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Our stay in a storybook village in the Aveyron Ė Belcastel, France. Trip Report to the Aveyron, Lot and Tarn. September 2007

Our stay in a storybook village in the Aveyron Ė Belcastel, France. Trip Report to the Aveyron, Lot and Tarn. September 2007

Old Sep 27th, 2007, 09:45 AM
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Our stay in a storybook village in the Aveyron Ė Belcastel, France. Trip Report to the Aveyron, Lot and Tarn. September 2007

Having just returned from this area Tuesday night, I want to thank Stu and others for all the valuable information on this isolated area of France. It's so beautiful, but filled with tiny, winding roads, which we drove each day. It's an area and village which we'll never forget.

Hours and hours I spent looking for a French gite for our trip to the Aveyron. I wasnít sure if we should stay in B&Bís moving around every couple of nights, or find a central village with a gite and make day trips from that location. This area is huge and we had quite a varied list of sites we wished to visit. We spent one week in a gite in the Basque area of France last May and loved the experience, and the price so decided to try and find a gite on gites-de-france.com. I had no idea when we booked our gite, what a treat this small village was, or how wonderful our gite would be. There was only a picture of the outside of the gite on the site, so it was with a leap of faith that we booked it. No one on the Fodorís site had seemed to have visited this small ďMost Beautiful Village of FranceĒ, but the photos I found of the village looked promising. Once we go through our photos, Iíll post them of the village and our gite, ďles BuisĒ, which is owned by the Marie of Belcastel, and in middle season was €400 for the week, for the 3 bedroom, 84m2 stone home.

Belcastel has only about 250 residents. Itís a small stone village 24 km west of Rodez, France. Itís at the bottom of a valley, strung along the Aveyron river, which a very old stone bridge crosses. Most of the town is on one side of the river, including an excellent 1* Michelin restaurant du Vieux Pont http://www.hotelbelcastel.com/ At the top of the village is a chateau, owned by an American couple who only live there a few months of the year. The chateau is filled with original drawings of Charles Schulz. On the opposite bank of the small river the Eglise Sainte Marie-Madeleine is located, which our covered stone terrace viewed. There is also a small ďcampingĒ area, just a grass plot under the trees, with a small shop for food, bread and wine as well as the few hotel rooms owned by du Vieux Pont.

We flew into Barcelona, rented a car through AutoEurope and easily drove north into France. Our flight arrived around 11:30 a.m. so we knew we couldnít travel to far the first day. The Canal du Midi was high on my list to visit so we decided to stay near by in Redorte, France. http://perso.orange.fr/lamarelle/index.htm ďLa MarelleĒ in La Redorte 19, avenue de Minervois 11700 Tel 04 68 91 59 (east of Carcassone, by Homps) 58€ for the room and 24€ each for dinner 8 p.m.

The route we drove from Barcelona was the AP7 autoroute exiting at exit 41 and taking D117 west passing the Chateau de Queribus which can be seen from the road. The D117 is beautiful. We originally hoped to stop at Chateau de Peyrepertuse or Queribus, but there was no time. At Quillan we drove north up the D118 and stopped at Rennes le Chateau. This was a good break and we enjoyed seeing the church which had free entry. Continuing along to Limoux, where the delicious Blanquette sparkling wine is produced, we shopped at the big wine co-op Sieur díArgues after tasting a few of their wines. They were about to close for the day, so we didnít have much time here but did buy a bottle, which I loved!

Passing close to Carcassonne, we turned onto D610 towards La Redorte. Right were the D610 and N113 met, there is a very picturesome bridge over the Canal du Midi where several of the barges parked along the canal that evening (Friday) and were having quite a good time.

La Redorte isnít special, but the new owner of La Marelle B&B was wonderful. This B&B is across the road from an Intermarche, but is behind large green gates, and was very private. Our room was huge, and after changing a resting and bit, we joined the other guests for an excellent dinner of duck confit.


We just returned late Tuesday night, so havenít even had a chance to view our photos yet, but once we do, Iíll try and learn how to post some of them here with a link.

