Gorges, medieval villages and un petit problem a le salon
May 18, 2012
|One can only lie on the couch for so long before getting antsy so I manoeuvred my way slowly back down four flights of stairs with my 'cannes anglais' (crutches) and into the little Fiat for a day out.
We bought a fabulous map book and so I am finding the scenic routes and plus beaux villages de France. After a morning cafe au lait stop in one of those classic French town squares where the tables all have red and white check clothes, we headed to Roquefort sur Soulzon where the cheese is produced. Fred went for a walk in the hills while I sat with my foot raised out the window in an effort to reduce the swelling. We visited one of the cheese producers and went into the caves to see where it famously matures. You can imagine the overpowering smell of blue cheese but it was delicious to taste!
Next stop was the Viaduc de Millau which is an astounding piece of modern engineering built in 2004 which spans a massive gorge. The highest pylon is 340 metres high - taller than the Eifel Tower.
Somehow we missed lunch and had to make do with quiche and an eclair from a road side stall. Much better than a pie and sauce.
Although it was mid afternoon I could not resist directing us further north towards the Gorges du Tarn where we had what I will now refer to as several 'poise' (the women will understand) moments as we squeezed past oncoming traffic on small mountain roads and through tunnels carved out of the mountain. I am just glad Fred kept his eyes open because I certainly didn't.
The scenery was spectacular with the river gorge on one side and a crystal clear Tarn flowing fast through gorgeous forest. We were surprised at how many camping sites there were as we'd never imagined the French as being inclined to rough it. We stopped at a little place called La Malene which had a pretty historic stone auberge. It would have been lovely for lunch but we just enjoyed some mid afternoon sun as we waited to see if any other tourists were interested in boat ride - the driver wouldn't take just two of us - well he would at great expense and I resisted. Further along the gorge we saw the most gorgeous hotel at La Caze. That's definitely somewhere to keep in mind for another trip. Our destination was Ste Enimie which had been recommended by Maureen - what a pretty spot. The river ran through the town and under a 16th century stone arch bridge surrounded by high mountains and stone houses. We were entertained by a guy who had broken into his car by smashing the window to retrieve the keys after which it would seem his wife found the keys in her pocket. He put on a quite a scene with all the usual French antics loud and in overdrive. Fred and I now find ourselves mimicking the shoulder shrug and open hands several times a day. The return trip was on another scenic route which took us over the top of a mountain pass and onto a plateau of meadows scattered with quaint stone houses.
We had identified a restaurant in our Michelin guide in a town called Rodez. Pity it was closed after we had driven miles out of our way!
By the time we got back to Albi it was after 9pm and we were starving. We had to go somewhere I could easily reach on the crutches and it turned out to be a 'traditional' restaurant. I now know to interpret that to mean cooked in slabs of butter. My god it was so rich and to make matters worse Fred chose a fillet mignon topped with foie gras so by the time we got home he was feeling like the proverbial stuffed goose himself.
Back on the road Thursday with the aim of visiting scenic medieval villages closer to Albi. Once again we chose scenic routes which started off being full of wheat blowing in the breeze and Gaillac vineyards but soon became rolling green hills and forests with villages literally perched on top of hills.
Unbeknown to us it was Ascencion Day and a public holiday so apart from any restaurants operating the villages were all very quiet. The villages themselves are generally spotlessly clean apart from the occasional dog poop and at the moment particularly petty as the roses are in bloom and look fabulous against the stone walls. First stop was Castelnau de Montmiral which had a remarkable little town square dating back to the 1400's. It is incredible to see in such great condition and still inhabited. The church had beautiful roof decorated in the bright blue and gold but as there was a mass in progress we could not look at it in detail.
Next stop on the route was tiny Puycelci which once again had a remarkable church ceiling featuring blue. When we entered Ave Maria was playing in the background and it sounded really beautiful and for me it was poignant as that is one of mum's favourites so I lit a candle for her good health. The small town square had a biscuit store which created the most wonderful aroma and of course we could not resist a small package. We followed the scenic road through a small place called Larroque which was picture perfect for a picnic and we regretted not having a basket of goodies and a cloth to throw out on the meadow by the river. There was also a nice looking restaurant which we later found out was listed as a recommended auberge de village. We were disappointed as our plan to have lunch on the terrace at Brunquiel was thwarted by the holiday crowds but a waiter who spoke English recommended an out of the way little place called La Corniche at Brousses which was a village of three farm houses resplendent with roses and the quaintest little auberge. Sadly the chef was on his own and the terasse with fabulous views was full - all 5 tables - and the food he was serving looked amazing. It most certainly would have been one of life's gastronmique moments but alas we were turned away once again. Lucky we had our biscuits! Surely we could get lunch at St Antonin Noble Val...
By this stage it was around 3.30 and after hobbling around the cobbled streets and lanes on my crutches we found a Basque restaurant but the kitchen was closed. They did offer us some Serrano ham and bread and it was delicious. On the way out of town we noticed a panoramic view sign and it was also a paragliding launch site. It made me wish I still had my glider as the valley was absolutely magnificent and there were plenty of safe looking landing fields with no electric wires in sight.
Friday dawned grey and damp so I insisted on a sleep in to try and rid myself of this wretched lurgy. When I did rouse myself I decided a hair cut would make me feel better still. I had planned on getting it done in London where I've always been really happy with the outcome but just didn't get the opportunity. Today I chose a salon in Albi that had a few trendy posters in the window rather than a sign espousing the skill of Madam Nadine who invariably works her magic with a gitanes in the corner of her mouth whilst wearing leopard skin leggings and gold high heels. Perhaps I should have walked out when it became clear there was not a word of English spoken by any of the staff and the magazines I had to look at showed nothing remotely similar to the style I had in mind. So I am now sporting a VERY short style not unlike Fred's!!!!! Cest la vie - it will grow again and I will just have to put up with a cold neck over winter.
After that shock we both needed a stiff drink so we got out the Michelin guide and found a place outside Toulouse called La Belle Auberge. We have established that the popular duck gizzard salad isn't something we are keen to try and we could not face any more foie gras so we took a risk on the suggestion du jour which contained a few words we recognised like moules and fraise. It turned out to be a great choice on all fronts and we enjoyed watching people enjoy their Friday lunch with absolute gusto and well behaved and well groomed dogs sit quietly under tables.
We drove into Toulouse with the intention to walk around but after all of the small medieval villages we have been in we were overwhelmed by the size and traffic and headed for home. Fred has become very adept at manoeuvring the little Fiat into tight spaces and today passed by so close to another driver that the side mirrors clipped. He just gave the typical French shrug and kept going!
Today we heard from Prue and Mark who have rebooked their flights in the hope of joining us in the Italian lakes at the start of June instead of next Monday. We are so sad they are not with us but understand entirely the anxiety they are experiencing in seeing Prue's mother so unwell with a bowel abscess that is difficult to treat. Like me, Prue is very close to her mum.
On a brighter note my foot is healing well and I can almost weight bare on it but it is an interesting shade of blue and green and still looks like I have elephantiasis. To add insult to injury the only shoe that will fit around the brace is my very daggy walking sandal.
Sorry still unable to download photos to add to this journal and our wifi connection is so haphazard we haven't been able to arrange an alternative yet.