goats' cheese was perfect with it, and we enjoyed a bottle of the regional sparkling wine, Clairette de Die. This was a new one for us and we toasted the start of another adventure in France. It had been a lovely first day.

Sundays are always quiet so we decided on some drives. We drove through Chateaudouble and Peyrus which are pretty small villages, and then up the scenic winding road over the Col de Lamouche. We stopped in the little village of Leoncel where there is an old Cistercian abbey. I bought some garlic from an old couple selling produce and from the small shop selling regional products, we bought a local cheese, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. We had not seen this one before and it was a lovely creamy blue. We then returned over the Col de Tournial and down through the dramatic entrance between two large rocks into Barbieres. The country is magnificent and rugged with large cliffs.

After lunch at home we set off for the Gorges of the Ombleze and the Chute de la Druise. Once again it was narrow winding roads going up and down and there were lots of cyclists. The scenery was stunning - high white, sharp cliffs and little hamlets in valleys. The gorges are scenic rather than dramatic and the Chute is a waterfall reached by a walk. It was steep and rough going down and I could see P was starting to worry about me and the return trip. So he continued down and I took my time going back. Once he got there he had to clamber over rocks and saw a couple of people slip. I know my limitations.

One day we drove south past more corn, sunflowers and paddocks of grain to the PBV of Mirmande. It looks lovely set on the side of the hill. We did find it a bit difficult to find our way around as the TO was not open and there were few signs. It is a steep walk up to the church ( not open ) and there are lots of little ruelles and stairs. It really was quite pretty, but for some reason it did not strike a chord with us. That happens sometimes. We then continued on to Cliousclat which is a small but attractive village with several artisan potteries.

Mirmande is really quite isolated - difficult to reach without a car I think. We followed the narrow winding road back to the main road to Crest, and after a picnic lunch we arrived at the large car park across the river from the old town.

Crest is dominated by the medieval tower. We climbed up the 125 steps to the Chapel des Cordeliers ( closed ) and then continued the climb up to the tower. It was quite warm and I was still getting used being back in these steep old villages. I learnt my lesson and after that wore my comfortable hiking boots even if they did not look glamorous. There are great views over the roofs of the town, the surrounding countryside and the interesting dome and tower of the church. The church itself looks like a temple with large pillars and has a beautiful ceiling inside.

Another day we drove up to Pont en Royans. The interesting feature of this village is the suspended houses over the river. They are built on the rock overhanging the river below, some with little balconies, and are attractive viewed from the bridge. There is also a small medieval section which we walked around before buying a baguette.

We had hoped to drive along the Gorges of the Bourne but the road was closed for tunnel work. So we went as far as the Grotte de Choranche and took the tour instead. The tour took about an hour, and while it was in French, the info sheet was good and the guide did have some English. It was quite beautiful, with very fine straw stalactites and other features, a sound and light show, and some cave dwelling, salamander like creatures called Proteus. It was very interesting. The cliffs around Choranche and the gorges are magnificent and the other Vercors scenery likewise. We had a picnic beside the Bourne river and then came home through St Jean en Royans and down to Leoncel. It was a lovely drive through the lush green valley.

We went up to the larger town of Romans sur Isere and parked over the river opposite the large Collegiale St Bernard which has painted pillars and walls in the choir. The town was very clean and tidy with some interesting modern fountains, quite a few cafes ( we had a very pleasant morning tea ) and restaurants, some pretty squares and lots of shops. Work was going on in the centre on what will be an attractive park. However there were quite a few empty shops in the older part.

On the way home we stopped at Alixon which is a small round village with a pretty church on a hill in the centre. Our little village of Combovin was nice with well maintained houses most of which were occupied and there were always people around. There was a little stream running through and a pretty, small church and lavoir. We found out the restaurant would re open on Friday night which was good news.

We drove back up to St Jean en Royans which we had passed through ( the industrial part ) the other day. This time we went into the village and it is a lovely little place with bright flowers everywhere, squares, fountains, shops and cafes. We bought our baguette there as well as a crispy sable au sucre. Our destination was the Combe Laval which is a balcony road. The precarious part only goes for about 3kms but is impressive. We stopped several times and walked along the road. There are several tunnels cut into the rock and the views are amazing, but we did not find it as alarming as expected. Then home through Leoncel - again!!

One of the specialities here is the caillette de Chabeuil. This is a small terrine wrapped in caul fat and baked. We bought two for dinner with salad and they were very tasty.

On Friday we were on our way to the supermarket and almost there when the alarm went off indicating a loss of tyre pressure. We made it to the supermarket where we discovered a screw in the front passenger tyre. So P changed it and off we went to a nearby garage where the helpful staff repaired it straight away. I managed with my spotty French!

That night we went out to dinner at the little restaurant and sat outside on the terrace. The owners were friendly and pride themselves on using local produce. My trout, which was cooked in an almond crust, was from St Jean en Royans, and I also had house smoked trout in my starter salad. We both finished with lavender creme brulee, and enjoyed a bottle of local organic rose. When we went into the bar to pay, we ended up chatting to a group of locals who were interested to hear what we were doing. It was a lovely ending to what had been a very enjoyable week to begin our holiday.

From the kitchen this week.

Poitrine fume with lentil, beetroot and goats' cheese salad.
Magret de canard and salad.
Salade composee with lardons and boudin noir.
Caillette with warm potato and green bean salad.
Sardines and salad.
Saucisse aux herbes with beetroot, flagelot beans and goat's cheese.

Tomorrow we are off to the Var in Provence.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
#2
WEEK 2 - THE VAR
P spends some time planning our routes from gite to gite. He does not particularly enjoy driving on autoroutes and we like the fact that we see more on departmental roads. We went back down past Crest and stopped for a baguette in the small village of Bourdeaux which has the ruins of a castle. After that we climbed and wound our way through the lovely Drome Provencale country.

After the Col de Sausse, we drove down through the Defile de Trente Pas which was like driving through a gorge and was an unexpected surprise. Once the country flattened out we started seeing lavender fields - too late for flowering, of course.

Montbrun les Bains looks wonderful on the side of a hill and as it was market day we had to park outside the village and walk in. It was steep walk up ( isn't it always ! ) and then there are lovely views out to the country and nearby villages. We had a picnic after we left and then once again the road became hilly and bendy. Manosque was very busy as we passed through. It had turned out to be a wonderfully scenic day's drive but quite tiring, so we were pleased to reach our destination which was the pretty hilltop village of Moissac - Bellevue.

Moissac-Bellevue is a gorgeous little village with a belvedere in the town square overlooking the countryside below. The terrace of our gite was a few stairs up from the square and fountain and we had that fabulous view. This gite was the first of two this trip that was owned by the mairie of the commune, and the lady who greeted us was charming. The terrace then went into the downstairs living and kitchen area. There were some locally made jams, strawberry and apricot jellies actually,on the table to welcome us. Upstairs, the bedroom overlooked the fountain, and we went to sleep to the sound of the water and the church bells ringing the hour. The only downside was a small shower and no WIFI ( this was the only week without WIFI ), but it was fine. The village bar and restaurant was only steps away, and as a bonus, the chef made baguettes and croissants every day. That first glass of wine with some cheese and olives on the terrace was the stuff of dreams. Looking good!

Next morning, after a stop at the SuperU at Regusse, we visited a couple of nearby villages. Montmeyran was pleasant to wander around and had another lovely panorama. We bought a local goat's cheese at the Petit casino. We then went on to Fox Amphoux. This is a very old village with a lovely Place d'Eglise where there is a tree planted in 1550 ! There were a lot of gites listed in this area and it always difficult when choosing where to stay. While it was lovely, we were pleased we ended up choosing the one we did. We went home for lunch on the terrace.

Later we went in the other direction to Baudinard and walked up to the chapel for great views over the Lac Ste Croix. We then continued up and around the lake for more views. There were a lot of people enjoying the warm weather on and around the lake. On our way home we stopped for a look at Regusse which has a pleasant old section . The church has a tiled tower and on the edge of the village are two 14th and 15th century moulins. Home to sit on the terrace with a glass of wine. Do you see a trend here?

We were only about 5kms from the larger town of Aups which is a really pleasant market town that does not feel ' touristy '. We had also considered a gite in Salernes, and it is also quite pleasant with tall buildings, an interesting old quarter and lots of fountains. We then went on to Villecroze ( the gite we liked here booked up very early ) which we really liked. It had a lovely big square with trees and shops and cafes, and an attractive and interesting old part. Our last stop was the PBV of Tourtour which was another pretty place and was quite busy. The old chateau is now the mairie and there are belvederes looking out towards the coast. Unfortunately it was very hazy. The drive home was lovely, past lots of olive groves.