Saturday weíll be traveling to Homps, Minerve, Pezenas market, St.Guilhem le Desert, La Couvertoirade, and driving over the Millau bridge, on the way to Belcastel.

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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 01:57 PM
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Your trip sounds wonderful, I'm looking forward to your photos and more details. I've flown into Barcelona before since I fly out of Atlanta and there's a non-stop flight. We were going to Provence that time.

We have also rented gites and yours sounds large and not very expensive. Were the beds good to sleep on?
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 02:45 PM
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Images2 - please don't tell too many people about this region. Don't want it to get "discovered".

Stu Dudley
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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When Travel & Leisure publishes an article on a region, I'm afraid it's already been discovered -- http://tinyurl.com/23lff9.
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 03:05 PM
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Drat !!

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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 04:10 PM
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The Travel and Leisure article has a picture of Belcastel on the cover! We saw this issue just days before we left for our trip!

Here's my first try at photos.

Photos of the gite:

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Photos of Belcastel village. I may have more later, but here are some.

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Efoss3 We also took the flight out of Atlanta. We started in Lexington, driving there from Cincinnati since the fare was better. Lexington was having it's yearling horse sale that day, so we enjoyed seeing some of the horses being auctioned off at Keeneland before our flight. Keeneland is just across the road from the airport. What a beautiful place!

Yes, the beds were fine. Not like home, but large enough, a bit hard, but not to bad. I slept 12 hours one night, so I guess they were ok!
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 05:41 PM
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Saturday, September 15

Breakfast was served between 8-10a.m. the next morning, so after a great nights sleep in a large, comfortable bed in the very, very large bedroom, we had fresh croissants, tea, fruit, cereal, milk and more. We were joined by a couple who were about to embark on their 2 week barge trip along the Canal du Midi. This was their first time doing this, and were meeting another couple, joining them later in the day. I think I might be bored slow traveling down the canal for 2 weeks, but the canal was so lovely. I wanted another glimpse before heading north, so we stopped in Homps, nearby, to get another look. This was one spot which was a gathering town where several of the boats over nighted, or began their journey.

Driving through the vineyards where the vendange, or harvest had begun, it was fun spotting which vineyards were being harvested. The vines were heavy with fruit. Some were harvested by large tractors, set high on tall ďlegsĒ where the cab was over the tops of the vines. Others were being harvested by hand. We drove by Cesseras with all the vineyards, stopping to talk to one owner who had several men harvesting by hand. His trailer was already filled, and it was only 9:30 a.m. Driving along D182 and the beautiful Canyon de la Cesse, we parked just outside of Minerve. We walked across the stone bridge into the lovely town. It wasnít quite 10 a.m. yet so a few shops were just beginning to open. We didnít mind just walking along the beautiful village, exploring a bit, but not spending any time shopping. We probably were in the town just 45 minutes before continuing onto Pezenas where it was market day.

Passing close to Beziers we saw the sign to Ecluses de Fonseranes, the series of 8 locs on the Canal du Midi. It was only a 2 minute detor to see them, and we were happy we stopped. A couple of boats were navigating the locs so it was an interesting stop.

Parking in Pezenas was a challenge since we arrived some time after the market opened. The town was full of shoppers and cars. We parked down the road quite a bit, but it was still an easy walk back to the center. It was quite warm and sunny. Since we were arriving at our gite later in the day, we needed to do some shopping so we could have wonderful French food for the next couple of days. I planned on cooking dinner some nights in the gite. I packed a small collapsible ice chest so we could protect some food from the heat. I was not comfortable buying any meats though, besides dried sausage, since we still had several hours before weíd arrive in Belcastel. Stocking up on eggs, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, wine, etc. was fun, but this market wasnít as wonderful as I had hoped. It was quite large, but didnít feel special. I was somewhat disappointed. We also spent some time in the old town, but again, it wasnít as great as I thought it might be. Later in the week, we would find markets which appealed to us much more!

