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Trip Report FRANCE 10 YEARS ON: Paris Dordogne Albi Toulouse Arles S Rhone and Nice

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So…what makes the perfect vacation? Each time we arrive at a destination to start another vacation, I grapple unconsciously with that question, like Jacob and the proverbial angel.

And slowly, but not at first, the answer is revealed to me. And it’s always a little different from the trips that came before.

So where do I start? In Paris CDG, where there is a huge flurry of activity whirling around the carousel next to us, where a sea of white garments, handsome faces and myriads of suitcases is in motion. It’s a flight from Istanbul, and the whole scene seems a little fantastical to a jet lagged white Canadian girl. It makes me smile to be in this cosmopolitan city of Paris.
Our taxi whisks us to our hotel in the 7th, just around the corner from the Rodin Museum. Nice neighborhood, charming French country room, boutique Hotel de Varennes.

We set out to explore the neighborhood, and get as far as Esplanade des Invalides. Ah the spirit is willing but…hubby is not feeling well, such a long flight, so he curls up on the bench while I sit and watch a nearby Frisbee/rugby ?? game. It’s not long before I realize that the layers I packed were going to be necessary immediately. Wasn’t expecting that in the early part of September!
But what a beautiful part of Paris we were making our home for the next 3 nights! We made our way back to the hotel and slept off the flight for a few hours, as our room was miraculously ready an hour early!

The Eiffel Tower was beckoning to us…it had been 10 long years since we were in Paris last! Along the way, we found the restaurant I had bookmarked from my research, l’Auberge Bressane, and it was open on a Sunday night. What a great way to start our French vacation, with traditional food eaten centimeters from other tables of French diners, excited by the flavors of the food, and the great wine pairings. I had forgotten how French people get really involved with their menu choices, and that of their table mates. Such fun!

As we got closer to the Eiffel Tower, the reality of real world time set in, as we could see that there is a fence around the whole affair, and one must undergo a security search to get inside. Groups of soldiers with machine guns strolled around the perimeter.

As it was already late, we decided instead to walk into the park area so we could take some pictures of the twinkling lights of the tower from a little distance.

A rather strange scene accosted us in the darkness, of “merchants” selling roses, bottles of 5 Euro champagne, beer, and whatever else one might need for a romantic view of the Eiffel tower from the grassy area… Had 10 years changed Paris? Decidedly so. We headed back to our hotel for much needed sleep.

Monday--I had made a reservation for lunch at Pottoka, so after a sleep-in, and a leisurely walk, we found the restaurant on a sweet little street across from a colorful market. Being the first ones there, we hoped that this place was not just hype, but soon it filled up, and we settled in for a nice lunch. The food was pretty, well presented, but I thought it lacked in flavor a tad. That may have been due to my food choices though.

I had this starter:
Tuna tartar, basil and green apple, crisp, wasabi mayo and mousse
My husband loved his starter:
Crispy soft boiled egg, fregola sarda, wild mushrooms, Ardi Gasna and chorizo
We both enjoyed the main plate:
Guinea fowl with butternut squash two ways and red cabbage. I particularly liked the squash sliced paper thin and crunchy.

This day was for exploring, getting re-acquainted with Paris, so off we went, walking along the river bank and across to the Trocadero. This is a nicer view of the Eiffel Tower, in my opinion. There was a broquante market to glance through, and an Orange store where I could get a SIM card for my iPad.

That was a rather intimidating experience. There were a few people milling about in the store, and as we entered and noticed there was an armed guard, we were told to get in the line-up at the side and no browsing was allowed.

When our turn came, the sales girl insisted the only Sim card available for visitors included 10 gb of data, 1000 texts and unlimited calls to other countries. This was for my iPad. After a conversation about that, I ended up paying Euro 40 for the card, and was assured that the 10 gb would last me through the month.

Well, I have never used that much data in a month, but after two weeks, in the small town in which we were staying in Provence, my data stopped working. No Orange store around for miles. Beware of this scam! In Avignon, I had to pay another 10Euro to get the card re-activated with another gb of data. I had only used 2.5 gb of the original plan, but their Vacation Plan now is only good for 2 weeks instead of a month, as we have previously bought.

But at the time, I was happy, since I could resume my responsibility as navigator, and Google maps and I have a very good relationship.

In the afternoon, Montmartre was our desired destination, and my good friend Google helped us to find the Metro and to arrive at Sacre Coeur, where we admired the interior and the wonderful view over Paris. The neighborhood is very atmospheric, if extremely touristy, and after some photos and a walk around, we jumped on the Metro again, and arrived shortly in the 4th arrondisement to visit the Pompidou Centre.

With its interesting inside out architecture and primary colors, the Centre is very eye-catching. First we went up to the top for photos, as it is known for the great views. I love modern art, and so we had a great time experiencing the displays, and there were few other people there at that late hour. It was lovely. By the time we finished the sun was setting. I grabbed my camera to capture the juxtaposition between the angular building, the metal sculpture outside the window, the glowing green of the growth on the concrete floor, and the orange pink sky outside. Love those unexpected moments!

Our supper was more of a snack, really, some toasts with tomatoes and a cheese plate, but after our large lunch, it was enough. We were wandering somewhere in the 4th, we liked the neighborhood, but jetlag was catching up with us again (9 hours’ difference). This was a good day.

On Tuesday, our last in Paris, I had bought tickets from home for Musee d’Orsay and the Rodin Museum.

Thirty euros for breakfast at the hotel seemed steep for our small appetites, so just down the block, we got good coffee, and a warmed baguette with delicious butter and jam slathered on it. The reasonable price included friendly smiles from the girl behind the counter, as we practiced our French and English on each other, with hilarious results.

Since the Rodin was just a block from our hotel, it was a natural first stop. It was just opening, but was busy already. I love Rodin’s sculptures, so different from my other favorite, Bernini. The emotions of his subjects are portrayed not just in their facial expressions, but in the musculature, and right down to the toes; think, The Thinker.

Unfortunately, the back garden was not accessible due to some construction or display or some other unexplained phenomena. Biron was magnificent, if crowded, and we did get to explore the side garden, where many of his most famous pieces are displayed.

On to Musee d’Orsay. Ten years ago, this was my favorite museum. I loved the dreamy scenes of life in France, the dancers, the socialites, the picnics by the water, the wonderful seascapes.

