|Here we are again, after missing one day because of lack of wifi last night (I hope I'm forgiven Evan) so I'll cover both days in this report.
In Tour de France parlance, the next 2 days were to be transition stages, we were just aiming to get to our next chateau, with one stopover, by Monday afternoon.
We left Ventenac on Sunday morning after saying farewell to the chateau and our bikes and drove to Albi. We had lunch there but with a long drive ahead of us, we couldn't do the town justice. It is known for 2 main things, the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec and a large museum housing a large collection of his work and the huge gothic cathedral, Cathedrale Ste-Cecile. We walked around the outside of it and were amazed at the sheer scale of the building the fact that it, as well as many of the buildings in the city, are made of red brick. This makes a change from stone of which most of the churches and cathedrals we have seen are made.
From Albi, we drove over some fairly windy roads through dense deciduous forests as we climbed up onto the Massif Central. We passed through medieval village after medieval village, many perched on hill reminiscent of some villages in Tuscany. It was interesting to note how the architecture and building materials changed from village to village even over a relatively short distance. We also noticed a change in the landscape as the grape vines of the Aude Valley gave way to the forests, then crop lands and finally predominantly pasture as we entered and travelled through the Limousin region (famous for the cattle of the same name).
We covered about 600km in reaching Montemort, our destination for the night. The first 300km or so were on the narrow country roads I mentioned but we then got onto motorways. I was driving at this stage and it was an experience to be driving at the maximum speed of 130km/h and hiting 140 at times. I have found the french drivers to be very tolerant and I have found the transition to manual vehicle and righthand side driving quite easy. Of particular note is the way the drivers move over to the right side of the road immediately after passing another vehicle, even if there is no one behind them.
And so to our accommodation for the night in Mortemart. We stayed in part of a 13th century convent, the Ancien Couvent des Carmes. It is owned by an english man who has been living in France for 23 years and has been in this place for about 9 years. The rooms were huge and very tastefully decorated with works of art and collectables that he has gathered over the years. As it was a Sunday and we anticipated arriving latish, we had ordered a meal with the accommodation. This turned out to be a real bonus as for a very reasonable price, Ray, the owner, produced a meal consisting of salmon mousse for entree, duck leg in pastry with potato gratin, mushroom sauce and a small serve of water cress with tomato for mains, a small cheese platter followed by chocolate and orange grenach for desert. The meal was preceded by aperitifs on the lawn and accompanied by 2 bottles of red.
The village itself has been recognised as one of prettiest in France, and I can understand why with its small chateau, the convent buildings, the church, old market building and the houses themselves all built in stone creating a great ambiance.
After a simple but ample breakfast, we set off for our next chateau. The landscape gradually changed from pasture with copses of forest to crops of cereals, maize and sunflowers (unfortunately not in flower). The size and number of towns and villages also increased as we headed north and as we passed through the Loire valley, the grapes reappeared. After a brief stop for lunch in a forgetable town, we arrived at our chateau. This one is just as you would imagine a small chateau in France to be and unlike the one down south, we have the whole building. It has 3 floors, 6 bedrooms, 3 lounge rooms, a kitchen and the crowning glory for me, the dining room with the biggest fireplace I have seen and over the fireplace a huge moose head. In one corner of the room is a suit of armour.
The owners tell us that the chateau dates back to the middle ages but that the first known owners date back to 1429. In the second world war, the Nazis occupied the chateau and used it for aircraft spotting due tomits elevated position. The officers occupied the building we are in and floorboards from the chapel were ripped up to be used to make bunk beds for the troops. I haven't been in the chapel yet so don't know if the floor has been replaced or if it has just been left as was - stay tuned.
We dined in tonight and Gina did the cooking so you will all realise that the standard we have become used to was maintained.
Unfortunately, I am having trouble uploading photos so text only today. Will try and sort things out tomorrow and show you all where we are staying. The other hassle is that we have no TV here so will have to find a bar with one to watch the Tour but after stage 8 I'm starting to lose enthusiasm but not losing hope.
Oh, the weather you ask. About 26 degrees max on each of the last 2 days but evenings seem a little cooler up north. Still very tolerable.
Must go, see you next time.