Via Michelin.com was great for estimating our driving times and we felt it was right on. We stopped at St.Guilhem- le-Desert for a bit of lunch and wine on the picturesome plaza under the huge plane tree, up by the church. This town was delightful and a great place for a break.

Back on A75 we stopped in La Couvertoirade. Itís not to far off the highway and I loved this village. We browsed through the artist shops and walked the ramparts, which were free today since it was Journees du Patrimoine weekend. Several sites are free on this weekend each year.

Crossing the Millau viaduc was just fantastic. Once you cross it there is an exit for a visitorís center with a steep uphill path to a viewing area of the bridge. We really didnít have the time to stop, since we needed to check into our gite, but we stopped anyway. Later in the week we returned to the town of Millau to view the viaduct from below, but it was still worth the hike to see it from this vantage point also.

Leaving A75 at exit 44.1 we took the southern route to Belcastel. The roads were very rural and winding. It was so peaceful, but a bit slow of a drive with the continous curves. Itís probably better to arrive via Rodez. We just loved this small village and couldnít believe it was as picturesome as it was, peaceful and ideal. Belcastel isnít perfect. Itís so small that there is no patisserie. There is a small store just across the bridge with basic supplies, and bagetts, chocolate bread etc, but it didnít seem to open until about 9 a.m. There are only 2 restaurants in town. One is Vieux Pont, which is a Michelin 1* with a 49€ menu. It was truly excellent. We never did try Restaurant 1909 although it had 3 different priced menus to choose from. The other drawback is that the roads are so curvy and roads dark, that we didnít feel comfortable dining away from town, with that drive back at night. As a result we cancelled our other dinner reservations, and just ate on our terrace at night. We didnít mind though, the view was exceptional.

Photos from Friday and Saturday:


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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 07:02 AM
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Sunday, September 16

Itís Sunday in the Aveyron so we decided to go to the Sunday morning market in St. Antonin-Noble-Val and drive the Gorges de líAveyron. We enjoyed this market, and bought several things although our favorite markets turned out to be in Villefranche-de-Rouergue and Figeac. Several of the art shops were open here, even though it was Sunday morning. 3 bunches of sunflowers were only 3€ and as I LOVE sunflowers I couldnít resist bringing them back to our gite. Parking was very congested, but we found a spot easily since it was only 9 a.m. As we left town, cars were waiting long periods for an available spot to park. This drive was pretty, through Penne, Bruniquel, Puycelsi, Castelnau-de-Montmiral then ending the day in Cordes sur Ciel.

Parking along the road side below Cordes, we hiked up the very steep hill into town. It is quite a walk. Later in the day we saw two men making the hike with their bikes. They were riding throughout France and were stopping here for the night. They reported that this hike was nothing compared to Corsica!

We dined on fresh pasta from the market on our terrace that evening and watched France vs. Nambia in the Rugby world cup match.

Market day in St. Antonin-noble-val

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Penne and Bruniquel

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Puycelsi, Castelnau-de-Montmiral and Cordes sur Ciel

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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 07:58 AM
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Images2 - you've hit some of my favorite spots. Did you see any Cepes in the markets there - they should have been plentiful in mid Sept. We purchased some from a vendor in Villefranche-de-Rouergue.

Stu Dudley
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 08:48 AM
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Hi Stu,

We only saw a small amount of dried cepes. I expected more. The melons weren't at their peak either, but everything else was wonderful.

How was your trip to Brittany? We met some travelers who had just been there and said the weather was great while they were there!

Do you ever have allergy problems in September in France? This was our first September trip there, except for a bit of time in Paris once, and we were hit hard by whatever was in the air. We're wondering if it was all those beautiful trees in the area or the dried up sunflower fields all over the hillsides.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 08:55 AM
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Monday, September 17

The forcast was for rain, but the skyís were sunny so we drove out to Rignac which is a medium size town, great for getting pastries and fresh bread. The D994 towards Rodez is a great road, and faster travel was possible. Driving the roundabouts through Rodez is a bit confusing, so Iím happy I printed directions on via Michelin to keep us on the right track. Our goal was to see the Tarn gorge and Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux, then viewing the Millau viaduct from below, around Creissels and Peyre.