We found out Monday night was the last night the restaurant would be open for dinner, so we went and enjoyed another good meal on the cafe terrace in the balmy evening air.

Tuesday was the day we chose to visit the Gorges of the Verdon. Once again we passed lovely views over the lake and also a wonderful view of Aiguines with its chateau. We then began our drive along the bottom of the gorges. The hills were spectacular and there were several places to stop for views of the river and cliffs. We could also see the road on the other side of the gorge which looked a bit precarious. At times we were quite high - up to 1200 m. We stopped at the bridge over the gorge and there was increasingly more traffic and a couple of buses which I am pleased we did not meet on the road.

After crossing the bridge we moved away from the gorges and headed towards Trigance which is a medieval village. A pleasant drive through the country took us back to drive along the top side of the gorge. We then turned off to take the Route des Cretes which turned out to be a wonderful drive. There were lots of places to stop and some wonderful views of the river and gorges, and at one stop there were majestic eagles soaring above. We found the surrounding hills to be as impressive as the steep, straight cliffs of the gorges. That road we saw earlier was alarming in some places, with no walls, but the views were stunning. It ended up taking us several hours.

Moustiers Ste Marie is at the end of the gorges and is in a very impressive position with a chapel high above. We had planned to climb up to the chapel, but it was hot - low 30's - and we were tired. So we contented ourselves with a walk in the village which is certainly attractive, but definitely geared to tourists with lots of shops selling faience and lavender products. It was very busy - there seemed to be a lot of European tourists.

It had been a long day and we were ready to relax on the terrace. P thought he was just tired from driving, but by bed time he was feeling decidedly unwell. By next morning he definitely had an upset stomach. So while he rested, I enjoyed a day on the terrace with my Kindle, some sudoku and several coffees.

By the following morning he was feeling better, at least to go out for a few hours. We drove to Sallins la Cascade where it is about a 15 min walk to see the long, high cascade which plunges into the aqua pool below.

We enjoyed our stop in the town of Cotignac. The town square is lovely - lined with trees and cafes and with large fountains at each end. The town is surrounded by rocky cliffs and you can see the remains of buildings built into the rocks. It is an interesting town to stroll around with tall buildings and attractive old streets.

Another stop was the small village of Entrecasteaux where there is a large chateau with a garden designed by La Notre in front. There was also an interesting sculpture of a rearing horse made from old machinery.

We had planned a couple of trips further over but only ended up doing one. Chateaudouble is a small village in an impressive position clinging to the side of a hill overlooking a gorge. Bargeme is a very small, old village reached by a one lane road with lights at each end. It has a small chapel, church, the ruins of a chateau and an attractive porte. It was very quiet. After driving through Bargemon, back and through again and not finding anywhere to park, we gave up and continued on to Callus where we stopped for a walk. We did enjoy our stop in Ampus. The church was closed because they were working on the steps, but there is an interesting walk up the Roche d'Aigle past innovative tiled stations of the cross. We also walked up to the belvedere. It had been another full day.

One thing that interests us is how the cuts of meat can differ from what we get at home. One night we enjoyed 'cote filet d'agneau ' which are what we call loin chops here except that one cote was in fact two loin chops which have not been separated through the bone. Anyway, they were delicious.

Despite the lost time and the fact we did not do all we had planned, we did enjoy our stay in the Var. We liked the villages we visited and we were delighted with our charming little gite and its location. The weather was lovely and warmer than what we have experienced in France. I will admit that some of the country was not as appealing as we expected - what I would call scrub, which may be an Australian term. We always enjoy our visits to Provence but, and I know this will surprise some people, it is not our favourite region in France.

From the kitchen

Magret de canard with warm potato and green bean salad.
Poitrine fume with flagelot bean salad.
Chicken cuisse with potato and onion boulangere
Boudin blanc with mushroom, onion and zucchini saute.
Cote filet d'agneau with buttered chat potatoes and tomato, eschalot and olive salad.

Tomorrow we are off to a new area, The Lozere and the gorges of the Tarn.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
#3
WEEKS 3 & 4 - THE LOZERE ( Gorges of the Tarn )

Once again, P planned a cross country trip and it was quite built up as we passed through Provence and Bouche de Rhone. In the end we made good time and stopped for lunch just before we reached Uzes. Uzes was very busy and we had to go through before we turned off.

After that the pace slowed down and it was very pleasant driving . We passed through the town of Anduze and then followed the scenic drive up over the Corniche de Cevannes to the town of Florac. P decided to drive across the plateau from Florac to La Malene - for the first and last time ! It turned out to be an exceedingly steep, winding drive out of Florac, and still quite slow over the plateau. You certainly cannot go 80 kmh on these roads. It was then a spectacular, winding descent down into La Malene and our first glimpse of the Gorges of the Tarn.

Our gite for these two weeks was in a very small old hamlet called Soulages not far from the Point Sublime overlooking the gorges. Most people would consider this far too isolated but it was just lovely. The houses were all stone, including the lauze roof and the chimneys which had little stone roofs. A lot of the houses had small yards with a potager and gardens, and some had a distinctive arched door called a voute where the stones are held in place simply by the force of the others. Our gite was in a grange ( barn ) attached to the owner's small residence. It had all the character of the village buildings but was modern and comfortable inside. The stone cross near our gite was erected in 1723. During our stay here we went for several walks around the village where quite a few people live, and also along the roads around the hamlet. We passed farms where the farmers called out Bonjour from their tractors. We were greeted by a neighbour as the owner, who was a nurse, was at work. We enjoyed the welcome gift of a box of locally made aperitif biscuits. One ingredient in them was a firm goat's cheese, Le Levejac, made on the edge of our village.

Our nearest supermarket was in Severac le Chateau which was about 15kms away and actually in the Aveyron, but the village of Le Massegros was about 5kms away. It had an excellent boulangerie ( best baguettes of the trip and delicious choco amande croissants ) which was also a small epicerie. It also had a hotel which was very popular for lunch. When we are further away for shopping, we get organised and plan for a few days, and we also shop in other centres when visiting. Severac is a pleasant small town dominated by the remains of le chateau on a hill. Le Massegros had some lovely old buildings including a bread oven with a wonderful arched voute.

Sunday was Journee de Patrimoine. We stopped in at St Georges de Levejac where the church was open and then went to the Point Sublime which gives wonderful views of the Tarn gorges. We saw notices that a house called the Maison Aragonaise des Monzials was open, so off we went. It would have been very grand in its day with sweeping steps up to a lovely front porch, and large rooms with fireplaces. Underneath was a rabbit warren of rooms where animals were kept. It is in a state of disrepair, but it was fascinating and there were a surprising number of visitors to this remote spot.

Monday was, for us, the sort of day we love. We drove across to Severac and then up to St Saturnin de Lenne where there is a lovely 12th century Romanesque church and also some small remains of Gallo-Roman baths. We had a delicious slice of plum tart from the boulangerie. We stopped in Galinieres to look at the impressive chateau ( now a chambre d'hote ) which is a " grange fortifee monastique ". Next stop was Coussergues where there is an imposing clocher-peigne remaining from fortified church destroyed in 1342. History like this continues to amaze us. And it is just there in the middle of a small village.

It was then a lovely drive to the PBV of Ste Eulalie d'Olt which we visited in 2012. The farmers were busy and the countryside peaceful. This is one of the prettiest villages we have visited over the years. There were lots of bright flowers and ivy climbing over the stone buildings. One quirky fact was an exhibition of large photos of cows hanging on the sides of buildings, and there were also ceramic cats which popped up on walls, window sills, in windows, on stairs. It is just a beautiful little village on the Lot River - one of several as the river winds it way across the country.

We then moved on to St Geniez d'Olt where we had our picnic on a seat in the pretty park. We really liked this small town. The Mairie is an old monastery with peaceful cloisters. Across the river is an impressive church, chateau remains and old quais along the river. We came home through St Laurent d'Olt where the buildings are red sandstone and stopped at the Intermarche in La Canorgue. It was a terrific day.

After a steep, winding descent into Les Vignes, we began our drive along the gorges of the Tarn. They differ from the Verdon gorges in that the road is mostly down in the gorge and the country is greener. At La Malene we walked over the bridge and then up several hairpin bends to a belvedere which gave a wonderful view of the town, the river and the gorge. It is a beautiful drive along the gorge and we stopped several times to admire the view.

Ste Enimie is a PBV on the river and is very pretty. It is a steep walk up through the village on the cobblestone streets and there are plenty of information boards. The commercial side of town is on the road through down by the river. On the other side is a hermitage high on a hill. After Ste Enimie there are several small hamlets and a good panorama to view Castelbouc which is a very old village on the other side of the river.

