Our autumn tour of country France

Jan 3rd, 2019, 04:37 PM
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Our autumn tour of country France

Well, here we are again. As a quick introduction, we are an almost mid sixties retired Australian couple and we have been travelling to France since 2006. We are slow travellers and prefer the country to the city. Because we travel for ten weeks, we need to keep it affordable. Staying in self catering is the solution for us and we eat out once, sometimes twice a week, usually an inexpensive lunch.

It was with a sense of relief that we boarded our plane in Brisbane. In June I suffered ill health which resulted in three short hospital stays and three surgical procedures, the last of which was a week before we left. It was never going to cause the cancellation of our trip, but it did put a dampener on our preparations and did impact my stamina, paricularly in the first couple of weeks. But all is well now.

We flew Brisbane - Singapore - Munich - Lyon and arrived on August 31. After collecting our lease car, we booked into the Ibis at the airport. After a welcome shower we set out for Cremieu which is about 25kms away.

Cremieu is a nice old medieval village with some attractive buildings in the centre. There is an old Augustin convent with cloisters, fountain and gardens. The centre was quite busy and has shops, cafes and wonderful old market halles. When we saw the halles we really felt we were back in France. We had planned to have lunch but were going to have to wait for a table and we were tired. Even the boulangerie had a long line out the door. So we went to the supermarket and bought some fuel ( lease cars do not come with a full tank ) and bread, cheese and charcuterie and went back to the hotel.

WEEK 1 - THE DROME

We slept well and were on the road early . As we did not have a big drive, we had planned a couple of stops. It was great to get away from the surrounds of Lyon and the airport and into the lovely countryside and small villages.

Our first stop was the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives. This was the dream of a country postman and his vision of a fairytale palace. He worked on this over a period of 33 years and it is a wonderful example of naive, imaginative art. There are figures, animals and birds, plants, different cultural styles, little nooks and passages and just too much to describe. Every time we circled it we saw more. It is really quite amazing and fascinating.

Once we left we passed through lovely country with fields of corn, sunflowers and walnut trees. St Antoine l'Abbaye is a Plus Beau Village ( PBV ) and the abbey presents an impressive view high up above the road in to the village. It is reached by a long set of stairs and is large with a lovely tympanum. The church then opens out on to the attractive village square lined with plane trees and tall buildings. There was a lady with a horse drawn wagon ( not a carriage ) taking people around the village. The church spire has a clamshell design tiled roof as do some of the other buildings. It was lovely to be back exploring picturesque villages.

We spent a week in 2010 in the Drome Provencal to the south. This time we were further north in the small village of Combovin in the foothills of the Vercors National Park. The owner of our gite was very welcoming but did not speak any English. The gite, which used to be the cure's residence, was comfortable and well equipped, only lacking a freezer, but we coped. We had stopped at the Casino in Chabeuil on our way for non perishables and after unpacking we went to the Intermarche in Montellier which was the same distance. The only commerce in the village was small restaurant which was closed for the annual vacance.

We were starting to feel the lingering affects of jet lag, so decided on something simple for dinner. Poitrine fume is really just bacon, I suppose, but it is a different cut, thicker, and tastier than bacon at home and has become a favourite. Maybe it just tastes better in France!! Anyway, a simple salad of lentils, beetroot, eschalot, my vinaigrette and lovely goats' cheese was perfect with it, and we enjoyed a bottle of the regional sparkling wine, Clairette de Die. This was a new one for us and we toasted the start of another adventure in France. It had been a lovely first day.

Sundays are always quiet so we decided on some drives. We drove through Chateaudouble and Peyrus which are pretty small villages, and then up the scenic winding road over the Col de Lamouche. We stopped in the little village of Leoncel where there is an old Cistercian abbey. I bought some garlic from an old couple selling produce and from the small shop selling regional products, we bought a local cheese, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. We had not seen this one before and it was a lovely creamy blue. We then returned over the Col de Tournial and down through the dramatic entrance between two large rocks into Barbieres. The country is magnificent and rugged with large cliffs.

After lunch at home we set off for the Gorges of the Ombleze and the Chute de la Druise. Once again it was narrow winding roads going up and down and there were lots of cyclists. The scenery was stunning - high white, sharp cliffs and little hamlets in valleys. The gorges are scenic rather than dramatic and the Chute is a waterfall reached by a walk. It was steep and rough going down and I could see P was starting to worry about me and the return trip. So he continued down and I took my time going back. Once he got there he had to clamber over rocks and saw a couple of people slip. I know my limitations.

One day we drove south past more corn, sunflowers and paddocks of grain to the PBV of Mirmande. It looks lovely set on the side of the hill. We did find it a bit difficult to find our way around as the TO was not open and there were few signs. It is a steep walk up to the church ( not open ) and there are lots of little ruelles and stairs. It really was quite pretty, but for some reason it did not strike a chord with us. That happens sometimes. We then continued on to Cliousclat which is a small but attractive village with several artisan potteries.

Mirmande is really quite isolated - difficult to reach without a car I think. We followed the narrow winding road back to the main road to Crest, and after a picnic lunch we arrived at the large car park across the river from the old town.

Crest is dominated by the medieval tower. We climbed up the 125 steps to the Chapel des Cordeliers ( closed ) and then continued the climb up to the tower. It was quite warm and I was still getting used being back in these steep old villages. I learnt my lesson and after that wore my comfortable hiking boots even if they did not look glamorous. There are great views over the roofs of the town, the surrounding countryside and the interesting dome and tower of the church. The church itself looks like a temple with large pillars and has a beautiful ceiling inside.

Another day we drove up to Pont en Royans. The interesting feature of this village is the suspended houses over the river. They are built on the rock overhanging the river below, some with little balconies, and are attractive viewed from the bridge. There is also a small medieval section which we walked around before buying a baguette.

We had hoped to drive along the Gorges of the Bourne but the road was closed for tunnel work. So we went as far as the Grotte de Choranche and took the tour instead. The tour took about an hour, and while it was in French, the info sheet was good and the guide did have some English. It was quite beautiful, with very fine straw stalactites and other features, a sound and light show, and some cave dwelling, salamander like creatures called Proteus. It was very interesting. The cliffs around Choranche and the gorges are magnificent and the other Vercors scenery likewise. We had a picnic beside the Bourne river and then came home through St Jean en Royans and down to Leoncel. It was a lovely drive through the lush green valley.

