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Trip Report On the road again - another country roads tour of France.

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Some of you may have read my report on our trip in 2012. So here we are again. After our last trip, I did think we may not return for a while, but after a year, there we were again, planning a trip to France. A quick re-cap. We are a late fifties [ my husband P who retires shortly ] and a 60 year old [ moi ] Australian couple who love our travels in France. We are slow travellers and not wealthy, so are also on a fairly tight budget.

It is a long flight from Brisbane to Paris but it was lovely to be there again. We did not do much of note other than wander around and enjoy being back there.

We caught the TGV to Avignon on Saturday morning [ 29th March ]. This was our first experience of trains in France and we really enjoyed the trip. We booked three months out on the SNCF website and had none of the issues with booking, payment and printing of tickets that seem to plague lots of others. We loved watching the countryside flying by and trying to guess where we were.

We had leased a Peugeot 208 through Autoeurope and the rep was waiting for us at the station. She drove us back to the office while explaining to P [ who has very limited French ] about the car. Fortunately he had done some research and understood what was happening when the motor stopped at the lights. It was quite disconcerting until we got used to it. It proved to be a very reliable and most economical little car. In fact we spent 200 euro less on fuel for this ten week trip than we did in nine in 2012.

Soon we were on the road after a wrong turn and another circuit of Avignon. After four trips to France, P is fairly comfortable with getting into an unfamiliar car and driving on the opposite side of the road. And yes, it does require some adjustment for the passenger / navigator as well!!

This time we decided to slow down even more and stay two weeks in some places. Our first stay of two weeks was in Pernes les Fontaines in Provence. Our first gite was a small apartment attached to the owner's house just outside the walls of the village . A lovely bunch of pink rosebuds, a bottle of rose and some home made jams greeted us on arrival. A trip to the local intermarche to stock up and we were ready for some lovely cheese and charcuterie, baguette and a bottle of wine to toast the start of another adventure.

We spent a week in this region in 2008, so we were already familiar with some places. On Sunday on our way out of town ,we stopped for an excellent baguette at what became " our" boulangerie. First stop was the old perched village of La Roque sur Pernes and then onto Saumane de Vaucluse, passing a large borie on the way. Our destination was Fontaines de Vaucluse. Not realising it was one way through the town, we had to go through and back again. But eventually we got to walk up through the town to the source gushing over the rocks. very impressive. After lunch at home we walked into town to find some of the many fountains in Pernes.

Monday was just a perfect clear day as we drove along the Gorges of the Nesque. It was spectacular - deep and winding with stunning views. There were several places to stop and we were pleased we were stopped when an idiot came roaring down and almost lost control of his car. It was a wonderful drive and we enjoyed walking around Sault at the end. We bought some delicious nougat and a pain d'epice from a lovely shop. We came home through Blauvac and Malemort de Comtat which was a lovely drive.

That night was special - our first duck breast with a favourite potato and fennel boulangere. Love it! After dinner we went for a walk into the old part of Pernes. The gate into Pernes is one of the more interesting we have seen and is even lovelier at night with the subtle lighting. We were to do lots of these walks and became more familiar with the streets and alleys. The village was quiet, the cats were all sitting out, the mellow orange lights softened everything and the ivy was like black lace silhouetted against the creamy stone walls.

It was quite smoky when we set out to drive up Mont Ventoux. After a stop in Bedoin we headed up the mountain only to find it closed at the top. But we still got to see the bare landscape. We stopped in Malaucene and then took the scenic road through the Dentelles to Suzette. Lunch was a picnic in a field of daisies looking pver the valley. On through La Barroux and Caromb. A lovely day.

Last time we did not get down to the Luberon. We have both read Peter Mayle, so our expectations were high as we set out for a day trip. We stopped in Maubec and the Oppede le Vieux where we walked up into the old village. Then on to Menerbes where there are some lovely views. We then stopped at Lacoste which we enjoyed. After a coffee at a café, we ended up having a picnic on a stone seat behind the church with a view across the valley to Bonnieux. There was more agriculture than we had expected with all the fruit trees in bloom. A final stop at the lovely Pont St Julien, an old Roman sandstone bridge.

Dinner that night was very nice. Whole baby trout 'on promo ' at the supermarket. Delicious stuffed with jambon cru , quickly baked and accompanied by salad and a crisp bottle of rose.

A gloomy day in Provence? Yes , so we had a quiet day with a walk up for a baguette and a fougasse with olive tapenade [ yummy ] and then a visit to the nearby village of Venasque, a Plus Beau Village de France [ PBV ]

Another gorgeous day as we drove over to Uzes which is as lovely as everyone says - tree lined streets, Place aux herbes, lovely church. I think it is one of the nicest larger towns we have visited , keeping in mind we are small village people! We came home the scenic route [ is there any other? ] Between Uzes and Pouzilhac there are some magnificent avenues of trees. By the time we reached St Laurent des Arbres it was time for a very late lunch. A table in the square beckoned and as we sat with our picnic, mums and dads were returning children to school. We received lots of 'Bon appetits ' which was most pleasant. We were so close to Chateauneuf de Pape, so we parked up at the Chateau and walked down into the village. There were vines everywhere and it was very rocky. A sign of great terroir?

Well this is taking longer than I thought and I am not even finished our time in Provence!

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    Well rhon, as we also love to travel in France I am so happy to see your report.

    <<<The village was quiet, the cats were all sitting out, the mellow orange lights softened everything and the ivy was like black lace silhouetted against the creamy stone walls>>>>

    Ahhhh, lovely! =D>

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    Hi Rhon,
    We were in Provence in June so I am enjotpying your trip report. We were near Noves, 20 minutes from ST. Remy in a house on an estate called Moulin de Roque. Amazing experience and our 2nd time in Provence.

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    Well thank you for your kind words. We are in the process of changing service providers and an unexpected complication left us without the internet for a week. But we are connected now , faster than before, and hopefully no more problems. Time to gather my thoughts and continue remembering our wonderful trip.

