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TRIP REPORT: Paris, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Toulouse, Provence, and more

TRIP REPORT: Paris, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Toulouse, Provence, and more

Aug 10th, 2017, 09:14 PM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 1,118
Thanks for that, so happy for you that Mr turned out to be a nice fellow

Looking forward to Toulouse.
sundriedtopepo is offline  
Aug 11th, 2017, 01:49 PM
  #42  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 10,280
How exciting! A house in the Dordogne. Good luck.

Looking forward to Toulouse as we will also be there next month.
yestravel is offline  
Aug 12th, 2017, 12:15 AM
  #43  
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Our incredible luck continued on our last day in Mongesty. The night before our departure, we emailed Pierre to set up the time to hand over the keys. He replied by offering to take us to lunch, as well as on a tour of Cahors, about 30 minutes away, on our way to Toulouse. This guy is like a dream.

When he came to pick up the keys, he was surprised that we had not eaten any of the vegetables from his garden. I guess he had told us to help ourselves and I had just missed it, so he took a bag and filled it with zucchini, tomatoes and green peppers that will last us the next few days. He also gave us three jars of homemade preserves to take with us that'll last for the next few weeks. His generosity is endless.

So we followed him to just outside of the old city center, parked the car and hopped into his. He showed us all the sites outside the center first, such as the remains of an old Massive Roman Empire wall, which now form the walls of the cemetery, a huge arch that once belonged to a temple dedicated to Venus, and the beautiful Pont Valentré, a medieval bridge with three towers that is now the symbol of Cahors.

We then walked through the old center, past drab buildings in need of a facelift and beautiful half-timbered and brick houses, and into the cathedral, with its two massive domes dominating the space.

On our walk I pointed out a super-small car to Sam, and Pierre commented that driving that sized car was embarrassing for the French because it means that you have had your driver's license revoked, since you only need a scooter/motorcycle license to drive it. Only in France can someone who has lost his license still be legally allowed to drive a car!

The restaurant he took us to was probably the nicest place we have eaten lunch at on this trip. It wasn't expensive, but the 3 course prix-fixe menus were all creative and delicious. Sam had a velouté with smoked trout to start, followed by a refined pork and potato main course, and I had tomato with goat cheese started followed by a giant deconstructed raviolo, stuffed with beef cheeks. For desert Sam had a crème brûlée on top of fresh poached peaches, and I had an apricot financier.

As we ate, Pierre became even more animated. It was a somewhat melancholy conversation, as he mourned the plight of small farmers, who are undercut by industrial farming. Or how small shops in towns all over France are disappearing, because they can't keep up with the giant warehouse stores opening on the outskirts of towns. It's a bitter-sweet story, one that we know well in the U.S.

When the bill came we offered to pay but he was having none of that. I told him that he was going to spend all of the profits from having this booking, and he said he wasn't doing it for the profit, he was doing it for the experience, and how he could help enrich other people's lives, as well as enrich his own. What a truly remarkable man.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 12th, 2017, 03:25 AM
  #44  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 47,885
Sounds lovely. I think we may have mentioned to you our American friend Judith Lit's award-winning film, "Après L'Hiver, Le Printemps," which follows the story of an agricultural family in Marquay (not far from your new house!) and is all about the disappearance of the old farming practices. It's a beautiful film. Your friend Pierre might enjoy it, as would you. Judith will be a neighbor of yours and is delightful.
StCirq is online now  
Aug 12th, 2017, 09:17 AM
  #45  
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Thanks for the tip. We will definitely look up the film. Maybe we can all get together next year.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 14th, 2017, 08:50 AM
  #46  
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Since we had about 3 hours before checking in to our apartment in Toulouse, we decided to take the scenic route. We drove through some incredibly pretty countryside, with neatly planted fields of sunflowers, heavy with seed, heads hanging forlornly. We passed through alleés of trees, which stood at attention on each side of the road, and past nut groves, planted with military precision into rows and columns. There is something strangely satisfying about seeing nature put into these rather unnatural patterns, making order out of chaos.

