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Trip Report Our Fabulous South-West France Adventure - September 2014

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Our Fabulous South-West France Adventure - September 2014

Sorry this report is so late. Life got in the way of writing and posting. However, this area is timeless and this will always be relevant. We spent 18 wonderful days in Southwest France in the Dordogne and Languedoc region in September. Lucky us! This was our first time to the region. We've traveled extensively throughout Europe, but this was a totally different experience, in a great way. The area is rural with agriculture, medieval towns, prehistoric caves with diverse country-side. If you like a driving/touring vacation with great food this is for you.

Many thanks to all of our fellow Fordorites who helped put this adventure together. A special thanks to Stu D, who's suggested itinerary turned into reality. Here's our itinerary. We flew in and out Toulouse via Air France, and yes, we had a crazy time getting home due to the strike! We rented our car through Auto Europe/Europcar and got a brand new Skoda Roomster, the "Official Car of Le Tour De France". How appropriate, since we love watching Le Tour and dream about driving on the same roads they cycle. The car was a compact, not our usual choice, which worked out perfect due to very teeny tiny roads.

Here's our itinerary, where we stayed and for how long. We did make an on the spot change when bad weather was heading towards the Gorge du Tarn where we were staying. We decided to stay only one night which gave us two nights in Albi. This worked out great. The weather was stunning every single day. We only had rain while we slept in the Gorge. Early September is the perfect time to go.

Rocamadour, France - (3 nights)
Hôtel Les Esclargies
Road Payrac
46500 Rocamadour, France
Tèl : 05.65.38.73.23.
Fax : 05.65.39.71.07
www.esclargies.com
infos@esclargies.com
Martine & Magali

Sarlat, France - (5 nights)
La Villa des Consuls (La Boetie Apartment)
3 rue jean-jacques Rousseau
24200 Sarlat La Canada, France
Tel: 011-33-553-319-005
Fax: 011-33-553-319-006
email: villadesconsuls@yahoo.fr
www.villaconsuls.fr
David

Figeac Area, France - (2 nights)
Le Mûrier de Viels
D86, 12700 Causse et Diège, France
Tel: 011-33-05 65 80 89 82
Fax: 011-33-05 31 60 14 71
Mobile: 011-33-06 64 50 00 06
Website: www.le-murier.com/en/
Email: mail@le-murier.com
Joséphine & Oz

Estaing, France - (2 nights)
Le Manoir de la Fabreques
Lieu Dit LA Fabregues D920, 12190 Estaing, France
Tel: 011-33-05 65 66 37 79
Fax: 011-33-06 65 66 37 76
Email: infos@manoirattitude.com
Web: www.,amoirattitude.com
Eric & Laurant

Sainte-Enimie, France (Gorge Du Tarn) - September 16 - 18 (1 night) Originally planned for two nights, but changed due to bad weather coming in.
L'Auberge du Moulin
Rue de la Combe
48210 Ste Enimie, France
Tel: 011-33-04 66 48 53 08
Fax: 011-33-04 66 48 58 16
Email: aubergedumoulin48@orange.fr
Web: www.aubergerdumoulin48.com
Sophie

Albi, France - (2 night)
Hotel Chiffre
50 Rue ere De Rivieres
81000 Albi, France
Tel: 011-33-05 63 48 58 48
Email - contact@hotelchiffre.com
Web: www.hotelchiffre.com
Arnaud and Natalie

Toulouse, France - (2 nights)
Hotel Albert 1er
8 rue Rivals
Toulouse 31000, France
Tel: 011-33-05 612 11 791
Fax: 011-33-05 63437100
Email: toulouse@hotel-albert1.com
Web: www.hotel-albert1.com

Warning - this trip report is our journal to remember our fabulous vacation. So if you don’t like long reports, don’t read on.

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    Rocamadour, France - (3 nights) Hôtel Les Esclargies

    Day 1 (Thursday) - Toulouse Airport to Rocamadour

    The drive from Toulouse airport to Rocamadour was relatively easy, minus the ever perplexing "what to do at the toll booth issue". We did not use GPS. I had printed out directions to all locations using Via Michelin's website, plus I had our big giant Michelin maps which were used mostly for planning and getting a feel for the region. Once off the highway we thought we were lost since our hotel was in L'Hospitalet, the town above Rocamadour. We stopped at a good sized supermarket for directions, figured out how to unlock the shopping carts and stocked up on bottled water, adult beverages, wine and such. Driving into town and seeing Rocamadour perched on the cliff side in the distance was indescribable. We arrived at Hôtel Les Esclargies and were warmly greeted by Magali. Our ground floor room was well appointed, very clean and had a patio leading out to the beautiful serene grounds in back. The grounds also had a larger wicker table and comfortable chairs for any guest to use. This became our home for an evening beverage, since our patio was facing the pool and not as pristine but still pretty.

    To say that we were tired was an understatement. It was around 3:30 pm and neither of us had slept on the overnight flight. Plus we were starving. We went into the small town of L'Hospitalet and were soon to discover the "French Way" of dining. Sorry, we are closed, was the reply at all of the restaurants and cafes. You may know this already, but after 2:00 pm until perhaps 7:00 pm restaurants close, and most stores. Frustrated, we fell into a small convenient store and picked up a snack (which turned into our dinner) of a baguette, brie cheese, salami and country pate, plus 4 big beers. Back to our lovely table in the garden at the hotel, we had a heavenly picnic. The sun shining through the green trees and the roosters calling was surreal. Now it was around 6:00 pm and neither of us was hungry enough to want to go to dinner later. After a nice shower, eighteen hours later we woke up at 12:00 noon the next day. What! Guess we were very tired. It did help with the jet lag and we felt so much better.

    Day 2 (Friday) - Rocamadour

    Off to see Rocamadour. The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect (as it stayed for our entire trip)! Staying at Hôtel Les Esclargies has the best benefit of being able to walk out the back gate to the parking area above the town. A short walk later and a nice cup of coffee at the cafe on top, we arrived at the Chateau. Rocamadour has three levels, the Chateau on top, the religious center in the middle and the medieval city (with tons of tourist shops) below. Rocamadour can certainly be seen as a day trip, since it will take about 1/2 a day to see. However, coming up from below with the hoards of tourist appeared unappealing. Experiencing it from the top down was quite different. We took the advise from Steve's trip report on the boards and paid the two euros per person (coin only to open the gate) and walked the ramparts of the Chateau. This was well worth it due to the great panoramic vistas and looking down to the buildings cut into the rock and the gorge below.

    After that, we walked down the Chemin de Croix under the shady trees where the Stations of the Cross are placed on the zigzag path. There is a sanctuary built into a cave. At the religious center there are seven sanctuaries. Make sure you look up and marvel on how they are built into the cliff face. The Black Madonna is in the Chapelle Notre Dame and above the door outside, is the sword of Durandal. From there the Grand Escalier (200 steps which pilgrims had climbed on their knees) takes you down to the main village of Rocamadour. Someone mentioned in their trip report to visually blank out the tourists and the souvenir shops and just see the pretty stone town, pretending you're there back centuries ago. We were lucky and it happened to be somewhat quiet on the first week of September, since most of Europe was back to work after summer holiday. We really didn't want to eat at a sit down restaurant so we bought a couple of sandwiches to share, one which was a grilled panini with the wonderful Rocamadour goat cheese and local walnuts, along with a couple of cold beers. We sat in a small park and I declared the walnuts to be the best I have ever tasted.

    After lunch, we took our time walking back up halfway and then took the second lift to the top. There are two lifts, both cost a few euros per person. I supposed had we woke up earlier we would have had time to visit Grotte Prehistorique des Merveilles, a nice cave in L'Hospitalet, since there was no wait. We did wander around L'Hospitalet and enjoyed the different little hobbit buildings, one which was the post office.

    We had a nice adult beverage in the back gardens. Don't expect to find ice here. Dinner was at Le Panorama in L'Hospitalet. We dined outside and started with our first (of many) trio of duck which included pate and a duck gizzard salad with walnuts and smoked duck. Yum! We both got the mixed platter with grilled lamb, pork, beef, shrimp with a delicious carrot and zucchini flan, plus two big beers. Dinner was nice, casual and reasonably priced.