We stopped at Ispagnac, had a picnic in a park, drove back along the gorges and stopped for a photo of St Chely du Tarn before going down into the village. It is in a lovely location and there is a great view of the cascade and village from the bridge. There were people relaxing by and swimming in the river. The little church is pretty and there is also an old chapel in a grotto. Nearby is an old mill, now a shop selling artisan crafts, with water flowing through - quite impressive. We were pleased we stopped there. It was a wonderful day and the gorges are deserving of their reputation.

Another day we stopped in Chanac which is an old town with a large church and a 12th century donjon which is all that remains of the chateau. After leaving Chanac it was a lovely drive through attractive agricultural country to the town of Marvejols. This is a lively small town with three attractive portes and a lovely restored church with painted interior. We enjoyed our visit and stopped in an excellent fromagerie where we bought some Morbier and a Tommette, which is a hard, aged goat's cheese. The owner of our gite worked in Marvejols.

One day we took the scenic route to Millau. It started high and descended down with wonderful views of the river and country, and we started seeing grape vines and apple orchards. Millau was quite busy as we went through and we caught glimpses of the viaduct which we visited in 2014. After driving along the narrow Cernon valley, we reached the small village of Ste Eulalie de Cernon. This is a small attractive Templar village with an imposing Templar commanderie and pretty town square and fountain.

Our next stop was La Cavalerie which is another Templar stronghold. It is bigger and has high, impregnable walls. You can walk around the ramparts, but we arrived just after 12 and, of course, this being France , the TO ( for tickets ), was closed until 2.30. There was nothing to keep us there for two hours and it was frustrating for us and several other tourists who arrived with us. The road back to Millau offered great views of the viaduct with the town below.

On Saturday we took the free autoroute from Severac and exited near Marvejols for the Aubrac plateau. We climbed up to 1250 metres and it was quite cool. The country became rocky with large boulders piled up and smaller rocks used for walls between the paddocks. It was very attractive and there were lots of the Aubrac cattle grazing.

Nasbinals is an pleasant village of darker stone and taller buildings. The roof lines were very appealing and it has a lovely church which is on the route de Compostelle. There was a photo exhibition - Photo Aubrac - throughout the village. There were some wonderful photos of animals and other countries, and they were creatively diplayed around the streets.

St Urcize ( actually in the Cantal ) is another pretty little village which was also part of Photo Aubrac. This time some of the photos were of children dressed up mechanics, doctors, bakers etc. They were quite cleverly presented. It was then a wonderful drive along a narrow road to Laguiole. The scenery was stunning - not quite as rocky, and wide and open and wild and fertile. Cattle grazing, stone walls and the occasional stone building made for a memorable drive.

Laguiole is famous for the production of knives. The forge is on the edge of town and you can walk through the workshop. We drooled over things for sale - sadly beyond our budget. There are several knife shops in town as well. There is also a Laguiole cheese and the town is home to the Michelin restaurant of Michel Bras. We bought some mirabelles from the market as it was closing and a slice of fallette from a charcuterie. It was like a terrine of lamb stuffed with pork and veal.

We had some fallette for a late lunch ( it was delicious ) as we sat on a low, shaded wall in the village of Aubrac. Our picturesque view was of the church and tower, the old monastery hospital and village. There were lots of walkers as this is an important stop on the pilgrim's walk. We loved the Aubrac area and P is already looking for gites!!

On the middle Sunday we decided to visit the nearby gorges of the Jonte. We went back down to Les Vignes and followed the Tarn in the other direction and turned off for La Rozier. That was when we realised this was not the best time to be doing this, The gorges were more open than the Tarn, we were driving into the sun, and there were not as many places to stop. We were forced off the road as a camping car coming towards us did not move over. In doing so we ran over a large, sharp rock which chipped the hubcap and resulted in another flat tyre, the same one as before. It was Sunday, we were forty kms from home and it was a slow trip back on the little space saver tyre over narrow winding roads and hairpin bends. The scenery was wonderful but we were feeling very sorry for ourselves. Add to that, the baguette we bought was the worst of the trip. Not great memories of the gorges of the Jonte.

So Monday morning was spent getting another tyre repaired in Severac le Chateau. The mechanic was very helpful after I finally worked out how to ask him to re-initialise the computer in the car. These high tech cars!!! That afternoon we went up to La Canorgue which is a popular place in summer. It had not appealed when we drove through on a previous day, but improved on closer inspection. Two streams run through and meet in the centre, and there are some attractive streets, nice old buildings and a clock tower. Not far from La Canorgue is an unusual rock formation, La Sabot Malpeyre, which resembles a shoe from some angles.

One day we returned to Ste Enimie, not along the gorges but approaching from the north and descending into the village. It was a very scenic drive with good views of the village and the Tarn. We then continued along the gorges to the town of Florac. Florac is a pretty place on the Tarnon river and has some pleasant squares and quite a few shops and cafes. This was one place we had considered but felt we had more day trip options at the other end.

After leaving Florac we passed through Bedoues where you cannot miss the impressive church and belltower as you approach. We then followed a winding and very scenic road to Le Pont Montvert which is a little village with an attractive bridge. We had planned to go back through Florac and stop at the supermarket, but changed our minds. So I stopped in at the boucherie and bought some saucisses aux herbes for dinner.

We turned off just out of Le Pont Montvert and came home over the plateau. It was, in fact, a better road and a wonderful drive. The country was rocky and there were quite a few pine forests and small villages. There are some menhirs to walk to up there, but it was getting late so we kept going. We ended up coming into Chanac on a different road for an impressive view of the village and donjon. On a small road we passed the fortified farm of Choizal.

Another day we took the free autoroute down towards Millau but turned off before. We stopped to admire the view of the small village of St Beauzely with its large chateau and church before stopping for a walk around the quiet, but quite pretty little village. We were not the only tourists. A few kms out of the village, in the forest, is the old Priory of Comberoumal. You can walk in and see the interior, courtyard and chapter house. It is now used for weddings.

After that we stopped at the village of Montjaux. It was a winding drive down through the narrow streets of the village to the attractive church at the bottom - a change from being at the top. The view back up to the village was lovely.

After the steep climb back out we went on to Castelnau-Pegayrols which is a medieval village with five listed monuments. This is a lovely place with lots of little streets, stairs, squares, an imposing chateau built on a rock, the remains of ramparts and two churches. A mason has built a miniature of the village as it was next to the church. We love that travelling the way we do gives us the time to find less well known but beautiful places such as this. Lunch that day was a seat by the side of the road under a chestnut tree. The view was across the valley to another hamlet and church spire. We thought how lucky we were to be sitting in such a beautiful place.

On our last day we went out to lunch at the hotel in Le Massegros. It was busy with locals and workers and we enjoyed our lunch of good food in pleasant surrounds among friendly people.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The village was lovely, the people friendly and the gite comfortable. Over the course of two weeks we watched one home owner building an outdoor oven in the same style as the houses. It looked as if it had always been there. We also loved our drives around discovering hidden villages and stunning views, and admired the cazelles ( stone shepherd huts ) which dotted the landscape. The owner told us this is one of the most sparsely populated departments in France. It is always a gamble when choosing a gite and I am pleased to say we have never been disappointed.

From the kitchen.

Saucisse fume braised with tomatoes and haricot blanc.
Magret de canard with fennel and carrots braised in orange juice
Baked trout with a tian of fennel, zucchini, tomato topped with roquefort.
Gesiers de canard salad
Toulouse sausages and aligot
Tripoux ( tripe packets ) and potatoes
Montbeliards with potato and apple saute
Saucisse aux herbes with potato and a tomato salad
Leek, lardon and blue cheese frittata
Baked trout with zucchini, flagelot beans and creme fraiche

Next stop - Puy de Dome
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
#4
WEEK 5 - PUY DE DOME

After a last baguette and framboise sable from the boulangerie, we set out for our next gite. We passed through Espalion and Estaing which we visited in 2012. Estaing is another gorgeous little village on the Lot river. From Estaing to Entraygues it is a pretty drive along the gorges of the Lot. We stopped in the attractive little village of Montsalvy which we had not heard of before. Then up past Salers where we were in 2016, with a stop at the Carrefour market in Mauriac to get some pounti - a regional speciality of the Cantal which we discovered last trip. We detoured off to see the fairytale chateau Val on a lake with very low levels at that time.