We went up to the larger town of Romans sur Isere and parked over the river opposite the large Collegiale St Bernard which has painted pillars and walls in the choir. The town was very clean and tidy with some interesting modern fountains, quite a few cafes ( we had a very pleasant morning tea ) and restaurants, some pretty squares and lots of shops. Work was going on in the centre on what will be an attractive park. However there were quite a few empty shops in the older part.

On the way home we stopped at Alixon which is a small round village with a pretty church on a hill in the centre. Our little village of Combovin was nice with well maintained houses most of which were occupied and there were always people around. There was a little stream running through and a pretty, small church and lavoir. We found out the restaurant would re open on Friday night which was good news.

We drove back up to St Jean en Royans which we had passed through ( the industrial part ) the other day. This time we went into the village and it is a lovely little place with bright flowers everywhere, squares, fountains, shops and cafes. We bought our baguette there as well as a crispy sable au sucre. Our destination was the Combe Laval which is a balcony road. The precarious part only goes for about 3kms but is impressive. We stopped several times and walked along the road. There are several tunnels cut into the rock and the views are amazing, but we did not find it as alarming as expected. Then home through Leoncel - again!!

One of the specialities here is the caillette de Chabeuil. This is a small terrine wrapped in caul fat and baked. We bought two for dinner with salad and they were very tasty.

On Friday we were on our way to the supermarket and almost there when the alarm went off indicating a loss of tyre pressure. We made it to the supermarket where we discovered a screw in the front passenger tyre. So P changed it and off we went to a nearby garage where the helpful staff repaired it straight away. I managed with my spotty French!

That night we went out to dinner at the little restaurant and sat outside on the terrace. The owners were friendly and pride themselves on using local produce. My trout, which was cooked in an almond crust, was from St Jean en Royans, and I also had house smoked trout in my starter salad. We both finished with lavender creme brulee, and enjoyed a bottle of local organic rose. When we went into the bar to pay, we ended up chatting to a group of locals who were interested to hear what we were doing. It was a lovely ending to what had been a very enjoyable week to begin our holiday.

From the kitchen this week.

Poitrine fume with lentil, beetroot and goats' cheese salad.
Magret de canard and salad.
Salade composee with lardons and boudin noir.
Caillette with warm potato and green bean salad.
Sardines and salad.
Saucisse aux herbes with beetroot, flagelot beans and goat's cheese.

Tomorrow we are off to the Var in Provence.
rhon is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2019, 05:16 PM
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Great trip! I'm following along!
joannyc is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2019, 06:07 PM
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Looking forward to following along!
pgtraveler is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2019, 08:25 PM
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Rhon, you know I’ve been waiting for this! Reading one of your trip reports is, for me, the next best thing to being there myself. Your appreciation of the French countryside shines through.

I’m sorry to hear about your health issues and am glad you pressed on and managed to enjoy yourselves in your usual way.

Somebody could plan a wonderful trip to France based on any one of your trip reports. If we weren’t in such a rut, I’d do it myself. But choosing which trip of yours to follow would be a tough choice.
Coquelicot is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2019, 09:38 PM
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Rhon, I have always enjoyed reading about your slow travel through rural France. Sounds like a perfect retirement to me (apart from the health situation).
I always say we will never drive in Europe, then I read one of your reports and think, hmmm, could we do that ?
Adelaidean is online now  
Jan 4th, 2019, 12:41 AM
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Coquelicot, people would think we are in a rut. We only go to France when there are other wonderful places to visit. We only stay in the country and do not visit cities. I think do what you enjoy not what others think you should. My 90 year old mother tells us to do this while we can.
My health issues were a fairly common ailment, just took a couple of months to be resolved and are behind me now.
Adelaidean, you have to do what is comfortable for you. We are feeling that the time is coming where my wonderful driver, P, will not be comfortable driving on the other side of road . We will then have to change our approach. My health issue also made us realise that we are getting older and things like this will happen more often.
So P is already researching gites and the next trip is on the drawing board !
rhon is offline  
Jan 4th, 2019, 06:58 PM
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Rhon, really enjoying your trip through rural France!
tomarkot is online now  
Jan 4th, 2019, 08:07 PM
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WEEK 2 - THE VAR
P spends some time planning our routes from gite to gite. He does not particularly enjoy driving on autoroutes and we like the fact that we see more on departmental roads. We went back down past Crest and stopped for a baguette in the small village of Bourdeaux which has the ruins of a castle. After that we climbed and wound our way through the lovely Drome Provencale country.

After the Col de Sausse, we drove down through the Defile de Trente Pas which was like driving through a gorge and was an unexpected surprise. Once the country flattened out we started seeing lavender fields - too late for flowering, of course.

Montbrun les Bains looks wonderful on the side of a hill and as it was market day we had to park outside the village and walk in. It was steep walk up ( isn't it always ! ) and then there are lovely views out to the country and nearby villages. We had a picnic after we left and then once again the road became hilly and bendy. Manosque was very busy as we passed through. It had turned out to be a wonderfully scenic day's drive but quite tiring, so we were pleased to reach our destination which was the pretty hilltop village of Moissac - Bellevue.

Moissac-Bellevue is a gorgeous little village with a belvedere in the town square overlooking the countryside below. The terrace of our gite was a few stairs up from the square and fountain and we had that fabulous view. This gite was the first of two this trip that was owned by the mairie of the commune, and the lady who greeted us was charming. The terrace then went into the downstairs living and kitchen area. There were some locally made jams, strawberry and apricot jellies actually,on the table to welcome us. Upstairs, the bedroom overlooked the fountain, and we went to sleep to the sound of the water and the church bells ringing the hour. The only downside was a small shower and no WIFI ( this was the only week without WIFI ), but it was fine. The village bar and restaurant was only steps away, and as a bonus, the chef made baguettes and croissants every day. That first glass of wine with some cheese and olives on the terrace was the stuff of dreams. Looking good!

Next morning, after a stop at the SuperU at Regusse, we visited a couple of nearby villages. Montmeyran was pleasant to wander around and had another lovely panorama. We bought a local goat's cheese at the Petit casino. We then went on to Fox Amphoux. This is a very old village with a lovely Place d'Eglise where there is a tree planted in 1550 ! There were a lot of gites listed in this area and it always difficult when choosing where to stay. While it was lovely, we were pleased we ended up choosing the one we did. We went home for lunch on the terrace.

