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Country Roads in Autumn. Ten weeks in country France.

Country Roads in Autumn. Ten weeks in country France.

Old Jan 3rd, 2017, 05:20 PM
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Country Roads in Autumn. Ten weeks in country France.

As introduction, we are an early 60’s Australian couple and this was our sixth trip to France. Our journey began when we were picked up at our front door at 6-15 am by the shuttle service for the 2.5 hour trip to the International Airport in Brisbane. Thirty five hours later we arrived in Lyon. This was three flights, Brisbane to Singapore to Zurich to Lyon, with several hours in three airports. We had a quick transfer in Zurich and as we were waiting on the tarmac in Zurich to board our twin propeller plane for Lyon, I saw our luggage being loaded. What a relief!!

We arrived in Lyon on Friday morning [ 9th September ] and took the shuttle to Europcar where we collected our leased Peugot 308. We had a room booked at the Ibis and after a shower we went out to get fuel – leased cars come with about 100 kms of fuel- and some makings for a picnic lunch and fruit and water for the next day. I know we could have gone into Lyon but were too tired. By late afternoon we were ready for bed and slept fairly well until early morning.

After breakfast we were on the road by 7.30. It was not very inspiring as we drove around Lyon and through St Etienne, but at last we turned off the major road and we were where we wanted to be – on the country roads of France.

WEEK 1 – CANTAL

We smiled as we drove through small villages and, hey, we could detour and see some castle ruins. So off we went along the Loire and found the ruins of Chateau d’Artias high on a hill with great views over the river and valley. It was a lovely drive along the Loire until we came to that dreaded sign, Route Barree! We had to change our route but eventually ended up on the road to St Flour which looked interesting as we drove through, but time was against us as we still had further to go. On through Murat and along the scenic, winding road past Puy Mary and into Salers. We met a lot of camping cars on the road and passing them was tight.

Our gite this week was in a small hamlet between Salers and Mauriac. It was lovely- full of character and very comfortable with a well equipped kitchen. There was an outdoor table under an apple tree in the back yard. After unloading the car we set out for the Carrefour Market in Mauriac to stock up on provisions. That took a while as the supermarket was not open on Sunday and we were starting with nothing. The weather was very warm and we sat outside for our traditional first night dinner- charcuterie, cheese, baguette, radishes , tomatoes followed by fresh figs and accompanied by a crisp rose. We are back! But also very tired.

On our first day in a new area we usually spend the morning exploring nearby and finding what is around. Sundays are always quiet. It was quite warm and the country was very dry. We enjoyed just wandering through pretty villages and admiring the houses which are really attractive – quite large in dark stone, sometimes dark red shutters. We also loved the large barns we saw in this region with sloping roofs and large arched doors. Another detour down a dirt road and along an avenue of trees took us to the ruins of the chateau Branzac. At St Christophe les Gorges we walked through the forest to the Chapelle Notre Dame du Chateau. It was a steep walk to the chapel which is on a rocky spur overlooking the gorges-and so quiet and peaceful . We were home in time for lunch under the tree.

That afternoon we headed in the other direction and ended up at the pretty village of Anglards de Salers where there is the chateau Tremoliere with fairytale towers. On the way we passed paddocks of the reddish brown Salers cattle whose milk is used to make the local Salers cheese. They had bells around their necks and we enjoyed hearing those bells all week. That night for dinner we had our first duck breast – always good.

We were only a few minutes from the village of Salers which is a Plus Beau Village [ PBV ]. It was looking beautiful with pots of bright flowers with the backdrop of the dark stone buildings with slate roofs. It was busy with tourists and there are quite a few shops aimed at tourists and several restaurants. The large church is very ornate, there are some interesting buildings and narrow streets and a lovely panorama over the valley

One morning we set off towards Ally with a photo stop at the Chateau de Vigne, and a detour to Brageac to see the church built on the site of an old abbey. We followed some very narrow roads through the forest. At one stage we could not get past four calves which ran frantically in front of the car. Finally, a steep descent brought us out to the road along the Dordogne. It was a beautiful view of the river with high gorges and trees just starting to colour. We followed the scenic road to Spontour and crossed the river. Another detour took us to the site of the impressive Viaduc des Rochers Noirs deep in the forest. Then on to the Barrage d’Aigle before another Route Barree took us on a 15+ km detour to end up 500 metres from where we started. Not to worry.