Mid-September, the museum was extremely busy this time. In 10 years, I think it has become everyone’s favorite. Oh, it is hard to appreciate Van Gogh or Renoir when there’s a selfie stick in your face at every turn. And also here, some of the most famous exhibits were closed, sadly.

The sunny day had given way to clouds, but we decided to make the best of the rest of it, and explore Le Marais, where I think we have never been before. Rain can give some interesting photography opportunities. We found a spot for coffee, and sat and relaxed, laughed, watched people go by, and felt happy that we had discovered an area that we loved.

I found a perfect scarf in a boutique with all my favorite colors, and that helped a lot to alleviate the cold. In fact I wore it almost all the time until we got to the south of France where the sun finally came out. Scarves are my travel memories; I have one from each trip to Europe.

We decided that we had enjoyed L’Auberge Bressane so much that we had to go back for our last night in Paris. Besides, we had to try some of the amazing food that we saw others enjoying on our first visit. The place was full, complet, but they suggested that if we didn’t mind sitting outside, then we could sit. Not quite so cozy, but just as delicious.

Between our two meals, we managed to try tourtes de cepes, poulet aux morilles, quenelles de brochet comme a Nantua, that is, pike quenelles with killer lobster sauce, more cepes, salad, and the best bread of the trip, little rolls with a “leaf” to help you open them, and butter from Normandy!!! “Start with a pound of butter…” oh yes, a bottle of Sancerre, and a red which I can’t remember.

My one regret of Paris is that we were just too tired, and it was too cold, to do a bateau ride after dark. Okay, I just find that romantic…

Next, to the Dordogne

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    Enjoying your TR. Paris is my favorite city and I look forward to the rest of your trip. So sorry to hear that the D'Orsay hasn't banned selfie sticks. We were in the south of France also in September and I noticed a distinct absence of selfie sticks and was so pleased.

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    Enjoying your report. I love France. We visit several times a year because our oldest daughter lives there with our beautiful grandchildren. I love Paris and the Dordogne. Musee D'Orsay is my favorite museum in Paris! Too bad about the selfie sticks.

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    yestravel, I think you were just ahead or behind us. Did you have the cold rainy weather? I wasn't prepared for that, since we've been travelling to rather warmer climes in Spain and Italy for the majority of our vacations.

    Thank you Nikki. Karen, how great that you have such a good reason to visit France!

    Paris was nice!

    The train to Bordeaux is new, comfortable and fast, really fast. Our top speed was 309 kms /hour which thrilled my speed loving husband.

    In 2 hours we’ve arrived and are picking up our rental car, a nice little Golf with good power, and leaving the city via the highway. The Dordogne is such a seductive area, and we have been wanting to return since being here 10 years ago.

    Our plan is to cut off the highway and visit Bergerac. I’ve read that others suggest not to bother with Bergerac. But the lure of good, cheap wine has tempted us to stop. Our first impression is, this is a funny little town, a huge parking lot in the middle, and green plastic streamers hanging from all the wires, apparently left over from the pass through of the Tour de France.

    We head off in the direction of the Wine Cooperative and find pedestrianized streets in the old center with half-timbered restored houses lining them. I love the look of them, some with stone, some with brick, some with bright colors and window boxes.
    We stopped for a quick lunch under umbrellas in the square, and tasted 3 of the great local cheeses, one blue, one goat, and the other still unknown.

    It’s on and off drizzling, and cold. I’ve got my scarf wrapped double around my neck. The rain makes everything look fresh, but hazy and we stood and watched the canoes and tour boats on the river, and took a few more photos. Another unexpected “live in the moment” experience.

    And the wine is also good, and so we bought a couple of bottles (the most expensive was Euro 12!) to drink along the way and a bottle of Chateau Le Tap Saussignac to take home.

    Our route to Sarlat took us through Les Eyzies and so I had the opportunity to break it to my husband that I had got tickets to visit Font de Gaume. The scenery is quite beautiful through this area, the rugged rock overhanging the river and the road in places, and the greens looking so green, and so we looked with anticipation to coming back here in a few days.

    Our apartment in Sarlat is in a quiet little square on the south end of the pedestrianized area of town. It’s clean and cute; comfy bed, nice little kitchen with expresso maker, lots of room to spread out, a great rain shower, and a washer/dryer.

    It’s a corner apartment, so on one side, we have a view overlooking the square with a few restaurants, pretty trees and colorful umbrellas. From the bedroom and bathroom we can see the back side of the Cathedral, the stained glass, bell tower, and garden. I’m very happy with my choice! We have 4 nights here. Le Porche de Sarlat. It’s on

    Despite that it’s quite busy with tourists, I like Sarlat a lot. It has good restaurants, it’s very photogenic, the market is great, especially when one is staying in the town, and it’s easy to travel from Sarlat to see what we want to see.

    Ten years ago, I fell in love with the hearty bean stew, cassoulet, so we set out to have dinner. Everything was filling up fast. So La Petite Borie, close to our apartment, looked sufficient for our needs, and we sat down at the last table, and ordered cassoulet, and a vegetarian salad.

    Hmmm this was not the cassoulet from my memory banks….tasty enough, but floating in grease, no sausage, and chunks of tough boiled pork. Duck confit was good but a little tough. The search was on for a good cassoulet. I have found one cannot relive food fantasies :).

    It’s been a long day, time for a sleep in our comfy bed in our quiet apartment.

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    We arrived in Marseille on Sept 13. We had a cool, drizzly day in Toulouse, but then had really nice weather. We stayed right near you in Sarlat beginning the 20th. I remember those apts. The church bells woke me up promptly at 7 each morning.

    I developed quite a fondness for Bergerac wines -- as you said good & cheap. And cassoulet -- love it!

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    Bergerac is underrated. You must have gotten a really good bottle of wine if you paid 12 euros! We thoroughly love our excursions there. Sarlat, well it's 20 minutes from here, and what's not to love at any time of year? Isn't the weather here lovely now? I love the early morning fogs and the hot afternoons.

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    I am enjoying your report. We visited Bergerac from our base near Duras last year ( late Sept ) and enjoyed our visit. There are some beautiful old buildings. We were in the Dordogne in 2014 and discovered Pecharmant wines so it was great to be in the area again. We do not have your budget , so our wines are around 5 euros!! LOL but still lovely wine.