Later we went in the other direction to Baudinard and walked up to the chapel for great views over the Lac Ste Croix. We then continued up and around the lake for more views. There were a lot of people enjoying the warm weather on and around the lake. On our way home we stopped for a look at Regusse which has a pleasant old section . The church has a tiled tower and on the edge of the village are two 14th and 15th century moulins. Home to sit on the terrace with a glass of wine. Do you see a trend here?

We were only about 5kms from the larger town of Aups which is a really pleasant market town that does not feel ' touristy '. We had also considered a gite in Salernes, and it is also quite pleasant with tall buildings, an interesting old quarter and lots of fountains. We then went on to Villecroze ( the gite we liked here booked up very early ) which we really liked. It had a lovely big square with trees and shops and cafes, and an attractive and interesting old part. Our last stop was the PBV of Tourtour which was another pretty place and was quite busy. The old chateau is now the mairie and there are belvederes looking out towards the coast. Unfortunately it was very hazy. The drive home was lovely, past lots of olive groves.

We found out Monday night was the last night the restaurant would be open for dinner, so we went and enjoyed another good meal on the cafe terrace in the balmy evening air.

Tuesday was the day we chose to visit the Gorges of the Verdon. Once again we passed lovely views over the lake and also a wonderful view of Aiguines with its chateau. We then began our drive along the bottom of the gorges. The hills were spectacular and there were several places to stop for views of the river and cliffs. We could also see the road on the other side of the gorge which looked a bit precarious. At times we were quite high - up to 1200 m. We stopped at the bridge over the gorge and there was increasingly more traffic and a couple of buses which I am pleased we did not meet on the road.

After crossing the bridge we moved away from the gorges and headed towards Trigance which is a medieval village. A pleasant drive through the country took us back to drive along the top side of the gorge. We then turned off to take the Route des Cretes which turned out to be a wonderful drive. There were lots of places to stop and some wonderful views of the river and gorges, and at one stop there were majestic eagles soaring above. We found the surrounding hills to be as impressive as the steep, straight cliffs of the gorges. That road we saw earlier was alarming in some places, with no walls, but the views were stunning. It ended up taking us several hours.

Moustiers Ste Marie is at the end of the gorges and is in a very impressive position with a chapel high above. We had planned to climb up to the chapel, but it was hot - low 30's - and we were tired. So we contented ourselves with a walk in the village which is certainly attractive, but definitely geared to tourists with lots of shops selling faience and lavender products. It was very busy - there seemed to be a lot of European tourists.

It had been a long day and we were ready to relax on the terrace. P thought he was just tired from driving, but by bed time he was feeling decidedly unwell. By next morning he definitely had an upset stomach. So while he rested, I enjoyed a day on the terrace with my Kindle, some sudoku and several coffees.

By the following morning he was feeling better, at least to go out for a few hours. We drove to Sallins la Cascade where it is about a 15 min walk to see the long, high cascade which plunges into the aqua pool below.

We enjoyed our stop in the town of Cotignac. The town square is lovely - lined with trees and cafes and with large fountains at each end. The town is surrounded by rocky cliffs and you can see the remains of buildings built into the rocks. It is an interesting town to stroll around with tall buildings and attractive old streets.

Another stop was the small village of Entrecasteaux where there is a large chateau with a garden designed by La Notre in front. There was also an interesting sculpture of a rearing horse made from old machinery.

We had planned a couple of trips further over but only ended up doing one. Chateaudouble is a small village in an impressive position clinging to the side of a hill overlooking a gorge. Bargeme is a very small, old village reached by a one lane road with lights at each end. It has a small chapel, church, the ruins of a chateau and an attractive porte. It was very quiet. After driving through Bargemon, back and through again and not finding anywhere to park, we gave up and continued on to Callus where we stopped for a walk. We did enjoy our stop in Ampus. The church was closed because they were working on the steps, but there is an interesting walk up the Roche d'Aigle past innovative tiled stations of the cross. We also walked up to the belvedere. It had been another full day.

One thing that interests us is how the cuts of meat can differ from what we get at home. One night we enjoyed 'cote filet d'agneau ' which are what we call loin chops here except that one cote was in fact two loin chops which have not been separated through the bone. Anyway, they were delicious.

Despite the lost time and the fact we did not do all we had planned, we did enjoy our stay in the Var. We liked the villages we visited and we were delighted with our charming little gite and its location. The weather was lovely and warmer than what we have experienced in France. I will admit that some of the country was not as appealing as we expected - what I would call scrub, which may be an Australian term. We always enjoy our visits to Provence but, and I know this will surprise some people, it is not our favourite region in France.

From the kitchen

Magret de canard with warm potato and green bean salad.
Poitrine fume with flagelot bean salad.
Chicken cuisse with potato and onion boulangere
Boudin blanc with mushroom, onion and zucchini saute.
Cote filet d'agneau with buttered chat potatoes and tomato, eschalot and olive salad.

Tomorrow we are off to a new area , the Lozere and the Gorges of the Tarn.
rhon is offline  
Jan 5th, 2019, 12:30 PM
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It’s wonderful that you can take your time and really “see” France. We’ve driven in many areas but never have the luxury of time that you do. More please...
TPAYT is online now  
Jan 5th, 2019, 08:57 PM
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WEEKS 3 & 4 - THE LOZERE ( Gorges of the Tarn )

Once again, P planned a cross country trip and it was quite built up as we passed through Provence and Bouche de Rhone. In the end we made good time and stopped for lunch just before we reached Uzes. Uzes was very busy and we had to go through before we turned off.

After that the pace slowed down and it was very pleasant driving . We passed through the town of Anduze and then followed the scenic drive up over the Corniche de Cevannes to the town of Florac. P decided to drive across the plateau from Florac to La Malene - for the first and last time ! It turned out to be an exceedingly steep, winding drive out of Florac, and still quite slow over the plateau. You certainly cannot go 80 kmh on these roads. It was then a spectacular, winding descent down into La Malene and our first glimpse of the Gorges of the Tarn.