We made a couple stops along the way, the first being at the appealing small town of Montcuq, whose donjon tower is visible for miles away. We wandered through the well-kept warren of streets to the foot of the tower, admiring the checkerboard fields stretching out in all directions.

Back in the car, circled past Lauzerte, which sits enticingly on a hilltop, for fear that we would get too far behind in time, but did make a stop in Moissac, to take a spin through the amazing cloister of the medieval Saint-Pierre Abbey, the church of which lays on the World Heritage Site Route of Santiago de Compostela.

From Moissac we jumped on the autoroute bound for Toulouse, having little traffic until we arrived at the pedestrian streets of the old center. As I had been instructed by our hostess, we met at the cafe Donjon, where we picked her up so she could direct us to the parking garage through the maze of streets.

I immediately felt at home in Toulouse. With the warm brick buildings, the dramatic Place du Capitole and the lively student population, it reminds me of our time in Bologna more than of any other French city we've been too. I think we will enjoy our time here.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 14th, 2017, 10:48 AM
  #47  
 
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Sounds like a lovely drive!
yestravel is offline  
Aug 15th, 2017, 11:45 AM
  #48  
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We didn't have a packed agenda for our three days in Toulouse. We were mostly content to wander around the different areas and soak in the atmosphere.

Our apartment was on rue Saint Rome, very centrally located, about 30 meters from the Place Capitale. What I didn't know when I booked was that our street was probably the single busiest pedestrian street in the center, with a constant parade of people from morning to the middle of the night. It was quite interesting to watch, reminding me of the passegiata ritual we have experienced in Italy.

The Place Capitale was just as busy, but given its size , it more easily absorbs the crowds. It is a very pleasing square, dominated by the Capitale building on one side, and the entire place has a very harmonious and uniform look. One side is lined with cafes that never seem to want for customers, although we didn't try any of them. On Sunday morning there was a marché in the square, selling mostly bric-a-brac, books and luggage.

Probably our favorite activity was renting bikes through the same type of bike sharing system we used in Paris, and riding across the river to Les Abattoirs, a former slaughter house, converted into a modern and contemporary art museum. The high-ceilinged brick building was a beautiful space, and the gardens were filled with brightly colored Fernand Léger sculptures, which came as a pleasant surprise, as we are planning to visit the Léger museum in Biot later in the trip. Inside was a very interesting exposition called Suspended Animation, in which various artists explore reality and virtual reality, using computer animation. The visuals were mesmerizing.

We did take one day-trip, to Cordes-sur-Ciel and Albi. Cordes is a beautiful hill-top town, with steep cobblestone streets that lead up to some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. There was a sign indicating that it was voted most favorite village in France by the French, although it didn't elaborate as to who voted or how the votes were tallied, so I suspect that there is some wiggle room in that assessment.

From there we went to Albi, whose cathedral bills itself as being the largest brick building in the world. I didn't confirm the veracity of that statement, but I will say that it is immense; but the fortress-like exterior does nothing to prepare you for the opulent interior. We've seen a lot of churches in Europe, I mean a LOT, but this still took our breath away. There is not a single surface that isn't colorfully painted or intricately carved. The mural of the last judgement was awe inspiring, right up there with the one in the duomo in Orvieto, Italy.

After the cathedral we went to the Toulouse-Latrec museum, which is housed in the same Episcopal City complex as the church, where we saw his famous posters for performances in the Montmartre area, as well as many of his lessor known works. The gardens were beautiful as well, complimenting the appealing views of the river and bridges. Altogether, Albi was a highlight of a highlight filled trip.

Coming up next, a stop in Millau to see another man-made wonder.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 16th, 2017, 06:52 AM
  #49  
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
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Fantastic! As we will spend 2 nights in Cordes, I'm hoping 2 nights in Toulouse will suffice for us this time around.
sundriedtopepo is offline  
Aug 16th, 2017, 07:44 AM
  #50  
 
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we were also fortunate enough to meet st cirq and her husband over lunch and then a visit to their cave and house. she is incredibly generous to get these tickets for us!
plambers is offline  
Aug 17th, 2017, 11:11 AM
  #51  
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@sundried... two nights will be plenty in Toulouse. Albi is very close to Cordes, so definitely plan a visit on the way from Toulouse.