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    OMG -- the 7 am ringing was like a concert -- it just went on and on! My husband slept thru it too. I love church bells, but definitley not at 7 am. Looking forward to the rest of your trip.

    Hi StCirq!

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    Hubby jumped out of bed early and threw the first load of laundry in. Despite my pleas that the weather could be cold, he only packed one pair of pants, one long sleeved shirt, and the rest shorts and summer shirts. Ha, that one pair of pants got a lot of wear!

    I negotiated my way around the manual espresso machine, and rustled up some breaky from the supplies we had bought outside of Bergerac. The weather looked promising so I was anxious to get going, but DH was enjoying having a leisurely morning.

    I had thought our Font de Gaume tour was on this day, and had planned that we could visit nearby Chateau de Montfort before our 1 pm tour time. Oops! That would be tomorrow! So we turned the car around and drove the windy and pretty drive to La Roque Gageac, to have a gabarre tour before the rain that was forecast to start.

    We bought our tickets and had enough time to take a walk to the other end of town, and stop for a quick snack of coffee and walnut cake. This is a really delicious local specialty, and I’d love to have a recipe for it, as it’s not too sweet, and has a very nice texture, with the ground nuts in it. Of course I chose the piece with a skim of chocolate glazing!

    DH watched me eat it, as he lost 25 lbs over the last year, for health reasons, and was determined not to gain any back. I didn’t feel a bit guilty, well maybe a little.

    This is one boat ride I can take without getting sea sick! And it’s really pretty, with the vegetation close by the river’s edge, the town built into the rock, and Chateau Castelnaud-la-Chapelle high on the hill in the distance! Can’t get much more fairytale than that!

    La Roque-Gageac must be one of the most picturesque spots in France, I think, and it and other villages round about are classified as most beautiful villages of France. But we have much more of France to discover yet.

    The sun is still shining, so we decide to head up to Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, as our host has recommended. It’s a bit of a climb; we saw lots of people stopping and huffing and puffing, but it was all good in the cause of keeping off the weight.

    This garden has quite a spectacular outlook, built along a ridge overlooking the river and town and castles that we had just visited from below. The celebrated topiary garden is actually only a small part of the overall thing. It’s very otherworldly looking, and particularly because of its location and the way the light hits, and moves around.

    There is something like 6 km of trails around the perimeter and through the center of the ridge, where it is cool and green, and very pretty. This French garden is not at all like our colorful gardens at home though. We are fortunate to have such a variety of trees and shrubs and flowers where we live.

    The sights here are very close together, so we are able to get to Castelnaud-la-Chapelle for a look. This Chateau is so interesting because of the museum of war, displays of armor, crossbows and other weapons, and the giant trebuchets, (a type of siege engine which uses a swinging arm to throw a projectile at the enemy) and which were used to breach the walls of the Chateau Castelnaud. We had fun here imagining the scene but enjoying the peacefulness, as the place was almost empty.

    Of course, the views here are spectacular as well.

    After snacking on nothing but a piece of baguette and some cashews all day, we were ready (at least I was, ha) for a good meal at Le Petit Manoir in Sarlat. Overall impressions of the place, a bit stuffy, mostly tourists, and the food was good but not remarkable.

    We both had the menu, my starter was Duo de fois gras, DH’s was a salad with green beans, dried tomatoes and slices of dried duck

    My plate was simply grilled duck breast, and puree of mushrooms of which there was an almost nonexistent amount. DH’s plate was duck confit, not his usual choice, but enjoyed it very much.

    Dessert; the delectable walnut cake, and DH’s perennial favorite, ice cream which was flavored with walnuts.

    With a bottle of Pecharment, at Euro 31, the total was Euro 96.

    French children, I would venture are much more adventurous eaters than their N American counterparts: The children’s menu but only under 10 years, Foie Gras toasts, melon balls, petit duck breast with Frites Maison, fish of the day, (not fish sticks,) and for dessert, walnut cake with ice cream. Euro 13

    After dinner, we took a walk around the town. It was late, not many people about, and the medieval buildings were lit up, with long shadows in all the corners, and the restaurants finishing up for the night, canopies and tables and chairs still out, and the little pedestrian streets and alleys…well, it was very atmospheric.
    We had done lots of walking and climbing on this fine Thursday and were ready to tumble into bed.

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    I sure love reliving our Paris and our Dordogne adventure with you.
    Paris is our go-to place and on most visits we drive around France before or after.

    Our stay in Sarlat remains at the top of our list. We stayed in an apt. one square over from your place behind Chez Gaulois (one of our favorite restaurants.)
    Your reminder of the bells took us back. Our apt. Had a private small, open courtyard that backed up to the church.

    Sarlat was perfect for touring so many sites. We covered so many in a weeks time but there are so many we didn’t,t have enough time for....reason to return.

    Traveling the area with you will fill up my coffee mornings quite well. I got my photos out to go along with your text.
    Do you have photos to post?

    Looking forward to your Font de Gaume experience.

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    TPAYT thanks for your very kind comment. I'm sure that we will enjoy reading this ourselves in the years to come. I'm rambling a lot, but these are the details I want to remember, and sometimes it's the things that future visitors to the area want to know about.

    So, I'm glad you're enjoying it.

    I have photos but they're not organized as of yet, but I will post them later.

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    Continuuing to enjoy following along with you and reliving our trip too.

    Ah, I completely agree with your comments on your meal at Le Petit Manor. I was disappointment. Like you I loved the walnut cake served everywhere.
    Interesting to read about Les Jardins de Marqueyssac. We skipped because I didn't think there would be much to see so late in the year.

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    Revisiting all those places as well.

    My DH was quite fond of cheap but good Bergerac wine. :) I as well like to pick up scarves on our travels, such tangible memories of good times.

    Looking forward to what comes next.

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    Friday dawns, and finally this is the day for our tour of Font de Gaume. Before that, though, we are going to visit Chateau de Commarque. Something about this place captures my imagination, perhaps it’s the location in the woods, some ways off the road.

    I follow our progress on Google maps, and when we get quite close, I can see that we are approaching from the wrong side. The dirt track is getting smaller and smaller, and finally we see that it looks like someone had got stuck in the soft earth. We stopped for a minute to decide if we should turn around.

    Suddenly an SUV comes hurtling up behind us, and goes flying by, right through the soft spot and on up the hill and beyond. DH says, Forget it, I’m not turning around! Puts the car in gear and goes roaring after the SUV. After we got up and around the hill, we came to another dirt track and a small sign pointing towards the Chateau. Forget google maps and follow the signs!