Our gite for these two weeks was in a very small old hamlet called Soulages not far from the Point Sublime overlooking the gorges. Most people would consider this far too isolated but it was just lovely. The houses were all stone, including the lauze roof and the chimneys which had little stone roofs. A lot of the houses had small yards with a potager and gardens, and some had a distinctive arched door called a voute where the stones are held in place simply by the force of the others. Our gite was in a grange ( barn ) attached to the owner's small residence. It had all the character of the village buildings but was modern and comfortable inside. The stone cross near our gite was erected in 1723. During our stay here we went for several walks around the village where quite a few people live, and also along the roads around the hamlet. We passed farms where the farmers called out Bonjour from their tractors. We were greeted by a neighbour as the owner, who was a nurse, was at work. We enjoyed the welcome gift of a box of locally made aperitif biscuits. One ingredient in them was a firm goat's cheese, Le Levejac, made on the edge of our village.

Our nearest supermarket was in Severac le Chateau which was about 15kms away and actually in the Aveyron, but the village of Le Massegros was about 5kms away. It had an excellent boulangerie ( best baguettes of the trip and delicious choco amande croissants ) which was also a small epicerie. It also had a hotel which was very popular for lunch. When we are further away for shopping, we get organised and plan for a few days, and we also shop in other centres when visiting. Severac is a pleasant small town dominated by the remains of le chateau on a hill. Le Massegros had some lovely old buildings including a bread oven with a wonderful arched voute.

Sunday was Journee de Patrimoine. We stopped in at St Georges de Levejac where the church was open and then went to the Point Sublime which gives wonderful views of the Tarn gorges. We saw notices that a house called the Maison Aragonaise des Monzials was open, so off we went. It would have been very grand in its day with sweeping steps up to a lovely front porch, and large rooms with fireplaces. Underneath was a rabbit warren of rooms where animals were kept. It is in a state of disrepair, but it was fascinating and there were a surprising number of visitors to this remote spot.

Monday was, for us, the sort of day we love. We drove across to Severac and then up to St Saturnin de Lenne where there is a lovely 12th century Romanesque church and also some small remains of Gallo-Roman baths. We had a delicious slice of plum tart from the boulangerie. We stopped in Galinieres to look at the impressive chateau ( now a chambre d'hote ) which is a " grange fortifee monastique ". Next stop was Coussergues where there is an imposing clocher-peigne remaining from fortified church destroyed in 1342. History like this continues to amaze us. And it is just there in the middle of a small village.

It was then a lovely drive to the PBV of Ste Eulalie d'Olt which we visited in 2012. The farmers were busy and the countryside peaceful. This is one of the prettiest villages we have visited over the years. There were lots of bright flowers and ivy climbing over the stone buildings. One quirky fact was an exhibition of large photos of cows hanging on the sides of buildings, and there were also ceramic cats which popped up on walls, window sills, in windows, on stairs. It is just a beautiful little village on the Lot River - one of several as the river winds it way across the country.

We then moved on to St Geniez d'Olt where we had our picnic on a seat in the pretty park. We really liked this small town. The Mairie is an old monastery with peaceful cloisters. Across the river is an impressive church, chateau remains and old quais along the river. We came home through St Laurent d'Olt where the buildings are red sandstone and stopped at the Intermarche in La Canorgue. It was a terrific day.

After a steep, winding descent into Les Vignes, we began our drive along the gorges of the Tarn. They differ from the Verdon gorges in that the road is mostly down in the gorge and the country is greener. At La Malene we walked over the bridge and then up several hairpin bends to a belvedere which gave a wonderful view of the town, the river and the gorge. It is a beautiful drive along the gorge and we stopped several times to admire the view.

Ste Enimie is a PBV on the river and is very pretty. It is a steep walk up through the village on the cobblestone streets and there are plenty of information boards. The commercial side of town is on the road through down by the river. On the other side is a hermitage high on a hill. After Ste Enimie there are several small hamlets and a good panorama to view Castelbouc which is a very old village on the other side of the river.

We stopped at Ispagnac, had a picnic in a park, drove back along the gorges and stopped for a photo of St Chely du Tarn before going down into the village. It is in a lovely location and there is a great view of the cascade and village from the bridge. There were people relaxing by and swimming in the river. The little church is pretty and there is also an old chapel in a grotto. Nearby is an old mill, now a shop selling artisan crafts, with water flowing through - quite impressive. We were pleased we stopped there. It was a wonderful day and the gorges are deserving of their reputation.

Another day we stopped in Chanac which is an old town with a large church and a 12th century donjon which is all that remains of the chateau. After leaving Chanac it was a lovely drive through attractive agricultural country to the town of Marvejols. This is a lively small town with three attractive portes and a lovely restored church with painted interior. We enjoyed our visit and stopped in an excellent fromagerie where we bought some Morbier and a Tommette, which is a hard, aged goat's cheese. The owner of our gite worked in Marvejols.

One day we took the scenic route to Millau. It started high and descended down with wonderful views of the river and country, and we started seeing grape vines and apple orchards. Millau was quite busy as we went through and we caught glimpses of the viaduct which we visited in 2014. After driving along the narrow Cernon valley, we reached the small village of Ste Eulalie de Cernon. This is a small attractive Templar village with an imposing Templar commanderie and pretty town square and fountain.

Our next stop was La Cavalerie which is another Templar stronghold. It is bigger and has high, impregnable walls. You can walk around the ramparts, but we arrived just after 12 and, of course, this being France , the TO ( for tickets ), was closed until 2.30. There was nothing to keep us there for two hours and it was frustrating for us and several other tourists who arrived with us. The road back to Millau offered great views of the viaduct with the town below.

On Saturday we took the free autoroute from Severac and exited near Marvejols for the Aubrac plateau. We climbed up to 1250 metres and it was quite cool. The country became rocky with large boulders piled up and smaller rocks used for walls between the paddocks. It was very attractive and there were lots of the Aubrac cattle grazing.

Nasbinals is an pleasant village of darker stone and taller buildings. The roof lines were very appealing and it has a lovely church which is on the route de Compostelle. There was a photo exhibition - Photo Aubrac - throughout the village. There were some wonderful photos of animals and other countries, and they were creatively diplayed around the streets.

St Urcize ( actually in the Cantal ) is another pretty little village which was also part of Photo Aubrac. This time some of the photos were of children dressed up mechanics, doctors, bakers etc. They were quite cleverly presented. It was then a wonderful drive along a narrow road to Laguiole. The scenery was stunning - not quite as rocky, and wide and open and wild and fertile. Cattle grazing, stone walls and the occasional stone building made for a memorable drive.

