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Most Scenic Drive from Albi to Sarlat

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We arrive at Blagnac at 10:15 on Friday, June 2 and don’t need to be in Sarlat until late Sunday afternoon for a two week stay. That gives us the best part of three days to enjoy a leisurely drive to the Dordogne, concentrating on visiting places that are too far from Sarlat for a day trip. I’ve been pouring over guidebooks and trip reports and itineraries and am quite overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I’d really appreciate advice and suggestions to help me narrow down the choices and plan a scenic but realistic route.

Albi seems like the perfect first stop. It’s not far from Toulouse and it’s an ancient city that can be explored on foot. We could maybe take a slight lunchtime detour to Castelnau-de-Montmiral and possibly even visit Cordes on our way to Albi that day as long as there would still be time in Albi to see the cathedral and the Toulouse Lautrec museum. I’ve emailed Hotel Restaurant le Vieil Alby** ( a highly rated restaurant with rooms ) and Hostellerie St. Antoine**** ( recommended on this forum but pricer ) and both have rooms available. I'm not sure which to choose.

The second day is the most difficult because there are so many options. I’ve narrowed it down to two main ones by eliminating possible excursions from Sarlat but I’m open to other suggestions. We could start off by buying pique-nique supplies at the Saturday morning market before setting out so we can eat lunch anywhere.

If we didn’t visit Cordes the first day, we could head straight there then to Najac and then explore the Gorges de l’Aveyron driving westward. We could eat that night at Les Gorges de l'Aveyron in Montricoux then possibly stay there or in Saint Antonin. Then which route should we follow the next day to Sarlat?

A second possibility would be to drive from Albi through Rodez then on to Conques via Espelion, Estiang and Entraygue. I’ll need to buy another map if we decide on this option as it’s just off MM #337 but I do have the correct green guide! If we go this way I thought we could explore some of the eastern section of the Dordogne en route to Sarlat Sunday morning. I’ve contacted the Moulin de Cambelong in Conques as this seems to be the place to stay in the area and it’s available.

Basically I guess I’d like to know whether the Gorges de l’Aveyron or the Lot around Conques and the upper Dordogne is more scenic.

Thanks to the many people on this forum who have already helped me, mostly quite unknowingly, especially Stu, Ira, St. Cirq, Sheila, Nikki and of course, Carlux!

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    God, it's a quandary, isn't it? I mean that with all respect. That little area is just so chock full of wonderful things to see and do.

    Personally, I would do the Albi, Conques, Espelion...route.

    Cordes can be missed. It's a hill town like St-Cirq-Lapopie and Domme now to some extent, with "artisan" shops selling Made in China goods alongside regular local crafts, and not a lot of good food in that town. Plus parking is a pain and waiting for the shuttle to the top of the hill.

    Rodez is a very authentic place (as is Villeneuve-sur-Rouergue). So if you want a more "true" French experience, I'd do the last itinerary.

    Any chance you can get through Figeac?

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    Cigalechanta, I never considered being able to go as far east as Millau but I see from my green guide that it's not all that far if we do the Rodez Cordes route from Albi.

    By the way, I copied the thread you started about Fodorites who are also renters if you didn't get it before it disappeared. We're renting our house in Sarlat from Carlux but I found her through gites.com. It was only after she answered a question of mine here that I realized the connection.

    St. Cirq, it really is a quandry. I'm glad you commented about Cordes because I was wondering whether it was more interesting from the distance. We could just do a "drive-by" en route to Albi the first day. I hadn't thought of actually stopping in Rodez but we do like to see authentic places. We won't have to miss Figeac; we can do a day trip there from Sarlat according to Stu.

    I know from the itinerary that Stu sent that he also prefers Conques to Cordes. I'm looking forward to his thoughts on the best route.

    Also, I heard back from the hotel Ira stayed at, Moulin de Cambelong, and they have a room available so that's another vote for the Conques route.

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    I think the Lot (Espalion spelled with an "a") & Conques would be a much better option than the Cordes & Gorges de l'Aveyron, for a few reasons.

    1. The Gorges de Aveyron won't consume a full day, and if you stay there Sat night, then you will head north from there into an area that you could easily visit from Carlux. I would not visit Figeac on a Sunday when everything is closed, and I'm not sure I would want to be in St Cirq Lapopie or Peche Merle on a Sunday - and certainly not in Rocamadour or Padirac on a Sunday.

    2. I think there is more "stuff" and a greater diversity of things to see in the Lot area. Like you mentioned, you could get to the eastern edge of the Dordogne River area and explore this region a little on the way to Carlux.

    This is what I would do:

    If you plane lands at 10:15, you should be on the road by 11:15. If you drove directly to Albi, you would get there around noon - just in time for everything to close for the 2-3 hr lunch closing. We were there at lunchtime once, and things were shut up tight. I don't know what shape you are usually in on the first day. Many times we have lots of energy & want to do a few things when we arrive. If so, you could explore a bit of the Gorges de l'Averyon, and get to Albi about 5PM. You could "play it by ear" when you depart from Blagnac. If you start to crash immediately, make a high-tail to Albi. If you head to Albi & start to fade (less serious than a crash), visit the Bastide town of Lisle sur Tarne, and then head to one of my favorite Bastide towns - Castelnau de Montmiral for lunch. After lunch, gage your energy lever & if it's low, head to Cordes for a visit. It the tank is empty, head to Albi.