    Day 3 (Saturday) - Rocamadour Area Road Trip

    The next day we drove off to Gouffre de Padirac. The drive on the tiny scenic country roads was so much fun. What a nice surprise to find hardly anyone there. I read a few horror stories about long waits and was hesitant to even go. We walked right in and ascended the large hole in the ground, hopped on a boat within minutes and loved the tour, which was with an English speaking guide. After the boat ride you are past off to another guide who leads you down through the cave. It's beautiful. Be aware that the climb back up to get back to the boats is quite a steep climb. It was no problem for us (50-60 ers) but some elderly people where having a tough time. Just go slow, stop and enjoy the view and use the railing and your arms to help pull you up the steep steps.

    From there we took an amazing drive to lovely little Autoire, found the cafe that serves stuffed goose neck only to find out "Ferme" closed. The bar was open and we enjoyed a cold beer. We continued our tour to Loubressac with amazing views looking back on Chateaux de Castelnau Bretenoux. Everything was closed except the local market which would open at 4:00 pm. We had time to wander around this lovely town. The market opened and the friendly husband and wife gladly made us two sandwiches, a ham and cheese and a pate sandwich (yikes...pate sandwich) of course with two cold beers. We were starving and not liking this “French Way” of closing down mid-day. We total understand, since many shops and restaurants are family run and they all go home to eat their own lunch. Best to plan ahead and have a picnic lunch already purchased. Plus we are guilty of not getting up early and eating breakfast.

    We drove up the tiny road to Chateaux de Castelnau, which we were told is second largest to Carcassonne. Not sure if this is true. We didn't tour the castle but it was impressive. Our last stop was Carennac where we had our first view of the Dordogne river and the happy people canoeing. A wedding had just occurred and everyone was enjoying themselves at the local bar. Back to our hotel. This was a great driving loop with more little villages to visit if you're an early bird (we are not). We drove over to check out the restaurant next to the Chateau, called Restaurant du Chateau. It is in a lovely setting. We did not eat there, however my smart husband had a nice man give us a bag of ice. He wouldn't accept the euros we tried to give him. Finally, a ice cold adult beverage in the backyard of our charming hotel.

    We had dinner outside at Restaurant Bellevue. There are not a lot of restaurants to choose from. Our table in front overlooked Rocamadour all light up. Stunningly beautiful. We had met the Chef du Cuisine, a merry French Madam the day before. My limited French and her not speaking English made for a unforgettable moment. We liked this restaurant better than le Panorama. It was full of locals. We had another duck gizzard salad (much better than it sounds) served with a country pate with foie gras inside. We both had a duck leg confit. The sides were delicious, a spinach souffle, mini peas, ratatouille with saffron potatoes and a huge pile of pomme frites that must have been fried in duck fat or lard. They were fabulous. I ate every one and I don't even like french fries. I did regret this in the middle of the night. We finished with warm Rocamadour goat cheese with walnuts, a lemon tart with sorbet and a walnut tart with ice cream. Crazy good with fresh whipped cream. We're not use to the Menu du Jour way of eating. We're more a la carte people preferring an extra appetizer to dessert. We learned in France, the menu of the day, usually two or three different price levels, was the best way to go.

    Our time in Rocamadour has come to an end. We had originally planned on our first two nights in Albi then two in Rocamadour, but due to our next stop Sarlat and room availability we had to change to three nights in Rocamadour. We're glad we did since we had time to sleep off our jet lag, enjoy the town at our leisure, plus we had a great day tour around the area and time to see Gouffre de Padirac. All in all, a great visit.

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    Sarlat, France - (5 nights) La Villa des Consuls (La Boetie Apartment) David

    Day 4 (Sunday) - Rocamadour to Sarlat

    The drive to Sarlat was lovely. When looking at my Michelin maps the roads look like medium highways, not! The driving is really the highlight of this trip. Small country roads, stone and old fenced walls, lovely fields and scenic vistas abound. We stopped about halfway in Gordon-en-Quercy. We found parking and low and behold the one and only ATM that our bank told us charges no fees, was right there. Perfect timing. It was Sunday and the town was deserted, except for the few open cafes loaded with locals having a great time. The town of Gordon is perched high on a hill. You really need some activity to bring these towns to life. It was so quiet. We enjoyed wandering around alone. We found a little “Zig Zag Garden” right in the middle of town. Time for lunch. A city worker recommended Restaurant - Pizzeria La Notte. The lovely outdoor café covered with over a dozen colored multi-sized umbrellas had an amazing view and really good pizza.

    If you have time, stop at Grottes de Cougnac outside of Gourdon-en-Quercy. It’s about 20 minutes before Sarlat. The caves are one of the few that has both prehistoric paintings and stalactites/stalagmites. Unfortunately we arrived right when they opened in the afternoon (closed between 11:30 am - 2:30 pm) and the next tour was a half and hour wait, so we skipped it. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor.

    We arrived in Sarlat and even with good directions from David, the owner of La Villa des Consuls, we couldn’t for the life of us find the allocated parking lots to drop off our luggage. So we drove down the main street, parked and fortunately were only a block or so from jean-jacques Rousseau, the pedestrian only, cobbled alleyway where the hotel is located. We walked to the hotel/apartments where we met the delightful David. Electric trolley in toe, he picked up and delivered our luggage to our apartment, La Boetie. We had reserved a parking space in a private garage for 10 euros a day. It was a 5 minute walk and turn out to save us the aggravation of trying to find a parking spot after our long day trips. Also, the smaller Carrefour Supermarket (big one is outside town), is on the walk back and great for stocking up on water etc.

    The apartment was exactly as it appears the web-site. You walk in from above, a few steps down, into a large living area with a small kitchen in the corner. The bedroom was separated with a partition. Toilet and shower were in two different rooms. The best was the huge balcony above the main street, the size of a studio apartment, had a table with four chairs, two lounge chairs, 5 trees and a hedge. Seriously! Ah, we’re home for 5 nights. David was very well prepared for his guests with a listing of suggested restaurants, all the ones we tried were very good. He also supplied us with 5 different day trip routes/maps suggesting which routes ones are best for the time you have allotted. The other bonus was the free washer and drier (.50 Euro for detergent). Even better, was the to go coffee for 1.5 euros. We passed on breakfast at all our hotels. Usually because the end at 10:00 - 10:30 am and as mentioned, we’re not early risers. They did have a nice breakfast area.

    Finally, after unpacking, we enjoyed a nice vodka, seltzer and lemon with ICE, from our refrigerator, on our perfect balcony. It had been a long day and by the time we made it out for dinner we ran into our worst nightmare, “Complete” finished for the night. This was at 8:30 pm. The last restaurant we tried was across the street from our hotel, called Le Petite Manoir. This was one of the nicer restaurants we ate at and had planned on saving it for a different night rather than our first. However, after begging the Maitre d’ to please let us eat, he conferred with the chef and agreed. We shared salmon tartare and soft-shelled crabs as an appetizer. For dinner, I had an Asian inspired fish over pasta with seaweed and my husband had the duck confit, delicious! For an additional 3 euros supplement we got the house special dessert which was an assortment of 6 or 7 different delights. The outdoor patio seating with it’s pretty blue shutters, was delightful, the food was great, plus wonderful service. Even better, it was a 3 minute walk back to apartment.

    Day 5 (Monday) - Sarlat

    My poor husband woke up with a sore throat and an achy cold. I had just gotten over one. He’s was flat out. Not good. But if it had to happen, this was the place to be. We had four more nights and plenty of time for him to take a day off.

    I considered staying in with him or reading on the balcony. However it was a beautiful day. I brought him a convenient cup of coffee from David and set off to find the famous cooked chickens I had read about in other trip reports. I thought we’d have one for dinner if hubby didn’t rally. Ah, the elusive French Way…Ferme, closed. It was Monday, where most everything is closed and the butcher shops are open until 1:00 pm. It was midday and I was heading to the mini Carrefour market for tissues and water and saw Le Pate Max across the street. Two young men were outside eating something out of Chinese to go boxes. I remembered from my research that Le Pate Max is a storefront/few tables restaurant that the owner (I assume Max) makes two different homemade pastas and 4 or 5 different sauces everyday. Perfect! I ordered two large containers, one was homemade Fusilli with Bolognese sauce and the other with Caponata sauce (eggplant, onions, capers and olives). I brought it home to our apartment, still piping hot. My husband was in comfort food heaven. I tucked him back into bed and headed out to explore Sarlat, camera in hand.