Chosing to take D988 north to D988 which lead us to Ste-Eulalie díOlt which is a darling, flowery village, then continuing onto La Canourgue and into the gorge to St. Eminie, St. Chely du Tarn, La Malene then onto the Chaos de Montpellier. We ended the day with a huge storm rolling in as we viewed to Millau viaduct from below.

The Tarn gorge was wonderful, even though we only spent a few hours there, and didnít go up to Point Sublime. The stretch of gorge between Les Vignes and La Malene is really spectacular.

At Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux we walked the red route to view the Douminal. The route was steep, with a lot of stone stairs to climb, but we did fine. The view is wonderful from here. We continued on to the Arch, another highlight in the Chaos. This route took us a little over 1 hour. After the Arch, we hopped onto the white train, just to save time. It stopped at another view point, then returned to the parking lot. The train was only 2.50€ each.

A storm was brewing and as we arrived at the visitor center for the Millau Viaduct in Creissels the skys darkened. I thought the photos of the bridge here looked great against the gray skies. After visiting the tourist center, we drove to Peyre. The road goes under the viaduct and views are great. Peyre has some homes built into the cliffs. The storm errupeted though, so I couldnít get photos. It was quite a storm. Worse in Belcastel, where we found trees down, and the hillslide in one section of town had slid across the road and into the river. The electric was out, and all was pitch black as we arrived back. Thankfully I had packed a flashlight, so we made dinner by flashlight that evening. Electric returned around 1:15 a.m.

The next morning we talked to the residents of Belcastel, and they reported it was the worst storm they remembered in many, many years. The following day we were hit hard by allergies, and they remained for the rest of the week. Was it the storm bringing the pollen down from the trees, the fresh sunflowers we brought into the gite, or the dried sunflowers filling many of the hillsides around us?? Still not sure, but once we arrived back in Barcelona, they improved greatly.

Saint Eulalie díOlt to La Canourgue

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Traveling the Tarn gorge to St. Enimie, St. Chely du Tarn, Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux and under the Millau viaduct.

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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 10:11 AM
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I'm really enjoying your report and pictures. I don't think I'd ever get tired of looking at pictures of the French countryside.

A picture you took at the market in Bruniquel includes the textiles of a local weaver from whom I bought a beautiful mohair shawl two years ago in July. It brings back the memories of that day, which was so intensely hot that I couldn't bear to try on the shawl in the shop.

I also have a picture of men playing boules in St. Antonin-Noble-Val looking so hot that I couldn't imagine why they'd be out there, except that it was probably even hotter indoors.

I had climbed up to Cordes-sur-Ciel that same day in the heat, only to learn upon reaching the top that there is a tram that takes people up to the village from their cars.

Looking at your pictures, September would seem to be a better choice. Although this summer, when I was in the South of France in August, it was decidedly cool and rainy.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 10:21 AM
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Glad you're enjoying the report Nikki. September was beautiful this year. We had no idea what the weather would be since we noticed August was wet and cold this year. It's cold there again now.

There was a small festival in Bruniquel the day we were there. They had an old automobile show, artists, and a wine exhibition. One little boy from the village was wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap. We're from Cincinnati, so had to comment on that to his mother!

Yes, the weaver's work was beautiful. Lucky you to purchase some of her work.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 10:23 AM
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Jeeze - you really are visiting all the same places we've toured on our several trips to that region. We've gotten lost in Rodez also - twice. We circled the entire town & found ourselves back at the same spot where we started.

I'm guessing that you have my Languedoc guide. If so, did you stop & sit on the bench on the opposite side of the Lot from Ste-Eulalie díOlt, and did you take the tourist office's walking tour of the town. You were about 5 K from the Gite where we stayed.

I bet there were plenty of fresh Cepes at the markets - maybe you didn't recognize them. We had them twice in the second week of Sept while in Brittany, and they probably came from a section in France that's closer to where you stayed. We had our fill of them in Sept '04 when we stayed in the Lot regon near Ste Eulalie d'Olt.