    Well, this has put us behind time a bit, but when we pull into the parking lot, there is the SUV that passed us. Haha, I guess we weren’t the only ones following google maps.

    Having about an hour and a half to explore, we head out on foot on the path toward the chateau. Through the woods we hike for about 15 minutes, through green trees with moss and ferns growing around and the light filtered by the dense bush. It’s rather spooky but beautiful, especially with the fine mist that is falling.

    Finally we can see the troglodyte dwellings in sight, and coming around the corner, in a grassy field, there is the chateau in all her splendor in the morning light! The sight really takes your breath away; from the distance it looks so accidental, like one just happened upon this magical castle in a clearing.

    It’s so much fun exploring this place, all the facets of it, which if I remember correctly sort of incorporates a village and a chapel inside the outer walls. Lots of climbing and clamboring, and the visit includes going into the troglodyte dwellings, which are equipped with suitable tools and utensils and gives an idea of how people lived here at one time.

    The place has been under restoration since 1994, when a descendent of the Commarque family found the site hidden under years of brambles and vegetation. They do offer workshops and tours for school children up to the end of October. What a cool daytrip that would be!

    By the time we tear ourselves away, we have just over half an hour to drive to Font de Gaume. But first we had to speed walk back to the car the 15 minutes on an incline. I think I gave the old guy in the parking lot a heart attack when I ripped my shirt off at the car because I was so hot! Oh well, I’ll never see him again, ha!

    So we now had 15 minutes to drive a 20 minute drive, but we made it! And tried to act cool when we arrived, like we were relaxed, hey no stress!

    We have been on several cave tours in Italy, but never to one with ‘prehistoric paintings’, and it was interesting to note that the guide told us it is impossible to date the actual paintings by carbon dating. It is done by comparison with other items and drawings from the same time period.

    The tour is in French, and almost everyone in our group speaks a different language, but off we went, and our new friends from Spain, Germany and the Alsace region of France made sure we were taken care of, even though we only speak English.

    So we did miss some information, but the experience was very interesting. Font de Gaume is an original cave, not a reproduction, which we liked, but the outlines are quite faint, and not as obvious as photos I’ve seen, which are perhaps reproductions. But it was very interesting to see the way the artists used the contours of the cave for a sort of 3D effect.

    About 20 minutes away is the little town of Limeuil. Not sure where I had got the idea we should go to this town, but we parked and hiked up…and up…and up. I wanted to go into the Panoramic Garden to get some photos of the view over the valley. When we got to the top, the price to get in was around Euro 10 each, and I put my foot down and decided I was not going to pay that for a photo! So we walked down the other side of the hill, down, down through slippery mud as it was showering again.

    It seemed that almost every cute little house had a For Sale sign, and we thought how quaint is this, but after that hike I don’t think I could live in such a steep place!

    Next stop was the Cingle de Termolat. The drive was very pretty, and the view was nice, but not overwhelming by any means. What got me though, was the Hotel Restaurant across the street, obviously very nice at one time, but now for sale, and in a state of disrepair. I felt sad for the history of this place. Might it at one time have been a great place to stay and dine? Anybody want to buy a place?

    Backtracking to Tremolat, we stopped to see if Le Vieux Logis had room for dinner. I was having difficulty with my data through all this area, and could not access anything on my iPad at times. So we had a look at the place, Relais et Chateaux, looked nice, but the menu looked just like everything we had been eating for several days already, only twice the price. And we were told, complet…

    Another restaurant on my radar was Auberge (I love this word) l’Esperance in Buisson de Cadouin. Parked the car about a good block away and walked over. The family was there prepping, but sorry, complet! Whoops, forgot it was Friday. There was a mini grocery store across the train tracks, so we went to pick up a few snacks, a baguette, some cheese and olives, and a bag of chips. Gotta have chips on a road trip!

    Walking back, a train came by, and we had to wait at the tracks. A few drops of rain plunked down, and as soon as the arm lifted, the downpour started. We ran, carrying our groceries, then the hail started and was pelting us and bouncing off the pavement. We ducked into a pharmacy, and watched as the parking lot became a lake, and the water was coming into the store because the wind was making the automatic doors open.

    I laughed because my DH was so intent on getting a video of this, he climbed into the display window with the half naked mannequin in a wheel chair with bandaged arm and knee brace and eye patch. That made a cute photo!

    Finally we could get to the car, and sat in there eating our baguette and cheese, and a glass of wine to celebrate our survival.

    Back in Sarlat, we made a reservation at Le Presidial. Our host had given us a list of places that he deemed the best in Sarlat, and tripadvisor seemed to agree.

    So, off we went with our umbrellas, and my less than elegant layers of sweaters and jackets, and DH’s one clean pair of long pants. They were happy to let us in, and soon we were warmed in spirit and in body. The food is traditional but well prepared and tasty.

    DH had Le menu, hot smoked salmon and the fish of the day, cod I believe. I ordered a steak which came with potatoes Sarladaise and a small basket of green beans. With a bottle of red Chateau Coucheroy, whatever it is, it was very good at Euro 34, a steal where we live. Total 93 euros.
    * * *

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    What fun you were having! Really off the beaten path.

    We were lucky to book an English tour in advance of Font De Gaume. We liked the fact that it was so old. The guide we had was very passionate about the cave & his work so he really took us back to that time.

    We didn’t go to the other spots mentioned although Chateau de Commarque and the other towns you visited look like places we would enjoy.....maybe next time.

    Les Presidial was my birthday dinner that year. The garden was lovely and the food good. I really had a spectacular celebration as it was the 3rd Sat. of Sept. which was Herritage Weekend. After dinner we strolled the streets of Sarlat among the
    10,000 lit candles lining the streets. You read right, 10,000! Also lots of live entertainment, but nobody sang Happy Birthday!
    Your report made the evening come alive again....Merci!

    Waiting for your next post......

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    TPAYT I can't remember why we couldn't get an English tour. Our apartment host booked it for us. But we didn't mind, as the others mostly spoke French and English, and were able to translate the basics for us. Half the fun for us is meeting and communicating with others who live in Europe, and we found people were very helpful and kind.

    As you will see, we were there for the Heritage Weekend too...but wasn't so much fun for us because it was pouring rain and really cold.