@plambers...that was one of our best days on this trip

Onward...

So we set out for a 5 night stay in Provence, via an overnight in Millau to break up the long drive. We took the scenic route along the Tarn river, enjoying the views as the landscape became drier and the valley became craggier.

We planned to stop for lunch at Brousse-le-Chateau, another of Les Plus Beaux Villages. As soon as we arrived, I tried to get us a table at the one restaurant in town, and was promptly told that they were all booked. I had a brief moment of frustration, until I realized that it was market day in Brousse, so we wandered over and bought some saucisson, which we asked to have sliced up for us, and a couple ripe nectarines. This, along with some cheese, bread and wine that we already had with us would make for a fine lunch. Loaded with our goodies, we set off to explore the chateaux of the town's name.

Walking over a beautiful stone pedestrian bridge, we climbed up narrow cobblestone paths to the highest point in the town and entered a delightful castle. Situated in the Tarn valley, with the river on one side and a canal on the other, it could not have been more dramatically positioned. We explored the ramparts and the interior rooms, as well as a small church and a sweet little cemetery next door. Soon, the few other people within the grounds headed down for lunch, and we found a nice shady bench with a fabulous view where we could enjoy our picnic lunch. This was perfection. I am happy to say that we have been handed very few lemons so far on this trip, but when we have, boy the lemonade sure has been sweet!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 17th, 2017, 11:58 AM
  #52  
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So from Brousse we had about an hour to our next stop, the overlook and visitors center of the Millau Viaduct Bridge, which proclaims itself as the tallest bridge in the world. Whether that is true or not, it is a stunning piece of engineering, and even more unbelievably so once you understand the hurdles they had to overcome with the design and construction. I highly urge you to watch the 45 min documentary on it which you can find here: http://youtu.be/AHACv9hs9ds. I've watched it twice. Totally engrossing.

After seeing the bridge from above, we drove down to Peyre, another plus beaux village, which lays almost directly beneath it. The size of the bridge is even more astonishing when viewed from below.

We finished the day with dinner and an overnight at funky hotel in Millau, a series of prefab semi-detached "chalets", with thin plastic walls, but an excellent view of the bridge. We decided to have dinner there in order to take advantage of the view, but we didn't realize is that the mountain above us was the staging point for paragliding outfit. As we ate our dinner and watched the sunset, we were treated to colorful paragliders circling over our view of the bridge, before gently touching down in the field below our hotel. We could not have planned it better if we had tried. Another day, full of the pleasantly unexpected.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 18th, 2017, 08:10 AM
  #53  
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We headed out from Millau for Mazan, Vaucluse, a small town in Provence a bit east of Orange, but on the way we had a couple stops planned. The first was at La Couvertoirade, another plus beaux village.

It was about 10am when we arrived, and the town was just starting to get the sleep out of its eyes, and there were few people about. This enchanting village is completely surrounded by medieval walls , which are very well preserved, so we started with a tour atop the ramparts to get an overview. There was a very interesting short film playing in one of the towers, which described a typical day in the life of a local sheep farmer. It also explained how the Templars enriched themselves by taking control of the watering holes and charging the shepards for bringing their flocks to water. Although the chief economy is now tourism, not extorting poor shepards, we still enjoyed a wander through the winding streets and alleys. As we were leaving we saw a tour bus pull up, so I'm sure our experience would have been different later in the day, when it would certainly be more crowded.