    However, if you have a lot of energy, head to Bruniquel (visit), and take the driving itinerary around the Gorge de l'Aveyron that's in the Green Guide (which I describe in my Languedoc Itinerary also). The Bruniquel to Penne to St Antonin portion is the most scenic section - so if you need to cut the drive short, make sure you visit this leg. After the Gorge, head to Albi - bypassing Cordes unless you have really made up a lot of time. I think Conques is much more interesting than Cordes, and like St Cirq said, Cordes is a little touristy/tacky and it's a bit difficult to get to town.

    First thing on Saturday, head to Rodez. I think if you try to drive over the Millau bridge, you will be consuming a large amount of time just to see & drive over the bridge. You will have trouble making it to Conques and visiting all the sites on the way there if you try to get there via the bridge. On my 338 Michelin map, the road to Millau is a little winding, and very few sections of the road are shaded in green (scenic). Consult Mappy to verify drive times. I have never driven on that road. I have also never driven on the road to Rodez, but it looks pretty straight on the map. I have driven on the road from Rodez to Espalion many times. It's pretty fast & flat.

    I would not visit Rodez. If you just left Albi, I think Rodez will disappoint you - especially if you plan to visit Figeac & Perigueux also. We've visited Rodez twice, and we got lost driving out of the center of Rodez both times. Once you pass Rodez, don't head to Espalion, take the N88 east then the D45 northeast to the D95, then north to St Come. At St Come, head west and after you pass a grocery store on your left, turn right and head over the Lot River – you will pass a park on your right before the River. When you start to see Ste Eulalie, park in the lot I describe in my itinerary, sit on the bench by the road to St Eulalie, and enjoy the view. Then head over the Lot to Ste Eulalie for a visit – pick up a walking tour guide at the tourist office. St Eulalie, and about 4 other village on the Lot (before you get to Conques) are classified as “the Most Beautiful Villages in France”. After Ste Eulalie, retrace your route back over the Lot to the bench (you will be on the North side), and head to St Come. Notice the twisted church steeple. St Come is another “Most Beautiful”. It can be a “drive around”, or a quick walk through. Continue west to Espalion. Espalion has more commerce than any other village on this route, and the town is not as cute as others, but it has some very nice houses along the Lot River. Consult your Green Guide and explore this town on foot. Then continue west to my favorite – Estaing. Get the camera ready as you get close to town – it’s a real photo-eater. Wander through town, cross the bridge over the Lot, visit the chateau, and perhaps it’s time for lunch or a snack. As you leave Estaing, look back over your shoulder for picture ops. Next town is Entraygues. It’s nicer on the outside than on the inside, so if you are a little behind schedule (it’s later than 3:00), then don’t explore Entraygues on foot. Make sure, however, that you drive by this town and see it from all angles. My itinerary has a description on how to do this via the one-way bridge.

    After Entraygues, head to Conques & stay there this night. Try to find the lookout with the picnic tables that I describe in my Languedoc Itinerary.

    Sunday morning, head west to Figeac, bypass Figeac, and get on the N140 towards Rocamadour, but half way to Rocamadour, take the D940 north to St Cere. Before St Cere, visit the cute villages of Antoire & Loubressac – admiring the view from the latter. Then head Castelnau-Brentenoux Chateau for a visit. Hopefully you will get there as soon as it opens. See my Dordogne itinerary or the Green Guide for opening times, and lunch closing time. After the Chateau, head to one of our favorite villages on the Dordogne – Carennac. After exploring Carennac (lunch?) , follow the river west (consult the Green guide for best route) and before Creysse, head north to Martel for a visit. This too is a very cute village & might have a few Sunday strollers wandering through town. After Martel, you have a couple of options – depending on the time you have left. You could continue down the Dordogne to Carlux (a few noteworthy stops along the way) or head north from Martel & visit Collonges (should be packed with Sunday visitors), and Turenne. From Turrene you can get on the N20 to Soulliac & Carlux.

    Stu Dudley

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    Stu, Thank you so much for your immensely thoughtful and very detailed response! As soon as I read it, I walked right over to my friendly, neighbourhood travel bookstore and bought yet another Michelin Map so that I could follow your suggested routes.

    I love that you offered options for the first day so we can see how much energy we have and then decide on the exact places. It seems like we can possibly see some of the Gorges de l’Aveyron and still concentrate on the cute villages along the upper Lot. I’ll combine your new recommendations with the relevant sections from your Dordogne and Languedoc itineraries and print it all out together to take along.

    Interestingly. many of the villages you included in the upper Dordogne area route were featured in a September 2005 National Geographic Traveler magazine article “In Search of the Perfect French Village.” You’ve made our search so much easier!

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    Hi M,

    Just to make your planning a little more difficult:

    You could leave Albi and head for St. Chely du Tarn, passing under or over the Millau bridge, and spend the night there.

    From there, take a day to drive through Rodez, Conques and Figeac.

    Hope this helps.

    ((I))

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    Oh Ira, just when I thought I had it all planned out and have booked the hotels you come along with another interesting suggestion! Thanks very much but I think we'll save the upper Tarn for another year and explore more of the Languedoc then.

    We haven't even been yet and here I am already planning a second trip to see the places we'll miss the first time!

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    I made a slight error on one of the village names

    This section
    >>Once you pass Rodez, don't head to Espalion, take the N88 east then the D45 northeast to the D95, then north to St Come. At St Come, head west and after you pass a grocery store on your left, turn right and head over the Lot River – you will pass a park on your right before the River. <<

    Should be St Geniez instead of St Come

    Once you pass Rodez, don't head to Espalion, take the N88 east then the D45 northeast to the D95, then north to St Geniez. At St Geniez, head west and after you pass a grocery store on your left, turn right and head over the Lot River – you will pass a park on your right before the River.

    Stu Dudley

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