    Saturday was market day in Pernes and we wandered down and came home with some tomatoes, strawberries, a ' botte ' of white asparagus and two goats' cheese rolled in herbs. We love these little goats cheese from markets. We then decided to drive the back way to St Saturnin les Apt. After Methamis the road became narrow and it was almost like driving along the gorges again. After being passed by several rally cars [ an interesting experience on a narrow winding road ], we reached an intersection where we had no choice but to go right because of the rally. The road marked on our map did not appear to be open, so we ended up coming down into Murs which has a chateau and a large lavoir . Have I mentioned that I am partial to lavoirs and enjoy seeing the differences as we travel around. So no St Saturnin this time. Instead we headed off for Goult. How lovely is Goult. The restaurants were very busy with people enjoying the gorgeous weather. I really enjoyed our wander around and found the cemetery with topiary trees interesting . We came home through Lagnes which is a sleepy little village.

    St Remy is often mentioned as a good place to stay , so we were interested to see it. The centre is quite appealing and I can see why it is a popular base. Probably not where we would stay though. We then drove down to Glanum. We come from a very old country but there is not much tangible evidence of this to see, so we find seeing places like this a wonderful experience. So much history,and the blue sky and the pink flowering trees made it even better. It was great. And we sat on the stone seats looking at Les antiques for our picnic and absorbed being in this historic place. Then on to Maussanne les Alpilles which is a lovely village with that perfect Provencal feel. Another great lavoir. Home through les Alpilles which was a lovely scenic drive.

    In 2008, we really enjoyed the villages north of Pernes , so another visit was a must. First stop Vacqueyras, then Gigondas[ an exhibition of large sculptures of wood was being set up around town. Hard to describe but interesting ], Sablet ans Seguret. We loved the wonderful canopy of trees at Seguret [ they are considered a Remarkable tree of France ]last time and enjoyed seeing it again. Then home via Rasteau [ very good wine ]. This is a very nice village with a tree lined square and a lovely walk up to the very old church with a fabulous view across the countryside. And so many vineyards. While the Luberon villages are hugely popular, we find these villages equally as appealing.

    We had another day down to the Luberon. First stop was Lourmarin which is charming. Then Cucuron which was, I think, our favourite - that wonderful pool and the walk up to the church. It started to rain as we reached Ansouis, so we picnicked in the car before we explored the village with only a friendly ginger cat for company. It was a steep and winding road up to Bonnieux, and a very steep walk up to the old church. There are some lovely old houses with sturdy wooden doors. I said before that we had high expectations for our visit to this part of Provence. Perhaps too high ? While we enjoyed our visits, and probably would go back if we are ever there again, we did not fall in love with the Luberon. But that is fine .

    L' Isle sur Sorgue was close so we went back for a visit. It is certainly picturesque and all the cafes along the canals are very inviting. The weather was lovely, so lunch at one was very pleasant. After lunch out, we find we do not look for a large meal at night. Our favourite evening repast after lunch is a fruit platter with cheese, often a comte. But in the Dordogne [ later ], we discovered a cheese, Trappe d ' Echourgnac washed in vin du noix , which was also a great accompaniment to fruit.

    Almost the end of our two weeks. So we set off through St Didier , past Venasque and onto the Abbaye de Senanque. It was very picturesque drive with a short length of small gorges. It is lovely approaching the Abbey and must be stunning when the lavender is in bloom. After leaving Senanque, we drove back and turned off at St Didier for Le Beaucet and were so pleased we did. It is very small but quite impressive viewed from the bottom against the brilliant blue sky and followed by a walk up into the village and up to the old church at the top [ where else! ]. A brown historic monument sign lead us down the road to the sanctuary of St Gens where there is a large church, a miraculous source and is the final destination of an annual pilgrimage. Isn't Google wonderful? Just a really nice day to end our stay in Provence where it would take a long time to run out of things to see.

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    It was time to move on. Our next destination for two weeks was the Herault region, a new area of France for us. As it was not a big day, we chose to travel cross country rather than along the autoroute. It was a lovely drive through interesting and at times, spectular scenery such as Pic St Loup. There were a couple of hiccups. Kate, our Sat nav, had a bit of a melt down for an hour or so. Good job I am a great navigator ! But after a little ' gurgle ' she recovered and did not miss a beat again. Our gite this time was in the small hamlet of Lieuran Cabrieres, a few kilometres outside Clermont l' Herault. It was very comfortable with a nice big kitchen / living area and an inviting terrace . A bottle of local wine and a jar of our host's ' pate au sanglier [ wild boar ] et truffade ' welcomed us. And very nice it proved to be.

    Next day, we did our usual 'thing ' and pottered around nearby to see what was around - the old market town of Clermont with its tree lined areas and wonderful old church [ but no supermarkets open on Sunday morning ], a café, restaurant and a very good epicerie [ open on Sunday ] in Canet, a boulangerie in Aspiran, Paulhan a village in the round, a lovely old Gothic church in Neffies, a great scenic drive home. The amount of vineyards continued to amaze us, right up to the houses in our village. And the new leaves of Spring just bursting forth.

    On Monday we drove back along our Saturday route and turned off for the Pont du Diable where there is a large carpark and visitor centre and a well maintained walk out to the bridge which has views up the Gorges of the Herault. Then onto St Guilhem le desert [ PBV ]which is picture postcard perfect. There is a great view of the Abbey as you drive in and lovely walks around the steep streets with pots of bright flowers everywhere. The cloisters are quite simple and the organ very ornate. On the way home we stopped in St Jean de Fos which is another attractive village and also Montpeyroux.