“ Pounti “ which is a loaf made from pork , spinach, eggs and prunes is a speciality of this region. We bought two thick slices which we cooked until warmed and starting to colour. It was very nice with salad for dinner. That week we also bought “ chou farci” which is similar to pounti but a bit lighter. Six trips to France and we are still finding new food.

After a stop at the boulangerie at St Martin de Valmeroux, we drove through lovely country to Fontanges. This is a pretty little village with a nice church and some lovely houses. Here there is the Chapel Monolithe de St Michel which is a small chapel carved into a large rock. The rock is topped by a statue and covered with grass. Another steep, narrow road along a ridge took us to the next valley and the tidy village of St Projet de Salers. We were on our way to Tournemire, which is another PBV until, Route Barree again.We finally arrived and as you drive in the very impressive chateau dominates the village which is small but charming. Once again, there are some lovely Auvergnat houses and a large church. It is vastly different from Salers – nary a post card stand in sight.

Mauriac was where we shopped and we did go in for a walk around. After all these trips you would think we should know not to go around lunch – very quiet. It is an old town of tall buildings in dark stone. The basilica is of the same dark stone and is lovely and not terribly ornate inside.

The forecast rain arrived on Wednesday as we drove across to Argentat. This is a very picturesque old river port on the Dordogne. The quais along the river are attractive with cobblestones and houses with balconies. The views of the town from both sides of the river are lovely and there are some interesting buildings away from the river. We had planned to stop at the Tours de Merle, but it was misty and damp and not open until late, so we continued on to Laroquebrou. A picturesque chateau overlooks this small village on the Cere river. On the way home we stopped in at Pleaux. This proved to be just the sort of place we like with some beautiful buildings with lots of towers and an attractive large church. Nothing touristy, just a nice French town.

It was still overcast on Thursday but had cleared by lunch and the haze that had been present all week had gone. We set off to Salers to drive up to Puy Mary. No!! Route Barree!! The detour took us down through St Paul de Salers and along the valley before climbing back up to the road to Puy mary. There were quite a few people climbing up and it is a well marked and maintained path. I am not a great climber, but it was worth the effort to get to the top. The 360deg. view of the country, valleys and mountains is stunning. We were pleased we had waited as the air was clear and it was not as hot.

On our last day we drove up to Mauriac with some stops at Drugeac and Salins with its’ cascade. After getting fuel and shopping we drove back via the Vallee du Mars to Le Falgoux. This is a pleasant drive with great scenery and pretty villages, and Le Falgoux is nice. The road then comes back on the road to Puy Mary and with the Route Barree still in place it was another drive down the valley. Lucky it was a scenic drive.

We enjoyed our week in the Cantal and did not get to some of the places on our list –maybe another time. After the first week we are now into the rhythm of our trips. Next stop, the Lot et Garonne.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2017, 05:32 PM
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This sounds like a wonderful trip. Will be looking for the next installment.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2017, 11:00 PM
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It was wonderful. I have been enjoying your report. Paris for Christmas is a dream of ours but we always end up in a car finding new places to love in France.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2017, 11:22 PM
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Excellent details so far. I am surprised at the number of routes barrées at that time of year.

I huffed and puffed my way to the top of Puy Mary once. It was definitely worth it.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 01:26 AM
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Lovely to see your report, rhon.... most of us will only dream of a long, slow road trip like yours; so it's great to follow along.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 01:29 AM
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I'm along for the ride with you, thanks! Di
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 05:24 AM
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I've been waiting for this year's report. You two really know how to savor France.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 07:02 PM
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I am trying not to be too long-winded but ten weeks is a lot to write about. So I hope you stick with me. I will do a new region each day.

WEEKS 2 & 3 –LOT et GARONNE

Our drive on Saturday took us back through Argentat and along the Dordogne and it was busy and built up in places until we turned off for Gramat and eventually for Gourdon. We had planned a stop but P was not feeling well [the lingering effects of a bout of shingles two weeks before our trip]. Gourdon was very busy and slow to get through but we then took quiet back roads with a stop for lunch by a church in a small hamlet. We stopped in Villefranche du Perigord for a break and it was looking lovely with wonderful halles and that gorgeous golden stone of the buildings.