Our planned second stop was at another plus beaux village closer to Montpellier called Saint Guilhem le Désert. We were driving through the Gorge de l'Hérault, along side the river of the same name, but unlike with the previous town, here the traffic was building up. We then noticed a lot of people parking on the side of the road and heading down to the river in their swimsuits, so we hoped that when we passed them that the road to town would be clear. No such luck. For the first time on this trip, we found ourselves in gridlocked traffic. When we inched by the town we could see that all of the lots were full and it looked like a madhouse. The French summer vacation season was officially in full swing. We decided that we didn't need to see the town that badly when we saw that the closest parking was two kilometers away, so we did an about face and headed back the way we came, with lunch as the immediate goal.

A couple km down the road we saw a massive parking lot with shuttles taking people to St Guilhem. Well, that explained the crowds. A couple minutes later we were blissfully alone, and we stopped at a peaceful little town called Aniane where we found a restaurant with two outdoor tables on a pedestrian street just across from the attractive Mairie. Now this is what we were looking for. We had a delicious prix-fixe three course lunch in the calm, at least until the workers at the building next door finished their lunch and started the electric sander, creating a cloud of plaster dust that sent us into a coughing fit. Fortunately we were finished, so we we paid the bill and hightailed it out of there.

Two hours later we were driving through vineyards and pulling up to our gîte just outside Mazan, with a view across the grapevines to Mt Ventoux and the Dentelles in the distance. We were greeted by Gerard and his wife, who proudly showed us around their newly restored gîte. The fridge was loaded with the most important essential, a cold bottle of Cote du Rhône Rosé, a gift from them. They also went out to the grape vine a few meters away and cut us a bunch of the sweetest, juiciest deep purple grapes that I have had since I was a child. A quick trip to town for a baguette, some cheese and some tomatoes to go with the saucisson we had left and we were set for a light dinner. We ate outside as the sun set in blazing gold and orange, admiring the mountains, the clouds and the vines, and feeling very, very fortunate.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 18th, 2017, 11:02 AM
  #54  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
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.......and to think, this wonderful, wonderful trip is just a preview of what awaits you now that you own your own home there!

Congratulations!!!!
Traviata is offline  
Aug 18th, 2017, 12:45 PM
  #55  
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
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Traveling along with you and remembering our trip a few years ago. We stayed in Montfort, not far from Domme, and loved it. Our host suggested stopping in St Genie, and it was beautiful! What a lovely place to live.

Would you be willing to share the name of your French tutor in Paris, or how you found them? We'd love to do that in a year or two.
Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 18th, 2017, 02:16 PM
  #56  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
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This is an enthralling TR, russ_in_LA. Lots of detail but with a light touch that made me remember past trips and add more places to the old bucket list.

I hope you will report back about your experiences living in France. Congrats!

ps--Have you read the Peter Mayle books? He also mentioned the 'vang' and 'pang' accent.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 19th, 2017, 09:06 AM
  #57  
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@Traviata: Thanks!

@Iwan2go: https://www.caroline-frenchtutoring.com. I recommend going to her place for lessons. She has her computer hooked up to her TV and will quickly pull up related lessons and additional info to display as needed. She also will print out worksheets and notes that she writes during the lessons.

@TDudette: I did read A Year in Provence 25 years ago or so, but don't remember that. In case Peter Mayle has a copyright on the southern french accent, I officially give him credit for that description ;-). I will definitely report back on the buying process and our initial experiences, but that won't be for a while.

Tomorrow is our last day in Provence, so I have some catching up to do!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Aug 19th, 2017, 09:20 AM
  #58  
 
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Sorry you didn't get to visit St-Guilhem le Désert (the abbey there is one of the simplest but most beautiful I've ever seen), but sorrier to hear about the tour buses. My, how things change!

To "vang" and "pang" you can add "bon ma-tang!" You'll get the "hang" of it once you buy the house!
StCirq is online now  
Aug 19th, 2017, 12:49 PM
  #59  
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
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Thanks for the link, Russ! Btw, we're also in the LA area, out in the north valley. ��
Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 19th, 2017, 01:37 PM
  #60  
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
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What a lovely trip you're having. May we all be so lucky to meet our own kind, generous, enthralling Pierre and Agnes! And many congratulations on the new home. Oh the stories you'll tell--can't wait!
nola77382 is offline  

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