    We made an early start one day and went down to Aigues Mortes. This is a really impressive site - a totally walled small town on the coast. We climbed to the top of tour Constance - lots of stairs and levels - and then walked around the walls. It was quite windy and dusty at times. But the views are worth it - over the roofs of the town and its avenues and then out over the water. It was amazing to see the pink water with crystals of salt gleaming in the sunlight and then the piles of salt. After that a walk around the town which has a large central square and a lovely church.

    Clermont l' Herault has a large market on Wednesdays. we went in early for a look. We always enjoy markets, but after several trips to France we have found we tend to enjoy and buy more from smaller markets. So we came home with only some tomatoes.

    After that we set off for the nearby Cirque de Moureze. On the way we passed a small war memorial for resistance fighters which we found both interesting and moving. We had been expecting a viewpoint and a short stop to view the Cirque. Not so. To really see and appreciate it you have to walk in and take the marked walk which takes about an hour or so. It was something we would not have missed for the world. It was stunning and the further we went in the more so it became - amazing rock formations and great views as you climb up. At one point we were high up on a rocky spur and level with the village. Just fabulous. And after that the village itself is really pretty as well. But, oh boy, were we stiff and sore the next day!!

    Nearby was Lac de Salagou. After the Cirque, the lac was at first disappointing. We had seen photos and had been expecting park areas and facilities [ and hoping for that elusive picnic table ] along the shore. I will admit we did not go to the main area from Clermont , but came to the other side from the back way [ as is often the case for us.] We did stop at the deserted village of Celles on the shore. There was a road marked on our map and we found it- more of what I would describe as a goat track . Very rough and narrow. But wow, now the lake really came into its' own. Stunning views of the blue lake and surrounding red earth and green farms. We followed the road to the end and continued on to the perched village of Lacoste - yes, another one. We still had not found a picnic table, but a wide stone wall opposite the war memorial and overlooking the valley was a good substitute for a very late lunch.

    One of the reasons we chose our gite was because the location allowed us to easily go in several directions. We headed north along the autoroute through some spectacular scenery as we climbed up to the Larzac plateau. Our destination was Roquefort, home of the iconic cheese. Here we did a tour of the caves which we enjoyed. We then drove along the lush valley of the Sorgues. It was lovely and our hearts were singing as we remembered how much we had enjoyed the Aveyron in 2012. There are pretty little villages. One especially stands out - Fondamente where there was an attractive spring flowing down through the town square and opposite, a topiary maze / garden. Just a pretty place to stop for a few minutes.

    The country changed from lush and green to more rugged as we approached La Couvertoirade, an old Templar village. It is very old with impressive walls, a simple church, lots of dark stone, unpaved streets. It is not 'prettied up ' as some PBVs are and P says it is one of his favourites.

    Now we were not that far from the Cirque de Navacelles, so it was now or never. It is quite stunning. It is a huge deep canyon formed by the meander of the Vis river and there is a small village at the bottom. Standing at the top looking down is unforgettable. Well worth the detour to see. Then a scenic drive down through Sorbes and the autoroute home. Some melting confit cuisse de canard was a perfect end to a long but most enjoyable day.

    The autoroute quickly took us down to coast, first to Marseillan which is a very pretty village on the Lac de Thau. The harbour is lovely with lots of boats and cafes. Then we went on to Bouzigues which is a sleepy little fishing village on the Lac as well . There are a lot of restaurants there and we had a very good [ and reasonable] seafood lunch. The lake was calm and we could see the oyster beds. Some one has to do it!

    We quite enjoyed our visit to Pezenas which has an appealing small historical centre to explore. It was nice and clean and the shops and cafes blended in well . An austere church front disguised an ornate interior with a beautiful blue and gold organ. There were several lovely old buildings , hotels particulars, a lovely staircase, the remains of a chateau. I especially one street which had kerbs and gutters of pink marble!! And of course, we had to have a petit pate de Pezenas, a little fruit mince pie, the origins of which are reputed to come from the chef for Clive of India who holidayed here. We tried two patisseries and one was infinitely better than the other.

    We were there over the Easter break, so we had to be organised as supermarkets were closed on Sunday and Monday. A sumptuous Framboisier was dessert for a few days. On Easter Saturday we drove across to Olargues a PBV on the Orb river. There is a lovely old bridge [ we are also very taken with bridges and there are some special ones in France ], and an old centre, a public passage with a series of stairs which takes you up to the top. There are the ruins of a chateau and a large tower with some nice views over the river to the bridge. On the way out we stopped at the charcuterie and bought a lovely pate de chataigne and a chevre sec. Perfect for lunch with a baguette from the boulangerie and an éclair for dessert.

    We then drove the scenic road along the river to Roquebrun. Just a lovely drive with picturesque villages on the hills, vineyards and stops for views along the river. Roquebrun is in a great position on the river and we walked up the steep streets to the church at the top for fantastic views. We then meandered our way home along some very narrow roads and bridges and through vineyards everywhere.

    Easter Monday was a bit gloomy but we went up to Lodeve which is very old. The cathedral, St Fulcran, is very impressive with lovely stained glass and small cloisters. When you drive up the autoroute past Lodeve, it becomes obvious how this cathedral dominates the town. It was showery and low cloud as we continued up to Lunas. What a beautiful little village on the river. We walked up to the ruins of a 5century chapel. Then we followed a scenic road up to Avene which is known for its clinics for the treatment of skin conditions. Beside the road is an aqueduct with water running along. Heading home we saw ruins on top of a hill and were drawn to find out more. A very narrow road led to the village of Dio and a large impressive castle. Worth the detour to see. This is one of the things we love about France. You never know what is around the next corner.

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    We did have a gloomy day, but headed out any way and stopped in St Pargoire where it was market day - one of those small markets we enjoy. We bought some goats cheese and a botte of green asparagus for 2 euro. That sounds familiar. It was quite a nice little village with a large eglise surrounded by buildings, an attractive mairie and narrow streets. The next stop was St Pons de Mauchien which is a circular village with old walls and gates and a walk up to the church at the top. Sadly it was closed. There were great 360 degree views, including back to St Pargoire where the size of the church is revealed. A cold bleak day signalled another favourite for dinner - Morteau sausage and aligot, that artery clogging but delicious mashed potato with cheese. And some fromage blanc and apricot coulis for dessert.