Laguiole is famous for the production of knives. The forge is on the edge of town and you can walk through the workshop. We drooled over things for sale - sadly beyond our budget. There are several knife shops in town as well. There is also a Laguiole cheese and the town is home to the Michelin restaurant of Michel Bras. We bought some mirabelles from the market as it was closing and a slice of fallette from a charcuterie. It was like a terrine of lamb stuffed with pork and veal.

We had some fallette for a late lunch ( it was delicious ) as we sat on a low, shaded wall in the village of Aubrac. Our picturesque view was of the church and tower, the old monastery hospital and village. There were lots of walkers as this is an important stop on the pilgrim's walk. We loved the Aubrac area and P is already looking for gites!!

On the middle Sunday we decided to visit the nearby gorges of the Jonte. We went back down to Les Vignes and followed the Tarn in the other direction and turned off for La Rozier. That was when we realised this was not the best time to be doing this, The gorges were more open than the Tarn, we were driving into the sun, and there were not as many places to stop. We were forced off the road as a camping car coming towards us did not move over. In doing so we ran over a large, sharp rock which chipped the hubcap and resulted in another flat tyre, the same one as before. It was Sunday, we were forty kms from home and it was a slow trip back on the little space saver tyre over narrow winding roads and hairpin bends. The scenery was wonderful but we were feeling very sorry for ourselves. Add to that, the baguette we bought was the worst of the trip. Not great memories of the gorges of the Jonte.

So Monday morning was spent getting another tyre repaired in Severac le Chateau. The mechanic was very helpful after I finally worked out how to ask him to re-initialise the computer in the car. These high tech cars!!! That afternoon we went up to La Canorgue which is a popular place in summer. It had not appealed when we drove through on a previous day, but improved on closer inspection. Two streams run through and meet in the centre, and there are some attractive streets, nice old buildings and a clock tower. Not far from La Canorgue is an unusual rock formation, La Sabot Malpeyre, which resembles a shoe from some angles.

One day we returned to Ste Enimie, not along the gorges but approaching from the north and descending into the village. It was a very scenic drive with good views of the village and the Tarn. We then continued along the gorges to the town of Florac. Florac is a pretty place on the Tarnon river and has some pleasant squares and quite a few shops and cafes. This was one place we had considered but felt we had more day trip options at the other end.

After leaving Florac we passed through Bedoues where you cannot miss the impressive church and belltower as you approach. We then followed a winding and very scenic road to Le Pont Montvert which is a little village with an attractive bridge. We had planned to go back through Florac and stop at the supermarket, but changed our minds. So I stopped in at the boucherie and bought some saucisses aux herbes for dinner.

We turned off just out of Le Pont Montvert and came home over the plateau. It was, in fact, a better road and a wonderful drive. The country was rocky and there were quite a few pine forests and small villages. There are some menhirs to walk to up there, but it was getting late so we kept going. We ended up coming into Chanac on a different road for an impressive view of the village and donjon. On a small road we passed the fortified farm of Choizal.

Another day we took the free autoroute down towards Millau but turned off before. We stopped to admire the view of the small village of St Beauzely with its large chateau and church before stopping for a walk around the quiet, but quite pretty little village. We were not the only tourists. A few kms out of the village, in the forest, is the old Priory of Comberoumal. You can walk in and see the interior, courtyard and chapter house. It is now used for weddings.

After that we stopped at the village of Montjaux. It was a winding drive down through the narrow streets of the village to the attractive church at the bottom - a change from being at the top. The view back up to the village was lovely.

After the steep climb back out we went on to Castelnau-Pegayrols which is a medieval village with five listed monuments. This is a lovely place with lots of little streets, stairs, squares, an imposing chateau built on a rock, the remains of ramparts and two churches. A mason has built a miniature of the village as it was next to the church. We love that travelling the way we do gives us the time to find less well known but beautiful places such as this. Lunch that day was a seat by the side of the road under a chestnut tree. The view was across the valley to another hamlet and church spire. We thought how lucky we were to be sitting in such a beautiful place.

On our last day we went out to lunch at the hotel in Le Massegros. It was busy with locals and workers and we enjoyed our lunch of good food in pleasant surrounds among friendly people.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The village was lovely, the people friendly and the gite comfortable. Over the course of two weeks we watched one home owner building an outdoor oven in the same style as the houses. It looked as if it had always been there. We also loved our drives around discovering hidden villages and stunning views, and admired the cazelles ( stone shepherd huts ) which dotted the landscape. The owner told us this is one of the most sparsely populated departments in France. It is always a gamble when choosing a gite and I am pleased to say we have never been disappointed.

From the kitchen.

Saucisse fume braised with tomatoes and haricot blanc.
Magret de canard with fennel and carrots braised in orange juice
Baked trout with a tian of fennel, zucchini, tomato topped with roquefort.
Gesiers de canard salad
Toulouse sausages and aligot
Tripoux ( tripe packets ) and potatoes
Montbeliards with potato and apple saute
Saucisse aux herbes with potato and a tomato salad
Leek, lardon and blue cheese frittata
Baked trout with zucchini, flagelot beans and creme fraiche

Next stop - Puy de Dome
rhon is offline  
Jan 5th, 2019, 09:53 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,763
Wow! You seem to cover a lot of territory! Looking forward to more!
joannyc is offline  
Jan 6th, 2019, 12:12 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 1,210
I have enjoyed Googling those villages, what a delightful road trip. We are a bit short on charming villages in South Australia...
I like the ‘menu’ at the end, too. That frittata sounds good. Today I baked as I was given fresh blackberries, and somehow reading your shopping and cooking lists helps bring your adventure to life.
Adelaidean is online now  
Jan 6th, 2019, 01:52 AM
  #13  
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 320
Thank you . We do cover a lot of ground, but then, ten weeks is a long time. We still have a long way to go on this trip!
We have a list of things we like cooking in France . You will be sick of them by the end. I don't know, Adelaidean, we enjoyed our stays in South Australia when we had family there - the hills, the Barossa, down to Victor Harbour.
rhon is offline  
Jan 6th, 2019, 05:18 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Really enjoying walking in your footsteps through so many places in France we have enjoyed, too. I think it's hilarious that you say you're "in a rut" going back to France over and over again. We are the epitome of those in a rut. Cripes, we're stuck here!
StCirq is online now  
Jan 6th, 2019, 07:16 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
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If only more people had the good fortune to be in such ruts, just like me stuck eternally in "boring" Paris.
kerouac is offline  
Jan 6th, 2019, 07:31 AM
  #16  
 
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There was a poster not long ago who was moaning about how totally boring rural France was and how she'd be happy never to see it again, and I couldn't help but wonder what her normal life was like if the countryside in France was so terribly awful for her.
StCirq is online now  
Jan 6th, 2019, 08:35 PM
  #17  
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This is my fourth trip report here, and those who have read my previous reports will know that we have a love affair with wandering around the French countryside. It is a very pleasant ' rut ' ! Hope you are still following. We have a way to go yet.