Our gite this week was in the little hamlet of Montfermy in the Puy de Dome. It is in the forest on a meander of the Sioule river and once again, it is what most would consider too isolated. Past our gite there is a walk to a pretty cascade. The village has a lovely little Michelin rated 12th century church with painted murals, 13th century capitals, and a 16th century painted wooden statue of the Virgin. The village is also popular with fishermen and walkers. Our gite was the second of the trip owned by the council and one of two in the village. It was on a rise overlooking the hamlet and river and was very comfortable. Daniel, the caretaker, was very friendly ( no English ) and left us with instructions to water the potted flowering begonias on the balcony. The other gite was also occupied, and looking at the calendar, they are both very popular, mostly with French people according to Daniel.

We had two supermarkets equidistant, but we preferred the SuperU at St George de Mons/Les Ancizes Comps. On Sunday we went for a scenic drive along a loop of the Sioule River. We had some nice views of the river and passed an impressive chateau, now a hotel, at Miremont. Miremont itself is a pretty little village which is dotted with life like mannequins dressed in early 20th century garb. They are arranged in simple village scenes such as a man walking a dog, feeding chickens, milking a cow, sitting in front of shops. It was really quite charming and from a distance they looked real.

Monday dawned quite cool and showery, so we waited a bit before heading across to Aubusson in the Creuse. Aubusson has been renowned for centuries for the production of tapestries and there is a fine tapestry museum there. As it was Monday and also around lunch time, the town was quiet, but we still enjoyed our exploration of the attractive old centre. We walked up to the clocktower which afforded a lovely view across the town and to the large church. We then walked down heaps of stairs and across to the church which is reached by more stairs with a view back to the tower. There are picturesque half timbered buildings where an old stone bridge crosses the Creuse river. It was lovely.

After Aubusson we drove to Felletin which is a lovely little village that also has a history of tapestries. It has an attractive Grande Rue and large church as well as a chateau and was worth the stop. We then followed the drive through beautiful Creuse countryside to the medieval village of Crocq. It is also a charming little village with the remains of towers and walls, a church with painted interior and several wells. The rain had stayed away and it was a most enjoyable day.

Next morning there was thick ice on the car when we left for the day. Our first stop of the day was the village of Orcival which is dominated by the impressive basilica of dark stone. It is huge inside with high walkways, interesting capitals and a crypt. After leaving Orcival it was a beautiful drive with breathtaking views over the green valleys and chain of puys. One attractive view was of the Roche Tuillere and Roche Sanadoire with the valley between.

We did not go to Le Mont Dore but climbed up to 1400m over the Col de la Croix Morand with yet more amazing views. Coming down it was then lush, green pastures where cattle grazed peacefully. P grew up on a farm. We have lots of photos of cows grazing. We had our picnic beside the picturesque lake at Chambon sur Lac. High on a hill above Murol is an imposing and impressive feudal castle . Our drives during the afternoon had us on several roads around Murol for different views of the castle.

The church in Saint Nectaire ( also known for the cheese produced here ) is Romanesque and similar to the basilica in Orcival. We enjoyed the interior which was cream and not bare stone. The capitals were very intricately carved and painted, and we admired the very fine work of the 12th century plates and religious tresors.

We then continued on to Besse et St Anastaise which is a picturesque village of dark stone buldings with dark red shutters. There is a chateau, ramparts, fortified porte, several interesting buildings and lots of little squares. The frequent information boards provided lots of detail about the history and made exploring easy. It was a lovely day.

Wednesday was quite bleak with very low cloud which lasted until early afternoon, so we decided it was a perfect day to go out to lunch in Les Ancizes Comps. The hotel was busy with the usual mix of couples, business people and workers. We had the menu du jour - 13euro for three courses, wine and coffee and it was a lovely meal. It continues to amaze us that these places can produce meals of this quality for the price. We have become fans of what we call 'white van' places. The food is always good, plentiful, well presented and inexpensive. They are where you can ' eat where the locals eat ' which is often a desire of travellers who post on travel forums.

Thursday was a lovely clear day and perfect for visiting Puy De Dome. There is a large carpark and visitor centre , and the train, the Panoramique des Domes, takes about 15 mins to the top. It is very modern with big glass windows to make the most of the views on the way up the puy.

Once on the top there are well maintained paths all over. It was cold and very windy, and walking up the steeper parts into the wind was hard work at times, but the views made it worthwhile. We walked right around with magnificent 360 views. We were so lucky it was a clear day and we could see down to Clermont - Ferrand and across to the tops of the other lava domes in the Chaine des Puys. There are also the ruins of the Temple of Mercury from the 2nd century . It was a memorable experience.

In my research for our trip I had read about a feature called the Chemin Fais d'Art near the village of Chapdes-Beaufort which was about 12kms from Montfermy. This is a sculpture trail in the forest. The sculptures are large and made of black volcanic stone. There were few signs, and once we worked out that the search was part of the experience, we had a lot of fun wandering around. The sculptures were hidden away but very creative and interesting - a huge open weave dome, a very long spiral, three igloos in a row with a path from one to the next cut through the centre, a circle of seats, all different, carved out of rock to name just a few. In all we spent a couple of hours trailing around the forest with hunting dogs baying in the distance, and even had a visit from two beagles. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon and after climbing around the Puy that morning, we were quite tired by the end of the day.

On our last day we spent the morning on a last drive around some nearby villages before stopping at the SuperU for fuel and food. That afternoon four black and white cows wandered up the hill past our gite. An hour or so later Daniel turned up to ask if we had seen them. They had disappeared into the forest and had not been found when we left next morning.

This was a beautiful spot - quiet and peaceful with a lovely outlook over the small hamlet and gently flowing river. Another enjoyable week had passed and we are now halfway through our journey.

From the kitchen.

Morteau sausage , tomato and haricot blanc braise,
Pounti with sauteed vegetables
Leek and lardon pasta
Poitrine fume with potato and apple saute
Boudin blanc and salad
Cuisse de poulet with fennel and haricot blanc

Tomorrow we are off to the Lot
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
#5
WEEKS 6 & 7 - THE LOT

We had a very pleasant drive across the Plateau des Millevaches ( perhaps those cows from yesterday were there !!). It was very busy getting through Ussel and later around the edge of Cahors, but other than that the roads were quiet.

Our gite this week was about 5kms outside the village of Montcuq en Quercy Blanc. It was on a small property with the owner's house and used to be the barn. It still had the large bread oven, also used for drying prunes, in the downstairs living area. The gite was comfortable and well equipped and had an inviting outdoor terrace with table and chairs as well as loungers. It looked out over a paddock where three horses grazed and on to a hamlet with a small chateau style buildings, outbuildings and a porte. It was just perfect. Let's get unpacked and open that bottle of rose the owner left in the fridge!!

Montcuq is a pleasant small village with a large donjon, lovely shaded centre with shops and cafes and a small Carrefour Contact on the edge of the village. The supermarket was selling locally produced apples and pumpkins. It also had one of the best fish sections we had come across and a great wine section selling the local product. We enjoyed shopping there. Montcuq also has a good small market on Sunday.

We had a quiet day on Sunday as it was our first really rainy day of the trip. I also felt I was coming down with a cold, but it only hung around a day or so and fortunately did not develop. It was a perfect night for magret de canard and roast veges.

The rain cleared by next morning, but it was foggy early on so we went out a little later after it lifted. We passed lots of vines - Vignerons du Lot and also the Cahors wines. This area has several bastides and the first one we stopped at was Tournon d'Agenais. It has a nice town square with old houses and arcades, very high walls and ramparts which give wonderful views over the agricultural country below. Another steep village was Montaigu de Quercy with some lovely houses and two churches.

After lunch on the terrace, the first of several, we went for a drive around some of the surrounding country where the leaves were beginning to turn. The villages were nice - very clean and tidy with lots of the white stone which gives the region the name Quercy-Blanc. We were interested to see some houses with wooden porches similar to those in parts of Burgundy.

The weather was much better the next day so we set out through rolling country with ploughed paddocks, an occasional patch of grapevines, lovely farm houses of white stone and pretty hamlets. What more could you want? Castelnau Montratier is a bastide with listed arcades around the town square. The white stone was lovely and there were also some buildings of colombage. The church was impressive with domes and it looked wonderful as we looked back when leaving the village. We stopped for a photo of the village and church later that day on our way back. There are also a couple of old mills here.

We were on our way to Monpezat de Quercy which is a lovely village. It has several small squares with gardens and lovely little streets with quite a lot of colombage buildings. The jewel in the crown here is the 14th century collegiale built by St Jean de Pres as his burial site. It is a lovely church and houses a special collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries which have been recently restored. They tell the story of the life of St Martin de Tours and are arranged around the choir. Both the village and the church are well worth a visit. Another place I have not seen mentioned on travel forums.

