Around and About in Tarn et Garonne

Some pretty little villages around our home base of Puylaroque, some attractive small roads, and some great views. Here is an interesting Cascade Petrifie ( Petrified Waterfall), on a tiny road we travelled to visit a chateau.

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Cascade Petrifie

We had been told that in this chateau was a room which hadn’t been discovered for more than 300 years! (But we found this hard to believe … ) Here is the story : During the religious wars, Queen Marguerite of Valois, known as Queen Margot, fled from Agen pursued by the army of the King of France (Henri III ). Escorted by her two lovers and her guards, their flight led them to take refuge in the Chateau of Saint-Projet on September 26th and 27th 1585. After her departure her room was walled up and only recently discovered, with all it’s furnishings, during important building work. The chateau itself was quite plain, and quite deserted.

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Chateau de Saint-Projet

In the nearby village of Caussade we visited the Information Centre , where there was an exhibition of the local straw hat industry. Apparently Caussade , along with nearby Septfonds, is the centre of straw hat making in the world! The exhibition had very up-to-date technology, with visitors wearing panama hats with a built-in auditory system, so that when one stood in a certain place one could hear the commentary. So that explains all the straw fields around here!

The hilltop village of Montpezas de Quercy had a very good restaurant ( Le Cardinal) which we decided would merit a return visit (!). But in the meantime the view was beautiful, and the monument to “The Martyrs of the Deportation, the Internees, the Hostages and the Resistants, 18 June 1940, 8 May 1945″ was very impressive.

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And to finish – I said I’ld tell you about the bakery! A walk of 1.2 kilometres from the village we found La Boulangerie, all on it’s own in the countryside. We needed a coffee and patisserie to strengthen ourselves for the uphill walk home! Monsieur le boulanger, also M. Le Maire (the mayor) was a very affable man, happy to chat, and to tell us about his special cattle. A baker AND a farmer, and pleased to chat with a farmer from the other side of the world. His son is the pastry chef and those patisseries are DELICIOUS!

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We loved Puylaroque … but it’s time to move on.

 

Market Day at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

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Sunday markets are really important when one arrives for a week’s stay … and the market at St Antonin was perfect for buying the produce for the next few days and for seeing what regional products are on display. First, the essentials – bread, cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables, and of course wine! The artisanal beers are worth trying too, according to my man! This market winds it’s way through the pretty little town, with stalls selling high quality merchandise and amazing-looking fresh fruit and vegetables. As a treat, we bought from a vendor 2 delicious beef bourgignon pies for tonight’s meal – yummy! This little stall selling “Secret Animals” caught my fancy!

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Enjoyed a cold Schweppes tonic in the market square, entertained by intinerant musicians, and by the butchery stall beside us, where the vendors were busy preparing platters of cold meat to sell to the bar patrons at 5 euros a plate.

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We were tempted, but decided to lunch at a bistro behind the bell tower. great setting, poor service ! The trouble, as is often the case, was that there are not enough waiting staff to cope with the ever-increasing numbers of diners. A long wait for an order to be taken, then the wrong dish delivered (and accepted, because we didn’t want yet another long wait), and the usual basket of bread arrived just as we finished the meal. Eh bien, c’est la vie!

As is also usual on market day, parking is at a premium, so we enjoyed a lengthy stroll back to the car, through the little winding alleyways of this attractive medieval town.

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“Home” to unload the provisions and walk up the road to the church and viewpoint, where there was a book sale. Any book for 1 Euro! We bought quite a few, and headed at last to our refuge from the heat, in our little secluded courtyard.

Happy bookseller, happy buyer!

Beef bourgignon pies await!

Puylaroque

Another day of travelling to get to our destination for the next week. More deserted roads, more wheat and corn fields, and now we are seeing limousin cattle in the fields. We travel in and out of a few departements (districts) today : through the Creuse region with its deserted country roads, the chestnut trees of the Perigord, the Quercy region with all the straw, and in the Lot the sunflowers, vines and fruit trees.

Typical deserted road

Typical deserted road

Lunch in a small village where the ouvriers (workmen) eat. This is such a good idea, great for the restaurants because it’s guaranteed business, the workers’ lunch is paid for by the companies and they get a 3 course meal (with wine! Yikes!!) and at least an hour’s break. I’m not sure about the wine – a carafe each – for the truckies for example!! Mais c’est la vie francaise! At least we didn’t have to have the set menu , a small salad sufficed. And for that, we were grateful, because normally when one orders a salad, the large plate is full to overflowing!!

