Chain Reaction

You may remember from my last post that I pointed out a high peak in the distance from the Puy de Sancy. This is the the Puy de Dôme, the highest volcano in the Chaîne des Puys (chain of peaks) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sitting at 1465m (4806 ft) it offers a stunning view (if the weather is kind) of the almost 80 volcanic puys, stretching over about 40kms. With the promise of another glorious day I just had to visit. Maggie had another adventure with a ride in the cog railway that carried us to the summit. The train itself wasn’t an issue, but the sudden loud ‘hissing’ of the air being compressed certainly had her unsettled and she wasn’t too keen on the odd release of air by the automatic doors…I guess having that by your bum wasn’t the best of experiences!

DSCN6807The cog railway and the Puy de Dôme.

Now, looking at this picture you will note that there is a bit of cloud about, but nothing of note, and the summit is clear. But yep, you guessed it….we arrived at the top and stepped out into thick cloud totally obscuring the views! If nothing else, it was just the perfect place for a nice walk following the tracks that weaved their way around the mountain. Most of the few tourists seemed glued to the restaurant-cafe area and to be honest I think they were reluctant to venture too far because it did look as if the heavens were about to open. Well, all good things come to those who wait, and as I gazed out over to where the Chaîne des Puys were supposed to be, the clouds slowly but surely lifted, and like Brigadoon I got my reward.

DSCN6824Yellow Gentian and the cloud lifting from the Chaîne des Puys.

DSCN6808The Chaîne des Puys

I was one of the lucky ones who did get to see and enjoy the beautiful views, whilst most others were still hugging their coffee at the cafe!

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Back at the bottom and after a quick snack, we were off on our way again and basking in the lovely warm sunshine.

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Somehow I find it very difficult to not get sidetracked, and I found myself on a small road that wound over and through the truly lovely countryside. I think I only passed about a handful of cars, and it was so pleasant to pootle along at my own pace and to not feel hurried. Of course the joy of this is that if I suddenly see a sign and my interest is piqued, I can safely stop or turn. It’s wonderful what you can find without looking for it!

DSCN6762Please don’t ask me where this was!

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And before long we were almost back at the campsite, but not before I found yet another route that took me above Saint-Nectaire. The road was so narrow that I was really pleased that it wasn’t busy, and even more grateful that I didn’t come across a tractor or similar farm vehicle. Reversing would have been virtually impossible!

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The Auvergne certainly didn’t disappoint and no doubt I will revisit the region in the future….there is plenty more to see and do. But for now the trips are on hold until after the schools are back. I like the quiet and less crowded months, and more to the point, I like the prices even better! I wonder where I’ll get to on my next visit? I hope that you’ll come and venture with me.

A Bientot!

 

 

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Veni, Vidi, Vici

I recently read somewhere that no landscape inspires quite like the mountains. Certainly I love being in the mountains, and really do feel very uplifted when I reach that point where I can savour all that is around me. I love the freedom and the peace, not to mention the views. The mountaineer John Muir said “The mountains are calling and I must go” and who am I to argue with that? The mountain that was calling me was the Puy de Sancy, here in the Massif Central. At 1886 metres it is the highest mountain in the Dore mountain range and is a very popular destination. Fortunately there were few people about due to the pandemic, but also because of the weather. Either they had misread la météo or had just decided that the early morning cloud wasn’t going to clear! What a bonus for me because it turned out to be a glorious day.

Not being up to a major hike, and having Maggie with me, I opted for the cablecar. It was a first for Maggie and I really did wonder how she was going to be getting into the cablecar. I had visions of her being carried inside and then cuddling her on the floor to make her feel safe. I needn’t have worried cos she just strolled in, wagged her tail at the few intrepid explorers, looked for food (as always) and was amply rewarded by a few doggie treats. (That’s what deep pockets are for).

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With the clouds being swept aside by a gentle breeze, we arrived and waited a while to let the few tourists get ahead. To reach the summt there is a small path and 860 steps. Fairly easy when you pace yourself and even easier having Maggie as keen as mustard to get ahead. But it wasn’t a race and I wanted to embrace every bit of the scenery.

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As you can see, the weather couldn’t have been better. The air was fresh and clean and the only sound was that of Maggie panting, possibly my heart pounding, the wind rustling the grasses and some unidentified birds screeching and calling as they rode the currents and dive-bombed over the ridges. Just glorious.

DSCN6792The large distant peak is the Puy de Dome

But that summit is still there with those 860 steps, so let’s go climb a mountain!

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The photo is rather deceptive because some stretches of the path were really very steep….as i said before, all very manageable as long as you took your time and didn’t get dragged along by a very determined dog. And you can guess it was all worth it and with the weather and views playing their part it was a perfect trip. As John Muir didn’t say “The Mountains were calling, so I went”

A Bientot!