WEEK 5 - PUY DE DOME

After a last baguette and framboise sable from the boulangerie, we set out for our next gite. We passed through Espalion and Estaing which we visited in 2012. Estaing is another gorgeous little village on the Lot river. From Estaing to Entraygues it is a pretty drive along the gorges of the Lot. We stopped in the attractive little village of Montsalvy which we had not heard of before. Then up past Salers where we were in 2016, with a stop at the Carrefour market in Mauriac to get some pounti - a regional speciality of the Cantal which we discovered last trip. We detoured off to see the fairytale chateau Val on a lake with very low levels at that time.

Our gite this week was in the little hamlet of Montfermy in the Puy de Dome. It is in the forest on a meander of the Sioule river and once again, it is what most would consider too isolated. Past our gite there is a walk to a pretty cascade. The village has a lovely little Michelin rated 12th century church with painted murals, 13th century capitals, and a 16th century painted wooden statue of the Virgin. The village is also popular with fishermen and walkers. Our gite was the second of the trip owned by the council and one of two in the village. It was on a rise overlooking the hamlet and river and was very comfortable. Daniel, the caretaker, was very friendly ( no English ) and left us with instructions to water the potted flowering begonias on the balcony. The other gite was also occupied, and looking at the calendar, they are both very popular, mostly with French people according to Daniel.

We had two supermarkets equidistant, but we preferred the SuperU at St George de Mons/Les Ancizes Comps. On Sunday we went for a scenic drive along a loop of the Sioule River. We had some nice views of the river and passed an impressive chateau, now a hotel, at Miremont. Miremont itself is a pretty little village which is dotted with life like mannequins dressed in early 20th century garb. They are arranged in simple village scenes such as a man walking a dog, feeding chickens, milking a cow, sitting in front of shops. It was really quite charming and from a distance they looked real.

Monday dawned quite cool and showery, so we waited a bit before heading across to Aubusson in the Creuse. Aubusson has been renowned for centuries for the production of tapestries and there is a fine tapestry museum there. As it was Monday and also around lunch time, the town was quiet, but we still enjoyed our exploration of the attractive old centre. We walked up to the clocktower which afforded a lovely view across the town and to the large church. We then walked down heaps of stairs and across to the church which is reached by more stairs with a view back to the tower. There are picturesque half timbered buildings where an old stone bridge crosses the Creuse river. It was lovely.

After Aubusson we drove to Felletin which is a lovely little village that also has a history of tapestries. It has an attractive Grande Rue and large church as well as a chateau and was worth the stop. We then followed the drive through beautiful Creuse countryside to the medieval village of Crocq. It is also a charming little village with the remains of towers and walls, a church with painted interior and several wells. The rain had stayed away and it was a most enjoyable day.

Next morning there was thick ice on the car when we left for the day. Our first stop of the day was the village of Orcival which is dominated by the impressive basilica of dark stone. It is huge inside with high walkways, interesting capitals and a crypt. After leaving Orcival it was a beautiful drive with breathtaking views over the green valleys and chain of puys. One attractive view was of the Roche Tuillere and Roche Sanadoire with the valley between.

We did not go to Le Mont Dore but climbed up to 1400m over the Col de la Croix Morand with yet more amazing views. Coming down it was then lush, green pastures where cattle grazed peacefully. P grew up on a farm. We have lots of photos of cows grazing. We had our picnic beside the picturesque lake at Chambon sur Lac. High on a hill above Murol is an imposing and impressive feudal castle . Our drives during the afternoon had us on several roads around Murol for different views of the castle.

The church in Saint Nectaire ( also known for the cheese produced here ) is Romanesque and similar to the basilica in Orcival. We enjoyed the interior which was cream and not bare stone. The capitals were very intricately carved and painted, and we admired the very fine work of the 12th century plates and religious tresors.

We then continued on to Besse et St Anastaise which is a picturesque village of dark stone buldings with dark red shutters. There is a chateau, ramparts, fortified porte, several interesting buildings and lots of little squares. The frequent information boards provided lots of detail about the history and made exploring easy. It was a lovely day.

Wednesday was quite bleak with very low cloud which lasted until early afternoon, so we decided it was a perfect day to go out to lunch in Les Ancizes Comps. The hotel was busy with the usual mix of couples, business people and workers. We had the menu du jour - 13euro for three courses, wine and coffee and it was a lovely meal. It continues to amaze us that these places can produce meals of this quality for the price. We have become fans of what we call 'white van' places. The food is always good, plentiful, well presented and inexpensive. They are where you can ' eat where the locals eat ' which is often a desire of travellers who post on travel forums.

Thursday was a lovely clear day and perfect for visiting Puy De Dome. There is a large carpark and visitor centre , and the train, the Panoramique des Domes, takes about 15 mins to the top. It is very modern with big glass windows to make the most of the views on the way up the puy.

Once on the top there are well maintained paths all over. It was cold and very windy, and walking up the steeper parts into the wind was hard work at times, but the views made it worthwhile. We walked right around with magnificent 360 views. We were so lucky it was a clear day and we could see down to Clermont - Ferrand and across to the tops of the other lava domes in the Chaine des Puys. There are also the ruins of the Temple of Mercury from the 2nd century . It was a memorable experience.