Puylaroque

Puylaroque

Village house

Village house

We arrived at our home for the next week, in a small village on the borders of Tarn et Garonne, Lot, and Quercy ;  Puylaroque. A delightful house, large upstairs living room and cool tiles on the floor downstairs in the kitchen/dining room – great to walk on with bare feet in the heat! The small sheltered courtyard garden with it’s lavender, herbs and an apricot tree with ripe ripe fruit, was completely secluded and not overlooked. Perfect place to eat lunch or have aperitifs before an evening meal en plein air.

The bar/tabac around the corner also has a small grocery store and sells baguettes for breakfast – for those lazy bods who prefer not to walk to the GREAT bakery over a kilometre away down the hill. More about the bakery later ! The butcher is right next door to the apartment and has a superb range of food including pizza pieces and saucisson en pate (sounds much more exciting than sausage roll!!), and a very wide range of meats. And, as everywhere, there is a pharmacy across the road with it’s flashing green cross signage, which also displays the day, date, and current temperature – in the 30s centigrade most days.

The village is on a hill with the church at the top – of course! – and a viewpoint by the church with a magnificent panoramic view.

Panorama

Panorama

So I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the little excursions we will make from our base here in Puylaroque.

After Paris, Heading South

We’re looking forward to being back in Paris in October, but we have the whole of the summer ahead of us! Quelle chance!!

Road not wide enough for a combine harvester ... AND us!

Road not wide enough for a combine harvester … AND us!

A nightmare getting away from Paris, 2 hours to navigate through the city and the peripherique (the inner ring road of Paris) in nose to tail traffic. What a relief to be once more in the countryside – blue skies, small roads, very little traffic (except for the odd agricultural machine taking up the whole road!). The wheat fields look amazing, and we’re starting to see fields of sunflowers, they look glorious.  About 5.30 p.m. we thought we should start looking for somewhere to stay (not like when we’re on tour, when everything is VERY organised!). We looked on our TomTom (Satnav), which has fondly – and sometimes not so fondly – been known as “Jane”, and found an auberge (inn) not too far away. And thus we ended up at La Bonne Auberge in a tiny hamlet called Nauzerines. What a find! The season hasn’t started yet, so there were only 2 couples booked in. We had a big room overlooking the square and had our meal in their garden across the road – such a peaceful setting, good food, wine, bird song – a perfect end to a day of travel.

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What will tomorrow bring?

Bonjour France!

Yes, we’re back! In another heatwave! But this week Paris is not too hot, which is a blessing (having just come from 33 degrees centigrade in London). This time we have rented an apartment in the 17th arrondissement in Batignolles. We know the area well, so it’s just like coming home. First stop is our usual coffee and croissant at Le Rouergue Bar – now we’re REALLY here!

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Our regular café, and the Square des Batignolles

Our time is not spent visiting tourist attractions, because over the years we have visited many of them, but we walk. And across from the apartment (over 10 railway lines!!!) is the wonderful Square Batignolles. Because this arrondissement is more residential, therefore huge numbers of apartments, a park like Batignolles and another nearby park, the Peace Park of Martin Luther King, are essential . Green areas with playgrounds for children, trees, water, wildflower areas, birds – perfect for the nannies to take their charges and picnic on the grass!

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Parc Martin Luther King

And the juxtaposition of the lovely old Hausmann-type buildings and the new apartment blocks is amazing. Some of the new buildings are architecturally incredible and surprisingly don’t look too out of place.

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Old and new architecture

But our treat for the week was to go to the Theatre. If any of you non-French speaking readers would like a truly French experience you should visit the website www.theatreinparis.com and see the shows that are available. They are performed in small old theatres and many of them have the translation running above the stage. But we have been to two shows, neither of which needed translation! Last year we went to “How To Be A Parisian”, a one-man show in English, very funny, the French members of the audience thought so too! This year it was another amazing show in the Palais des Glaces. “Speakeasy” was a traditional French show of song, mime, and acrobatics – think Cirque de Soleil with 6 actors. We went with New Zealand friends and loved every minute. Absolutely amazed at their timing, acting and energy. How do they do this EVERY NIGHT?

Two things stood out this time in Paris – summer dresses are back! And E-scooters are everywhere. It’s so amusing to see a businessman in his suit and carrying his briefcase racing along the road ( not the footpath), weaving in and out of the traffic. And the young women in their dresses and summer shoes with their hair flowing out behind them. No helmets here! (Though I think in some cities here helmets are required).


After 4 days it was time to leave – but we’ll be back at the end of September! Booking a cab on line is a must – guaranteed price, prepaid on line, given the name of your driver – takes all the stress out of getting to the airport or wherever else you have to go. We use a company called Naveco, they have been excellent. Our assigned driver couldn’t come, so we ended up with a V.I.P Mercedes 8 seater limousine!

Au revoir Paris! A bientot!