    Next day we woke to clear blue skies, so we set off up the autoroute past Lodeve. Those wonderful views again. Not all autoroutes are boring. But as we climbed, the fog closed in and our highly anticipated drive over the Millau Viaduct was shrouded in fog - sort of spooky. After a coffee and wait at the visitor centre [ let's not mention the squat toilet ], the fog began to lift and we walked up to the viewing point. It is hard to describe it. P took some fabulous photos of the bridge as it emerged from the fog. It really is an amazing feat of engineering and the magnitude of it is again obvious if you drive under the bridge. We did so on our way to Peyre which is a very old village built on the cliff beside the river. It is an unusual experience to stand in this place which is so old and look at the futuristic structure which is the Millau viaduct. I could not help but wonder what those villagers of past times would feel if transported to our time. Lunch was a picnic table above the village with that billion dollar view.

    We then drove through Millau which looked nice, but we did not stop. Instead we set off to drive along the Canyon of the Dourbie. Don't you love these green scenic drives on the Michelin maps ? It wound along the river passing some interesting villages, an old mill [ now a private residence in a drop dead gorgeous setting ] and some very old jaw - dropping villages perched on rocky outcrops. It was just fabulous and at the end we came into the very appealing village [ for us at least ] of Nant. It had halles of stone, a Mairie with a lovely water feature, a very old eglise with large columns, a town square with several cafes. If we had not already had lunch we could not go past saucisse with aligot. What a great day.

    Now it was our anniversary [ 39 years ] and we had spotted a restaurant for lunch. Would you believe, when we got there it was closed !! Something similar happened in 2012. What to do ? We passed a place with a board outside - buffet au volante. Let's stop. As we entered, the only occupant of the bar gave us cause to hesitate. He looked a bit dodgy- fiftyish with what appeared to be sticks in the top-knot, earring with three keys hanging off it and low slung shorts revealing more than we really wanted to see. But we were committed. Inside we could hear conversation and glasses clinking. We entered a room with about 30 people enjoying their lunch. All is good. The entrée was the buffet which we enjoy. I would really like the recipe for that leek dish. The waitress informed us that the patron was English, and she brought our main course [ roast pork and veges ] to introduce herself. The elderly French couple at the table next to ours were very interested in us and what we were doing and we had a lovely chat [ as far as our language constraints allowed ]. Dessert [ coconut pie ], wine, coffee [ brought by the dodgy chap ]all for 13 euro per person. The tables were really nice. The base for each was the wrought iron base of a Singer sewing machine - I have one at home. And then the kitchen caught fire. What more do you want for a memorable lunch ?

    Our last day came and we still had not visited nearby Villeneuvette. It was the " we can do that if we have a couple of hours spare " place. It is an old linen manufacturing town and we really enjoyed our visit. There is a walk of about fifty minutes which takes you past the aqueduct , channels and reservoir which fed the town and powered the factories. Quite a nice way to spend our last day.

    We really enjoyed our stay in this region. Lieuran Cabrieres is a small village with no commerce, but we enjoyed several walks around the village and surrounding countryside. We often saw the same elderly lady with her dog and she greeted us each time. The church has an inspiring tribute to those who died for France in the wars, there is an interesting lavoir, an avenue of trees. Rue des Jardins proved to be the lane past the garden allotments and led to a strange cairn and the former channels for water. We like staying in places like this and we found it a very good base for our time here.

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    Just a bit more before P gets home from work. He has four more days before he retires. Are we counting ? Of course not.

    It was hard to believe another two weeks had passed as we drove past Olargues and on to our lunch stop at Lautrec. The country changed and became very lush and green and we drove through some wonderful avenues of trees. Lautrec is a PBV with houses of colombage, a town square with couverts, a beautiful church with painted ceilings and very simple stations of the cross.

    Now might be the time to mention what I [ R ] photograph. P does a wonderful job of recording our trips with his photos. I am not so skilled. But, while I do not consider myself especially religious, I have become interested in the varied stations of the cross that we see in churches. So this trip I began to photograph station of the cross number 12 and now have an interesting collection. That and yellow roses which always remind me of my loved and late Dad who grew yellow roses.

    Lautrec is well known for the production of pink garlic. So we had to buy a plait of bulbs - about 15!! But, hey, we still have six weeks!!!

    We had a picnic in Lautrec and some delicious fruit tartlets before moving into rainy weather as we neared the Dordogne. Our gite was a few kilometres out of Cenac and was very comfortable. Lovely views over the countryside, a very inviting deck if the rain stops. A welcome gift of wine, walnuts, walnut oil and raspberry vinegar. Bodes well for a great two weeks to come.

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    Rhon, this all sounds marvelous. I can tell that you enjoy every step of the way, no matter what the weather is. And if one restaurant is closed, no problem, you can find another one that's just as good.

    You two pack a lot in to each day!

    Congratulations on your anniversary, and how great that your husband is retiring! I see more trips in your future.

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    This was our third visit to the Dordogne, so no caves this time. It was still a bit damp on Sunday, so we went into Sarlat for some groceries and then a drive around some nearby villages - Daglan, St Pompont, Prats de Perigord. In Besse there is a wonderful old 11 century church in a very pretty setting. The villages in this region are just so lovely. I love the golden stone and little towers.

    It was still a bit showery when we drove through La Roque Gageac and Beynac. We have been to both before. We did stop in St Cyprien and walked up to the church which has a lovely choir and altar. Of course, being Monday, most places were shut. We then went onto Limieul which is on the confluence of the Vezere and Dordogne rivers. It is an attractive village and we do have a photo of the confluence but did have to pay to enter the gardens to do so. We came home via Les Eyzies which was very busy. The cliffs are very impressive. Lovely beef and red wine casserole for dinner.

