Area around najac france?

Old May 14th, 2011, 03:54 AM
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Area around najac france?

I am renting a car and plan to visit Najac in September. I am after ideas of other villages towns to visit in the area , or any other scenic spots?
I will be driving up from Millau and at this stage plan to visit Albi, Estaing, and Cahors in addition to Najac, although am not fixed on these places at this stage.

Thanks in advance
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Old May 14th, 2011, 04:20 AM
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Forgot to mention,
I am thinking of spending 3 days in the area!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:26 AM
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Here are some sections of my Languedoc guide for stuff between Estaing & Albi. The stars (**) represent the rating in the Green Michelin guide. If I like the site more or less than the green guide does, I'll add my own + or -. The TMBVoF is an abbreviation of "the most beautiful villages of France"

Conques*** is by far the biggest tourist attraction in this neck of the woods. Read about it in the Green Guide. It’s one of TMBVoF. As you approach the village & park the car, there will be a “village fee”. You will get a decal, which you can attach to the car, and will allow you free access to the village for the rest of the year. I hope the people who got our rental car after us appreciate this “gift” to them. Conques is really quite an attractive village – explore it as much as you can. Don’t just go to the church and the area around the church. Remember the lunch closings – all the tacky souvenir stands will be open and the more unique artisan places will be closed. I had a quiche there that was barely edible. There is another “bench” way above the town where you can get fantastic views out over the village and also the surrounding hills, which are quite photogenic. The bench is a little hard to find. I remembered kinda where it was from a prior trip to Conques. It is close to a school. I think that you need to walk to the school, and then go higher up behind the school and find a large paved road (most of the other roads are cobbled). You will know when you find this spot. It’s another of those places where it’s hard to leave. It would be a fantastic place for a picnic. We went through about 3 photos, which we will compare with the 3 photos we took the last time we were there. As luck would have it, when we departed town in the car going south, we passed right by this “view” bench – darn, and I huffed & puffed to walk to this spot.

Figeac** is one of my favorite towns. The architecture in this town is quite interesting. There is a walking itinerary described the Michelin Green Guide for the Dordogne. You can also obtain a walking itinerary (in English) from the Tourist Office (sometimes closed on Monday morning too). The sites in town are very well marked. Remember the lunch closings (one time I had to hang around 1 hr to wait for a store to open at 3:30 to buy some Cahors wine I wanted).

Tonight’s stay will be in the spectacular perched village of St Cirq Lapopie**, another of TMBVoF.

You have two options for very interesting ways to get there:
1. Follow the Lot River to St Cirq. This route is described in the Dordogne GG under “Lot”. Visit the Chateau de Ceneviers* along the way – see the Michelin GG.
2. Follow the Cele River. This is described in the Dordogne GG under “Cele”. I think I prefer this option, but perhaps that’s because we took this route most recently. It passes some very interesting cliff houses actually built into the rock. Visit the town of Espagnac on the way.

Stay in St Cirq Lapopie**. It’ definitely a tourist town, and you will hear a lot of American English spoken here & you’ll see a lot of white running shoes. It’s one of those towns that is so dependent on the tourist trade, that most shops are probably open on Sunday & Monday. We’ve purchased a few items from the shops in town. The setting of St Cirq is quite spectacular – it’s worth at least 10 photos. In high season, it’s better to stay in the town so you can explore in the early morning or late afternoon, instead of mid-day with the rest of the day trippers & large tour groups.

Tuesday
When you are still at your hotel on the Lot River near Estaing, make reservations for the first tour of the day at the Pech Merle*** caves (just a few Ks north of St Cirq on the D41 close to the town of Cabrerets). These are the best caves you will see that have the original pre-historic cave drawings and stalactites & stalagmites. You must reserve ahead, however, since there are a limited number of people that they will admit daily. Don’t miss these caves. My Michelin Guide says they open at 9:30 with the first departure at 9:45, & last morning departure at noon. They open again in the afternoon. The tour lasts 1 hr. Phone is 05 65 31 27 05.

After visiting the caves, drive along the Lot River some more, visit some cute villages along the Lot, see one of the best medieval military fortresses, and then drive through the beautiful Quercy Blanc region, visiting two of my favorite bastide towns. The final destination will be in the Gorges de l’Aveyron, where you will stay 4 nights.

Leave Pech Merle and follow the Lot towards Cahors. I’m not a big fan of Cahors**-. There are not enough old houses and sections near the train station are a little scruffy. We’ve visited Cahors several times. The Saturday market is quite nice, however. Cahors looks better from the outside than it does from the inside. The best view of town is from the D911 on the opposite (east & the south) side of the river as it swings clockwise around the southern edge of Cahors. The road from Figeac will take you through town. Cross the Pont (bridge) Louis Philippe (see Red or GG) and turn left and go counter clockwise until you don’t see a good view anymore. Reverse the car & retrace your route on the D911, which becomes the D653 at the Pont.