Travelling the Roads

lAVENDERSo if you looked at the video post of driving in France, you will have guessed that we prefer the smaller roads to the autoroutes. They are much more interesting and attractive, but of course it takes much more time to get somewhere, especially when passing through the little villages. Travelling from late spring through summer and into early autumn we notice the different colours for each season : the yellow and purple of sunflowers and lavender in late spring and early summer, the gold of the wheat fields, and the lush greens of the forests and roadside trees; in high summer there are still sunflowers, as well as hectares and hectares of maize, and the serried ranks of grape vines – EVERYWHERE! And early autumn brings the colours of red and gold into the trees (we’re told that 70% of France is forested) and the colours of the vine leaves changing as well. The fields that were so colourful with all the varied crops are now bare earth, or with plantings of new crops such as winter wheat.The colours change with the regions as well, for instance Burgundy has the brilliant yellow of the mustard flowers, whereas around Paris there are fields of wheat as far as the eye can see.

Sosunflowersme of the roads we take are so old and narrow that I have called them our “Roads Less Travelled”! They are really beautiful, especially the avenues of trees where the tops meet and form wondrous green tunnels, with the sun filtering through. Anecdotally we are told that many villages and towns planted a roadside tree for each soldier from the village who died in the Great War (WWI). One hundred years ago the roads were much narrower, and now the trees have sometimes become a hazard to driving, with signage indicating dangerous roads, or a low speed limit, even on the more main highways.

So if you would like to share in our love of the French highways and more particularly the French byways, let us know!  We are taking bookings for next year NOW!!img_0460
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France 2018

So here we are in France again … in the middle of a heatwave! Daily temperatures of up to 39 degrees celsius. Almost too hot to be a tourist!

I thought that first it might be interesting for you to see some of the roads we have travelled (thanks to Matt Sweet, who videoed and compiled this journey). It even includes a little of the autoroute travel, which we usually try to avoid. But needs must, when there is a train to catch!

Chateau of Chenonceau, the Chateau of the Ladies

Diane de Poitier's garden

Diane de Poitier’s garden

Chenonceau by night

Chenonceau by night

No visit to the Loire Valley is complete without a visit to the 16th century Chateau de Chenonceau, the Chateau of the Ladies.

Diane de Poitiers, the favourite mistress of King Henri II, was gifted the chateau by the king. However, she gave it back to the Queen Regent, Catherine de Medici, after Henri was killed in a tournament.

Catherine became Regent for her three sons after Henri’s death. Both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici have left the legacy of two beautiful gardens. Diane had a 60 metre long bridge built at the chateau, upon which Catherine had a gallery built, with with 18 large windows and a slate and tile floor. This gallery served as a magnificent ballroom.

Louise of Lorraine was the wife of Henri III, and after his assassination she retired to Chenonceau to meditate and pray, living as if in a convent surrounded by nuns in white. Hence she had the name of “The White Queen”. However, her bedchamber in the chateau was totally draped in black – wall hangings, bed curtains,  carpets, ceilings …

Louise Dupin owned the chateau at the time of the French Revolution, and saved the chapel by turning it into a wood store, thus camouflaging it’s religious character! She was the grandmother by marriage to George Sand, and welcomed Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert, Fontenelle and Bernadin de Saint-Pierre to the chateau. Her kindness, generosity and intelligence saved Chenonceau during the French Revolution.

In 1864 Marguerite Pelouze, a rich heiress, acquired the chateau and restored it, but spent so much money that eventually the chateau was seized and sold.

In 1913 it was bought by Gaston and Simone Meunier. During the First World War Mr Meunier paid for the setting up of a hospital, whose different services occupied all the rooms of the chateau, including the Gallery. Throughout the Second World War the river Cher corresponded to the line of demarcation. The entrance to the chateau was therefore in the occupied zone on the right bank. The gallery where the south door gave access to the left bank made it possible for the Resistance to pass large numbers of people through to the free zone. During the war a German artillery unit was kept at the ready to destroy Chenonceau. The original stained glass windows in the Chapel were destroyed by bombs in 1944, and were replaced in 1954.

One could really spend a whole day at Chenonceau!  The magnificence of the rooms, the wonderful gallery, the chapel, the Renaissance furniture, the paintings and tapestries, the remarkable staircase, the beautiful ceilings, and of course the gardens. Apart from the two flower gardens there is also a vegetable garden bordered with apple trees, and more than 400 rose bushes covering more than a hectare. The flowers from the gardens and farm provide the chateau with it’s daily magnificent floral arrangements.

We have visited the chateau several times, and have particularly enjoyed the night time visit, when the gardens are lit up and music fills the air.