    Sarlat is an amazing medieval town situated in the heart of the Dordogne. Most of the buildings were built in the 15th and 16th century. I was transported back in time. The architectural details of each unique building was a photographer’s delight. I took a left out our hotel on rue jean-jacques Rousseau and explored the alleyways on the opposite side of the town center. The main street separates the town. This side is often left unexplored by tourists. It was so peaceful. Doorways, shuttered windows, roof tops, alleys and flower pots filled my eyes with wonder and my camera with photos. There were art galleries open as well. At one gallery, I walked up the stairs and they had access to the walled city ramparts which I was allowed to climb up. Great view looking all around the city and the surrounding hillsides, and it was free. Plus the artwork was intriguing.

    The other side of the main street has the town center. Lots of cafes, shops and tourists abound. I visited the huge Cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos, the cool looking Lanterne des Morts, a round stone structure on the hillside (check out the typical, adorable house next to it), Place de la Liberte square and the lovely bronze ducks. Every corner was a visual treat. Before heading back, I went to the Carrefour market (very convenient) and bought some delicious cheese, salami and biscuit toasts. Back home I met David’s huge calico cat named Xena (Warrior Princess). Hubby was still asleep at 4:00 pm. I gently tossed him in the shower then made him a drink. That rallied him. We enjoying our cheese and salami on the huge balcony. It’s true, feed a cold. He felt much better and was up to going out to dinner.

    We wanted a simple dinner, but of course, dining in France is always a delight. We went to Delice de Instant, a short walk away, and had a wonderful three course meal, including a rich Goose Stew. It was a bit chewy, but the red wine broth was rich and comforting. We never eat dessert but with all the restaurants offering the three course menus of the day, you couldn’t pass dessert. Lucky for us, every dessert we had during our trip was amazing. Tonight was a homemade chocolate and walnut cake with the best whipped cream. Yum! Back to our apartment to snuggle in for a good night sleep.

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    Day 6 (Tuesday) - Sarlat

    I let hubby sleep in. We were out by 1:30 pm. The sun was shining bright and the temperature was in the high 70’s to low 80’s. Our brunch was at Le Glaciers Bistro in the town center. David mentioned that even though it’s filled with tourists, the food is good and locals enjoy eating there. We both had the mixed omelet with French fries and salad. Odd combo, but very good. We repeated my walking tour from the day before, this time hubby had the camera. He loved it. I understand the position of not looking through a camera lens all day. You must stop and absorb everything through your own eyes. However, having a camera forces you to look at things from different angles. I was shocked when we got back to the states and downloaded my 2,000 plus photos! Many were edited, of course. We walked everywhere and also visited the quaint quiet park on the outside of the walls.

    Funny story. The day before, there was one of the “street statue people” all painted and dressed in grayish green, standing still with a broom in the corner of the main square. The tourists were enjoying him and rewarding him with coins. Later, when I was still by myself, I saw him perched up on the wall, looking down at the crowd. I swore his eyes followed me as I passed below. The next day when we were out together, I saw him again on the wall and asked my husband for a Euro to give to him. Let’s just say I’m a little near-sighted. I approached the “man”, noticed he didn’t have a basket for my coin, and realized he was a for real metal statue. Oh boy did we laugh. I felt so stupid. See if you can find him!

    Back to enjoy our balcony. We both felt blessed to be in such a magical place. Hubby still not feeling too well, we went to Chez le Gaulois which specializes in Charcuterie and local Cheeses. We dined outside. The food and the atmosphere was perfect. Ice Cream in the square finished a perfect day.

    Day 7 (Wednesday) - Sarlat Area Day Tour

    Another beautiful day. Today we hopped in our great little Roomster car and did the southern day trip from Sarlat. The entire drive was fabulous. We started at Jardin Marqueyssac and actually spent most of the day here. The garden/woods are situated high up on the cliffs above the Dordogne Valley. Once through the entrance we were amazed by the tens of thousands (according to the web-site) boxwoods sculpted square, round, rolling, you name it. It is very beautiful topiary. You can walk through the Chateau. The most amazing fact about the Chateau was that the limestone slab roof weighs over 300 tons!

    Good advice, wear sneakers. We hike up and along the cliff-side path towards the Belvedere of the Dordogne. The views of Chateau Castelnaud and Chateau Beynac in the distance was impressive. There are three paths, one along the cliff, the Cliff Walk, one that cuts up through the middle, the High Walk, which we climbed up in parts (cool tree house) and the lower road path, the Great Walk, which we walked back on to conserve time. Apparently they do have a tram that rides the lower path, but this is just a pretty wooded area, no scenic vistas.

    The views from the Belvedere, at the end of the walk was stunning. Looking down to the Dordogne river with the river boats and canoes, across the valley with the castles and especially the beautiful village of La Roque-Gageac, built into the banks of the river with the ruins of a Troglodyte fort set in the cliffs above. Heading back into the woods, we felt like we were in Middle Earth. The Great Walk back hosted an art exhibit of fantasy prints placed in the woods adding to the magical feeling. One bizarre addition to the garden was a pavilion, near the Chateau, with dioramas-framed stuffed animals all in predator positions, eating other animals. They also have an Aviary house of “exotic” pigeons.

    We had spent more time than expected and decided to have lunch at the terrace café at the Chateau. Beside the incredible view, the simple menu with sandwiches and salads was perfect. We both choose salads, one similar to a chef salad, the other had tuna and we mixed them up and shared. Along with two big beers and a peacock, we really enjoyed our rest.

    Next we drove up and up, to Chateau Beynac. Take the advice of a fellow Fodorite and drive as far as you can before parking, to the restaurant by the Chateau, where you should be able to find parking (off season). I forgot, and we parked a bit further away. Because we spent so much time at the gardens, we decided not to tour the castle. We walked around the side of the ramparts and enjoy the view. We skipped Chateau Castelnaud all together. Had I know we would spend so much time at the gardens, I would have had us start earlier in the morning.

    From here the loop tour took us down into the river valley to La Roque Gageac tucked into the cliff-side. We had such great views from above at the Belvedere at the top of Jardin Marqueyssac. Such a bustling stop with all of our fellow tourists hopping on and off the Roque-Gageac Boat Trips (Gabares Norbert and Gabares Caminade). It was late in the afternoon so we skipped the ride. Note the Troglodytic Fort high in the cliff-side which you can climb up to. We had done enough climbing for the day. Also of sad interest, was the traces of a large chunk of rock that had broken off the cliff-side and unfortunately killed three inhabitants in 1957.

    The next town was Domme, known as the Acropolis of the Dordogne. Let me mention that the drive between all of these towns is just wonderful., loaded with lots of photo ops. We lucked out and found a parking spot at the top. Domme is a fortified Bastide town. The highlight is the view from the Belvedere de la Barre looking down over the Dordogne river valley. On our way back to Sarlat we snapped a few photos of the Chateau de Montfort. Such a lovely day!

    Dinner that night was at Les jardins d’Harmonie. The food was very nice and the place gets rave reviews for a more”gourmet upscale” dining establishment. Unfortunately our service was awful. We waited over 1 hour for our appetizers and then another 1 ½ hours for dinner (2 ½ hours and we were hungry). We had an veggie soup amuse bouche, raw scallop appetizers and we both had the saddle of lamb with roasted veggies. A yummy cookie and cream pastry was for dessert.

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    Day 8 (Thursday) - Sarlat Area Day Tour #2

    Today we headed north of Sarlat starting at Grotte de Lascaux II, a recreation of the original caves that date back to 17,000 BC, (YIKES). The original caves are no longer available to the public. You need to purchase your tickets in the village of Montignac, near the tourist office. We had just missed by minutes the next tour that was in English and had to take the French tour. From the town you drive a couple of miles to the caves. The cave consists of two galleries which are breathtaking colorful painting (recreated). The movement of the animals is visible. It was interesting how the artist formed the animals around the rock formation. We expected a bit more than the two caves and having the tour in French wasn’t a plus. However, I still would recommend a visit since you won’t see colorful and vibrant cave painting in any other Grotte.