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    Isn't Commarque wonderful? How about that medieval game room?

    I know that hôtel-restaurant overlooking the Cingle de Trémolat and have eaten there in the distant past. The situation is gorgeous, with spectacular views. At 450,000 euros, though, and needing all that work, it's not a bargain.

    Sorry l'Espérance was complet. It's our favorite place for a splurge.

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    Market day! We had another slow start. And it was surprising how big the market is! From the south end of Rue de la Republique, stretching north for 400 meters, then into center of the old town, probably doubling that at least. I am in love with the fruits and veggies, most being local and displayed in their natural state, warts and all. We tasted our way through the food area and the cheese and sausage sellers supplied some goodies for our afternoon outing, and some to put in the fridge for Sunday. And I buy 2 baskets of sweet smelling little strawberries, perfectly ripe, to eat anytime.

    The local duck and goose products are tempting, as we rarely see these for sale at home. We buy 2 cans of duck confit to take home with us!

    It’s so much fun to peruse all the goodies for sale at these markets, but soon it’s time for all the displays to pack up and be on to another town the next day.

    There are a few things left on my wish list before we leave Sarlat. In truth there were a few more chateaux that I had wanted to see, and a few more towns on the east side of Sarlat, Loubressac, Padirac, Martel, Collonges la Rouge, Chateau de Puymartin, Montpazier, Biron, an endless list of beautiful places to visit.

    The trouble is, my imagination is easily seduced by guidebooks and beautiful pictures. So, as I sat opposite my husband feeling grumpy one morning because we had had another late start, he looked at me kindly and said, “You know, I look at this as 3 weeks that I get to spend with my wife without interruptions.” Some men know all the right things to say.

    In my mind’s eye, I gave myself a long hard look and said, You idiot! And in that instant I had a reset of my expectations of the perfect vacation. Spending quality time with the ones we love is much more important than seeing one more town or one more museum, the name of which will soon be forgotten anyway.

    But that occurred after our Saturday afternoon visiting Domme, and then Rocamadour. Domme is quite a gorgeous little town, quite busy with tourists though. We took photos of the view and then went underground again to have a tour of Domme’s cave. At the end of the tour, you exit the cave from the side of the cliff and take an elevator to the top, with gorgeous views of the valley, with its varying colors of agricultural activity.

    So, Rocamadour was an hour away but it was getting late so we thought we better get a move on. We have good memories of being in Rocamadour 10 years ago, when the tour buses had all left, and we were almost the only ones in the place. There was a restaurant open with a patio that overhung the city, and we had a glass of wine and listened to Sting sing Fields of Gold, just the two of us suspended over the hillside. It was rather magical then.

    About half way through our drive, we saw a lovely spot to stop, as we hadn’t had lunch and DH had packed a baguette and some of the cheese and sausage from the market. DH is very fond of picnics, or tailgate parties, as he calls them.

    By the time we finished our snacks and got on our way, and we got to Rocamadour, parked, and walked to the funicular, we were told that it closed in 20 minutes. Just then the skies let loose again, and it started to pour rain.

    Yep, I was disappointed alright. We now had an hour drive back to Sarlat in the rain. I made up my mind next time to let reason override desire. In the overall scheme of things, we have so many good memories of this trip and of countless beautiful things that we saw, no reason to rush anywhere to see one more thing on the list.

    Candles greeted us when we got home. It was Heritage Days in Sarlat, and people were putting candles everywhere along the edge of the streets. It was still pouring rain, but we had reservations at Le Grand Bleu. We were late, but the owners were very gracious and kind, and treated us very well.

    Not sure of the history of the building, but it’s near the train station, and looks like it could have had travellers staying there at one time. The décor is modern French country, okay I know that’s my own designation. It’s a one star Michelin, so was a blow out meal. The wine list is very good.

    We both had the menu which included

    Langoustines juste saisies sur un espuma d’artichaut à la cardamome, pickles de carottes, sorbet carotte cardamome

    Foie gras IGP du Périgord au coing, calvados et réglisse, granité de vin de noix yuzu, compotée de coing à l’orange et gingembre, pain de mie aux noix

    We were both feeling the need for some fish for the mains, and dessert was the lightest, yummiest soufflé I’ve ever had.
    With a gorgeous, mineral white, I believe from the Loire Valley, Euro 153.

    The candles were all still burning when we arrived back to the apartment, outlining the streets and squares in the dark. It looked very pretty even in the rain, but everyone had gone home, and we missed the festivities of the medieval celebration. But it was time to pack up the bags for our morning check out anyway.

    On to the Lot River Valley!

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    St Cirq, it's a bargain compared to a 1000 square foot apartment in Vancouver, lol. Joking but not joking. Depending on the age of the building, one could easily spend 1.3 million.

    It is surprising that prices are so high there, when we saw so many For Sale signs! It's probably prime real estate for holiday properties though...

    Yes, Commarque, it would have been great to have another hour there.

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    Well, in general prices aren't that high here, but that property is a 28-bedroom hotel with a big restaurant facility, a huge garden, terraces, a parking lot, gardens, and a view to die for over the valley.

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    Lot River Valley

    It’s Sunday and our destination today is Figeac, but we are taking the long, winding and scenic route. An important part of our trip is to try the wines of the area, wherever we are in France. That has influenced our decision to stop in Cahors, to try the local wine made with Malbec.

    Just outside of Cahors, we come across a sign: Degustation. Since it’s a Sunday, it’s questionable whether many places will be open in Cahors, so we stop here at the Meme du Quercy outlet. They are happy to give us quite a few tastes of Cahors wine (my driver used the spittoon) and we bought 4 bottles of wine, some fois gras packed to take home, and some pate for the road.

    It’s an easy drive into the city center, and we parked and looked for a café. It was stilling raining, so the city looked somewhat dark, but we found a bistro full of happy looking people. We walked in, and found ourselves the center of inquisitive stares: Sorry, this is a private party. They looked genuinely sorry, lol, and it looked like such fun!

    The cathedral of St Etienne dominates its neighborhood, looking somewhat like a fortress. We walked all around the outside, but were unable to go inside, Sunday hours 2-6 pm. The Michelin guide gives this cathedral 1 star:

    Back on the road, our aim is to follow the Lot River as close as possible to enjoy the beautiful scenery. It’s a lovely drive, and along the way there are chateaux and villages to visit, including the well known St-Cirq-La-Popie.