After a late lunch at home ( we cannot resist that terrace!), we visited the nearby PBV of Lauzerte. There were information panels around which made it easy to explore. It is on a hill and the views were again wonderful from both sides of the village. The buildings are a mix of white stone and colombage and are tall - several levels - and the streets in places are quite wide for an old French village. The town square has couverts and a church. We saw lots of interesting doors and windows and there were lots of plants and creepers such as jasmine and wisteria. It is a beautiful village.

It was still warm enough to sit outside with a glass of wine, some Comte cheese and salty black olives. Some one has to do it.

One day we set out on a small circuit of some villages. We began in Roquecor which has an impressive mairie and a viewpoint over the valley. I cannot keep repeating how wonderful the country was, so just take it as a given. Not far away was Lacour on a hill. Bourg en Visa was larger and had interesting 19th century market halles made of iron. After Bourg we headed to St Maurin which has very old wooden halles in front of colombage house - very picturesque. There are also the remains of what had been a large abbey in the Cistercian style. Parts are still standing and parts are now houses.

Puymirol is another bastide with arcades and long streets. Then Montjoi is chocolate box pretty . It is just two main streets with white stone buildings, coloured shutters, potted plants and flowers.

By this time it was lunch time and we had not found a baguette. Our last stop was Castelsagrat, another bastide with wonderful couverts with big arches. And good news, a place open for lunch. It was a 13euro menu du jour - three courses with wine and coffee but no other details. We sat in the bar with several locals - everyone seemed to know each other and any new arrivals. When a large bowl of piping hot soup and ladle arrived at each table, we assumed this was the entree and tucked in. But then the entree arrived and the main course ( chicken cuisse with potato and eggplant braise and puy lentils ) and citron tart with raspberry sauce. No dinner for us that night!

It had been an enjoyable day the like of which we always appreciate. Each village on its own may only have something small of interest and not need a lot of time, but together as an ensemble it makes a very pleasant day.

We visited Puy l'Eveque in 2006 in only our second week in France, so we were overdue for a return visit. It is a larger village in a attractive location on the Lot river, and we followed the map from the TO. It has some interesting old buldings - a chateau, Chapel de Penitents, some towers and attractive houses. The view of the river from the promenade is lovely and there are good views over the village from Place de Rampeau and also from across the river. Before leaving, we sat in the car and enjoyed some patisserie while taking in the view.

After leaving Puy l'Eveque we drove along the river. There is a belvedere at Belaye for a panorama over the valley and beyond. The villages are pretty and it is a pleasant drive past grape vines and walnut groves. Albas is another village overlooking the river, and Luzech is built on a loop of the river which almost forms an island. We stopped at the Carrefour on our way home for some trout for dinner. They were perfect with a simple salad and we followed with walnut cake and creme fraiche.

One day we drove around Cahors and followed the scenic drive along the river with the road cut into the cliff. We crossed the narrow one lane bridge to Bouzies where we parked and then walked along the Chemin d'Halage. This is the old tow path along the river and is cut into the white cliffs. In a small section there sculptures and carvings of plants and shells and other aspects of river life along the walls. It is a very pleasant and peaceful walk and you can walk from there to St Cirq Lapopie.

After a picnic lunch by the river, we continued on to St Cirq Lapopie which we had visited in 2006. Now there are several carparks ( 4 euro) with electronic capacity boards. We parked in a carpark at the top and walked down. It was busy and the restaurants were doing good business. It is built on the side of a hill beside the river and has more great views. I always enjoy looking over the roofs in villages to see the different lines and shapes and this village is especially pleasing. I sat in a quiet spot admiring my surrounds while P walked down the road to get a photo back to the village. Lazy, I know. It is another beautiful village . We then returned along the other side of the river to Cahors and home.

On the middle Saturday we just went for a drive around the beautiful countryside . We did not go through many villages but saw a wide variety of agriculture- cultivation, grape vines, cattle, apple orchards. There were lots of little churches scattered around. Then home for lunch and a quiet afternoon on the terrace with a book, a coffee and later a glass of wine.

Sunday was very windy when we went into the market. We came home with a bottle of Cahors wine from the producer, a barquette of sweet black grapes, a small goat's cheese rolled in garlic and parsley and a shiny black eggplant for ratatouille later in the week.

After lunch we went on another circuit of villages. Penne d'Agenais is a medieval village with an old port and an old part high above the river. It was pretty with a lot of buildings made of flat red brick. It is then a steep walk up through the village to the Notre Dame de Peyragude. The church is huge and quite attractive inside. It is only about 120 years old and has two large silver domes. The jury is still out on whether we liked the domes.

Next stop was Laroque Thimbaut which has lovely stone halles, a porte and clocktower. Frespech is a sweet little fortified village with the remains of a chateau, a lovely Romanesque church with cut stone roof, and the remains of walls.

Last stop was Beauville which was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. The large church has a porch opening onto the square, and there are arcades and colombage buildings. There were people sitting outside the cafe and some children playing quietly in the square as their parents watched. Very nice. It was then a very pleasant drive home in time for a glass of wine and another favourite for dinner - gesiers salad followed by apricot tart and creme fraiche. A lovely day.

The Monday of our second week was another wet day with showers . That day we saw the shocking news of the terrible floods near Carcassonne and the tragic loss of 14 lives. Our next gite was only 30 kms away from Carcassonne so we were a bit concerned.

Montcuq is about 26 kms from Cahors . We did make a quick stop in 2008 to see the Pont Valentre but did not visit the town . We parked over the river and walked across the bridge to the historic centre where we stopped in at the halles. The cathedral St Etienne is quite lovely with two domes, one of which is painted, as are parts of the walls. There are attractive cloisters with detailed capitals and little hedges. We walked through the town to the Barbacane, Tour St Jean and St Barthemly church. We enjoyed the walk with the lovely old buildings and squares, and of course, another look at the bridge. The town was quite busy, well for us anyway.

There are several moulins in the area and we stopped to see the moulin du vent at Boisse. Lalbenque was a busy small village with shops and cafes and a wonderful sculpture of a truffle hunter and his dog on the steps of the mairie. One of the things I enjoy is going into a boucherie/charcuterie when there are other customers. This gives me time to look at the products as well as to see what others are buying and their interaction with the butcher. Lalbenque had an excellent boucherie and we came out with some boudin blanc and a piece of boudin noir. When people wonder how we can afford to spend ten weeks in France, this is how we do it. This purchase was meat for two dinners and cost just over 7 euro.

After leaving Lalbenque we passed through Labastide de Penne and climbed up to Puylaroque. Once again it was high on a hill with a panorama, 12th century church with painted pillars and ceiling, pleasant houses and a tower. On our way home through Belfort du Quercy, we saw a pigeonier. Boudin noir for dinner.

Our last day was foggy until mid morning, so we went into Montcuq for a last wander, had lunch out and then stopped at the Carrefour for fuel and a few things. The young man in the fish section was singing and the young staff were dancing around as they worked. It was always a pleasure to go in and for a small supermarket, it was very good.

We loved this area and this gite and will return , possibly for three weeks next time. P will miss his daily walk up to the chickens with our vege scraps and stale baguette. It was a wonderful two weeks and we are at the stage now that we do not need to be seeing a Mont St Michel or a Pont du Gard every day, or even every week for that matter, and if we miss something, so be it. The whole south west area - we have stayed in the Gers, Lot et Garonne, Lot, and three different parts of the Dordogne - is one of our favourites, along with Burgundy.

From the kitchen

Magret de canard with roast veges
Magret de canard with lentils , sweet onions and creme fraiche
Montbeliards with potato and apple
Pasta salad with gesiers de poulet and roast pumpkin
Trout and salad
Sardines and salad
Toulouse sausages and ratatouille
Gesiers de canard salad
Leek , lardon, pumpkin and camembert frittata
Salade composee with boudin noir and caramelised apple

Next week - the Aude bordering the Herault.
 

phirhon

100+ Posts
#6
WEEK 8 - THE AUDE

We were looking forward to our Saturday drive as it would take us back through the Tarn where we stayed in 2016. We turned off at Caussade and headed towards St Antonin Noble Val. It was quite foggy just as it had been when we visited two years ago almost to the day. We went through Cordes sur Ciel as the tourists were arriving, and then on through Albi which was very hazy. That cathedral is stunning. We stopped at the Intermarche at Realmont where we bought a delicious pain d'epice.

After a picnic lunch at Mazamet we followed the very scenic road through the Montagne Noir towards Carcassonne. It was closed further down from the recent flooding but we turned off before the closure. We visited Carcassonne in 2012, so decided not to go back this time. Once we turned off we started to see evidence of the disaster with some road damage and lots of debris in places. We were charmed by three statues of truffle hunters with their dogs at a roundabout on the way out of Villeneuve Minervois. We really enjoy some of the interesting features and displays we see on roundabouts in France.