    Next stop was the lovely village of St Leon sur Vezere. Where is everybody? We wandered around and found a few locals enjoying the riverside. We had a fabulous lunch at Le Petite Leon in their garden terrace, sitting under an apple tree, with many locals, no tourists. The reasonable lunch of the day started with a salad with potatoes and mackerel, then a roasted lamb with polenta and vegetables. A delicious tiramisu ended our meal for 20 euros per person. Charming service made this a special repose.

    Off to La Roque St Christophe, an amazing cliffside Troglodytic site, high above the Vezere Valley. Apparently it was still inhabited up until the 16th century. It’s a little corny with dummy people around to recreate the era, but fun. We liked all of the medieval machinery and the miniature scale model of the site. There is a prehistoric museum in Les Eyies de Tayac on the ride back to Sarlat that you could visit. We were done for the day. We did stop at Chateau de Puymartin, but the next tour was too long of a wait. The drive through the forest ended another fabulous touring day.

    Our final meal was at Le Bistro de l’Octroi, which was a 10 minute walk from our apartment towards the car park. It didn’t look like much when we checked it out during the day, but it was hopping with locals inside and out on the lovely balcony. I didn’t write down our entire meal, but I know we had duck and gosh it was terrific.

    This ended our 5 night stay in Sarlat-la-Caneda. Our time here (other than my honey being sick) was magical. This is a perfect location to launch many a day trip. We never got to go canoeing, so believe me, 5 nights is not too much. Our host, David, the owner of La Villa des Consuls went above and beyond right from the start to get us acclimated not only to Sarlat, but the entire area, equipped us with maps and routes. Plus his restaurant recommendations were spot on. If you have limited amount of time in the Dordogne I would highly suggest Sarlat as a base. Time to move on to our next adventure.

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    Figeac Area, France (2 nights) Le Murier de Viels (The Gite) Josephine & Oz

    Day 9 (Friday) - Sarlat to Figeac

    Today was surprising and unusual ride through the Causse de Gramat to Figeac. The terrain changed dramatically. Michelin Green Guide describes the limestone plateau as a vast, arid, stone-covered plain. It was starkly beautiful. I chose our Hotel, Le Murier de Viels due to the great online reviews. I was a bit hesitant since we are more conventional hotel people that prefer eating out in town rather than having meals at our hotel. Well I am so glad I did book with Oz and Josephine, the British owners of one of the prettiest and unique places we’ve ever stay in all of our travels.

    We drove through the town of Figeac over the river Cele River/Lot Valley, and found our way up what seemed to be an old cart path. This one lane, unpaved, grass in the center of the wheel beds was exhilarating and a bit scary. My dearest husband, who is quite the great driver asked me “what are you getting us into”? We arrived and were greeted by Oz, one of the most vivacious people we’ve ever meet. As we toured around the grounds I felt like I was in a movie. We stayed at the “gite”, the french term for rental house, which was a two story farmhouse with a small kitchen and plenty of room to sleep a large family. They usually rent the gite by the week, but since it was off season, we were able to stay for two nights. The room I had wanted in the main home was rented. There is another smaller cottage on the grounds that has two rooms. Be forewarned, the gite is down a rather steep stone path and hauling our luggage was a bit of a chore. The best thing to do is pack what you need for your stay in one bag. They also have a pool, which we did relax at one late afternoon. It was a bit chilly for our tastes so we didn’t swim. There were two brave souls who broke the ice.

    Our gite was not ready as we arrived early. Oz gave us two driving tours near the area and set us off to Figeac, as we were close to restaurant closing for the afternoon time. Figeac was a larger town on the river. Sure enough, all the restaurants were closing and would not allow us in for lunch. We found a small, Italian sandwich place on one of the quaint alleys. The young women made us two delicious Bruschetta open faced warm cheesy sandwiches. A couple of cold beers and we were as good as new. I liked Figeac, but since it was midday and no one was around, we didn’t get the full feel of it. I’m sure it would be a great base for a couple of days.

    After wandering around the town we hopped in our car and headed east up to the town of Capdenac-Gare, a pretty drive with great views. Then we headed back down the hill heading west to Faycelles, the town we later saw light up at dinner from Oz’s balcony. Talk about tiny roads! Having a compact car really is the way to go. I believe these towns are on the Camino (path) to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Moving forward on our trip we saw many pilgrimage hikers. The town had a defibrillator in a clear box next to the church. I was scared driving up and couldn’t imagine hiking up.

    Back to Le Murier to our picture perfect patio equipped with an ancient brick bread oven and picnic table for some adult beverages, cheese and salami. Life is good. Here I met Cream, their white and brown cat. Her brother, a jet black cat, was named Cookie, as in Cookie and Cream ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s. Cookie was not so friendly, but Cream was purring around my legs and showing her belly for rubs, every chance she got. She was my protector when we sat out at night, literally growling at something in the woods. I hope it wasn’t a bear! I love animals. I had read in a review that Oz and Josephine had a hedgehog named Jack Lightening, that would run circles around this guest’s feet when they arrived. I couldn’t wait to meet this creature and even made up exciting stories in my head about the Adventures of Jack Lightening (and his best friend Roger Spitfire). Someone should write a children’s book. Sadly Jack was no longer. He had expired one cold night. His name was actually Harry and was much loved by the family and their children. Back to the good stuff. Dinner!!!!

    Dinner was on a beautiful outdoor balcony at the main part of the hotel. There were one other couple and us. Oz is a gourmet chef. Our private chef! The sun was setting as we were served an exquisite meal. We started with escargot and homemade bread, then a fabulous plate with grilled lamb chops that melted in our mouths. For dessert we had a trio of homemade ice creams. After a long day, and the next day to come, it was perfect to be able to walk up to a fabulous meal and not drive into town. My husband wrote in my little journal book, which he only did once this trip, “unbelievably transported to a different world of supple beauty and peacefulness.” This coming from an A type personality who rarely relaxes. Back to our magical gite to pretend that we actually are living in a French Farmhouse. But wait, we are! Tomorrow is Pech Merle day.

    Day 10 (Saturday) - Pech Merle and the Lot Valley Loop Tour

    Oz and Josephine gave us perfect instructions on how to arrive on time for our pre-booked (do that online way ahead of your visit) tour at Grotte du Pech-Merle (A MUST!!!!). We left at 9:10 am (early for us) and just arrived in time to buy our 10:45 am (english speaking) tickets. We left the hotel, pass the braying goats and took the south route on the D19 eventually to Cajarc (which Mai Tai Tom enjoyed calling the town car jack) we did too! This was a crazy intense ride, on the south side of the river. We loved it and stopped to take many pictures, but it took longer than my Michelin maps route suggested. Looks easy on the map, but is crazy fun.

    Pech Merle is the largest and grandest of prehistoric caves that offers both cave paintings and geographic stalactites and mites. I could go on about how impressive our visit was, but you must go on line and check it out.

    After our wonderful tour, we backtracked to St Cirq Lapopie (yes we called it La Poopie), however it was not poopie. Touristy, but a must, this hillside town was voted “Prettiest Village in France”. If you’re a photographer, have fun. We struggled to figure out the parking situation.Get as close as you can (up high), because it’s a hike, down and then back up. We had lunch in one of the busiest places and had a jumbo hamburger. Sounds so American, but it was so French and so yummy. After, we climbed to the highest view point which was worth the breathes, for the breath-taking views.

    We drove back on the north side of the river on the D-41. This was much flatter and relaxing. A highlight was the old abbey in Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie found in the 12th century. Again, no one was around. We found the caretaker of the ruins and he headed us in the right direction. The ruins were indescribable. I hammered a tack in a log in the central church, donated some money and said a prayer for my Mom. She had been ill and has since passed away. That was the main reason this trip report took so long to write. I would email my sister every evening about what we did and she would report back to Mom and Dad. Mom loved hearing about our adventures. After a long, long day we arrived back at our oasis and chilled out at the pool.

    Dinner with Oz on the balcony was busy tonight, about 20 people, many came from town. We had the escargot again. Husband was now an expert snail extractor. Then we enjoyed chicken breast with cepes and a white wine sauce. With a homemade cheesecake with lemon zest. So nice to have a fabulous dinner without getting in the car. Calee, the visiting dog, came up after dinner for lamb bones, only six bones per night. Lucky Calee! Tomorrow we leave our good hosts and head to Estaing via Conques in the Aveyron department in southern France. Thank you Oz and Josephine for a wonderful experience.