    During our last visit here ten years ago, we found a field below the town along the river, and we had a picnic there, watching the river boats cruise slowly by.

    Of course, we found that spot again, but it’s now a campground. No-one minded that we pulled in and had a picnic there. If we did this trip again around the Dordogne and Lot River area, I would be tempted to rent a camper since we saw quite a few lovely and uncrowded campgrounds.

    I think my photos can describe this drive better than I can, so I will post some here. The rain made everything look different, the colors of green are very vibrant, and the mist makes everything look magical.

    Friends of ours took a two week boat trip on the Canal du Midi a few years ago. They said it was the best vacation they ever had. So we watched with interest when we saw the boats along the rivers, moored sometimes, other times navigating the locks. Maybe next year we’ll give that a try in company with our friends.

    I would definitely recommend Figeac as a place to stop. It’s a very pretty town, with the river running through, and our hotel was just across the bridge from the historical center.

    I chose the Best Western Pont d’Or partly because of its position on the river, and partly because it has air conditioning. On that account, I needn’t have bothered; we needed heat, not cool. The hotel was okay, but I thought overpriced for what it is, ie peeling wallpaper in places, dirty carpets in the stairwells, very smoky in the lobby. Euro 122 for a room overlooking the river. I would suggest choosing a room on the back, since there was quite a bit of noisy traffic at night and in the morning.

    After our 3 pricey meals in Sarlat, we were ready for something simple. Not many places were open on Sunday night, but we found Restaurant del Portel, decent family place with a pizza oven. We ordered a pizza, passable, and a huge vegetarian salad. The salad I would recommend, nothing pretty, just lots of good fresh vegetables, which we were craving. With a bottle of Cahors Lavaur, Euro 41.

    The historical town at night was interesting, quite a few homeless people, but the town seems to have a healthy economy, apparently the industry there is aerospace. Makes sense, with its close proximity to Toulouse.

    In the morning, we spent some time walking around the same area, and taking photos. It’s very clean, and nicely restored. We got good coffee and croissants at a very good price, for our breakfast.
    Unfortunately the Musee Champollion was closed on Monday, as we would have found it interesting. The museum is housed in the renovated home where Champollion, who deciphered hieroglyphics, was born, and it documents the history of the written word.

    Here are my photos of the area:

    Figeac was an overnight stop and we are on to Toulouse!

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    Continuing to love following your trip. You've given me some great ideas for our next trip.
    We loved the drive to Figeac and stopped there for picnic along the river. We were on our way to Gorges du Tarn. Visited Toulouse before we went to Sarlat so looking forward to your stay there.

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    Yestravel oh I’m glad you got some ideas! I love the Dordogne but we probably won’t go back for awhile. Too many other places to go.

    I tried to work the Gorges du Tarn into this trip but we just didn’t have enough time. Did you enjoy that drive?

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    Couldn't agree more -- too many places to go! We spent 3 nights at the Gorges du Tarn and it was spectacular. Leaves were changing and some of the views were just jaw dropping. We only had the 2 days to explore it, but loved what we saw and it wasn't crowded at all. At times on the road we were the only car.

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    Russ, lucky you! Hope everything goes well, if I recall you are buying a place there.

    So, a sure sign that we made too many moves is that I forgot one!!
    Before Toulouse, we made a 2 night stop in Cordes-sur-Ciel, the name of which I'm still having a heck of a time getting any French person to understand my rendition. Haha.

    Will post those days soon.

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    Cordes sur Ciel

    Our little Golf keeps us warm and dry as we head toward Cordes-sur-Ciel. On the way, we take a turnoff towards Najac. The desk clerk at our hotel had recommended this as worth a stop.

    Najac is set along a ridge and overlooks a bend in the Aveyron River. At the top of the town is an arcaded open market area, and pretty half-timbered houses, in the formation of a bastide town.

    If you follow the main street down, you will see the royal fortress, which was built in the 13th Century, not as a Cathar stronghold, but as a punishment to anyone who had sentiments tied to the Cathar religion. It has a unique defense system and inside the walls there is an actual secret passage! Templar knights were imprisoned in the château’s lower dungeon after their arrest in 1307.

    We visited on a Monday, so it might be quite a bit busier on other days. But even so, we loved stopping here. The area is so pretty set in the hills, and on the river, and the views from the Chateau are just beautiful, and it was fun to climb up and explore. Lots of climbing, though!

    Again, Najac is one the most beautiful villages of France. The area is still mostly agricultural in nature, and the restaurant, Oustal del Barry, a typical French country restaurant, features local products. We had a very nice lunch here, and recommend the place. So does the Michelin Guide.

    The restaurant is attached to a ‘hotel de charme et caractere’

    The sun finally comes out as we near Cordes. It feels so good to get warmed up! And the views from our B&B are worthy of a blue sky.

    The hosts here are very warm and friendly, and invite us for a glass of champagne with the other guests before supper.

    Our room is on the top floor of a medieval house. The owners have furnished it with antiques and some are from the 16th C. There is an open courtyard in the center, with stairs to the rooms. It’s very pretty and elegant, but I must admit I was a bit afraid clumsy me would break something.

    Our hosts recommended the following place for dinner: Callipyge

    We were a little dubious when we walked in. It’s a very cool gallery, with a ‘restaurant’ in the back part overlooking the countryside. What is available is mostly charcuterie boards, and caprese salad, and Italian wine. We were the first ones there, followed by…everyone else that was staying at our hotel.

    However, the music was excellent, and the charcuterie was delicious, top quality products, and the wine was from the Langhe in Italy, Nebbiolo, and was very good! We had an excellent time visiting with the owners, who previously were in the music business. We would recommend this place highly.

    The weather for our Albi day trip was cloudy and sunny, alternating. And Albi was fantastic, lively, clean, and perfect for photos with the sun hiding behind the clouds just long enough to minimize the shadows.

    We enjoyed our visit to the Cathedral and the Berbie Palace. These two buildings, done in the Southern Gothic style, are different to any other Gothic building in Europe, and are unique in the world, being among the largest fired brick medieval buildings.

    We had been here before, so didn’t feel the need for a tour. Besides, those frescoes of heaven and hell are pretty self-explanatory, and a fitting warning to anyone who may have had pro Albigensian sentiments. This Cruscade was a fascinating part of history, and especially interesting to anyone touring the Cathar castles in the area, of which Carcassonne is one.