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Maggie’s Grand Day Out

Just every now and again, Maggie takes me out for a nice walk! Just a 10 min drive from the campsite, in the middle of a mountain crater, is the lovely Lac Chambon. The trail takes about an hour and has some beautiful views over the lake to the nearby peaks and the Chaudefour Valley. Walking through the beech trees and listening to the water gently lapping at the lakeside was very relaxing, and with few people about it was nice to enjoy the views and the peace.

DSCN6748Lac Chambon

DSCN6756Trail through the beech trees

Of course Maggie loved the new smells and tracks, and I was rather enjoying it too! Yes, I was also enjoying the smells… wild honeysuckle, the earthy richness of the woodland and the freshness of the lake.

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Being so quiet and with the lack of people I was able to really enjoy the range of birdsong, and watch small waterbirds, fish and frogs. Maggie is always totally non-plussed by these distractions, so they rarely get disturbed. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I came across a harvest mouse, right at the edge of the path.

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Well, this walking was hard work and Maggie decided to treat me. She did have to borrow some money, and I’m still waiting for it to be paid back! But it was worth it 🙂

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I have to say it was just what was needed on such a lovely day. The pistachio ice-cream was the best, but the rich creamy vanilla was SO good that I had to share some of it.

DSCN6761And just like that…..gone!

What a good job I had that sustenance which allowed me to drive the few kms back to the campsite. Life can be SO tiring!

A Bientot!

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Exploring the Auvergne

I’m always in two minds about not having internet connection when I’m away. In many respects it is really very nice indeed to be somewhere where you can’t be contacted or nobody really knows where you are. It’s also a bit frustrating when you want to keep your blog up to date! So, I’m home now and it’s time to start sharing my travels.

Only 10kms away from the campsite sits the charming old market town of Besse-et-Saint-Anastaise. It has a medieval and Renaissance quarter and is almost exclusively built of the black lava stone, so typical of this region. It was really lovely to wander around the narrow lanes and also to see the tourists returning. As much as I abhor crowds (it certainly wasn’t crowded), it was nice to see shops and cafes open again and to see people enjoying themselves.

_DSC0286The old town gate and belfry

_DSC0287Place Gayme

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After a bit of shopping and filling up with petrol (rather expensive in this region, even for the supermarket)! I took a little drive around.

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Then just as I was coming back to the campsite I had a good view of the Château de Murol, founded in the 12th century and built on a basalt outcrop.

DSCN6735Yes, those tiny blobs of white on the mountains is snow!

Throughout its history the castle has been a residence, a prison, a bandits’ hideout and finally a stone quarry! Thankfully it is now listed as a Historic Building and is protected.

I was hoping that the weather would pick up a bit, but at least it didn’t rain and we managed some nice walks. It certainly wasn’t typical July weather, even taking into account being in the mountains and being at some altitude. There’s always another day.

A Bientot!

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To The Hills!

I wondered if I was going to be able to get away again seeing as the ugly face of Covid is threatening everything again. But here I am, in the Auvergne region in central France, an area of extinct volcanoes and stunning natural scenery. I’m just spitting distance from the small town of Murol, on another really nice little campsite. I don’t know if it is just luck that I pick these nice sites, cos there are certainly some bad ones around. However, pod is parked, the awning is up and Maggie is very happy with her surroundings….anything with new smells and new walks HAS to be a good thing, surely?

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For once I’m not “Nigel-No-Mates” and there are plenty of people on site. To be honest I had totally forgotten that it was the first week of the school hols, so there are plenty of happy campers with their little darlings running and screaming around and obviously relishing their new-found freedom from class.

Well, I am totally exhausted from my 4 1/2hr drive and the hard slog of setting up camp. Haahaaa!  Having been cooped up for the journey, Maggie and I have just been for a 5km walk and now I feel some reward is in order. Sorry, did someone say it was wine o clock?

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A Bientot!

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Last Day… (for now)!

As nice as it is to be away, I just can’t stay here forever. Besides, I’m only down the road, so I can get away easily enough whenever I want. My last visit, again in the morning to avoid the heat, was to Parthenay. Surrounded on two sides by the River Thouet, this ancient fortified town is in the bend of the river. A lot of the economic wealth of Parthenay came from it being a main centre on one of the branches of the mediaeval pilgrimage route, the Way of St James (Camino de Santiago). One of the four city gates, the porte Saint-Jacques still stands welcoming modern day pilgrims and visitors to the town. The ‘marker’ and symbol of the Way of Saint James is the scallop shell which is seen throughout the area.