Our gite for the next two weeks was on the edge of the small village of St Sernin, about ten minutes from Duras. Once again, it was very comfortable and in a wonderful location. We were surrounded by grape vines heavy with sweet black grapes which we were encouraged to eat. After we were unpacked, our charming owner arrived back with a large bowl of ripe figs and the juicy sweet plums which are dried to become prunes. Add in the last of the sweet summer melons and it was just a feast of nature’s autumn bounty. And so began an idyllic two weeks.

On Sunday we went into Duras which was our closest town for shopping. Another Carrefour market with everything we needed, and a variety of small shops and cafes. As it was the Sunday of Journee Patrimoine, the chateau was open so we went in and enjoyed our visit. It was quite interesting and easy to follow the printed guide. We climbed to the top of the tower for great views over the village and surrounds. We found the TO for free WIFI [last week and these two weeks were our only weeks without internet]. After lunch outside at home, we went for a drive around some of the small nearby hamlets and villages. We spotted a small restaurant which we could visit later in our stay. As well as lots of grape vines, we passed fields of brown papery corn and sunflowers too tired to hold up their heads any longer. Tournesol. How perfect is that name?

There are a host of villages and bastides in this region and it was difficult to know where to begin. We started by heading south through Levignac de Guyenne [small bastide] and turning off for a very scenic drive to Monteton which in a lovely position overlooking the countryside. It was small village with large attractive Place d’eglise. There was a very nice looking restaurant but sadly beyond our budget. [have I mentioned we do not have a big budget? Hence, not a lot of meals out] We then moved on to Allemans du Dropt which is very nice. The church has lovely frescoes and the town is on the river with a very picturesque bridge and surrounds. We stopped briefly in Miramont de Guyenne [a bastide] but it was market day and very busy and after a look at the market we moved on to Eymet. Eymet is a picture perfect village on the Dropt river with a large arcaded square, church [of course], and the remains of a chateau. We always take note of the war memorials as well, and there is a poignant and emotive memorial here. There were plenty of cafes and tourists. This region is very popular with people from Britain who live there or have holiday houses, so we did hear more English being spoken. And one cafe had ‘Fish and Chips ‘on the chalkboard outside. We had a picnic lunch.

Next day we went across to Issigeac which came as a surprise. It is described as a medieval village and instead of golden stone, it has a lot of half timbered buildings, little narrow passages and lanes. It was gorgeous. Our next stop was Beaumont du Perigord and back to golden stone. It is also a bastide with the walls, gates, and town square with market halles and we liked it a lot. And it was market day, a small market which we often enjoy more than larger ones.. So some goats’ cheese and pain d’epice later, we moved on. to Cadouin. We visited in 2014 and had a nice lunch at Restaurant l’Abbaye so decided to return. Once again the meal was good and we left feeling like we needed a sleep. Our last stop on the way home was St Avit Senieur which is also a pretty place with a wonderful Abbey church with remarkable frescoes. That night we sat outside with a fruit platter and a cold bottle of the local Sauvignon. A very pleasant day.

It is good I keep a journal as I would never remember everything. Another day we drove the back roads to Pellegrue before turning off for St Ferme where there is a large abbey in a very nice setting. It was very tranquil. P does all our major photographs, while I do little things. Last trip it was stations of the cross. This time I chose to photograph some of the interesting war memorials we see in France. St Ferme has an impressive one near the abbey and made for a good photo. Sauveterre de Guyenne is a larger walled town with four gates and a large arcaded town square. I can appreciate the problems places have with the demands of modern life, but it was a pity to see the lovely town square turned into a car park.

We made an early start to drive across to Saint Emilion and found a park on the road in to town. I can see why this is so popular. It really is a lovely little place, albeit a tad touristy. There are several lovely buildings to see and streets to wander, and I have never seen such a concentration of wine shops. The buildings were taller and larger than we had expected. We enjoyed our morning there. The drive along the road from St Foy to St E, though, is not the most appealing. We came home for a late lunch in our little oasis. That night we sat outside for our dinner of baked trout and salad and as we were finishing our wine in the dusk, a doe and her little one wandered among the vines. Pinch me. This is so perfect.