    The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum follows the life of the artist and the evolution of his work. There are some beautiful and interesting pieces here.

    Marie at our B&B had given us a plan with a circle tour of towns to visit as time permitted in the afternoon. So, our first stop was Domaine de Moulin just out of Gaillac, for a few bottles of wine from this small appellation, then on to Puycelci, from which there is a gorgeous panoramic view of the countryside, Bruniquel, with its chateau high on a bluff, and finally Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.

    St Antonin is a lovely town, in the valley rather than on a hilltop. I think I liked that because some days we were registering up to 35 flights of stairs, as well as average 15,000 steps a day! The setting is very pretty, and the town looks like it’s more than a tourist town, in fact we saw fewer tourists there than in the smaller places. It appeared to be a likely place to find a good dinner, but on second thought, we didn’t want to drink wine then drive on those winding roads.

    In any case, it appeared that there were so few people around in Cordes that we felt there was no way the restaurants would be busy. As we drove up, there were no parking spots in sight, and we saw groups of well-dressed people walking up into town.

    We didn’t spend much time in Cordes, but it always seemed empty and half the places were shut, including restaurants and businesses. Maybe it only has a summer season, I don’t know. But that night, every restaurant was full. It was already late, and we were hungry.

    I had seen a little bistro in a town close by on our drive in, so we jumped in the car to see if we could find it. Google maps showed a place, but it seemed we were driving off into the darkness and nothing around. Then we saw light ahead at the side of the road. It looked like a big hall or night club or something. There was only one other couple and the server, a girl who spoke only French, and the biggest medieval fireplace I ever saw. Umm, are we in the right place??

    Well, they did have pizza on the menu, so that’s what we had. The place looked like they could serve 2 or 300 people, and there were lots of roast meats on the menu. We ate pizza with flies buzzing around our heads, and a cheap bottle of wine, but at least no one went to bed hungry :)

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    Toulouse Day 1

    Toulouse may have a population of almost half a million, but it feels like a small city in the historical core. Besides, we were ready for some urban buzz. We followed Google map instructions straight to our hotel, one block off the Garonne River, and parked in front while we unloaded our luggage.

    We stayed at MGallery La Cour des Consuls, 46 rue des Couteliers.

    This is a boutique hotel housed in renovated historical residences around an inner courtyard. The design is modern, incorporated into the historical aspect. It was a 2 night splurge and was worth the money just for the amazing comfortable bed and pillows. Have to have a respite from hard beds somewhere along the way!

    As soon as we entered, we were ushered over to the concierge desk while we checked in, and our bags were whisked away to the luggage rack, and up to our room. Very efficient and friendly service. And since we are Accor hotel members, we were able to get into the room at noon.

    With only 2 nights in Toulouse, we wanted to get the most out of our visit. The sun was shining, and the city was brilliant! The hotel is well placed close to the center of town, so we headed for Place du Capitole.

    This place is a hub of activity, with arcaded restaurants all around the perimeter, a daily market in the middle, no food though, and while we were there, big tents were set up for some celebration, which we didn’t feel inclined to explore. Place du Capitole didn’t look at all like the elegant pictures on the internet, but like a lived in, homey, action filled space.

    We had a forgettable lunch in the square, but it was great to sit in the sun, and watch all the activity.

    On the first floor of Le Capitole we visited the state rooms of the Hotel de Ville, which include the beautiful Salle des Illustres. The walls are decorated with huge paintings by Laurens and others, and retrace the history of Toulouse; for example Pope Urban II Entering Toulouse in 1096 and the Defense of Toulouse against Simon de Montfort.

    There’s also a room by Henri Martin with paintings similar to the Impressionists depicting life along the Garonne and the four seasons. And the building also houses the Opera house and symphony.

    Right behind is the Donjon and the square Charles-de-Gaulle, a shady park where it was nice to relax and people watch after our visit.

    Musee des Augustins on Rue de Metz is open late on Wednesday evening, and it wasn’t time for dinner yet, so we walked along the pedestrianized streets through the center of town, doing some window shopping and people watching, just enjoying the scene as we made our way to the Museum.

    The museum is housed in what was an Augustinian convent until the French Revolution, and has been a museum since 1795. According to wiki, the core of its collection derives from confiscation of church property at the time of the French Revolution, as well as seizures from private collections of emigres.

    Many of the sculptures are labelled as coming from the churches of Toulouse, St Sernin, the Rieux Chapel, Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade, and St Etienne.

    The time period covered by the museum collection is from the early middle ages to the start of the 20th Century, and includes Gothic sculpture, Romanesque capitals, and artworks by Perugino, Rubens, Delacroix, Toulouse-Lautrec, Ingres, Manet, Berthe Morisot, and many more.

    The museum is small enough that one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, and gives time to really enjoy each piece in the beautiful gothic setting that it is in. The Roman capitals are displayed in an incredible modern arrangement with hanging lights, and modern pedestals. And in the cloisters is a reconstructed Medieval garden.

    There is an app that can be downloaded that gives information on 20 masterpieces in the museum. I enjoyed this museum very much!

    Finally, we get really good cassoulet at Les Caves de la Marechales. This restaurant was recommended by our hotel, and is elegant, but semi-casual. It has a nice ambience, and the food is good. But I don’t have the receipt so can’t tell any other details.

    So after Day 1, our first impressions of Toulouse—I was at first nervous because Marie from our B&B in Cordes had told us that Toulouse is not safe—didn’t take long to have that impression dispelled. There are a lot of young people, the city has a lot of energy, there is a lot going on as it’s a university town and center for music, it’s a very attractive town with its pink brick, it has a definite Spanish influence, Toulousains love their riverbanks, wine bars and tea salons, and best of all, there aren’t many tourists—I love Toulouse!!

    Here is a downloadable guide for everything you ever wanted to know about being a tourist in Toulouse:

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    I'm with you -- loved Toulouse! I thought it was a lovely, lively city with enough to see to keep you occupied for a couple days and good food. Did you take the free bus that circles the city? It was a great way to get a 90 minute good overview of the city.

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    Yestravel, no we didn't know about the bus but sounds like a great idea. Where did you stay in Toulouse?

    The breakfast included in the rate at our hotel was a very good start to the day, pretty much anything one could desire, plus eggs cooked to order, and those lovely little glass jars of organic yogurt.