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    Estaing - (2 nights) Le Manoir de la Fabreques (Room 8) Eric & Laurent

    Day 11 (Sunday ) - Figeac Area to Estaing via Conques

    Another day, another journey. Today we traveled to Estaing via the amazing Michelin three star town of Conques, in the Midi-Pyrenees region. We had our giant Michelin #338 local Aveyron, Tarn map to aid us. These maps are deceiving. What appears to be a large main road is usually no bigger than 1 ½ cars wide. That being said, the ride was fabulous. Mostly cow country with rolling countryside, bales of hay and broken down farm sheds.

    We came in from the west, through a forested area, complete with hunters and the guns, to behold the remarkable village built on a hillside. After taking some great photos, we headed down the hill to find ourselves having to go over a medieval stone bridge no larger than 2 K wide. The sign next to it said GR 65 (the Grand Route) Chemin de St Jacques de Compostelle (picture of hikers), Autombilistes Soyez Prudents. My husband told me I was crazy and this couldn’t possibly be the way into town. The only other option was to turn around, so we sucked in our breath and drove over the smallest bridge in the world, which is a UNESCO site. Obviously there is a main road headed from north to south that can accommodate buses, however they cannot drive into town, so tourists must hike in.

    The route of Santiago de Compostela is a pilgrimage walk through France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, in Galicia. We spent two weeks in that area of Spain and loved it. The scallop shell found on the shores of Galicia is a symbol and the name Conque translates to “shell”. You have a passport that must be stamped at certain cathedrals, churches or abbeys, the impressive Abbey of Saint-Foy being one. The history is fascinating. I suggest you read up because you will see many hikers throughout your trip through the region. This is a stunning site. Make sure you can walk down and then back up to the car park areas. The best advice, is take your time, stop for a minute or two and enjoy the scenery.

    We continued on our way and have a lovely picnic next to a ruined farm house. The road took us through Entraygues, a sleepy town (middle of the day) on the pretty river Lot. We drove through town and ended up on a walled street corner that was so small, my husband got out of the car and had me take a photo of him practically touching both sides of the walls. Again, the phase I so often hear “what have you gotten us into?” was utter. Repeat, compact car a must!

    We drove into the town of Estaing on the banks of the river Lot, and WHAT!! a Medieval Fair was going on. I had read on Fodors, about another tourist lucky enough to stumble into this. I wasn’t sure of the days. We were there on Sunday, the last day off the fair. Knights on horseback were jousting down below on the river banks, adults and children were dressed in medieval garb, hay was tossed all over the town, barn animals were in pens on the streets, women were cooking food from the time period, weaving, musicians, and lots and lots of beer drinking. Such fun!

    Estaing is one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages in France”. The Chateau and it’s dungeons are extremely impressive. This would be a nice town to visit without all of the fanfair.

    Le Manoir de la Fabreques is located east of town on the main road out. We drove past it a couple of time. This is a beautifully restored manor that dates back to 1623 with additions added in 1826. The owners, Eric and Laurent purchased the property 9 years ago and spent over 5 years lovingly renovating. As with our last accommodations, dinner was part of the package and Laurent was the exquisite chef. Our room, number 8, looked out over the open courtyard, was very clean, not huge and quiet. Others had mentioned that the rooms looking out over the river and across the street were a bit noisy. There is no air-conditioning but it was cool enough in mid September. The grounds were lovely. We sat outside, had a cold drink and some cheese that we had with us looking out over the rushing river across the street.

    Dinner was gourmet. All the ingredients are locally sourced and cooked expertly by Laurent. I believe they only offer the meal of the day, perhaps two choices. We started with zucchini and tomato stuffed with two different types of homemade sausages. For dinner we had a perfect breast of duck with apricots and serve with a heavenly ratatouille, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini with a black and green olive sauce. Dessert was one of the best creme brulee we have ever had, served with a homemade lime sorbet. It sounds strange, but worked together wonderfully.

    I mentioned before that staying at a place that serves dinner was never our preferred choice. We have now totally changed our minds. To be able to dress and walk downstairs after a long day of touring and driving is lovely. I wouldn’t do it in larger cities, but when you’re in rural areas, it’s perfect. After dinner, we sat in the open courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers and stared at the thousands and thousands of stars in the sky.

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    Day 12 (Monday ) - Estaing Day Tour The Aubrac Region

    Another picture perfect day. We have not seen a drop of rain. Today we planned a loop through the Monts D’Aubrac, on the southern regions of the Auvergne. Today was my favorite driving day. The terrain is surreal. I’m borrowing this paragraph from France Today’s website because it explains it perfectly.

    “Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, on the southern edge of the Auvergne, lies the wild, green plateau called the Aubrac—remote, pristine, timeless. It’s a tiny, volcanic territory, just under a thousand square miles, but it seems to stretch to infinity under ever-changing skies.”

    Eric helped with our route and I must say the giant Michelin map was very helpful. We skipped breakfast (not one to get up too early) and head east on the D920 towards Espalion (good info, there is a gas station here with a person!), then north on the D921 towards Laguiole, home of the famous knives.

    On the way, we saw a roadside restaurant that was hopping. Restaurant Falguier is a family run restaurant in La Vitarelle on the left, about halfway between Espalion and Laguiole. No english spoken here. We stuck out like sore thumbs, but who cares, bring us whatever you think best. We started with the “must have” local dish called Aligot which is local Tomme cheese blended with mashed potatoes, butter, cream and garlic, to a fondue type consistency. Don’t tell my doctor I ate this. OMG, heavenly for something so simple. Then we shared two salads, one that had fried beer batter type vegetables and the other with homemade saucisson sausage. For lunch (yikes, I’ll need a nap) we shared a big pot of duck stew, like a Pot au Feu, with carrots and mushrooms. The aroma was intoxicating. Dessert was also included, although I forgot to write it down as I was staring at the large cheese platter our fellow diners next to us enjoyed. Wish we had more room. We chatted in broken French/English. Such a perfect local experience.

    We drove through Laguiole and decided to pass on visiting the cute shops. Heading out of town is the main Laguiole Knife Factory, which we stopped and visited. Oh my, have you ever seen a 20,000 euro knife. Sets of tableware had astronomical prices. They were gorgeous. You could see the men working different stages of perfecting the knives. It was extremely interesting and free! Across the street was a wonderful gourmet shop, Cooperative Jeune Montage, to stock up on goodie. We purchased a piece of the local cheese.

    From here we seemed to be on the moon. The Aubrac region is amazing. One area was just miles and miles of cow pastures rolling green hills and cool old stick fences. They even ski up here. Our favorite driving day of our trip. No one but us and the lovely brown cows with their horns and mascara lined pretty eyes. The tiny deserted roads weaved from Laguiole, up to St Urcize, to Nasbinale, to Aubrac and then to St Chely. The terrain turned to forest primeval. The windy roads took us Prades, then turning at Puy de Barry onto the D557 (crazy small windy road) to Castelnau down to St Come, where Stu D made sure that we noted the twisty bell tower. We even saw a herd of llamas. Thanks again Stu for sending us to an amazing place in France. If you enjoy driving and your husband drives slow enough so you’re not screaming at him the entire time, this is for you. Wonderful day. We felt like we were on the Tour de France sans bicycles.

    Back to Le Manoir de la Fabreques. We enjoy having a cocktail before dinner. Eric and Laurant have a bar and we felt guilty asking for ice for our own drinks. Finding ice is next to impossible in Europe. We stopped at the local supermarket which does not sell ice. Here we came up with the idea of asking the fishmonger for a bag of ice (from a bag in back, not from under the fish). Nice cold pops on the terrace. Just a tip for those of you enjoy a cold drink. We had another perfect meal with our hosts. The starter was a veal terrine, like a meatloaf, then a small salad and quail with a potato, fennel and onion round terrine. Yummy. Dessert again was stellar. It was an apple tart with homemade ice cream. We met a nice couple from Toronto, our first english speaking encounter in a while. We ended the night in the quaint courtyard. We had a liquor of chestnut from Provence I found in the supermarket. We blew out the candle and watched the amazing star show. We even saw a satellite. Our 2 night stay here was perfect. Thank you Eric and Laurant for a lovely stay.