    One day we headed across to Martel and on to Turenne which is very impressive as you drive in and it is a steep walk up through the village. We climbed to the top of the tower where there are magnificent 360 views over gorgeous countryside. We moved on to the village of Collognes la Rouge which is a beautiful village of red stone. There were quite a lot of tourists here. At the other end of the spectrum is Curemonte where we were the only people exploring. There is a wonderful view as you approach of the austere and impregnable chateau in the middle of the village. We then stopped in Martel which we thought was really nice. There is a beautiful church with painted pillars , a lovely town square with halles, several towers. It was a big day with lots to see.

    Thursday May 1 was a holiday. We set off again via back roads along the river with a stop at St Julien de Lampon at the market. It was a lovely drive past the walnut groves. Belcastel is impressive perched high on the cliff. After a stop in the pretty little village of St Sozy [ delicious choc-walnut tart ], we took a narrow little road down to Gluges. We love these unexpected roads we find. Only a short detour but so stunning. We started out high above the walnut groves and the road descends down with cliffs on one side and the river on the other until you are level with the groves and river where there were people canoeing. It was a wonderful little interlude.

    We picnicked in Carennac after a wander around this lovely place. Once again quite a few tourists. Not so in Loubressac which is high on a hill with great panoramas. Our last stop was Autoire which is set in a cirque so is very scenic. We saw several pigeoniers in the fields around. Another lovely village. Our way home took us through l'Hospitalier with views to Rocamadour. It was heaving with tourists. We visited Rocamadour in 2006 and it was very quiet so pleased we did.

    Even though we have been here before, we had not visited Sarlat. I can see why it is so popular. It is a lovely town. We got there early before it became busy around lunch. We were there in May so cannot imagine the crowds in peak season. Lunch that day was at home and very indulgent. Foie gras, stuffed dried duck breast, a glass of wine and walnut tart to finish. A walk around the country roads finished a nice day. That night we walked to the nearby auberge for dinner. It was fun experience. Good home cooked food with the emphasis on duck. We enjoyed cracking walnuts to accompany the cheese.

    One day we set off for Monpazier which is a lovely bastide town with a large square with arcades and large halles. We had planned to visit Chateau Biron which dominates the view on approach. No luck. It was closed because of a cycle race. We stopped in the busy market town of Villereal which has interesting halles. Then on to Monflanquin which is another bastide. It is high on a hill and also has arcades and narrow streets and alleys. We liked Monflanquin. I had noticed a green scenic road on the map, so we detoured and came across a donjon and ruins of a castle, Chateau Gavaudon, towering over a small village. The ridge is very narrow and the castle is built along it. The entrance is a natural opening in the cliff and steep stairs take you to the top. The views were wonderful. We were really pleased we stopped.

    One day we meandered around the country to the south. The countryside was lush and green. An old Roman church in Rampoux, the village of Thedirac where there is a fortified church, the pretty village of Peyrilles. It is set in a valley and has some attractive buildings and the remains of a chateau. A nice morning. Later we went to nearby Domme to see if it had changed since 2008 when we were last there. A lot busier and more touristy I think. But the panorama is still spectacular.

    On our previous visits I had St Amand de Coly on the list and we did not get there. So I was pleased that this time we finally did visit. The village itself is quite small but the fortified church is quite overwhelming. It is huge - very simple inside with uneven and irregular stone sloping floor. A wonderful visit. We then stopped at the very pretty village of St Genies- lovely golden stone and a church and chateau side by side.

    We had briefly stopped in Belves on 2008,so we returned for a longer visit. Once again very striking halles and attractive buildings. The large 15 century church is being restored. We then continued on to Cadouin which is pretty with a large church and lovely cloisters. They are quite ornate in places with elaborate capitals and relief work. P has become very adept at producing wonderful photos of cloisters. After our visit we had a very nice, large lunch at the restaurant de l'Abbaye opposite.

    The day we had planned to visit Castelnaud was quite foggy. So we went to Gourdon which we quite like. We detoured to see the pretty chapel Notre Dames des Neiges which is opposite a small stream and lavoir. There were ladies busy arranging flowers for a pilgrimage next day.

    We did get to Castelnaud the next day. We walked up through the village which is very steep. The fortress is quite imposing. We really enjoyed our visit and the displays of armour and weaponry. All very well done. And of course, the views of Beynac, Marqueyssac and La Roque Gageac are unbeatable. The days were getting longer and it was warm enough to sit out on the deck of our gite for dinner that night. As we watched the hot air balloons floating past, we thought how perfect it all was and how lucky we were.

    This is a really lovely part of France. The villages are just gorgeous , the country lush and green and the rivers lovely. So many wonderful drives and views. I have probably left out something . We found Cenac well placed for It has a small market on Tuesdays, a couple of boulangeries, charcuterie, bars/bistros and a good little Shopi supermarket which we found had most things we wanted. Another wonderful two weeks has passed.

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    So six weeks have flown by. Our next stop was the Loire. Our very first week in France in 2006 was spent near Selles sur Cher and we visited Chenonceau, Villandry, Cheverny. This time our gite was on a farm between Richelieu and L'Isle Bouchard. It was a comfortable little place with our own private courtyard. We had some lovely walks around the roads among waving wheat fields just beginning to ripen and turn golden, past farm houses, great racks of drying corn, a potager with bristling rows of artichokes.

    Richelieu is a formal town with avenues of tall buildings, and if you are lucky enough to see an open gate, a glimpse of a hidden courtyard. It has a wonderful town square with a fountain, an interesting church and glass enclosed halles. There are four gates and a lovely public garden with avenues of trees, lakes and rose garden on the site of the former chateau. It is a little off the tourist trail I think.