In my research for our trip I had read about a feature called the Chemin Fais d'Art near the village of Chapdes-Beaufort which was about 12kms from Montfermy. This is a sculpture trail in the forest. The sculptures are large and made of black volcanic stone. There were few signs, and once we worked out that the search was part of the experience, we had a lot of fun wandering around. The sculptures were hidden away but very creative and interesting - a huge open weave dome, a very long spiral, three igloos in a row with a path from one to the next cut through the centre, a circle of seats, all different, carved out of rock to name just a few. In all we spent a couple of hours trailing around the forest with hunting dogs baying in the distance, and even had a visit from two beagles. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon and after climbing around the Puy that morning, we were quite tired by the end of the day.

On our last day we spent the morning on a last drive around some nearby villages before stopping at the SuperU for fuel and food. That afternoon four black and white cows wandered up the hill past our gite. An hour or so later Daniel turned up to ask if we had seen them. They had disappeared into the forest and had not been found when we left next morning.

This was a beautiful spot - quiet and peaceful with a lovely outlook over the small hamlet and gently flowing river. Another enjoyable week had passed and we are now halfway through our journey.

From the kitchen.

Morteau sausage , tomato and haricot blanc braise,
Pounti with sauteed vegetables
Leek and lardon pasta
Poitrine fume with potato and apple saute
Boudin blanc and salad
Cuisse de poulet with fennel and haricot blanc

Tomorrow we are off to the Lot
rhon is offline  
Jan 6th, 2019, 10:20 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 1,210
I like that you know what you love, and you make it happen.
Recall noting Estaing long ago, back when I thought we might do a road trip, too. It seemed such a pretty region and relatively quiet, but of course, I never ‘made it happen’ ....
Adelaidean is online now  
Jan 7th, 2019, 09:56 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jul 2018
Posts: 329
Great report. Seems you saw a lot !

Ps : it is poitrine fumée (femine : poitrine is breasts for women, or roughly thorax for me)
thibaut is offline  
Jan 7th, 2019, 09:31 PM
  #20  
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Ah, spelling errors, and I thought I had been careful !! We feel very lucky to be able to travel for the time we do and visit the places we do.

WEEKS 6 & 7 - THE LOT

We had a very pleasant drive across the Plateau des Millevaches ( perhaps those cows from yesterday were there !!). It was very busy getting through Ussel and later around the edge of Cahors, but other than that the roads were quiet.

Our gite this week was about 5kms outside the village of Montcuq en Quercy Blanc. It was on a small property with the owner's house and used to be the barn. It still had the large bread oven, also used for drying prunes, in the downstairs living area. The gite was comfortable and well equipped and had an inviting outdoor terrace with table and chairs as well as loungers. It looked out over a paddock where three horses grazed and on to a hamlet with a small chateau style buildings, outbuildings and a porte. It was just perfect. Let's get unpacked and open that bottle of rose the owner left in the fridge!!

Montcuq is a pleasant small village with a large donjon, lovely shaded centre with shops and cafes and a small Carrefour Contact on the edge of the village. The supermarket was selling locally produced apples and pumpkins. It also had one of the best fish sections we had come across and a great wine section selling the local product. We enjoyed shopping there. Montcuq also has a good small market on Sunday.

We had a quiet day on Sunday as it was our first really rainy day of the trip. I also felt I was coming down with a cold, but it only hung around a day or so and fortunately did not develop. It was a perfect night for magret de canard and roast veges.

The rain cleared by next morning, but it was foggy early on so we went out a little later after it lifted. We passed lots of vines - Vignerons du Lot and also the Cahors wines. This area has several bastides and the first one we stopped at was Tournon d'Agenais. It has a nice town square with old houses and arcades, very high walls and ramparts which give wonderful views over the agricultural country below. Another steep village was Montaigu de Quercy with some lovely houses and two churches.

After lunch on the terrace, the first of several, we went for a drive around some of the surrounding country where the leaves were beginning to turn. The villages were nice - very clean and tidy with lots of the white stone which gives the region the name Quercy-Blanc. We were interested to see some houses with wooden porches similar to those in parts of Burgundy.

The weather was much better the next day so we set out through rolling country with ploughed paddocks, an occasional patch of grapevines, lovely farm houses of white stone and pretty hamlets. What more could you want? Castelnau Montratier is a bastide with listed arcades around the town square. The white stone was lovely and there were also some buildings of colombage. The church was impressive with domes and it looked wonderful as we looked back when leaving the village. We stopped for a photo of the village and church later that day on our way back. There are also a couple of old mills here.

We were on our way to Monpezat de Quercy which is a lovely village. It has several small squares with gardens and lovely little streets with quite a lot of colombage buildings. The jewel in the crown here is the 14th century collegiale built by St Jean de Pres as his burial site. It is a lovely church and houses a special collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries which have been recently restored. They tell the story of the life of St Martin de Tours and are arranged around the choir. Both the village and the church are well worth a visit. Another place I have not seen mentioned on travel forums.

After a late lunch at home ( we cannot resist that terrace!), we visited the nearby PBV of Lauzerte. There were information panels around which made it easy to explore. It is on a hill and the views were again wonderful from both sides of the village. The buildings are a mix of white stone and colombage and are tall - several levels - and the streets in places are quite wide for an old French village. The town square has couverts and a church. We saw lots of interesting doors and windows and there were lots of plants and creepers such as jasmine and wisteria. It is a beautiful village.

It was still warm enough to sit outside with a glass of wine, some Comte cheese and salty black olives. Some one has to do it.

One day we set out on a small circuit of some villages. We began in Roquecor which has an impressive mairie and a viewpoint over the valley. I cannot keep repeating how wonderful the country was, so just take it as a given. Not far away was Lacour on a hill. Bourg en Visa was larger and had interesting 19th century market halles made of iron. After Bourg we headed to St Maurin which has very old wooden halles in front of colombage house - very picturesque. There are also the remains of what had been a large abbey in the Cistercian style. Parts are still standing and parts are now houses.

Puymirol is another bastide with arcades and long streets. Then Montjoi is chocolate box pretty . It is just two main streets with white stone buildings, coloured shutters, potted plants and flowers.

By this time it was lunch time and we had not found a baguette. Our last stop was Castelsagrat, another bastide with wonderful couverts with big arches. And good news, a place open for lunch. It was a 13euro menu du jour - three courses with wine and coffee but no other details. We sat in the bar with several locals - everyone seemed to know each other and any new arrivals. When a large bowl of piping hot soup and ladle arrived at each table, we assumed this was the entree and tucked in. But then the entree arrived and the main course ( chicken cuisse with potato and eggplant braise and puy lentils ) and citron tart with raspberry sauce. No dinner for us that night!