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    Ste. Enimie - (1 night) L’Auberge du Moulin - Sophie (room #6)

    Day 13 (Tuesday) - Estaing to Ste. Enimie, Stop in Ste Eulalie to the Gorge du Tarn

    Today we are off to the Gorge Du Tarn, with yet another completely different terrain. We stopped in Ste-Eulalie, another “Most Beautiful Villages in France” on the banks of the Lot river. This is a lovely flower bedecked village. Flower boxes everywhere. We sought out the magical baker in the center of town that I had read about. There he was with his big white baker’s hat and huge mustache. So French! We both chose a spinach stuffed croissant and sat in the quaint square and enjoyed. For some reason, art of the neighborhood had multiple forms of cats, ceramic, metal etc. in windows and on roofs. We had fun trying to spot them all. The town had a old water wheel and an old Roman bridge ruins. There was no one around except a curious goat. Definately worth a stop.

    We continued towards La Canourgue, past herds of grass munching sheep and little hobbit houses. Finally we arrived at the top of the Gorge du Tarn. Such amazing views looking down to the riverbed. The weather was changing and rain was expected for tomorrow. So the contrasts with the sun and clouds was quite dramatic. The ride down was a little scary as my side, the passengers, was on the cliffside going down. I took pictures of all the different roadside signs, zigzags, narrow road, exclamation points and more. The Tarn Gorges are among the deepest to be found in all of Europe. The France this Way site writes “perhaps one of the most scenic parts of France”.

    Sainte-Enimie is a lovely medieval town carved into the mountainside with the Tarn river running through it. Pretty colored canoes adorned the banks. I had a difficult time trying to figure out where to stay. The Chateau de la Caze in La Malene, seemed magical, but I couldn’t justify spending 300 euros a night (including dinner). I’d rather spend the money on food. Also it’s fairly remote. There are not many other choices. We ended up staying at the two star (not our usual choice) L’Auberge du Moulin right in Sainte-Enimie for 65 euros a night. This is a family run place which is both restaurant, run by Dad, and hotel, run by daughter Sophie. Such a lovely family. Our room #6, their largest, was very basic but clean. The best part was the huge balcony right above the rushing river.

    Off to explore and find something to eat. Of course it was late afternoon and three places turned us down. There was a cafe across from the river and car park that was open. We got two huge salads with cured jamon, eggs, olives, cheese and toasts. The town, as I mentioned, is built on the mountain-side, so be prepared to climb up and up. We liked it very much.

    Sitting on our balcony with an adult beverage, watching the storm clouds come in while the sunset and smelling the wafts of good cooking coming up from the kitchen below was perfect. Stu D was right about the different colors and textures you see on the mountains throughout the day and sunset. Just amazing. The side of the mountain was terraced way up for growing vegetables. We had a nice dinner downstairs with our hosts. So nice to not get in the car in the dark. Sophie was our server. We started with Coquilles St Jacques with smoked salmon roe, followed by rabbit pate. For dinner we had the house specialty, roasted leg of lamb with potatoes and a stuffed tomato. Dessert was a delicious currant tart and something else with chestnuts.

    We sat out on the balcony after dinner and listened to the river below. It was pitch black except for the bright flashes of lightning. The bed was a “Flintstone” bed, hard as a rock, but what do you expect for 65 euros. We had the French doors slightly opened with a great breeze. The storm hit that night and wow, we’ve never heard rain come down as hard as it did. The thunder boomed and went on forever. Lightning lit the room. It was not a good night for sleeping.

    The next days were suppose to be bad as well. There we’re terrible flooding just to the east and people had lost their lives. We had planned to stay two nights here. We made the decision not to stay and to move on to Albi. I had only booked one night in Albi and had wished we had more, wish granted. Sophie was very understanding about us leaving early due to the bad weather. As we drove out of Sainte-Enimie the sun was shining in front of us, behind was pitch black and menacing.

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    Albi - (2 night) Hotel Chiffre - Natalie and Arnaud

    Day 14 (Wednesday) - Ste. Enimie to Albi via Millau Viaduct and Roquefort

    Driving through the Gorge du Tarn was stunning. We were low, following the winding river. The rock formations were bizarre, plus we had the sun with us. There was a village across the river that had no car road. They received supplies from a wire/pulley system from our side of the river. Very interesting.

    In the distance we came upon our first sight of the Millau Viaduct. Impressive is not a big enough word for this engineering achievement. It’s a cable bridge that spans the river Tarn. I believe it’s the tallest bridge in the world due to it’s high masts. Our road took us under the bridge and there was a museum that was very interesting. Once past, there is a pull off on the road that offers great photo ops. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

    From here we took a short detour to the town of Roquefort, know for the “King of Cheese - Roquefort” a sheep’s milk blue cheese. This was on my bucket list, as my job for many years was selling imported cheeses. We had been to many cheese factories in Europe, but never the famous caves of Roquefort. Drive to the very top of the town and you’ll find the Societe Bee Roquefort Factory. They give tours for a reasonable fee. The tour doesn’t show you the cheese being made. It takes you through the caves where you can see the cheese aging. I enjoyed it.

    Back on the road to Albi. At a roundabout we somehow missed the paperback book sized sign on the ground that said detour. Long story short we drove about 10 kilometers only to find the road closed. Later we had a nice picnic lunch with fabulous views. The landscape was stunning with vast views of rolling hillsides, farming land. One of the prettiest drive we had. Coming into Albi we hit the worst traffic imaginable. Something was wrong and we found out what was up on the next night.

    We didn’t have a hotel booked until the next night. I had booked the Ibis, but after reading some current reviews, we decided to go elsewhere. Fortunately this business hotel, had the option (for a small fee) to cancel up to the day before. We parked our car in the underground lot under the main square and found our way to Hotel Vigan, but they were booked full. The helpful woman at the desk called a hotel across the square named Hotel Chiffre. They had one room. A very nice young man named Arnaud, showed us a crappy small room in the parking lot. No thanks. Then, before we left, he explained that he did have a family suite that he could let us have for 128 euros, normally 250 euros. Now we’re talking. The suite’s main room was huge, clean, big comfy bed, big tv and great air conditioning. There was a separate room with 3 small beds. We lucked out. Coming into a town with no reservations can be very stressful.

    Once again, we were out to dinner late and no one would seat us. We ended up in the main square (Place du Vigan) at Grand Cafe Le Pontie, a big outdoor seating brasserie that looked touristy, but was loaded with locals. We decided to have a couple of pizzas and they were terrific. One had anchovies, sardines and olives. The other was coppa, ham, arugula with an egg in the center. A couple of big beers and profiteroles for dessert round out a fun meal. Long day.

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    Day 15 (Thursday) - Albi Touring Day

    I’m so glad our plans changed and we had a full day in Albi. This is a great town to explore. The old town is a labyrinth of small alleys and hidden wonders. It was nice to walk around and not worry about driving in the car. There is a convenient bakery right in the Place du Vigan, with it’s big fountain, for coffee, pastries and sandwiches. We had little quiche lorraines. Our first stop was the Marche Couvert, the Market Hall. This is only open in the morning. I love European markets which all of the wonderful, colorful food. Cheeses, meats, fish, vegetables and fruits galore. It’s not a huge market, but I took tons of great pictures.

    We like to check out different restaurants during the day, so we trekked across the Pont Vieux which dates back to 1035 and is still in use. It used to have houses built underneath it. The rushing orange (due to the red clay riverbed) colored Tarn river was mesmerizing. Albi has an Italian Tuscany feel to it with all of the terracotta rooftops. The view looking back over the river to the imposing St Cecilia’s Cathedral were stunning. We decided that the restaurants on the other side of town were too far to walk for our tired feet.

    Back on the town side, we stopped at a small restaurant by the river called La Porte du Tarn. We both had the house (and area) special of Cassoulet. It was very good, plus the owner was quite charming. We’re not big lunch eaters, so we both felt like we needed naps.

    At the tourist office you can buy a ticket for the the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum and the St Cecilia’s Cathedral, which saves you a few euros (I think it was 9 euros pp). It also has a 2 euro discount for the petite train.