I've never experienced any algeries in Sept - and we've been in France every Sept for at least the last 9 years. My wife hasn't experienced them either. I get lots of bug bites though.

Brittany was fantastic. The weather was perfect - just like the people you met indicated. The second day we were there was cloudy for about 80% of the day, about 8 days it was sunny from sunrise to sunset, and the other 5 days it was cloudy/foggy till about noon and then it cleared. No rain at all. Our Gite was 50 yds from the ocean and we could see the tide rise & fall from our Gite's window.

Brittany is quite different from the region you exlored. That's why we love vacationing in different areas of France - the diversity of scenery, cultures, food, etc.

Stu Dudley

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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 12:26 PM
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Ste-Eulalie díOlt was almost closed up tight. We didn't do an official walking tour. I was surprised how quiet it was, just 2 weeks after the August holidays. When we were walking around on our own, we almost missed the water wheel, but an elderly man came out of his home to make sure he showed us what we almost missed!

The art shops were closed, but it was Monday and they were digging up the area in front of several of them. No bench sitting for us. You saw how much we did in that week! Unfortunatly that left little time for relaxation, apart from lunch!

We had planned on dinner one evening in Rodez, but decided it was to hard to drive back to Belcastel, on the curvy roads late at night. We cancelled our reservation. Do you eat dinner out, or only lunch, when you stay at a rural gite? I know you eat at some great restaurants.

Your location in Brittany sounds wonderful. We spent about a week there last spring, 2006, and loved it. We have more to do there at some point though. We can't see everything one area has to offer in one trip.

We just booked our gite for next September in an out of the way area of Provence. Great price again, and we booked for 2 weeks.

We found it on Gites-de-France.com again, but this time it was an independant rental, meaning you can't reserve it on the site, but with the owner's directly. This meant they asked for a check for the deposit. We tried to get a Money Order while in France for the deposit, but the French wouldn't do that. No way for us to get any kind of check to mail them, so we sent cash in a letter mailed from Albi. They did receive it.

Do you have a French bank account? I think it's time we try and get one, if not to hard. We'd love a French credit card to help with these problems, and the help it'd be having a card with a chip in it.

Any help anyone has on this matter would be appreciated.

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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 12:34 PM
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Tuesday, September 18

The Grotte de Pech Merle was our first destination today. I made reservations by e-mail for our tour about 2 weeks prior. We had an appointment for 9:45, so needed to arrive at 9:30 when the ticket office opened. We were grouped with an elderly French group and given an English packet of large type in case we couldnít follow along in French. Our guide could speak English, and asked us a few times if we had questions and would occasionally explain something in English. Itís a pretty basic tour, so with our partial understanding of French and the packet, we followed the tour just fine. We were very, very impressed with the French group of elderly people, several using canes. They werenít about to be left behind and enjoyed the tour very much. The caves were quite impressive, but of course, we have no photos of the tour. Driving the D911 westbound then the D42 to St. Cirq-Lapopie, then on towards the caves, was an easy approach.

Backtracking to St. Cirq-Lapopie we found it easy to park at the top of the village. There is a pay lot which wasnít filled. If it is while youíre visiting, just wait and each time a car leaves the lot, the parking gate will raise and allow another car to enter. This was one of my favorite villages!

Restaurants here were a bit pricy and we had big dinner plans this evening, so we found a sandwich shop which made hot paninis and took them to go. Driving along the Cele river route we found the cement picnic table along the river, others have talked about. Itís a very pretty area so we stopped to enjoy it for a bit.

Back on the road we stopped shortly in Espagnac, then traveled onto Figeac. This town is great. I think it would be a wonderful town to live in. The medieval center is very enjoyable.

Between Figeac and Belcastel are the medieval ruins of Peyrusse-Le-Roc. We didnít have time to stop here, but it sounded like it would be an interesting stop.

Arriving in Belcastel before the Chateau closed for the day, we toured it. If you check out the photos, youíll see a fraction of the original art inside including original drawings of Charles Schulz.