Follow the Lot west of Cahors, using the route described in the Green Guide under “Lot – Lower Reaches”. In the newer Green Guide, this route is described under “Luzech”. If you like exploring luxury hotels, stop at the Mercues (only do this if you didn’t visit Cahors & didn’t visit Pech Merle today). Stop in Luzech & explore a little. It’s a very small town with the ruins of a very impressive tower perched on an overlook. Richard the Lionhearted had actually used the tower. Stop & explore again at Puy l’Eveque. We spent a lot of time there. It’s a wonderful town, which boasted many restored buildings & even had a town walking route posted along the narrow back roads/paths. Follow the Green Guide to Boneguil** and get the camera out as you approach on the specified route. Look up Bonaguil in the Green Guide & notice the picture. You can tour this interesting medieval military fortress. There is also a guided tour, but we found it to be very long & tedious (it’s in French too). You can wander on your own.

You will now go out of the domain of the Dordogne GG, so I’ll describe one short trip that we found interesting. From Bonaguil, leave on the D158 south and then the D673 southwest towards Fumel. At Condat, cross the Lot River and connect with the D911 again heading west. Take the short side trip off the D911 & drive through Lustrac, and then back on the D911 heading west. At St Sylvestre, cross the Lot, and go to Penne*. There is an upper “Centre Ville” – make sure you go there & not the lower less interesting part of the city. Penne is a fabulously restored medieval town with an attractive “place” (square) dotted with cafes. My wife believes that this historical town had a “master plan”, as the restorations had a rather “ordered” appearance & there were no structures in dilapidated condition.

Now head back east for a drive through the beautiful Quercy Blanc*+. You are now back in the domain of the Michelin GG for the Dordogne. From Penne, head east on the D661 to the bastide town of Tournan. At Tournan, take the D18 south to Montaigu, and then the D2 to Lauzert+ (another TMBVoF). This is one of our favorite Bastide towns. Get out & explore. Lauzerte has the typical configuration of a bastide town – large/huge central square, flanked on all four sides by relatively tall buildings, all with vaulted arcades at the ground level. Sit in the central square, or under the arcade (if it’s too hot) & have a refreshment. As you leave Lauzerte and drive through the lower town, you will pass a pizza store. You can get a pizza with toppings such as crevettes, foie gras, Roquefort, magrets (duck breast), and artichokes – only in France!!!

Here is a very pretty drive to take you through the heart of Quercy Blanc. Leave Lauzerte heading east on the D34. Take the D34 through Cazes-Mondenard, Vazerac, and when the D34 hits the D20, take the D20 northeast to Molieres. At Molieres, take the D29 northwest, and when it hits the D68, take the D68/D26 (road number change when it crosses a department boundary) northeast and connect to the D695 to Castelnau-Montratier+, another nice bastide town worth exploring. Leave Castelnau heading southeast on the D4/D38 (another road re-numbering) and on to another of our favorite bastide towns – Montpezat de Quercy*. See Montpezat in the Dordogne GG and explore this town. If you want to shorten this drive a bit, when you go through Molieres, stay on the D20 to Montpezat & skip Castelnau – the D20 is actually a slightly prettier drive.

Now it’s time to head to the hotel. Hop on the fast N20 (the “N” road, not the freeway) going south. Drive through Caussade and then get on the D916 heading east toward Caylus. Just past Stepfonds, head towards St Antonin Noble Val on the D5. Shortly, when the road starts to curve a little, you will get a fantastic view of St Antonin – get the camera ready.

Proceed into St Antonin Noble Val*, but before you get to the center of town, look for a turn to the right, which will take you counter-clockwise around town. At the bridge, turn right & go over the Aveyron River. If you want to get an even better view of St Antonin, as soon as you hit the D115 off the bridge, turn right & go 20 yards or so until you see a large park downhill on your right. There are several benches in this park. We’ve spent many hours sitting on these benches, admiring the view, devouring a pizza we bought at the fabulous Sunday morning market, and writing in my wife’s diary.

Wednesday

A little less driving today.