Our gite was in the fairly average town of Rieux Minervois. There is an sturdy chateau beside the river and the old bridge and we could see evidence of the flooding down by the river. What is interesting in this village is the church. It is an unusual heptagonal design and appears round inside with huge pillars and lovely capitals. It is very different and quite appealing. The village has all amenities so was a good base. Our gite was behind the owners' house and and was very modern and opened onto the pool area. It was still warm but not for swimming.

We were greeted by a neighbour from down the road as the owners had had a death in the family and gone away. The generous owner had left us two bottles of very nice Minervois wine from a nearby cave. Once settled we found we could not get the WIFI up, and then found out it was not working because of the flooding. The neighbour came down on Monday to tell us it was back up, but still no connection. He went off and came back with the next door neighbour who happened to be his brother in law. When he saw that his connection was showing on our devices, he insisted, despite our protests, on giving us his password. This is just one example of the generosity and friendliness of the people we met. While it was weak and did drop out at times, it was better than none at all.

That night for dinner we had the boudin blanc we'd bought in Lalbenque. They were delicious. You can buy these and other sausages such as morteau prepacked in the supermarkets. However we prefer to buy ours from a boucherie or the charcuterie section of a supermarket as they are better.

On Sunday morning we went up to Caunes Minervois which is known for its red marble. There is a Romanesque abbey there with some wonderful scuptures and altar in marble. There is also marble throughout the village in various forms, and sculptures of animals in a park along the stream. It is quite a pretty little place.

After lunch under the olive tree by the pool we went for a drive to some of the nearby villages. Now we started seeing flood damage in the form of lots of debris, flattened grapevines and swollen streams. We were in the wine region of the Minervois with grape vines every where. There is a very attractive church in the small village of Escales, and outside Montbrun there was a sweet little church, Notre Dame de Colombier. It was out on its own with pine trees around. Roquecourbe Minervois had a chateau with two towers beside the church. It was a lovely sight, and the lady was out working in her garden above the road. She told us that they had a very old stone wall collapse as a result of the torrential rain. Azilles has a long avenue of trees, portes into the village and an attractive church with big bell tower .

On Monday we drove to Minerve via a couple of villages that did not really do much for us. There did not seem to be a centre and the buildings did not appeal. I think we had been spoilt by the lovely bastides and villages of the Lot. But then the country started to change . There were still lots of grape vines but the country as a whole was more appealing and the air seemed clearer. We drove along the gorges and Minerve is impressive from the road positioned as it is on a spur between two rivers. It is only a small village which does not take a lot of time, but its position makes it spectacular. You have to drive about a km past the village to the carpark, but then it is only a 200m walk into the village. We walked to the ramparts and down to the river. We finished the morning by driving home through several villages which appealed more, including Siran where we had considered a gite.

After lunch we went to Lastours. On the way we saw more flood damage including a car being hauled out of the river. Lastours is actually four Cathar castle ruins together on hills. It looked to be a steep walk up from the village and it was still quite warm, so I chickened out. We drove up to the belvedere where there is an amazing view of the four castles. We spent some time there just absorbing the majestic sight.

On Tuesday we went down to Fontfroide abbey and really enjoyed our visit. It is very well laid out with a good information leaflet which was easy to follow. Sometimes we find the maps they give you hard to follow. The abbey has large courtyards and beautiful cloisters with marble pillars. It had a very nice chapter house and stained glass in the dormitory and there was grand staircase. The abbey church was big with huge pillars and beautiful stained glass. We walked out through the rose garden and then up to the terraced gardens and walks which offer views over the abbey. We were fascinated by the beehives and little ' houses' to encourage insects into the gardens. I would love one or two for the garden at home, but am yet to convince P he needs to make one. It was a wonderful few hours .

On the way home we stopped in at Fabrezan which is round and has a 12th century donjon. All the donjons we see seem to be 12th century !!

One day we drove up to St Chinian which is the centre of another wine growing region. On the way we detoured into the small village of Quarante because we saw it had a star on the Michelin map. It proved to be a charming small village with lots of little alleys and stairs and a 10th -11th century abbatiale with several 1st - 3rd century sarcophagi. We were pleased we took the time to stop at the village. We then stopped at a viewpoint and resistance memorial before reaching St Chinian which is in a nice location on the river. We found the country more attractive up here and the air less hazy. St Chinian is an attractive small town and we enjoyed our visit and an especially delicious tarte au citron meringue for morning tea.

After leaving St Chinian we drove through a scene worthy of being on a postcard or a calendar. There were grape vines turning yellow, a ' young ' avenue of trees also turning yellow and a stone building in the middle. It was just gorgeous, but as luck would have it, there was no where to stop and a white van nudging our bumper. We had to imprint it in our minds.

We passed through several pretty little villages and stopped in Pepieux where there is an impressive church with a large square bell tower. It was similar to other bell towers we had seen in the region. In the nearby park we were surprised to discover an aviary full of budgerigars. These are an Australian native bird which I grew up with as my father used to breed and show them.

We went into Narbonne one day. It was quite busy with lots of one way and no entry streets and we took ages to find a park. It is an attractive town in the centre and we enjoyed walking along the canal where there were lots of boats moored. The Halles are quite impressive both outside and inside. There was a market outside along the canal, but not what we consider an appealing market. We like food markets, but not ones selling clothes and mattresses and what appears to be cheap junk, and that was what this was. It did spoil the outlook of the canal and halles for us.

It is a lovely old centre and we really enjoyed our exploration. We were impressed by the lovely pink marble pavement in one arcade. The Archbishop's Palace which is now the Hotel de Ville is impressive and the cathedral is stunning. Of course it was closed for hours over lunch and we had planned to see it and then leave. It is so frustrating. We always enjoy our visits to larger centres as they are different from what we usually do, but we do not enjoy traffic and crowds and are quite content to return to the peace and quiet of the country after a day out to one. I really am not looking forward to the day P no longer feels comfortable driving in France.

Friday followed our usual pattern of the morning out and then the afternoon spent planning our route, packing, cleaning the gite, filling the car and taking a last walk around . We went for a drive to some of the villages a little to the north and they were quite lovely. One we paricularly liked was La Liviniere which had some lovely old buildings and a nice church with another square bell tower. Just outside Siran ( another nice village ), there is a little chapel at Centeilles. It was just a little misty and it looked beautiful surrounded by grapevines.

We went out to lunch at one of the cafes in Rieux. We quite like the ' buffet au volonte' entrees and this was the only one of the trip. There were two choices for the mains, steak et frites and encornet farci ( stuffed squid ). We chose the latter and they came with rice and a rich seafood sauce with mussels. Very nice. Then back to the buffet for some cheese followed by Ile Flotante. There was a bottle of red wine on the table and coffee included. We are going to miss these lunches.

Well, another week is over. We enjoyed our stay, although we found some parts of the region appealed more than others, as did some of the villages. The weather here was still mild but about to change.

From the kitchen

Boudin blanc and salad
Magret de canard with fennel and haricot blanc braise.
Leek, lardon and goat's cheese frittata
Morteau sausage with fennel and potato boulangere
Chicken cuisse and salad
Poitrine fumee and flageolot bean salad

Tomorrow we are off to the Ardeche.
 
#7
WEEK 9 - THE ARDECHE

It was raining when we left on Saturday and quite busy until we got around Beziers. The rain eased and the driving became more pleasant. We skirted around Clermont l'Herault near where we stayed in 2014 and then across past Pic St Loup which is a really scenic drive. We were still seeing grapevines. We reached the town of St Ambroix which is where we would shop and it looked quite interesting. As we had time, we checked out the Intermarche super which was busy.

Our gite this week was on the edge of the little village of St Andre de Cruzieres which is in the Ardeche but almost in the Gard. It had a bar and a small epicerie, but we could not work out the hours of the latter. We only saw it open once. There was a boulangerie in the next village. Gone were the big square church bell towers from the previous week. Now we were seeing tall elegant spires.

Some gites are obviously holiday rentals, but this house had been someone's home. It was well equipped and comfortable with some beautiful old wooden sideboards and furniture. The owner was very excited to have Australians staying there. She really stretched my converstional French and came bearing welcome gifts of a bottle of Ardeche rose, home pressed fresh apple juice, home-made blueberry jam and a bottle of superb home-made chestnut confiture. The next day we bought some crepes and had warm crepes, chestnut confiture and creme fraiche. Yum, yum.