    As we made our way along Rue du Taur to the Basilica of St Sernin, we noticed this is the street of all kinds of ethnic food, and thought we might come back here to try some snacks; Peruvian empanadas, Vietnamese, Indian, middle eastern, oh and burgers; fun to see so many strung out along one street.

    So, we had two major sites planned out for this day.

    The Basilica of St Sernin. Saturninus was the first bishop of Toulouse but was martyred in 250 A.D. by pagans because he refused to worship their pagan gods. His shrine became a stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and in 1080 work began on a larger church to accommodate the visitors.

    It is built of red brick with white stone in the Romanesque style. It has a Latin cross floor plan, with a long nave and double side isles. Some things to look for; 268 beautifully carved Romanesque capitals throughout the interior, medieval frescoes in the north transept, and the high altar, which is inscribed with the signature of Bernardus Gilduinus and dated May 24, 1096. Just beautiful!

    Musee St Raymond, musee des Antiques de Toulouse. This is the archaeological museum of Toulouse, and the site was originally a necropolis.
    There are four floors. In the basement are the early Christian necropolis, developed at the time the first basilica housing the body of Saint-Saturnin was built, sarcophagi and funerary inscriptions and a lime kiln. It’s an actual excavation site.

    On the ground floor is the entrance, gift shop, and room for temporary exhibitions.

    The first floor displays a collection of Roman sculptures found in the ruins of the Roman villa of Chiragan, and along with those found in Beziers, making the collections the second largest in the world after the Louvre!

    The busts include many emperors and their families, and the haul from Chiragan includes reliefs of the Labours of Hercules, statues and busts of the Greco-Roman deities, along with mosaics from the villa.
    The second floor is devoted to the Roman city of Tolosa and the Roman province of Narbonne.

    My favorite items were the limestone votive altar to the god Bacchus, the reliefs of the Labours of Hercules, and also the tiny models which display the various rooms of a Roman villa, as well as the construction of a temple and walls around. All quite fascinating, and highly recommended.

    After those thoroughly absorbing visits, our brains needed a rest, and we walked back through the center to our hotel, where we had a few leftover treats of yummy cheese from the market in Sarlat, and a glass of wine, then made our way to the riverbanks to take in the late afternoon sun and do some people watching.

    This is a gathering place for young people, and it was a perfect day to enjoy the river. We walked all along, then up and over the bridge to see the old hospital, and back across the pont Neuf to enjoy the talking and laughter of those gathered along the beach, the music, the slight breeze and the sunset.

    We really enjoyed this day. It was busy and yet relaxed.

    And now time for dinner at the Le Genty Magre. We order a bottle of red, clams, cepes, and lamb. The service was a bit slow, and the red which they recommended was a little rough around the edges. When the food came, I took one mouthful of cepes and knew right away I was allergic to something. My throat became itchy and I started to cough.

    I drank my way through 11 euro of water trying to quell the cough, and finally my DH decided to pack up the food and take it back to the hotel, where I lay down for a while and finally started to feel better.

    I’ve never been allergic to mushrooms before, and wish I knew what was in them, because that was a scary feeling. Anyway that was 107 euro for a meal I never got to eat, but DH said the lamb was really good!!

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    That was quite a close call with those mushrooms. I’ll bet you stay away from them in the future. It’s a shame you can’t know what the trigger ingredient was.

    Even though we spent quite a a week in Sarlat and a few days in Toulouse you describe so many places we missed......I think we’ll have to return some day & I took many notes from your adventure.

    We also loved Toulouse, stayed right on the square at L’Opera Hotel. Our favorite stop was at Jacobin Church with that jaw dropping mirror looking into the abyss.

    I like the look of your hotel & it’s position by the river. Would like to explore that area in the future. On our few days in Toulouse it was lightly raining during the day so it limited our exploration. At night it was lovely though and we enjoyed our 2 dinners on Capitals Square.

    I feel as though I was in France again with all your descriptive wanderings. This is the best part of FODORITES trip reports.

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    Wow! Very scary with the mushrooms. My mother developed some food allergies later in her life. Meantime my husband developed quite a fondness for cepes which were in season when we were all there.

    I had to go look up where we stayed -- couldn't remember! We stayed in a small BnB - only 2 rooms and fabulous owners. It was maybe a 15 minute walk to the square and quite near Basilica of St Sernin which was fabulous. It was more of a close in neighborhood than the center city. We also really liked the Jacobin Church, but I don't recall a mirror that TPAYT described. Can you describe where it was? We had light showers with one downpour our second day in Toulouse and then a picture perfect day the final day. The free bus was particularly hand the day of the light showers. I wonder if we all passed each other on the streets??

    Your descriptions are wonderful -- really makes the sites and towns come alive. I wish I had seen your TR BEFORE our trip. But there is always next trip.

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    La Cour des Consuls Hotel. I thought that was the hotel you posted for day 1 in Toulouse.

    When we walked into Jacobin Church it was mostly empty. Way at the other end we could see a huge pillar going up to a very high ceiling with windows all the way up.
    As we walked toward the pillar we could see a wide mirrored table going around the pillar. It had “do not touch” signs all over it. Do not touch what. It was an empty mirrored top table. When we got up to it I glanced down into the mirror on the table top and almost fainted. I grabbed my husband’s hand before I fell down. The mirror reflected up the tall pillar & windows to the very high ceiling. Looking into it felt like you were looking down into the abyss a million miles. Since I,m not good with heights it really gave me a jolt.
    As long as I live I will never forget tat moment.

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    Wow, lots of typos in my above post. I think I was still shaking thinking about that view. There’s lots of mirror photos on line but none give the feeling of the depth.

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    Sounds lik3 we missed out by not seeing the Jacobin church. I really hope we can go back one day though. There are a few other things we missed.

    Thanks for the compliments Yestravel. We were in Sarlat September 13 and by the time we got to Toulouse it was the 20th, so we were headed in opposite directions I think... ?

    TPAYT yes we stayed at Cour des Consuls we loved the location, central but quiet. I’m going to look for those mirror photos.

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    I went online to find photos of the mirror in Jacobins Church. Neither my husband nor I saw it and are wondering if it had been removed for cleaning or repair. I stood right where it looks to be and took several photographs of the pillars. Looks fantastic and sorry we missed it.

    Yes, literally ships passing in the night -- we left Toulouse on 20 Sept headed to Sarlat via a visit to Albi.

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