    The gorgeous villages of the Dordogne are a hard act to follow, and the villages we drove through on the first day were not as appealing. But the little pockets of farmhouses nestled among the rolling wheat fields and fields of crimson poppies were lovely. It really is in the eye of the beholder.

    We chose to visit Azay le Rideau this time and enjoyed the visit. We were impressed by the 'charpentier' in the large attic. And interested by the woven bamboo on the walls in one chamber. It helps maintain temperature apparently. It's position on the river is lovely. There was a lot of work going on in garden. After Azay we came home through the PBV of Crissay sur Manse. It is a pretty little place with white limestone houses, troglodyte buildings and a ruined chateau.

    Fontrevaud Abbey was on the to do list and once again there was restoration work happening. It is good to know these places will be there for future generations. This is a wonderful site to visit. The church is magnificent and has lovely cloisters. I especially loved the chapter house with it's 16 century murals. The kitchen building with lots of little towers is lovely. Thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

    After that we stopped at nearby Montsoreau which is in a wonderful position on the Loire. We walked up to the top for stunning views of the chateau and the river and a closer look at the fascinating troglodyte houses. Montsoreau ends and Candes St Martin begins. A magnificent church with lovely relief and carvings. Candes means confluence and the St Martin because he died there in 397. The history continues to leave us in awe. There is a steep rough cobblestone walk up to the panorama. It was worth it to see the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne.

    Wednesday dawned very foggy and cold. We had been spoilt by the great weather we had been having. We drove across to le Grand Presigny which is a very appealing village. The chateau is high above the village and the courtyard is lovely with wonderful views over the village. There is a new museum of pre history attached to the remains of the chateau and the marriage of old and new has been well done. It was very interesting , and warm!! We then continued on to Preuilly sur Creuse which is a bustling market town with yet another magnificent church with huge buttresses. On the way home we passed the fairytale chateau of La Guerche on the river. We took a back road through the forest and all of a sudden it was a ' What is this ??' moment. It was a ' rond point ' with several perfectly spaced roads radiating out. And in the middle a lovely red and cream ' relais de chasse '. It was just perfect. I love these little detours which are hard to describe at times. You almost have to be there.

    Throughout our trip we had been seeing wonderful roses everywhere. So a visit to Chedigny seemed like a good idea. Chedigny is a small village which has been designated a remarkable garden of France. And there are roses everywhere- in gardens, climbing up trellises and up over houses, spilling over roofs and walls. There were lots of buds which was good news for the rose festival in a fortnight. A lovely place for a quiet stroll. We then stopped in Loches which we have visited before and walked up to the Cite Royale and donjon.

    Our last day we went to Chinon. It is lovely driving in over the bridge with the town and chateau spread out in front. Chinon is an interesting place to explore. There are some beautiful buildings. We had a delicious there before going home to prepare for our move the next day. After two weeks in the other places, our week here seemed to go in a flash.

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    Our coming week was a bit of an indulgence - a return to a place we had stayed in 2010. The gite was , shall we say, a bit 'rustic ' - quite comfortable but in need of some smoothing out of rough edges. We remembered it with affection. It is in a small hamlet near Cormatin in Burgundy. Cormatin has a lovely chateau, a couple of restaurants , an epicerie and a boulangerie. Burgundy is probably our favourite area in France. The country roads and close villages were just right for several walks in the late afternoon.

    So it is Sunday again and here we are exploring the nearby villages. We first visited the medieval village of Brancion in 2006 and the village has been tidied up and is looking even nicer. The view from the church is wonderful and the church itself is beautiful. We then drove down through lovely villages such as Balleure and etringy. Somewhere I read about the houses of this region and once you are aware of them , you see them everywhere. They often have a very distinctive feature which is a small wooden ' verandah '. They are really attractive, especially with lots of colourful pots of flowers.

    Home for lunch under the tree with several greetings from people passing. Then a drive in the other direction which did not end up where we intended because of road closures for a race. What!! Again? But we still came home content. Beautiful countryside, pretty villages, vineyards, forests. What is not to love about Burgundy.

    We stopped in Cluny [ we visited the Abbey last time ]for fuel before heading towards the Beaujolais region. It was a lovely drive along the valley and up to Avenas which has an almost alpine feel. Great views back down the valley and a lovely 12 century church where the stained glass windows reflect the pattern of the stone walls. And then just a fabulous drive down into the Beaujolais. You seem to be able to see forever as the road descends and there are so many grapevines. We bought some wine at the co -op in Fleurie, and some delicious patisserie. The country is very scenic - so many vines , little stone huts, a little chapel high on a hill, pretty villages.

    Last stay we loved the drive over into the Brionnais region and the town of Charolles. The drive was as scenic as we remembered. We did not stop in Charolles this time as there were lots of roadworks in the centre. The countryside was just superb- lush and green, hedged fields full of yellow and white wild flowers and an occasional patches of poppies, lots of white Charolais cattle basking in the sunshine and large pine forests. We took one of those narrow roads along a stream and popped out opposite a chateau [ Rambuteau ]. And opposite the chateau, a copy of the statue of Diana of Versailles. Just lovely. Yes, I know, we are easily pleased. We followed green scenic roads back through Cluny. A perfect day.

    This is, of course, a big wine region. We visited the village of Chardonnay and the very good Cave de Lugny where we bought some wine and a couple of bottles of delicious Cremant de Bourgogne. Then home via the belvedere at Burgy [ very old chapel ]. That afternoon we visited the chateau at Cormatin which has lovely gardens and exquisite painted galleries. It is all the more remarkable because it was neglected and run down and the moat totally filled in until several years ago.

    One day we drove across to St Gengoux le National which is a lovely village we have visited before. Then on up to Mont St Vincent which is high on a hill - very old with the remnants of walls and an impressive 11C church with a million dollar view. Unfortunately it was closed for some chemical treatment of the adjoining cemetery.

