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Trip Report Our own country roads tour of France

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Well our nine week trip is over and it is back to the real world. I will endeavour to finish my report over a few days, but cannot promise to be as erudite as many I have read. I will begin by saying that we travel at a relaxed pace with a bigger day now and then. We also travel on a fairly tight budget, so do not eat out a lot. But we still enjoy good food and wine - lots of cheeses and charcuterie, duck, salmon, smoked sausages and meats, lots of different vegetables [one of my favourite things to cook] and patisserie. So let's away!

With a two hour bus trip to the airport, twenty two hours on planes and several hours in two airports, it is over thirty hours from walking out our front door to landing at CDG [5pm]. We stayed overnight at CDG and flew to Bordeaux on Saturday morning where we collected our little grey Renault and headed south while adjusting to driving on what is, for us, the wrong side of the road.

Our first stop was in the village of Villandraut where we spotted the ruins of an old castle. The caretaker came along as we were photographing and invited us in for a closer look. He was there to feed some corn to the pigeons. Mmm, corn fed pigeon - was there an ulterior motive? We stopped in Bazas to find the market in the square in front of the cathedral beginning to pack up. But still enough time for us to get some plump Agen prunes, crisp French Breakfast radishes and a lovely dry saucisson. A couple of bottles of wine from a nearby shop completed our purchases. The cathedral is beautiful with lovely stained glass. We are not religious people, but do enjoy the churches and I am always disappointed when they are locked.

I have a book called " Memories of Gascony " by Pierre Koffman which tells of childhood summers spent on his grandparents' farm in the Gers region. So I was looking forward to our first week in this area. Our gite was in the small hamlet of Avezan near the larger village of St Clar. After settling in, we headed off to the Intermarche at St Clar to stock up on essentials which we add to as the trip progresses. The weather was just wonderful- last week of March and warm enough to sit outside for our first evening in our little courtyard which caught the sun. On our first night we always keep it simple - a couple of cheeses, some charcuterie, tomatoes, capsicum, radishes, baguette and of course , a bottle of wine to toast the start of our adventure.

On Sunday we set out to explore the villages and area near by. We love country France and were not disappointed. The country side was gorgeous - a patchwork of tan ploughed paddocks and green fields of wheat with villages nestled in the folds. After stopping in the village of St Chapelle, we saw that the church would be open at 2pm. It was lunch time, and as we always bring a picnic, we began our quest for a picnic table. Our experience is that there is often a table at 10.30 or 2.30, but at 12.30 they can be hard to find. But to-day we were lucky.

There was also a public toilet, which leads me to a brief comment. On the whole, this trip I found the toilets better. There were still plenty of the "squat" variety but were cleaner than in the past . My award for the best toilet goes to the one near the Mairie in Figeac, which on a cold, damp day was clean, warm, proper toilet and paper. The worst was in a small village in the Haute Loire. DH looked in and said "You can't use that toilet". I have one word to add "Desperate!". Of course, no such problems for les messieurs who are quite happy to stand at the side of the road [ well not my bashful monsieur ], job in hand so to speak, oblivious to passing traffic.

Back to St Chapelle. The rather austere exterior hides a flamboyant Baroque interior. Wonderful colours and levels of galleries that are almost theatrical. What a gem hidden away. Some lovely villages, a couple of chateaux and pretty drives completed our day.

One of our favourite meals is duck breast with a potato and fennel boulangere and our first one of a trip is always special. The melting sweetness of the vegetables with the firmness of the duck and salty crispness of the skin is a delicious partnership.

We always try to visit any Plus Beaux Villages [ here after to be referred to as PBV ] that are in the area, and there were several in this week. The weather continued to be perfect- why did we bring these coats and scarves!. We had a lovely day beginning with the picturesque drive into Lavardens [PBV] followed by a stop in Biran, a pretty little village with towers in the middle of a forest. Onto Montesquiou and Bassoues which had great wooden halles [ the road goes through] and arcaded main street. We took the scenic route to Beaumarches which has wonderful church with carved faces and gargoyles [ sadly not open]. Marciac has a pretty lake and a huge town square with arcades and cafes. These arcades and halles are typical of this region.

We enjoy markets if we come across them and visited Fleurance market - more radishes, some olives and a delicious pastry. Later we stopped in Auvillar [PBV] -picturesque round halles and great position above the Garonne river. We were on our way to Moissac and of course our timing meant the tourist office was closed for lunch. So we had a pleasant lunch in a restaurant opposite the church while we waited to buy tickets to see the cloisters. They have very fine pillars and intricately carved capitals, and the church is also impressive.

This is Armagnac country, but we are not big brandy drinkers, so we chose instead to have a bottle of Floc de Gascogne - an aperitif of grape juice and Armagnac - which we thoroughly enjoyed over the coming days.

We visited Larressingle [PBV] a perfect peaceful village reputed to be the smallest fortified village in France, and then onto Fources [PBV] [great picnic table] with its' pretty round centre with pruned trees. You drive over a bridge and through a gate into the village. Our last stop was La Romieu with its very impressive Collegiale. Lovely old cloisters and two towers to climb. As we were leaving, the view back to this magnificent church which dominates the village is memorable.

On Friday we visited nearby Lectoure which has a high position overlooking the countryside. It was market day and roadworks made it a bit chaotic and parking difficult. But we managed and enjoyed our visit. We savoured the duck and mushroom sausages we bought with a simple salad that night. Both markets we visited that week had a lot of poultry products- beautifully 'dressed' chickens, duck, guinea fowl, pigeons as well as confit, gesiers, foie gras.

I can see this is going to take me a long time if that is only week 1.

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