On another gorgeous day we headed south again in the direction of Seyches . It was a lovely drive through country that reminded us very much of our visit to the Gers which is not far away. Seyches had some nice features- a church built into the gate, a lovely mural, an interesting passage at the mairie and a terrific boulangerie. Let’s get our priorities straight. Here we bought our baguette, some patisserie and two caneles which we loved. Have the recipe, need the pans. After leaving Seyches we saw a windmill and what seemed to be ruins on top of a hill, so a detour was called for to the small village of Tourtres. The ruins turned out to be the “clocher mur“ of the church surrounded by the cemetery, and there was also an old mill. There was also a series of tables of orientation with the history of the surrounding countryside. It was fascinating – small things off the beaten track are just what we enjoy. On to Castillones which we really liked – narrow streets down to the arcaded town square, interesting clock tower and church, very nice charcuteie where bought some delicious grillons.

On Saturday we visited Pujols [PBV] near Villeneuve sur lot. It is very small, high on a hill [more great views] with some pretty streets and buildings. We stopped in Castelmoron sur Lot which is quite attractive. It has some lovely stone buildings and an interesting Hotel de Ville. We came home through Seyches. Good. The boulangerie is open and we need more caneles. Our lovely hosts arrived with more figs and plums that afternoon. We sat outside for dinner that night – duck breast with fennel and carrots braised in orange juice. It was a very nice marriage of flavours.

We visited Bergerac on Sunday. The shops were closed of course, but there were plenty of people around and cafes open. The historic centre is quite interesting. There are some beautiful old buildings which have been restored, pretty squares, an impressive cathedral, the statue of Cyrano. We enjoyed our morning. We came home through Monbazillac where we stopped at the chateau and did buy a bottle Monbazillac wine which was a bit sweet for our taste.

Monday is market day in Duras and it is a good market. We bought a goats cheese and also found a small wheel of the Dordogne cheese Trappe d’Echourgnac. It is washed in walnut liqueur and goes very nicely with fruit. We discovered it last trip in Cenac. We also stopped in at the Maison de Vins where the local wines are available at very reasonable prices. We really enjoyed the local sauvignon and rose wines in the warm weather. Then off to lunch at En Toute Simplicite in Loubes Bernac. We had a lovely meal – four courses, wine and coffee for 14 euro per person. Hard to beat .for value. I had a delicious brochette of chicken and duck.

The next day we drove down to La Reole where we had planned to stop, but, you guessed it. The route barree detour took us around town and out the other side before we knew it. We went on to Macaire where we parked outside and walked through the gate to this very old town. It was very quiet but nice as we found the church, the cloisters, and the attractive arcaded square, La Mercadiou And it was here we had one of those unexpected but very rewarding experiences that happen now and then..There is a hotel particular which is now mediatheque. It was closed but there was a couple there and as we peeked in the gate, the lady invited us in to see the staircase and then proceeded to take us upstairs, unlocking doors and showing us rooms with very old fireplaces surrounded by untouched frescoes. She had no English and my French is spotty but we managed and it was just wonderful. She was passionate about this lovely old building, and for us it was another memory to file away.

We then went a little further on to Verdelais. This was a brief note I had written down and nothing prepared us for the magnificence of the basilica there. It is huge with a very tall spire topped by a gold statue. It was beautiful inside – quite dark with painted naves, lots of paintings and polished wooden confessionals. Opposite the basilica a stone escalier leads up past the cemetery to a park where pilgrims visit. As a side note, Toulouse Lautrec is buried here.

This was turning into a big day. A little further on is the village of Ste Croix high on a rocky outcrop and another church with a view, this time over vineyards, and a chateau which is now the mairie. Last stop was the town of Cadillac, another bastide. It has large gates and an impressive chateau. We went into the chateau which has very few furnishings but has the most wonderful collection of 16th and 17th century tapestries of exquisite workmanship and with colours still true and bright. And not to forget the incredible, elaborate fireplaces and suspended staircase. We made a short stop on the way home at Castelmoron d’ Albret which is a small, almost round, medieval village near Monsegur.