On Sunday morning we went into Saint Ambroix for a look around before going to the supermarket. It is quite an attractive medieval town with some big tree-lined squares, old houses and back streets to see. In the centre is a high rock with the circular tower Guisquet on top. There are quite a few shops and we went into a boucherie where the boucher explained some of his products made in house. We came away with a slice of terrine au Piment d' Espelette which was very nice with just a hint of the piment.

That afternoon we went out for a drive to the nearby village of Barjac which we really liked. It was very tidy with lovely light coloured stone, narrow streets, but also several more open areas with lots of small shops scattered around. It was the size and type of place we would choose to stay. After that we pottered around some nearby villages. Labastide de Virac was very attractive with a chateau and there was also a chateau ( now a chambre d'hote ) in Bessas. The country varied from flat plains with vines to more hilly and rugged. We saw a lot of vines, olive trees and even some lavender fields. The autumn colours of the vines and trees made for lovely views.

Monday was an awful day - raining and cold and bleak. We did think we would go across to Aigueze and maybe drive along the Ardeche gorges. We did see the gorges in 2010 but would have liked to return. By the time we got to Barjac it was bucketing down, so we stopped at the little Carrefour contact and came home. On early trips we soldiered on in the rain, but I am afraid we are past that now. That night there were heavy snow falls up in the Massif Centrale with thousands stranded for hours in cars and trucks.

Tuesday was fine and clear so we had a big day planned. Our first stop was the PBV of Montclus which is on the Ceze river. It is quite small with pretty little streets, a donjon, arches, a church with simple front. After leaving Montclus there is a short drive along the Ceze gorges.

Just off the main road is the pretty village of Cornillon. It is high on a hill with a chateau that has been in the same family since the early 17th century. In the courtyard is a stage and seating for performances. There is a great view over the Ceze valley from the belvedere.

Down below is Goudargues which has a small canal running through the main street lined with trees, shops and cafes. What a pity it was too early for lunch as it looked most inviting.

La Roque sur Ceze is another PBV. It was lovely with lots of cobble stone streets which were a bit steeper. The houses are attractive and there is a chateau at the top and two towers. The information boards here tell about the many people of the arts who have spent time in the village.

From the car park it is then a walk of about 5 mins to the Cascades de Sautadet. I had seen photos but that really did not prepare us. While the cascades flow over what appeared to be a man made barrier, it is the rocks below that are absolutely amazing. Over the years the water has carved out channels and holes and crevices and it is very impressive. We spent quite a while walking around on the rocks admiring the rugged shapes and pools. Well worth a visit.

After a picnic lunch we took the back road ( we do enjoy back roads ) to Lussan. On the way we detoured off to Les Concluses which are the gorges carved by the Aiguillon river. We walked for about a kilomtetre, maybe a bit more, who knows, and enjoyed our views of the cliffs and caves. The colours were beautiful - a streaky blend of dark grey, ochre, white - and it was an interesting walk.

Lussan was our last stop and I had not realised it was a PBV. It is round and on a hill, and the very impressive chateau, now the Hotel de Ville, is the first thing you see as you walk in. There are great views from the well preserved ramparts and we enjoyed the buildings, including a temple which was a Protestant church. It appeared to have a private house opening on to the walled garden in front where there was a lady gardening when we entered. It was a bit different from the others - no cobble stones for example, but still nice to visit. It had been a long but very enjoyable day out.

The heavy rain returned on Wednesday. As the following day was a public holiday ( All Saints' Day ), we went into St Ambroix to shop in case the shops were closed next day. It was pouring rain and stormy. As we were waiting in the supermarket for the rain to ease to dash to the car, there was a huge bang and smoke everywhere. A large light pole in the car park, not far from where we were parked, had exploded! We are not sure if it was lightning or simply water in the electronics, but it certainly gave everyone a fright.

It is interesting how traditions vary from country to country. In France, potted chrysanthemums are the flowers put on graves on All Saints day. Here in Australia they are a popular flower for Mother's Day in May.

It was still showery on Thursday morning but we ventured out as it eased. We enjoyed Balazuc which is a very old village on the Ardeche river. It has lots of little nooks and crannies to explore and little cobblestoned streets. There is an old church and we walked up to look over the Ardeche whch was swollen and flowing rapidly, and to the cliffs on the other side. We walked over the bridge to look back at the village and its beautiful location.

Next stop was Vogue which is also on the river. The river seemed even fuller here and one carpark in the village was flooded. There is a very well preserved chateau at the top of the village. I am not sure why, but Vogue did not appeal as much as the other villages we had been seeing.

On the way back we called in at Venezac which we thought was lovely. The walk through the porte opens into a pretty little village with narrow streets, lovely stone buildings and lots of ivy growing around.

Our last stop was Largentiere which was completely different. It is on the Ligne river which was also full and flowing. This village has very tall buildings - up to four floors - with painted shutters. The streets are steep and there are lots of wide, old, worn stone stairs up to one of the churches, and there is another large church with pillars in front. There is also a chateau which is best viewed from the bridge over the river. It was another interesting place.

We were still seeing lots of grape vines and wine caves. It was not until we began travelling around the different regions that we realised just how big the wine industry is in France. A lot of people know of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Cotes de Rhone, maybe the Loire and Alsace and think that is it. We have been lucky to have stayed in so many other less well known wine regions and always enjoy the local product. Not only are the wines great, the regions themselves have so much of interest. And do you know? You do not have to spend a lot to get excellent wine.

The weather improved on Friday. The small market was in progress in St Jean de Jeune so we stopped for a look. We like the smaller markets and this one had all the stalls we like - cheese, charcuterie, fruit and veges, roast chickens, bread, local wines and honey. I had been having difficulty finding green beans sometimes, so was pleased to find some and also some lovely little potatoes ideal for a bean and potato salad we like.

Banne is an interesting small village in two parts. There is a lovely big church in the newer part and you look over to the older part where there are the ruins of a chateau above the village. Once over at the old section we walked up through the pretty streets to the ruins. From there it is a wonderful view over the surrounding country. We could see olive groves and grape vines and terraces on the hills and it was gorgeous. We like the simple things. Beside the chateau are the impressive stables which have been restored. In their day they housed 35 horses. It was a nice little village.

Well another week is over. Once again we did not do some things we had planned. We had hoped to drive along the Ardeche gorges again, visit a cave, maybe return to Uzes, but no matter. We may have to return!! This is a lovely area with lots of interesting places and varied and beautiful landscapes.

From the kitchen

Montbeliard sausages, tomato and haricot blanc braise
Magret de canard with lentils, sweet onions and creme fraiche
Morteau sausage with fennel and potato boulangere
Saucisse aux herbes and ratatouille
Leek and lardon pasta
Baked trout and warm potato and green bean salad.

Our last week is coming up and we are off to our favourite region in Burgundy, Saone et Loire.
 
#8
WEEK 10 - SAONE ET LOIRE.

As we did not need to see anyone before we left and we had a fairly long drive, we made an early start . What started out as a pleasant day turned foggy and windy as we travelled up through Grignan which we stayed near in 2010. The scenery was quite attractive despite the fog. Then up past Crest and our base from week1. We had come full circle ! We let the GPS get us around Lyon and then skirted the edge of the Dombes and on through Macon. On the way we passed some lovely colombage farm buildings on a grassy rise. We were near the Bresse and it has some attractive buildings.

This week we were back in an area we love. We had already spent a week in 2010 and 2014 in Chissey les Macon, about 15kms away. This time we chose a gite just out of the wine village of Lugny. The Cave de Lugny is a great wine cave we have been to before, and we stopped in to stock up with some Cremants, Aligote and Passetoutgrain before going to our gite. 10% off in November. Excellent!! Our gite was attached to the owners residence which has the lovely porch typical of this region. The owners were very welcoming and gave us a bottle of the local wine and a jar of blackberry and raspberry jam. The gite was lovely, on two levels and with a well equipped kitchen. It was cold but cosy inside.

Sunday morning was foggy so we just went and found the Intermarche about 5kms away at Peronne. After lunch it was still a little misty but that seemed to add to the appeal of our drive around. We think the villages and country are just beautiful in this area. We saw lots of fields of vines, wine caves in almost every village, lovely stone houses with little porches, some interesting churches. There is a sweet little church in Bissy le Maconnaise with a lauze roof, a listed church with an interesting tower in Laize, a large church with columns in Ige, the gorgeous little chapelle de Domange surrounded by grape vines, and in the distance on our way home, a church on top of a hill. We saw several tiled towers and roof tops that are a feature of buildings in Burgundy. We just love it, and autumn is just beautiful.