    The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum is housed in the Palais de la Berbie, the former Bishop’s Palace. It holds over 1,000 pieces of work plus the famous posters. Toulouse died from the bone disease, named after him, at 36 years old. He loved Paris and prostitutes. To us, many of his paintings were a bit depressing. No one was smiling. We did love the colorful Moulin Rouge posters. The best part of the Palace was looking down over La Berbie gardens on the banks of the river Tarn.

    We took the Petite Train for 5 euros each, usually 6 euros, but we had the discount. It was quite nice. We met two hysterical elderly British ladies. Quick story, a lady dropped her can off the train. Everyone was yelling to the driver to stop. He eventually did and she took of running back for her cane. The British ladies had us in stitches claiming that “apparently she must not really need her walking stick”. This was a fun way to learn the history, plus get a good feeling of the town of Albi. It was probably about 45 minutes long.

    Next we visited the huge brick Gothic style St Cecilia’s Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th century. It’s an UNESCO site and is the largest brick building in the world. It looks more like a fortress than a cathedral. We were given headsets to tour the Cathedral. By this time we were both too tired to listen to the complete tour. The interior was very dark and gloomy. Back to our hotel for a quick nap.

    We were late again going out for dinner and decided to return to the Grand Cafe Le Pontie, at the Place du Vigan. Also, we had had a big lunch. Dinner was great. I had read mixed reviews about this place but we were quite pleased. We had two Chef’s special appetizers. One was sushi with salmon, white fish and creme fraiche. The other was the most delicious Iberico Ham. We both had chicken, probably because we finally had become tired of duck. I never thought that would be possible. The chicken was good, but the highlight was the mashed potatoes. Probably the best I have ever had. Maybe they put cheese in it.

    So while we were enjoying dinner, the most usual thing happened. Apparently the farmers we protesting. Around 9:00 pm a parade of every imaginable drivable farm equipment came around the square, blaring horns and setting of fireworks. This went on for probably two hours. They came from as far away a Millau, which probably was why we hit traffic the day before, because they had to que up somewhere. Toward the end of this protest came the large trucks full of manure, hay, pee and *hit, which they then proceeded to dump in the street. I’m talking 3 - 4 feet high crap. They were nice enough to minimally dump on the crosswalk, so we were able to get back to our hotel. We found out that this would continue throughout the weekend. Glad we’re leaving tomorrow.

    Albi was a nice small city worthy of a day. I wouldn’t stay longer unless you planned day trips out of town. We bought our hosts Arnaud and Natalie some local cookies, Croquants aux Amandes, to thank them for all of their help.

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    Toulouse - (2 nights) Hotel Albert 1er - Hanna

    Day 16 (Friday) - Albi To Toulouse via Cordes sur-Ciel (Michelin 3 star town)

    Off to Toulouse via the quaint little city of Cordes-sur-Ciel about 25 km from Albi. Yet another small town that claims to be the most beautiful town in all of France. Of course it’s on a mountain top with no car access. On our grueling climb up we met up with the two British ladies from Albi. I said “Small World” and one of them said “Not really. We all here doing the same things”. Such dry humor. The town is lovely and the best part was the panoramic view from the town plaza. This town is not for the faint of heart. I’m in great shape and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Perhaps they have a tram, but we didn’t see one.

    We stopped at a supermarket and picked up some ham, a baguette and of course a couple of cold Leffe Blanc Grand beers. Hubbie was optimistic and said “we’ll find a place to stop around the next corner”. Sure enough there was an area with picnic tables on the side of the road. We devoured our chunk of Roquefort that we bought at the factory looking out over the lovely country side.

    Arriving in Toulouse was a nightmare. Our entire trip, except for an hour or so on the highway at the beginning, was on rural roads and small towns. We had an impossible time finding Hotel Albert 1er in the center of town, because of one way streets and pedestrian streets. I finally asked a police officer and got more confused. I begged him to let us follow him there. Good move. He took us down closed pedestrian streets and we finally arrived stressed out. Now time to get rid of the car.

    For the life of us, we couldn’t find the Europcar drop off. It was suppose to be next to the train station. We drove around in circles for 40 minutes. Who knew, you had to drive into the train station parking garage to the top floor. Car gone. I need a beer! We walked back to the hotel, about a 15 - 20 minute walk. Hotel Albert 1er is a nice older hotel just outside Toulouse’s grand central Place du Capitole in the heart of the city. Our room was 301, which was their largest since I mentioned we were celebrating our anniversary. The room was fine with a big bed and reasonably priced at 99 euros.

    Hanna suggested Winter Garden Restaurant for dinner. It’s family owned and run by two brothers and their dad. We started with homemade ravioli with parmesan and basil, hubby had a duck breast with a berry sauce. I had salmon cooked in tin foil with carrots, leeks, cream and wine. Both dishes had Potatoes Dauphine that were outstanding. We sat outside in the small alley across from an Argentinian restaurant famous for their empanadas, that was packed with college kids. Ice Cream on the square and people watching. All is good in life until tomorrow.

    Day 17 (Saturday) - Toulouse & Many Hours Spent at the Air France Travel Agency

    I don’t like reading other people’s troubles, so I’ll try and make it short. Air France was suppose to end their strike, but extended it. They canceled our Toulouse to Paris flight, but Paris to Boston was still a go. After hours, the agent got us on a flight leaving late afternoon to Orly where would have to transfer to Charles de Gaulle, get a hotel to fly out Sunday. We went to a travel agent and booked a non-refundable hotel, near the airport, packed and checked out of our hotel. They stored our luggage while we had our (we thought) last meal in Toulouse.

    Lunch was outside at Monsieur Chez George in a bustling square. Chez Emile, where I wanted to go was closing at 2:00 pm. Lunch was nice. We had foie gras, a big squid steak and a small steak with pomme frites. Then I get a second text that our Paris to Boston flight was canceled. Sh*t!

    Back to the Air France Agency (thank goodness they had one), which was packed. We finally got booked through British Airways from Toulouse, through London to Boston leaving at 8:30 am Sunday morning. Back to the hotel to checked back into our room. Canceled our 180 euro non-refundable hotel at Charles de Gaulle (AF reimbursed us months later). What a wasted frustrating day.

    Here’s the fun part. We loved Toulouse. It’s so full of life, being a college town. Our walks back and forth to AF took us to the wonderful market-place. Lots of great photos. We hopped on the Petite Train for a nice overview of the city. The Festival Occitania was going on. The people from the region celebrate throughout the town. The Place du Capitole was loaded with booths of local products and lots of food. Again, we wished we had more time to explore.

    Chez Emile wasn’t available for dinner so our hosts at the hotel suggested Le Colombier which specializes in Southwestern French cuisine. Madame Lacoste greeted us like we were family. Her husband is the chef. The restaurant was full of French patrons. Of course we had to have foie gras one more time. We also had smoked salmon and then the house specialty, Cassoulet. The Cassoulet was in big bowls filled with sausage, goose, pork and beans. Two desserts were a delicious apple tart flambe and an orange creme brulee with a lime tart.

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    Day 18 (Sunday) - Toulouse to Boston

    Time to go home, sigh! Up at 5:30 am with a stomach full of Cassoulet was not fun. We took a taxi to the airport. For those of you leaving later, there is an airport shuttle not far from the hotel that only costs 5 euros. Unfortunately we couldn’t sit together, but fortunately we got home actually earlier than our AF flight. Had we gone to Orly/De Gaulle we would have been stuck for days.

    Eighteen days and over 850 miles later, our “Our Fabulous South-West France Adventure” came to an end. The people we met along the way were so hospitable. There’s not a lot of English spoken which really made us feel enveloped in the region. The countryside and different varieties of landscape was spectacular. If you love driving on tiny roads with no one around, visiting quaint villages and eating lots of duck, this is for you.

    Sure Rocamadour and Sarlat are getting more and more tourists. It’s because they are wonderful destinations. Only wish we could find a way to get something to eat between 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. However, if you think about the “French Way”, it’s really a complement to their culture. To be able to go home during the middle of the day, eat your dinner and enjoy your family, is charming. We loved our time here. Back to the 24/7 USA.

    Many thanks to my fellow Fodorites and all the people we met along the way for the great suggestions. This trip turned out to be perfect. I hope you get a chance to visit this spectacular area of Europe and France. May your travels be easygoing!