After that big day, we wandered some back roads to Esclottes [old church with an interesting cemetery], St Colombe de Duras [roman church]. Dieulivol [great view to Monsegur and another lovely church]. Then finally on to Monsegur which is another bastide. It has the arcaded town square and large metal framed halles. On the way home at Duras we stopped in at the Guinget chocolate shop. What an amazing array of treats. We could not resist some chocolate coated prunes and hazelnut sables.

We are almost at the end of our two weeks. On the way to St Emilion we had seen signs to the gallo roman archaeological site at Montcaret, so decided to visit. It is a mere 3 euro to enter. Here we found the remains of a villa from the 1st century, occupied until the 6th. A church was then built on top. There are some wonderful examples of mosaic work in baths, galleries and reception rooms. In one room there is a huge expanse of mosaic floors which were then dug up in places for tombs in medieval times. The tombs are still visible. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and were the only ones there. We then continued up to Montpeyroux where there is an attractive private chateau. The country is lovely and we had planned a different route home, but that nemesis, route barree, popped up again and we returned the way we came.

It was harvest time while we were here and they had been going to harvest the grapes near us but it was delayed until after we departed. So more grapes for us. We did see lots of tractors with trailers dripping grape juice and smiled at the warning signs along the roads showing a sliding car above the words ‘ jus de raisin’.

Our two weeks had come to an end and it was time to tidy the gite, plan our route and pack our bags. It was a wonderful stay. We were blessed with great weather and enjoyed coming home to sit outside with a coffee and later, a glass of wine and dinner. It was time to move on to a completely new area – Basque country.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 07:10 PM
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Enjoying your report.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 07:46 PM
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Wonderful descriptions of the places you go, and the enjoyment you two get out of your travels comes through in your writing.

You must do a lot of advance research in order to make such good use of our time.

When we went to Burgundy, briefly, we based part of our travels on your trip reports to that area.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 09:21 PM
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If you encountered a lot of those route barrée signs just before entering a village, that usually means that it is market day and the town center is closed off for just a few hours.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 09:36 PM
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I did not think of that, Kerouac. It could very well have been the reason. After our first couple of weeks we seemed to escape any more. The one in Salers was definitely not as it was closed for more than a day. Sometimes the detours are well marked an sometimes they just seem to disappear. But I am not complaining. We are on holidays and not on a deadline.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 09:40 PM
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Great report--it's one of my dreams to spend ten weeks in country France. Maybe someday when I retire.

In the meantime I am looking forward to reading about your next seven weeks.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 11:12 PM
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Your report takes me such a long time to read as I look up all these delightful little places and just...sigh.

I like your report style, describing all your excursions from each base, I'll never get 10 weeks off at once, but feasibly 2 weeks from a single base could happen one day (when I get brave enough to drive in France) so this will be filed for future reference.
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Old Jan 5th, 2017, 01:03 AM
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Thank you for your replies. P retired just after our 2014 trip, but before that, his job had generous annual leave and we used his long service leave as well and that allowed us to do longer trips. As I said, though, we are seriously budget travellers, especially now we are living on super, and travelling this way allows us to travel for longer periods really quite economically.
Adelaidean, you will notice we rarely venture into large cities. We are saving those until P no longer feels comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road, and then it will be by train.
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Old Jan 5th, 2017, 03:03 AM
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Loving this report... A gal after my own heart!
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Old Jan 5th, 2017, 04:53 AM
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Rhon, that's what my husband says about Paris--we're saving Paris for when they'll no longer rent us a car.

But I do wonder if we'd be able to enjoy Paris after the peace and slow pace of small towns, and I think we'd miss the wonderful scenery of the countryside.
Coquelicot is online now  
Old Jan 5th, 2017, 06:09 AM
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Morning coffee, country roads of France-----great way to start my day.

These detailed reports are one of the best parts of Fodors Forums.

---narrow streets down to the arcaded town square---
---fields of brown papery corn & sunflowers too tired to hold up their heads---
---tractor trailers dripping grape juice---

Aaaah, take me away! Looking forward to more.
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Old Jan 5th, 2017, 08:27 AM
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Love it. This is where we live, and we think it's paradise.
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Old Jan 5th, 2017, 09:17 AM
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really enjoying this, Rhon. when our kids were small [and not so small] we used to go on holidays where we stayed in one or two places over the space of a couple weeks and we rarely ran out of things to do.

reading this makes me think that we should consider going back to it.
annhig is online now  

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