    Rain was forecast for our last day, but it dawned clear and warm By now you will have realised we just love driving around and seeing what we see. A lovely Romanesque church here, a little heard-of village, Besanceuil where there is an 11C -14C chateau with a very old chapel alongside, a lovely church at St Martin de Selancey, lots of examples of those wonderful Burgundian houses, and around every turn another breath- taking view. It all combined to re-inforce for us why we love this region.

    The small village Of Chapaize was nearby and it has the most wonderful Romanesque church. Each time we visit we come away inspired. Opposite is a small restaurant, Le Saint Martin. It was a perfect day, a perfect location, and a perfect lunch on our last day. A fitting end to a wonderful week in a beautiful region of France.

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    It was time to move on to our final two week stay in the town of Villeneuve sur Yonne, still in Burgundy but almost into Ile de France. This is not an area I have seen mentioned a lot on travel forums. We hopped off the autoroute near Semur en Auxois which we visited in 2006. Our first stop was the small village of Guillon to see the old bridge. We passed through Epoisses, home of the wonderful washed rind cheese. Our lunch stop was the lovely village of Noyers. We first visited in 2006 and it was a lot busier to-day. It has some beautiful old buildings and we enjoyed our re-visit.

    We had a very warm welcome from our hosts which continued throughout our stay. Villeneuve is a very old town which was once fortified. There is an empty moat / ditch which encircles the old town and down to the river. Our gite backed on to the ditch which was actually our back garden with a small stream and a hungry family of ducks. A locked gate opened out to the tree lined promenade which follows the ditch to the river. We had several lovely walks during our stay.

    There are two gates and a wonderful cathedral which is being restored. On the middle Sunday of our stay we were lucky enough to attend an organ [ large pipe organ ] and mixed choir recital in this magnificent space. The men of the choir gave a rendition of Ave Maria that brought tears to my eyes. The whole experience was quite uplifting and I think I will remember it forever.

    During our two weeks we visited, on separate days, the wonderful chateaux of Fontainebleu and Vaux le Vicomte. Vaux has some sumptuous rooms, painted ceilings, beautiful carved cherubs and swags. The gardens are superb. From the terrace of the chateau the garden appears large. What an illusion. As you walk down, hidden levels appear and then you realise it is even larger. We walked the whole length and up to the statue of Hercules. We also enjoyed the Musee de l'Equipage with some gorgeous carriages. We were quite tired by the end.

    We did not realise when we went to Fontainebleu that it was free entry that day, so it was quite busy. But it is stunning. The rooms and galleries are quite beautiful, so rich and elaborate. And the gardens are lovely too, with a large lake, long canal and large parterre.

    One day we skirted around the Pays d'Othe area and our first stop was Brienon sur Armancon to see the very impressive lavoir - circular, below ground level with a tiled roof. Then on to St Florentin where it was market day. The cathedral here is lovely. We picked up the key from the Tourist Office and enjoyed our quiet visit. There are some beautiful sculptures and woodwork, and the 16C stained glass windows are some of the most beautiful I have seen. It is only a short drive to Pontigny where the Abbey is celebrating 900 years this year. It is huge and cavernous with marble and wood carved entry to the choir, a large marble altar with the most wonderful sculptures behind it. The sculptures of women are almost sensual. well worth the visit. We came home through nice villages such as Seignelay with it's attractive halles.

    Several years ago I read " French Spirits " by Geoffrey Greene which is his account of life in the small village of Rogny les Sept Ecluses. So I added it to our list. It was an attractive drive there. I had seen photos of the locks, but at the moment they look a bit neglected which is a real pity. By the current canal there were two barges moored. I googled them and I am afraid I just cannot imagine having that much money - 5,500 euro per person for 6 nights- to take a cruise on one. Made our picnic lunch beside the canal seem a bit low key. But we did really enjoy our new cheese, Soumaintrain, which is a local Yonne cheese similar to Epoisses.

    We came home a different road. We enjoyed the villages and houses and buildings which have a lot of brick work which forms patterns. We like the way the buildings change from one region to another. We came back through St Julien de Sault and past the fortified chapel, Vauguillan, which overlooks the village. The village itself is interesting. We visited again on a Sunday afternoon and chanced on a 'fete de Peintures et Jardins'. What fun. Stalls with paintings, plants, wine, some gorgeous ducks, chickens, rabbits and a fabulous display of cloth dolls and dolls' heads built into branches of trees. Sounds weird, I know, but was clever and intriguing.

    Thursday was Ascension so a public holiday. we went down to nearby Joigny which is a really interesting town to explore. So many lovely houses of pan et bois , many with intricate wood carvings. There are three old churches and a chateau. After a wander there and over the river, we drove up to the Belvedere de Cotes Saint Jacques which is surrounded by grape vines. It provides a wonderful view over the river and this lovely town.

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    Villeneuve has a lively market on Friday which fills the halles and spills into the streets. We bought two paupiettes de dinde for dinner and they were delicious. After a coffee, we set out to explore the nearby Pays d'Othe area. It is lovely country - more wheat fields and pretty villages which still show buildings with intricate brickwork. Aix en Othe has a church with painted ceilings and 18C halles. We bought some local cider which was very nice and some choucroute in Pays d'Othe cider. It was the perfect accompaniment the next night with some smoky Montbeliard sausages. We had a picnic lunch overlooking the church in Villemaur sur Vanne. It has an interesting ' jube en bois ' which is a tiered tower where the whole roof of each tower is covered with small wooden tiles , for want of a better description. Very different. We stopped in Villeneuve l'Archeveque which is an attractive town.

    It was a very hazy day when we went to Provins and there were a lot of school groups visiting. The ramparts are large and well preserved in places. We climbed to the top of the Tour Cesar and visited the Tithe Barn. We enjoyed our visit, but I think to get more out of a visit to Provins you probably need to do some of the shows that are available.