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    Nice to read about my home. Thank you.

    One small correction regarding Lascaux II: << I still would recommend a visit since you won’t see colorful and vibrant cave painting in any other Grotte.>>

    Oh yes, you will. There are quite a number, including the well-known Grotte du Font-de-Gaume and Les Combarelles.

    Glad you got to Figeac. I love that place.

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    Hi StCirq. I read your many posts from the area and they were very helpful in planning our itinerary. We couldn't get tickets for Font-de-Gaume. I guess that's a good reason to go back! Thanks again.

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    Hi kerouac. Thanks for the kind words. I love your trip reports and great photos. You had mentioned going to Alsace before I narrowed down going to southern France. Perhaps that is next!

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    Very nice report. We have been to a lot of the places you visited and I enjoyed revisiting them. Albi and the Gorges of the Tarn are next trip. Trip reports are a great way of remembering your trip and sharing information with others. Thank you.

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    Great trip report!!!

    We rented a gite in July last year that was almost directly under the Millau Bridge and next to an Ewe barn where they herded the Ewe into, & milked them for Roquefort cheese - just down the road. Like you, we visited the Societe facility - but we thought the tour was kinda "hokey". We spent 2 weeks exploring the Gorges du Tarn - which was even more fabulous than I remembered from prior trips.

    On the same trip, we stayed for 2 weeks just outside of Carcassonne and took an overnight trip to Albi. We had dinner reservations at the Michelin 1 star restaurant in town. When we arrived at the hotel, there were notices everywhere saying that the Michelin 1 star restaurant had recently closed and that the chef had moved "elsewhere". We scoured the old town for a "replacement" restaurant and didn't find any place that we liked. So we dined at Grand Cafe Le Pontie - just like you did. It was quite good.

    When you were in Toulouse dealing with AF and trying to get home, we were in Paris trying to get home too. After AF in France essentially told us go "don't bother them" when we called - we finally called the Air France office in New York City. After 1 1/2 hrs conversing & waiting on the phone - they finally booked us on a United non-stop directly to our home airport in San Francisco - but 3 days later. So we were "stuck" in Paris for 3 extra days.

    Glad that my itineraries were helpful. After our 4 week trip to the Languedoc last year and also a 2 week trip in 2012, I did a major update to my Lauguedoc/Roussillon itinerary in August 2015. If you return - e-mail me at StuDudley@aol.com & I'll send you the new updated copy. We'll be in the Dordogne for 3 weeks this year - so I'll probably have a revised Dordogne itinerary in October.

    Stu Dudley

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    Thanks rhon. I'm glad you got to relive your vacation. Try to visit the Aubrac region when your there. Truly unique.

    Stu!! Nice to hear from you. You helped make our trip so special. I knew you were stuck in Paris from your postings. What a nightmare. However, there are a lot worse places to be stuck than Paris.

    Someday we may really slow travel like you do and stay in one area for a week or two. Now it's time to think about a Fall trip. We stayed put last year and the travel bug is itching.

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    Fantastic TR, I love the idea of driving the back roads of France for a holiday, just haven't got the courage to drive on the other side of the road yet. One day! So will save your report for then :)

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    Adelaidean, we are Australian and have been travelling to France since 2006. We have now spent 36 weeks in France and are planning another ten week trip this year. Click on my name to see my trip reports and how we travel. Take the plunge and do it. My husband does the driving and I navigate. Yes, the first time driving on the other side is daunting, but you soon adapt, and the rewards are immense. We have had wonderful trips. We travel on a small budget, self cater and explore both back roads and more frequented places.
    I always get inspired by reading trip reports.
    Love Adelaide by the way. We have family there.

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    Wonderful trip report. Thanks for bringing to mind great memories of our days in the Dordogne, and thank you for so much detail of your road trip from there. I have bookmarked for future planning. Would love to do the drives through the Aubrac region and along the Tarn someday.

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    Hi Everyone. Thanks for the kind replies. We love to revisit our trips as well and have big smiles after reading this again. I also like to give back to all of the Fodorites who helped make our trip great.

    I probably shouldn't have put the date 2012 in the title. I don't want people to think this is an outdated report. As I mentioned, the area is timeless. I hope it stays that way. Go now before it gets too touristy.

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    Fantastic! We also loved Villa des Consuls in Sarlat (one of our all-time favorite places to stay) and are planning to go to a few places you visited this upcoming autumn. Thanks for taking me back to France with your terrific report.

    ((H))

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    Hi maitaitom. Your trip report from the area helped us choose Villa des Consuls, as well as some of the restaurants David suggested. Love your humor! Thanks.

    Remember us? We met you and your wife in Siena, Italy, by chance at Cane e Gatto (great meal).

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    Lovely report (although I only really read the Albi and Toulouse sections.)

    I love the area, and keep trying to get folk to go a bit further south and into the Pyrenees

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    The food at Le Panorama sounded wonderful. And so cool to read Bellevue even better. Nice of the Sarlat chef to stay open. That was funny about the real statue! A private chef takes the cake (no pun intended)—sounded incredible. Our hotel in Spoleto had an exceptional restaurant. I agee—it is lovely to have dinner close. Breakfast also. I had to stop at Day 15. Very enjoyable, easygoer.

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    Hi easygoer,

    I just found this and really loved reading it - thanks for taking the trouble to post it, which must have bee considerable.

    we've been to the area a few times but you still mention some places that we've not made it to yet, so thanks. And i'm glad you eventually found your way to the Albert 1er - we stayed there a few years ago, at the beginning of that particular trip, so we picked up our car from the station, which sounds a great deal easier than dropping it off.

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    plambers, if you don't have a bona fide chip and pin card, get in the Cash-Only line. It's slower, obviously, but at least you won't have a line of angry cars honking behind you. And have cash ready.

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    Hi everyone. Thanks again for the great response. Plambers, StCirq answered your question. We always get perplexed at a toll because each country is different. Look for the sign that looks like a person with their hand out.

    Once in the Cinque Terre, Italy, we got off the highway and there was an un-manned booth with a gate. No clue how much to pay or where to put it. Tried everything. Finally after 10 to 15 frustrating minutes a car came behind us and the person got out and put our money in. Always an adventure.Turned out to be funny after an adult beverage later.

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    Me again. Forgot to mention that the highway toll heading north from Toulouse airport was huge with no people in sight. It was a "take a ticket" toll. We were so tired from the flight, it took a minute to figure it out. Duh.

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    Enjoyed your trip report very much easygoer. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences.

    For our upcoming trip we will be sticking even further south than you, perhaps hitting Toulouse/Albi as our maximum "tour zone". Between your trip report and Stu Dudley's itinerary I already have ideas for the NEXT time I head to France. In the meantime, I picked up tips regarding daily planning and timing.

    Now off to figure out logistics of rural french gas stations and motorway tolls! ;)

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    >>Look for the sign that looks like a person with their hand out.<<

    You won't find many "manned" toll booths in France anymore. We were there for 10 weeks last year & didn't encounter a single one. Our chip & signature card worked fine on 100% of the booths we used - but that's not a guarantee that it will work on the next one we encounter. In about 2008, we were in the Jura and our gite was just off a "single booth" exit off the A39 autoroute. It was manned during the day but not at night. We went out to dinner for my wife's birthday & returned about 10:30. Our swipe cards did not work and the booth did not take cash (single booth - all alone on a minor exit - security reasons I guess). I got out of the car, lifted up the restraining arm, while my wife drove the car under the raised arm.

    In the Tarn last year, we found an unmanned gas station where our chip & signature card worked. We tried it at several other unmanned station & it did not work.

    Stu Dudley

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    Albi sounded enjoyable. Loved the mind picture of the woman running for her cane! Perhaps she used it for crowd control. Too bad about your Toulouse driving/returning car experience but good to know. Too bad about the strike—a big stressor. Great TR—again, many thanks.

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    Your welcome TDudette. I like to put some helpful info in our trip reports for those who are planning a similar trip in addition to our own experiences. I read so many reports on Fodors before we went. This has always been the best site for European travel planning.

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    Thank you and Stu so very much. I have pretty much copied your trip and am hoping to go in 2022. You were so thoughtful and thorough in your descriptions. I followed Stu's itinerary in Provence 2 summers ago and it was magical.

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