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Trip Report Three Weeks in and around Toulouse, France

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Our accommodation in Toulouse was a home exchange – located in a suburb just outside the city centre with bus / metro transport that took us to the city in around 15 minutes.
I’ll give a brief summary of the places we visited in and around this area.
Toulouse – a pretty city with mainly cream or rose-coloured brick buildings. It was in Toulouse that they discovered the plant that's used to create the dye for that beautiful soft greyish blue that we know as French blue. Most of the buildings have this colour on their shutters or window trim; combined with the apricot/pink of the local bricks, it all looks clean and fresh.

The Town Hall is a beautiful building with a whole row of French flags flying outside, and well worth a look inside as well. When we visited there was an art exhibition in the galleries, but just to see the interior décor was a delight. We had walked past a number of times and each time had seen at least one wedding group there, so it's a popular spot. Under an archway is a large round plaque marking the exact spot where an early mayor was executed - going against Cardinal Richlieu in Paris was his big mistake!

On a Saturday in the main square outside the Town Hall there was a competition for the oddest game we've come across in a long while. At first we thought it was boules, but this game involved two competitors running in opposite directions along a mat, then tossing underhand a boules-like ball at a target ball. The runners then changed direction and repeated the whole process, now going in the opposite direction. At the same time another person had to move the target ball further away before the next throw. This all took place non-stop at great speed and looked absolutely exhausting. The crowd was most enthusiastic, but it left us somewhat baffled. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to the name of this game? There were a large number of teams playing, so it’s obviously a very popular form of exercise here.
Basilique St-Sernin and the Jacobins Church were so different from each other – the first very large and traditional, the second so simple and graceful by comparison.
If you’re interested in old-fashioned haberdashery stores, 15 rue des Puits Clos has a couple of shops well worth browsing through.
A walk along the tow path beside the Canal du Midi between Gare Matabiau and Port St Sauveur is a lovely way to spend some time and see a different aspect of the city. At Port St S there’s a little café that does a good coffee and has an interesting menu.
The Jardin des Plantes is a green oasis, and if you happen to be at the church nearby (St Exupere) on the hour, the bells chime in that beautiful tune we heard a number of times in churches in this area.
The pedestrian zones in the old city core have plenty of interesting shops and fine eateries to enjoy. On Fridays many of the stores have a pavement market with some great bargains.

Castelnaudary – a little town on the Canal du Midi, about 45 minutes drive south east of Toulouse. We drove down on the motorway, then on the return journey we stopped at Avignonet-Lauragais – a very small village on the A road. While the villages had beautiful churches and squares, they don't seem to go in for as much in the way of decorative flower gardens and window boxes as we've seen further to the north, but the countryside was very beautiful. Apparently there's been a very wet summer here, so all is a lot greener than usual.

Albi - this town turned out to be a real gem! I don't know if it is because school holidays had finished, or because on Mondays a lot of shops are closed, but there were very few people around, and certainly no crowds.

So after a fortifying drink - espresso double for DH and Perrier pas de glace for me, we went to explore the cathedral. Like most buildings in this part of France, it is almost entirely brick; this one has as its claim to fame being the tallest brick building in the world. While very austere looking on the outside, the interior is quite spectacular, with painted ceilings like I've never seen before.

The whole original town was built as a fortification, with the cathedral and bishop's residence forming part of that. It rises very steeply up from the river . . . whoever chose the site in the 12th C certainly knew what they were doing.

We spent a couple of hours just wandering among the ancient buildings, and I finally found a lovely silk scarf in the blue Pastel colour that this region is famous for. Madame shopkeeper explained the whole dying process to me in French; luckily I had already read about it, so was just about able to keep up with what she was telling me - at least I think I did!

Carcassonne - only about an hour southeast from here, on the expressway. The trickiest part of the driving in Toulouse is finding our way to the entry ramps for the Perifique that runs around the inner city here. This was our third attempt, and we finally seem to have Miss G on the right settings to the easiest slip road for entry.

Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a large medieval city mounted on a hill and overlooking the river and newer parts of the city. It is a most impressive site and very well preserved. Unfortunately the very narrow streets were absolutely overrun with tourists and endless shops selling what looked to be exactly the same post cards and knick-knacks.

I had read that the best time to visit was in the late afternoon, when all the busloads had left for the day, but short of staying overnight that wasn't feasible for us. We much preferred the old part of the 'new town' - it was still quite old by our standards, with lovely shops and eateries, but not so many people crammed in.

Once again we met up with the Canal du Midi and took a little walk along its pathway, then through a large forested picnic space, then back through some lovely gardens and into the new town again.

We both decided that for us Albi was the much nicer town, but it obviously doesn't have the attraction for many people that Carcassonne has.
Domme is a pretty little village perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Dordogne River. Fortunately there is plenty of car parking – I wouldn’t fancy walking up the hill to get there. Plenty to see walking around, and a great variety of places to eat.

Aubusson we stayed in the Logis Hotel de France, right in the middle of town. Limited garage parking available just around the corner. We had selected a ‘superior’ room because it had a queen size bed – the room itself was very spacious and beautifully decorated in the French country style. The dining room dinners and service were first class; with scrumptious food, including a little chocolate dessert with fresh mint coulis that was just the best ever!
The town is famous for its tapestry making; so as we walked the streets of the old town, we explored the house of a tapestry maker in the 1600s, viewed old and new tapestries in the museum, and saw the fantastic rainbows of coloured wools and silks used by the artisans.

In the afternoon we drove to the nearby town of Felletin, to see a tapestry exhibition in a church - these tapestries were selected for hanging because they all related to the theme of birds. The most spectacular was a large ring of tapestry fabric (of a size that easily fitted here people inside it). The outside surface was black and white shades resembling sharp mountain ridges. On the inside the colours were white and shades of blues. When you stood enclosed inside this ring, you could hear the gentle sounds of European birds. The bird sounds were chosen because they were the birds most often depicted in the old tapestry scenes. The steep mountain ridges were actual lines taken from the sound waves made by those birdcalls. The whole concept was just mind blowing!! This church holds regular exhibitions, so is well-worth seeking out.

> Aubusson is nestled among quite steep hills - as we soon discovered when we began climbing up to see a clock tower located above the town. Many of the homes we saw on the way up appeared to have no car access, but still had families living in them.

Rocamadour. The only down side to this village is its fame - once again truck loads of coaches, mobile homes and us mere drivers were all over the place! Although judging by the vast areas set aside for parking, I guess it's a whole lot worse in high season. Most of the hotels (including ours) are on the top of the hill in a separate village that's awash with hotels and eateries.
The original village clings to the sides of a deep gorge, with access for pedestrians via a couple of elevators. The story is that a hermit of some religious persuasion took up residence in a cave there, it then became a pilgrimage site, then a church was included and the village grew from that. Most buildings are built literally clinging to the cliff, but being granite there are no troglodyte homes going back into the hillside.

Our accommodation was at the Logis Hotel Belvedere, with a dining room that overlooked the valley and village. We really lucked in this time, with a room that overlooked the same view beautifully. When we woke up the next morning, the whole valley was filled with fog. Watching this fade and the cliff faces reappear was a great bonus.

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