You are back in the area covered by the Green Guide to the Languedoc. Look up “St Antonin Noble Val” in the GG. Follow the driving itinerary # 1 to explore the Gorges de l’Aveyron*+. Take the route exactly as described in the Guide – from St Antonin, through Penne, and then Bruniquel – in the clockwise direction. This direction will give you the best views. Make sure that you cross the Aveyron River when they tell you to – you’ll have to pay attention. There is a fantastic view of Penne+ as you approach this village with large chateau ruins sticking up in the sky. You can get a great view from the road next to the tourist office and across from a restaurant with outside tables (lunch?). This restaurant was very crowded when we were there on a Sunday afternoon (when the French take their main meal of the day). Penne is another of TMBVoF. Read about it in the GG under “Penne” and explore the town. Continue on the drive and shortly you will come to Bruniquel*, another TMBVoF. Explore this town quite thoroughly. See “Bruniquel” in the GG & visit the chateau. This is a real pleasant town. Next is Montricoux, home of our favorite restaurant in this area – Les Gorges de l’Aveyron. When you follow the GG itinerary and get to Montricoux, turn left and cross the Aveyron River on the bridge. The restaurant is on the right after crossing the bridge – it’s well marked. Check out the posted menu. Don’t miss dining here. Go back over the bridge & continue on the itinerary. Visit St Antonin*. If you are in this area on a Sunday morning, there is a fabulous market in town, and many of the stores are open too. Find some picnic provisions, and have lunch across the river at the park I described earlier.

After doing Itinerary #1 in the GG, do Itinerary #2. It’s not as scenic, but Varen is cute and worth a visit.

If you are traveling from mid June to mid Sept, dine at the Gorges de l’Aveyron tonight. If you are outside this time period, dine there tomorrow.

Thursday

Market day in Villefranche de Rouergue. From Feneyrols, cross the river & turn left (east), and take the D115/D958 then the D922 north to Villefranche. Get out the Red Guide to navigate into this town.

Villefranche de Rouergue*+ is a very pretty fortified bastide town. Look up “bastide” in the Green Guide to understand how these towns were laid out. There is a map of Villefranche in the Michelin Red Guide. It has a picturesque Thursday morning market. Notice the large square in the middle of the town map – which is where the best section of this market is located. It is one of the most scenic we’ve seen (we’ve visited over 50), with all the umbrellas opened up in the large town square. There is a picture of this market in the Green Guide, but it is actually prettier than the picture depicts (we’ve been there twice). Villefranche has one of my wife’s very favorite home decorating stores. Its called Acuarela at 21 rue de la Republic. This street starts at the southeast corner of the town square, and the store is in the first block of this street on your left as you walk away from the square. The store covers two floors, and it’s fun to just wander through even if you don’t like to shop.

After visiting Villefranche, head back south on the D992, and then west on the D39 to Najac. Look up Najac* in the Green guide. It’s another TMBVoF. If you didn’t have lunch in Villefranche, there are some nice outdoor café’s in this town. Explore the town and especially visit the Fortress*. There is a very nice view of the town from this fortress. Leave town by going west. Notice on your map that there are many green shaded (scenic) roads to the west of Najac. I have no idea which one we took, but there are nice views of Najac from the westernmost green shaded road (I think it’s the D47 – look for the view icon on the map).

Work your way north to the D926, and take it southwest to Caylus – look it up in the green guide. This town actually looks better from the distance on the D926 than it does from within. My wife has bought some pottery (on several occasions) at a store on the D926 on the south side of the road. Head into Caylus – it’s a little dreary during lunch closing, but worth a visit – if only a short one.

After Caylus, take the D19 south back to St Antonin and then to your hotel.

Friday

Head out early to visit the beautiful city of Albi***. This is one of our favorite small cities in France. Take the D115 and then the D600 past Cordes (visit later in the day) and then into Albi. Get out the Red Guide to find your way into central Albi. You will enter at #6 and follow the road south across the bridge. From this bridge, there is a fabulous view of Albi. Just after crossing the bridge, you are in the old section of town. Look for the underground parking lot (it’s huge), and park there. Emerge from the lot, and retrace your route to take some pictures of Albi from the bridge. Albi buttons up tight at lunchtime, except (June through Sept) for the fabulous Cathedral Ste Cecile***. My Green Guide says that the Toulouse Lautrec Museum** is closed for lunch (except July & Aug), but I’m not sure that’s the case. Perhaps call ahead (number is in the GG) to confirm opening times. Toulouse Lautrec is one of the few artists that I like, and I really enjoyed this museum. It’s located in the Palais de la Berbie*+. Don’t miss the gardens outside the palais. Follow the walking itinerary described in the Green Guide. This is an interesting city. There are informational plaques (also in English) affixed to the outsides of buildings. They describe the architecture & related historically significant events. Many of the old buildings had fallen into disrepair and had been slated for demolition in the 1970s. Instead, the City had refurbished them & they now provide “social” (low- income?) housing.

After visiting Albi, retrace your drive and this time stop & visit the perched village of Cordes sur Sel**, another TMBVoF. Park your car as high up on the hill as possible – the walk up from the base of this town is a killer. Cordes is quite touristy (like St Cirq), but it’s an interesting village. Follow the walking itinerary in the GG.