It had been an enjoyable day the like of which we always appreciate. Each village on its own may only have something small of interest and not need a lot of time, but together as an ensemble it makes a very pleasant day.

We visited Puy l'Eveque in 2006 in only our second week in France, so we were overdue for a return visit. It is a larger village in a attractive location on the Lot river, and we followed the map from the TO. It has some interesting old buldings - a chateau, Chapel de Penitents, some towers and attractive houses. The view of the river from the promenade is lovely and there are good views over the village from Place de Rampeau and also from across the river. Before leaving, we sat in the car and enjoyed some patisserie while taking in the view.

After leaving Puy l'Eveque we drove along the river. There is a belvedere at Belaye for a panorama over the valley and beyond. The villages are pretty and it is a pleasant drive past grape vines and walnut groves. Albas is another village overlooking the river, and Luzech is built on a loop of the river which almost forms an island. We stopped at the Carrefour on our way home for some trout for dinner. They were perfect with a simple salad and we followed with walnut cake and creme fraiche.

One day we drove around Cahors and followed the scenic drive along the river with the road cut into the cliff. We crossed the narrow one lane bridge to Bouzies where we parked and then walked along the Chemin d'Halage. This is the old tow path along the river and is cut into the white cliffs. In a small section there sculptures and carvings of plants and shells and other aspects of river life along the walls. It is a very pleasant and peaceful walk and you can walk from there to St Cirq Lapopie.

After a picnic lunch by the river, we continued on to St Cirq Lapopie which we had visited in 2006. Now there are several carparks ( 4 euro) with electronic capacity boards. We parked in a carpark at the top and walked down. It was busy and the restaurants were doing good business. It is built on the side of a hill beside the river and has more great views. I always enjoy looking over the roofs in villages to see the different lines and shapes and this village is especially pleasing. I sat in a quiet spot admiring my surrounds while P walked down the road to get a photo back to the village. Lazy, I know. It is another beautiful village . We then returned along the other side of the river to Cahors and home.

On the middle Saturday we just went for a drive around the beautiful countryside . We did not go through many villages but saw a wide variety of agriculture- cultivation, grape vines, cattle, apple orchards. There were lots of little churches scattered around. Then home for lunch and a quiet afternoon on the terrace with a book, a coffee and later a glass of wine.

Sunday was very windy when we went into the market. We came home with a bottle of Cahors wine from the producer, a barquette of sweet black grapes, a small goat's cheese rolled in garlic and parsley and a shiny black eggplant for ratatouille later in the week.

After lunch we went on another circuit of villages. Penne d'Agenais is a medieval village with an old port and an old part high above the river. It was pretty with a lot of buildings made of flat red brick. It is then a steep walk up through the village to the Notre Dame de Peyragude. The church is huge and quite attractive inside. It is only about 120 years old and has two large silver domes. The jury is still out on whether we liked the domes.

Next stop was Laroque Thimbaut which has lovely stone halles, a porte and clocktower. Frespech is a sweet little fortified village with the remains of a chateau, a lovely Romanesque church with cut stone roof, and the remains of walls.

Last stop was Beauville which was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. The large church has a porch opening onto the square, and there are arcades and colombage buildings. There were people sitting outside the cafe and some children playing quietly in the square as their parents watched. Very nice. It was then a very pleasant drive home in time for a glass of wine and another favourite for dinner - gesiers salad followed by apricot tart and creme fraiche. A lovely day.

The Monday of our second week was another wet day with showers . That day we saw the shocking news of the terrible floods near Carcassonne and the tragic loss of 14 lives. Our next gite was only 30 kms away from Carcassonne so we were a bit concerned.

Montcuq is about 26 kms from Cahors . We did make a quick stop in 2008 to see the Pont Valentre but did not visit the town . We parked over the river and walked across the bridge to the historic centre where we stopped in at the halles. The cathedral St Etienne is quite lovely with two domes, one of which is painted, as are parts of the walls. There are attractive cloisters with detailed capitals and little hedges. We walked through the town to the Barbacane, Tour St Jean and St Barthemly church. We enjoyed the walk with the lovely old buildings and squares, and of course, another look at the bridge. The town was quite busy, well for us anyway.

There are several moulins in the area and we stopped to see the moulin du vent at Boisse. Lalbenque was a busy small village with shops and cafes and a wonderful sculpture of a truffle hunter and his dog on the steps of the mairie. One of the things I enjoy is going into a boucherie/charcuterie when there are other customers. This gives me time to look at the products as well as to see what others are buying and their interaction with the butcher. Lalbenque had an excellent boucherie and we came out with some boudin blanc and a piece of boudin noir. When people wonder how we can afford to spend ten weeks in France, this is how we do it. This purchase was meat for two dinners and cost just over 7 euro.

After leaving Lalbenque we passed through Labastide de Penne and climbed up to Puylaroque. Once again it was high on a hill with a panorama, 12th century church with painted pillars and ceiling, pleasant houses and a tower. On our way home through Belfort du Quercy, we saw a pigeonier. Boudin noir for dinner.

Our last day was foggy until mid morning, so we went into Montcuq for a last wander, had lunch out and then stopped at the Carrefour for fuel and a few things. The young man in the fish section was singing and the young staff were dancing around as they worked. It was always a pleasure to go in and for a small supermarket, it was very good.

We loved this area and this gite and will return , possibly for three weeks next time. P will miss his daily walk up to the chickens with our vege scraps and stale baguette. It was a wonderful two weeks and we are at the stage now that we do not need to be seeing a Mont St Michel or a Pont du Gard every day, or even every week for that matter, and if we miss something, so be it. The whole south west area - we have stayed in the Gers, Lot et Garonne, Lot, and three different parts of the Dordogne - is one of our favourites, along with Burgundy.

From the kitchen

Magret de canard with roast veges
Magret de canard with lentils , sweet onions and creme fraiche
Montbeliards with potato and apple
Pasta salad with gesiers de poulet and roast pumpkin
Trout and salad
Sardines and salad
Toulouse sausages and ratatouille
Gesiers de canard salad
Leek , lardon, pumpkin and camembert frittata
Salade composee with boudin noir and caramelised apple

Next week - the Aude bordering the Herault.
rhon is offline  

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