 

Chartres – again

So here we are in Chartres again … loved it last year, looking forward to two nights here this time. We have a lovely B&B, Maunoury Citybreak, two minutes walk from the pedestrian zone. We have a small apartment with a delightful sitting area overlooking a garden, and les enfants can share it, though they do have their own ensuite bedroom as well. AND we have parking (unlike last year, when we parked in the city underground parking)

First things first – a drink in town! Followed by dinner with friends at the same Italian restaurant we ate at last year (boring, aren’t we!) A beautiful town to stroll around in, as parking in the city is all underground, leaving wide pedestrian zones & shopping areas. As it’s not officially holiday time in France the streets are not crowded, making for a very enjoyable experience.

 

Breakfast on the terrace in slightly cool conditions, then the day in town. A visit to the cathedral for some , to look at this magnificent building classified as a World Heritage site , one of the most visited tourist destinations in France. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1194 , after a fire destroyed the original building which was started in 1145. The building is almost perfectly preserved in it’s original design and details. The portal sculpture remains fully intact and its glowing stained glass windows are all originals, so it is the only cathedral that conveys an almost perfect image of how it looked when it was built. It’s really worthwhile to get an audioguide to discover the history of this incredible building.. It has been a major pilgrimage destination since the early Middle Ages.

A visit to the covered market was a true foodie experience! The local farmers were selling their fruit and vegetables along with a wonderful assortment of fresh meat, poultry, breads, cheeses, as well as local specialities such as the game pies of Chartres. Whew! Necessitated a post market verre du vin at an adjacent bar!

However the main reason for our visit to Chartres was to see the Illuminations – were so impressed last year, so thought les enfants should enjoy the experience as well. We hurried to the Cathedral hoping to find space on the Petit Train, which takes visitors on a tour of the Illuminations, but half an hour before departure it was full. However our hostess had told us it was really better to follow the blue light trail on foot to really experience the spectacle, & she was right. The Illuminations have been lighting up Chartres since 2002 and draw one million visitors from around the world each year. They portray the architectural and human history of the town and the cathedral in son et lumiere (sound and light) and it’s MAGNIFICENT!!

 

 

 

 

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Cathedral Illumination, Chartres

Cathedral Illumination, ChartresI

Illuminations, Chartres

Illuminations, Chartres

Our visit to Auvers-sur-Oise

An early morning arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport went without a hitch, though we four went through a routine questioning before exiting Customs. Not a problem.

Called TT Cars & were promptly picked up & taken to the Depot.  First challenge – a keyless start car! Took a bit of getting used to! And the Peugeot 308 turned out to be smaller than we had thought, fine for 4 people, not sure about 5.  We’re used to the ample storage space for the driver & front seat passenger, so the lack of this is also a challenge. But comfortable & quiet – especially when the motor cuts out at traffic lights!  Another thing to get used to.

We had expected really high temperatures so were a little shocked to find ourselves in 17 degrees – on with the woollens!  Arrived at Auvers sur Oise, 30 kilometres from Paris, a country village which lured 19th century artists from Paris. Artist Charles Daubigny arrived in 1860 & never left. Manet, Cezanne, Renoir & Camille Pissaro all lived there for a time. But we had come to pay hommage to Vincent van Gogh, who spent the last 70 days of his life here. We have followed Van Gogh from Arles to St-Remy-de-Provence, where he was at the asylum of St Paul de Mausole, and at the urging of his brother Theo he moved into the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, where he rented a tiny 7 square metre room on the top floor. In those 70 days he painted 70 paintings that include some of his best known works. On July 25th, 1890 he shot himself in the chest, & although the bullet missed every vital organ he succumbed to his injuries 2 days later, dying in Theo’s arms.

The room where he died has been unoccupied since his death. The Auberge has been restored & we can visit the top storey & also the restaurant where Monsieur Ravoux & his family served meals to Vincent and other boarders in the late nineteenth century. We could have eaten there, where the chef features primarily locally sourced ingredients and dishes available in the nineteenth century, but it was out of our price range!

We settled on the Bistro across the road, where we enjoyed a salmon steak with risotto, served by a young man who had spent 3 months working in New Zealand & wants to come back!  We tried to visit the Chateau, which has a multimedia informational presentation about the Van Gogh era … but it was closed for renovation, not to be opened until after the tourist season finishes!

So, replete (and not a little tired) we headed off to our accommodation for the next 2 nights, 2 hours away at Maunoury Citybreak in Chartres. Next installment …

Van Gogh's room At Auberge Ravoux

Van Gogh’s room At Auberge Ravoux

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Attic of Auberge Ravoux

Attic of Auberge Ravoux

Our car for the next 3 months!

Our car for the next 3 months!