If you anticipate getting to Albi after 10:00AM, perhaps visit Cordes in the morning, and Albi after 2:30 when the stores start to open again. I have more energy in the morning, & I usually like to do the “main event” then.

Have dinner at one of the restaurants in Najac.

Some thoughts about additional things in the Gorges de l’Aveyron area

Montauban*-. The picture of the arcades in the Green Guide makes this town look quite appealing, and it actually has some good “bones”. However, it’s in a little “disrepair” and we did not enjoy our visit there that much.

Caussade. The Monday morning market here knocked my socks off. The food section of the market is fabulous. It winds through town and in late Sept, there were about 10 vendors selling 8 different “pedigrees” of Cepe mushrooms. I think this market draws a huge number of people from the surrounding areas. It is not a tourist market. It’s one of the best we’ve seen. We enjoyed sitting & watching the locals shop for their stuff. There is also a section of the market selling household goods, fabric, lace, cars, and garden materials. There is a nice garden store near the large parking lot at the north end of town.

Saturday

Time to head out of the Gorges de l’Aveyron area & on to Toulouse, so you can fly home tomorrow.

This is a very beautiful drive and you will visit one of our three favorite bastide towns along the way. Leave Feneyrols and go to Bruniquel. At Bruniquel, take the pretty D964 south to Castelnau de Montmiral. Along the way you will pass the town of Larroque. We have driven this route several times & always wanted to stop here, but we never did – it seemed like such a cute spot. Stop & visit Castelnau de Montmiral+ (another TMBVoF). Like I said – this is one of our three favorite bastide towns. Read the description in the GG under “Gaillac”.

If you want to visit another nice bastide town, continue towards Gaillac (not worth a stop), and then just before Gaillac turn southwest on the D988 and proceed to Lisle sur Tarn and visit (see description also under “Gaillac”)

Stu Dudley
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:55 AM
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Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi is closed for lunch, at least it was when I was there 3 years ago. Second the idea of visiting Bruniquel, as well as Puycelsi and Monesties. Those three are some of the most beautiful villages in the country, in my opinion.

We liked Gaillac very much. Lots of vineyards around the city that welcome visitors.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 10:53 AM
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You may already be aware of the Oustel del Barry in Najac. One of the best value for price meals I have had. A three- course lunch was around €25. www.ousteldelbarry.com

You will love the area. Agree with all Stu's recs (of those I've been to).
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Old May 15th, 2011, 02:22 AM
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Replies are muchly appreciated, especially StuDudley!!
Looks like I have a bit of reading to do and cross referencing to associated maps, which is exactly the information I was looking for.
While we are on the subject of driving, can I ask a silly question relating to driving etiquette?
Obviously some of these places will be touristy, therefore is it standard practice to park on the side of the road and walk a few hundred metres/yards to the village/township?

Thanks again
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Old May 15th, 2011, 03:48 AM
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"... can I ask a silly question relating to driving etiquette?"

I don't think it's a silly question, as there are certainly differences between driving in France and in North America.

In general, you will find French drivers disciplined, predictable, and assertive. (That's my take on it, although I know people who describe French drivers as aggressive.)

As a first-timer, your biggest challenge will be to know the rules of the road and to understand the traffic signs. (There is a wealth of information on the web: search here on Fodors for "driving in France" or Google "traffic signs in France". If your French is up to it, search for something like "panneau de signalization routière en France" for good illustrations of all the signs.)

Your second challenge will be to learn to navigate. While a GPS may help, it would be best if you understood the logic of French direction signage: the names of the next towns or cities are prominently displayed, rather than highway number or compass direction. When off the autoroute, this implies that you need to know the names of the towns along your route in order to cover any significant distance. There is also a hierarchy of signage: blue signs are used on the autoroutes or to get you onto an autoroute; green signs are used for major cities, and black and white signs indicate the direction to small towns.

With a bit of prep, you will settle into it very quickly. I actually prefer driving in France to driving here in Canada.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 04:17 AM
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Know what to do when you hit a "round-about" -- there are traffic circles in most French towns and cities and at many many many "intersections" of semi-major roads between them. Don't feel frustrated if you have to go around more than once. Sometimes you may miss the exit you wanted off a circle, but the cool thing about circles is that you will find it if you go round again.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 04:30 AM
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Thanks Uhoh,
I'm in Australia and we have them here aswell, so am familiar. Although I must say they are not perfect, nearly got sideswiped the other day, they do work quite well.
One thing I didn't mention is I hope the folks out in the country are a bit more gentle with their vehicles than in the centre of Paris. I have seen on occasions where bumper to bumper parking with physical contact made, and done as though it is the norm; the last thing one would want when using a rental car!!!
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