    In 2010 we passed through the town of Toucy and it stayed in my mind. One day we drove down with a couple of stops before Toucy. It is a really nice town. We look at places with a view to would we like to stay around here and , yes, we would. It has an attractive centre with shops and cafes and an impressive fortified church in dark brown stone. we stopped in nearby Dracy, another pretty village with a chateau and small church. We had a very nice lunch in the lively village of Charny which has interesting halles. A very nice day.

    Only a couple of days left before the end of our holiday. We decided to visit Chablis which is a pleasant place to wander for a time- a large lavoir, a lot of wine caveaux, some attractive old buildings. The river Serein flows through the town. It is very obviously a working wine town. As we were having coffee, several tractors with spraying equipment drove through town. We then followed a green scenic road down through the vineyards and found a picnic spot with a view of the amphitheatre of vines. As we drove on there were also fields of ripening golden wheat. We had a wonderful view of the wine village of Irancy as we drove in and we stopped at a cave for two last bottles of wine. That night one went well with our last cuisse de canard and the last bulb of Lautrec garlic [ remember me buying that ] roasted and spread on toasted baguette.

    A word about food. As I have said, we have a restricted budget and only eat out at the most, twice a week, and then often an inexpensive lunch. But we still have great food at home. Always lots of duck - magret, cuisse, confit, gesiers salads-, great chicken, lovely whole trout, trout fillets, fresh sardines. Wonderful sausages - dense meaty Toulouse, smoky Morteau and Montbeliard from the Jura, delicate boudin blanc, very dry saucisson. Rabbit cooked with prunes and red wine, beef carbonnade with beer and mustard. Charcuterie - lots of terrines in different forms , rillettes , rillons, jambon persillee, mousse de canard, jambon cru. And as for the cheeses - all our favourites. Brie de Meaux, Camembert, a variety of blues, Morbier and Comte from the Jura, Epoisses, Langres . Lovely little goats cheeses from the markets. The list goes on. And some new ones - Soumaintrain from the Yonne, St Maure de Touraine from the Loire, Le Chevrot, Chabichou de Poitou, Trappe d' Echourgnac. Luxury plus in a rich buttery Delice be Bourgogne with some ripe, plump, juicy Yonne cherries and a Cremant de Bourgogne. Bliss. A wonderful variety of patisserie, fromage blanc and fruit coulis for desserts. A fresh baguette every day. Croissants for breakfast a few times. And of course, wine from all the regions . No wonder we brought home a few more kilos!!

    There is a very nice restaurant in Villeneuve which we visited twice. The first time we sat inside. P had the, not for the faint- hearted , AAAAA Andouillette [ yes, he knew what he was ordering and enjoyed it ] and I had delicious kidneys in wine sauce. The whole meal, including the cheese trolley was great.

    For our last night we visited again. It was a glorious night and we were able to sit outside on the terrace which overlooks the river. Just magic. I had wonderful oysters and P had oeufs meurettes for starters. P had steak tartare [ he said it was delicious. Not for me ] and I had Bar [ sea bass ] en Hirondelle [ barn swallow ] - a whole fish presented in such a way it resembled a swallow in flight. It was a perfact end to our holiday.

    We were sad to think our time in France was over, but it was time to go home. We had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the longer stays in places which allowed time to just savour being there. We feel very lucky to be able to travel as we do. I know what we do is not for everyone, but we find it an affordable and relaxing way to go. Last time we felt sad to think we might not be back. This time we feel more content. We are beginning a new stage in our lives. P is about to retire. There will be a new grandchild in the near future. My mother is aging more quickly as the years pass. So who knows what the next few years will bring. But I never say never, because France unexpectedly wove her way into our hearts and one day , hopefully , we will come back.

    A Bientot.

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    Rhon, I had fun reading along with you. You write a very nice trip report.

    You two travel the way we like to, except that we stay in B&Bs. If we go to Burgundy or the Dordogne, I'll look up this trip report and your other ones to see what you found worth seeing.

    We almost crossed paths with you at Chedigny. We went there three times the week before the rose festival, and it was spectacular. The display of roses blew me away every time.

    I, for one, hope you do go back to France!

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    Thank you for posting a beautiful and inspiring description of your travels. You write beautifully. We are planning our first trip to France (outside of Paris, where we spent a week many years ago) in Spring 2015 and I will save your report to help in our planning. I see from the calendar that there are 4 holidays in May. I know that your trip didn't focus so much on visiting "sights" but wonder if they are all closed on the holidays.

    Your meals sound delicious. How often did you cook the entire meal vs. buying already prepared items or those that required little preparation? We did some of our own meals on a recent trip to Italy and enjoyed that.

    How lucky for your husband to be retiring so young so that you will have many healthy years to travel. Wishing you more great adventures. I will be on the lookout for future reports!

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    Thank you for your replies. It is lovely to reflect on our trip and writing a report is a nice way to do it. I always enjoy others because we all see the world and travel in different ways.

    Yes, there are a lot of holidays in May. It just happened that we did not do anything on those days that required an admission. So not much help there I am afraid. May 1 is the one where things would most likely be closed, I think. Shops were all shut whereas for the others we found they were open in the mornings.

    We cook every day. The meals we had out we really enjoyed. But as I said we have a budget. So we cook everyday from scratch which is why we choose self catering. I enjoy cooking and P is a very good assistant. So shopping for food is one of the pleasures of our trips.

    P actually finishes work today, so we are having a celebratory meal at home. His occupation has compulsory retirement at 60, so no choice. We will see what the future brings.

    Yes Chedigny was just lovely. There were so many roses and so many buds that would be perfect when the festival was on .

    Good luck with your planning.

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    Hello, I am French and I am delighted to read your trip report in my country. If you go one day in our region Midi-Pyrénées contact me if you want, I'll be happy to help you and maybe meet you.

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    Thank you PINKCASHMIR. The Midi-Pyrenees are a wonderful part of France. We visited the Gers and Aveyron in 2012 and loved both areas. You are lucky to live in such a beautiful place.

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