That night we had a rose cremant de Bourgogne to compliment the sinfully rich cheese, Brillat Savarin, and some poire william rouge. It was soft and oozy and creamy and oh, so delicious.

Well, we are into November and foggy starts are quite common. The fog had lifted to a nice sunny day by the time we reached Bourg en Bresse and we skirted around the centre. We were there to visit the Monastere de Brou which was commissioned by Margaret of Austria to house three tombs, one each for her husband and mother and one for herself. The complex is quite big and there are three cloisters, two of which had wells and the third was cobblestones. They were not especially ornate but still lovely. The church itself does have a very elaborate altar and the three carved marble tombs are superb. The choir is carved wood and there are beautiful stained glass windows. You can then walk up to the gallery which looks down on the church and the magnificent tombs. Margaret's apartments are up there, and then the the monks' building houses a fine arts museum with paintings and furniture. An exquisitely carved 3-D wooden scene particularly appealed to us. There was scaffolding around the front of the Gothic church, but did not detract from the view of the wonderful tiled roof. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

We then came home on a different road and stopped in the town of Chatillon sur Chalaronne. Why had we never heard of this lovely little town? It was a bit cold for picnics by now, so we stopped in at a little restaurant - it seated about 16 - for a very nice lunch. The owner and people at other tables were very friendly. Ratatouille accompanied the main course, and I was pleased to see it looked and tasted like mine. I must be doing something right!

This charming medieval town is well worth a stop. It has lots of buildings in colombage, cobblestones, magnificent halles, an old chateau, ramparts, hospice, porte, and flowery bridges over the small stream. St Vincent de Paul lived here at one time. But this is France. You never know what pleasant surprises await. On the way home we stopped to photograph the farm buildings we saw on Saturday.

One day we just went for a wander up through Chardonnay and on to Ozenay where there is a chateau and a small but lovely church with a porch with huge wooden beams and simple, arched interior. Then along the road past Brancion, a medieval village on a hill. The country was changing - grapevines still, but also some cultivation and cattle. Now the fairytale Chateau des Nobles with towers and porte looking gorgeous with the golden vines in front and the trees behind. And another fairytale chateau crowned in autumn colours with a lake in front at Sercy. By this time we were in Buxy and stopped at the supermarket. At last, some Jambon Persillee, a burgundian speciality, a favourite of ours and not found very often in other regions.

We then meandered home along small back roads of which there plenty in this region. All the time we were passing through small villages with an attractive church, the lovely winemakers houses with porches and wooden pillars, a lavoir. So many of these have a small private chateau, all a little different, quite a few of which are chambre d'hotes. And all the time surrounded by the glorious autumn tones. Do you see why we love this region?

On Wednesday we drove over to Louhans in the Bresse region. It is a busy market town well known for its weekly poultry market - of course this is the region of the famous Bresse chicken. It was a pleasant drive over, passing through several small villages. The houses are different here - more modern in appearance and often flat on the ground.

The church in Louhans is in two parts with an old and a new side, and it has a beautiful tiled roof. But the charm here is the Grande Rue which has arcades down each side - 157 in all. They are all different shapes and made from different materials. and it is very appealing. While they are still arcades, they are very different from the arcades we were seeing in the bastides of the Lot. There are lots of shops with some beautiful patisseries and interesting charcuteries. We bought some aspic au saumon fume for a late lunch at home with buttered baguette ( butter encrusted with sea salt of course ). Delicious. It was then a nice drive home through some different villages. That afternoon we went in for a wander around Lugny which is a pleasant little place with a good Petit Casino and an excellent boulangerie. The charcuterie was closed for the annual vacance. A lovely day.

On Thursday we went across to Tournus and visited the cathedral which we first saw in 2006. The church has big round pillars, a magnificent organ and a small chapel reached by narrow winding stairs to look down into the church. It also has small attractive cloisters. We then walked down into the town which was quite busy. The hotel de ville, as is often the case in French towns and villages, was wuite attractive. We came home through Chapaize to look at the restaurant we planned to visit the next day.

After lunch we went into Cluny which is an attractive small town . We have been before, of course, but we always enjoy visiting. It has an impressive Haras du Pin, and the remains of an abbey. There are remains of walls and lots of attractive buildings, a tower and a very impressive war memorial beside the church. Then a quick stop at the boulangerie in Lugny which does beautiful patisserie. I think we will have a Foret Noir ( rich kirsch soaked choc cake, cherries, cream and chocolate ganache) and a Caramelou ( biscuit base, caramel mousse with bits of caramel and encased in caramel ganache ) for dessert after our rose trout. Sublime.

Last day. We went across to Chapaize to Le Saint Martin, a restaurant we had eaten at on another stay. Chapaize is a quiet village dominated by its magnificent Romanesque church. It also has two excellent restaurants. We had a superb lunch - a splurge for our last day. It was French food with a modern twist, beautifully presented, absolutely delicious and a fitting end to another wonderful trip. We lingered over coffee and went for a walk. On the way home, Burgundy sparkled for us - sunshine, glorious autumn colours, our last look at little villages and church spires nestled among the trees. Our hearts were full.

Next day the rain matched our mood as we headed back to Lyon airport to drop the car and begin the long journey home. We had a bit of drama at the airport. The airline had installed some new software and while we were listed on the flights, the system kept blocking our passports. It took about 30 mins to resolve. The lady was getting quite frustrated by the end, on the phone to who knows who. " There is nothing wrong with their passports. They are just Australians who want to go home. " Did we?

From the kitchen.

Magret de canard with tian of fennel, zucchini, tomato and blue cheese
Chicken cuisse and leek, potato and creme fraiche bake
Montbeliards with lentils, sweet onions and creme fraiche
Rose trout with salad
Gesiers de canard salad


CONCLUSION


We have had another wonderful trip to this lovely country and I find it hard to believe that we have now spent 56 weeks in France since 2006. We feel the window is slowly closing on how long we can keep returning. At this stage P is still comfortable driving and hopefully that will not change in the near future .

All our gites were booked through Gites de France and we were happy with them all. We are very economical travellers. I am sure some people think of what they spend in a week, multiply it by ten and need to be revived. But we have found a way to travel that we love and can afford. It may not suit others who would consider what we do as a sacrifice on a holiday, especially the cooking at home. But for us, it is one of the things we enjoy about our trips. And lest you think I have a terrific memory, as well as journal of what we do each day, in 2012 I began to keep a food journal. In it I record what we cook and eat, markets, shops, our thoughts on new cheeses, charcuterie, meals out- anything related to food. Any interesting labels get pasted in and it becomes a scrap book of our trip and transports me back to France, at least for a little while.
Thanks for taking this journey with me.

Happy travels.
 
#9
I liked your food diary. You are bigger meat eaters than I am (so much sausage!) :) . I like eating out, but for me one of the great pleasures of travel is shopping in local markets and trying local produce.

I'm also impressed by your dedication to exploring little places. That's what we tend to do on holiday too, but we stay in one spot rather than travelling around. Like you we economise by travelling off season and finding cheap places to rent. You were in my neck of the woods in week 8. What a shame you hit the aftermath of the worst floods in 20 years -- you didn't see the region at its best!
 
#10
Yes Veronica, we are definitely carnivores in France!!! Not so much at home where we regularly have meat free meals. A lot of the things we eat in France we do not get here in Australia, so we make the most of them when we are there. Morteau and Montbeliard sausages are favourites and not available here. Duck is not easily bought in the provincial city where we live and is expensive, and fresh sardines not at all.

But I also do not go to France to cook spag bol or Thai green vege curry or an Asian stir fry which we have at home.

We visit France every two years and have always stayed one week in places, but in 2014 we increased to some two week stays, and next time we may have a three week stop. We love the country and finding interesting little places is always a great pleasure. We have, over the years, ticked a lot of the big boxes, but we get as much pleasure from lesser known places. We actually stayed for a week in Couiza in 2012 and went to Carcassonne and a couple of castles from there.

I like to encourage people to consider a self catering holiday not only for the comfort and economics, but also because it gives a different perspective from staying in a hotel going to a restaurant every night. But I suppose it depends on what you want from a holiday.

Happy travels in France.
 
#11
I can relate to your feelings about having a limited number of years left to travel like this. We too travel (and live) economically, and I LOVE the idea of playing house and cooking in my European kitchen!

Did you stay in 10 different locations? I wasn't sure. We spent 2+ weeks in the Dordogne, in 3 different locations, and I could have spend more time in each location - so I completely 'get' returning year after year.
 
#12
We stayed in eight different places- six one week stays and two two week stays, but next time we will cut back on one week stays. You are just getting settled and it is time to move on. We have a few places we want to return to and just enjoy being there.
 

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