This evening we enjoyed an excellent meal at Hotel Restaurant Vieux Pont in Belcastel which is a Michelin 1* restaurant, with a chef who is a woman. Her sister works the front of the restaurant. It was the best 1* French restaurant we have dined in. The menu is 49€ and they have an extensive wine list.

Photos of St.Cirq Lapopie, Espagnac and Figeac


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Belcastel Chateau and itís art and more Belcastel village

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Wednesday, September 19

Toulouse and the 380 airbus tour lasting 1 hr. 30 min. http://www.taxiway.fr/
We booked this tour several weeks in advance. They will need your name, date of birth, place of birth, to book this, and when arriving for tickets youíll be asked to show your passport. The tour was 14€. Itís important to get the directions theyíll send you of where to meet. The airbus complex is huge and you can easily get lost, so get good directions! Our tour was in English. During the tour we went into the large hanger where the airbus planes are assembled from the sections that they receive from the several plants that work on the individual sections of the plane. Itís very interesting. The airbus 380 was actually flying around the area and you can see it in the photo attached of the entrance to the tour area.

After the tour we drove into Toulouse and had no problem with traffic or parking in an underground lot. We enjoyed the old part of Toulouse, but found a lot of students just milling around. Itís definitely a college town!

The main sites we visited were Basilique St Sernin, Cathedrale St Etienne and the Convent des Jocobins. We also walked through the flea market thatís here on Wednesdays, and stopped in a pharmacy to get some medicine for my allergies.

Stopping at Sauveterre de Rouergue, another bastide town just south of Belcastel, we wanted to check out the restaurant Le Senechal here. Itís also a 1* Michelin restaurant, but the town and the restaurant didnít look to appealing to us. There happened to be a newly married couple sitting on the benches in the square though!

I was exhausted so we returned to Belcastel where I fell asleep, sleeping for the next 12 hours! My husband enjoyed watching the Lyon football game!

The drive from Belcastel to Toulouse was 2 hours, but the roads were excellent and it proved to be one of the easiest drives of the week!

A few Toulouse photos

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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 12:56 PM
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>>We tried to get a Money Order while in France for the deposit, but the French wouldn't do that<<

You need to go to a French Post Office and they will do a "Montat Postal" for you. You give them cash, and they will write a check & mail it to whoever you want. That's what we did last year in Burgundy, for our Gite in Brittany this year. We have sent cash on a few occasions before we found out about the Montat Postal.

We almost never have a sit-down meal at lunch. If you use the restaurant function in ViaMichelin, it will tell you how far each restaurant is from your Gite (or closest town). A 30 min drive is about our limit - 40 if it's a Michelin starred restaurant & the roads are straight & not confusing. We always pre-book (from the US) the first meal at a local restaurant for the Sat we first arrive at a new Gite. We always "cook-in" at the Gite on Sunday. Usually on Sunday, we "check-out" the other restaurants close to the Gite and see which ones have interesting menues and which ones don't. We usually eliminate about 25-40% because there is "nothing new" on the menu (beef, chicken, magret, etc). The first few days at the Gite we dine at restaurants that are the closest to the Gite - and then farther away restaurants as we become more familiar with the roads.

Stu Dudley
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 02:22 PM
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Thank you, thank you Stu. We did go to the Post Office before the bank, and asked them, but they said no. We even showed them our gite contract so it'd be clear what we wanted. We didn't use the magic words "Montat Postal" though. They told us the bank could do it for us, so we left, and went to a bank.

We'll keep this phrase in our notes for further reference.

We also booked 2 other restaurants from the U.S. that we cancelled. I felt bad cancelling, but the worry about driving home on those roads late at night wasn't worth it.

Thanks for all your tips Stu, they're a great help.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 03:34 PM
  #19  
 
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My wife just corrected me on that French Money Order (she speaks French - I don't).

It's Mondat Postal, not Montat Postal

Stu Dudley
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 04:11 AM
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Thanks for posting this report and the lovely photos. What a beautiful trip!
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