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DSCN6702The scallop shell symbol at the porte Saint-Jacques

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Once inside the gate the main street stretches away passing beautiful old houses.

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DSCN6710It’s just like a film set, isn’t it? Only needs costumed actors to set the scene!

DSCN6712I bet those pilgrims would have loved to have rested their weary bodies outside this bar!

DSCN6714Looking back towards the old porte Saint-Jacques

DSCN6715View towards the new town

So, just a quick and brief visit to Parthenay. It’ll be time to pack away the awning and clear all my things ready for the hop, jump and skip home. It won’t be long and I’ll be on my travels again soon. Come back soon 🙂

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A Bientot!

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Airvault

Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best, and one of the things I really enjoyed about this campsite was that it was so close to the local town of Airvault. The focal point (as with so many places) is the abbey church of Saint-Pierre d’Airvault, dating back to the 10th century. Sitting on the market square it dominates the space along with the halle (market hall).

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DSCN6675La Halle

The halle that was originally here was from the middle ages but this more ‘modern’ structure was rebuilt in the 15th century. I really loved the graceful arches and the old beamed ceiling.

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The weekly market still takes place here, along with concerts and local events.

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With the narrow streets and alleyways it was a pleasant place to stroll around, but sadly, with Covid, a lot of places have closed. I can only hope that in time they will reopen and there will be a little bit more life in the town. There were plenty of cars but no people! Perhaps they are all hiding behind the shutters laughing at the mad guy and his dog out in such heat!

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The weather remained very hot and even by mid-morning it was hard going for Maggie. The heat just bounced back off the ground and the walls. Time for some shade and lots of water!

A Bientot!

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Close to Camp

With it hitting 30c + I’m really not inclined to travel too far, especially with Maggie. The surface of the paths and tracks is just too hot for her paws, and being stuck in the car (even with air con) isn’t my idea of fun. The usual early morning walk tends to be the longest as it is the coolest part of the day and Maggie is more inclined to run around and enjoy herself.

So, exploring was all nice and local today, in fact within 10 mins of the campsite. The first trip was to a rather scenic little village, Saint-Généroux. After a stroll along the banks of the River Thouet we crossed the medieval bridge towards the church.

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The church of Saint Généroux is one of the oldest in the Poitou region dating fron the 10th century.

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There was a small café and with no need to hurry, we stopped and enjoyed the rural peace and quiet. Maggie drank the whole bowl of water, and I was happy to sup my coffee. There wasn’t a soul about and the only noise was the distant bleating of lambs and the screeching of the swallows as they soared and dived around the rooftops.

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In a heartbeat we were on the road and arrived at our next stop, the village of Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet. In the past it has been a contender for the prettiest village in the region, but I’m guessing it didn’t win because they proudly announce that they were a contender! Better luck next time, eh?

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The château de SaintLoup was built in the early 17th century. The writer Charles Perrault was supposed to have been inspired to write Le Chat botté or Puss in Boots after this château.

Time to get home and to have some nice iced drinks. Maggie is exhausted so I’m sure that she will sleep well tonight.

A Bientot!

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Thouars

About 20 mins away from the campsite is the town of Thouars, considered the gem of the Deux-Sèvres. I really have to say that I was a wee bit disappointed in the city as I found it all rather haphazard. Bloody hilarious, isn’t it? Me calling a town with evidence of habitation going back 5000 yrs and the town developing in the 8th century “haphazard”!!! To be fair there is such a lot of work going on in virtually every street and alley and it felt more like negotiating a massive building site. Added to that, it was 30c and walking around wearing a mask doesn’t make fun sight-seeing. However, there are some lovely buildings and along the River Thouet it was very pleasant.

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DSCN6688Le château des ducs de La Trémoille (17th century)

DSCN6693River Thouet (tributary of the River Loire)

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Off for a drink and a treat now.

DSCN6668Hummmmm….which one should I get?

DSCN6669Perhaps one of each? I’m sure that Weight Watchers wouldn’t approve Haahaaa!

A bientot!

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All By Myself…..again!

So, here I am, on my lonesome once more! LOL. Not that I mind having the whole campsite to myself, in fact it is lovely to have the choice of pitch. I’m only 100kms ‘up the road’ from home just outside the small town of Airvault. The drive here was just lovely as I was able to take the quiet roads and I think I only came across a handful of cars.

DSCN6664Perfect spot semi-shaded from the heat

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The site is immaculate and the facilities perfect. One of the novelties right now is that with the easing of Covid restrictions, we are allowed to eat outside at bars and restaurants. (Honestly, who’d have ever thought that a simple thing like eating out could be so exciting)? Not one to pass by such an exciting venture I opted for some drinks and a 3-course meal on the terrace….it was SO good 🙂 (and so cheap)!

Maggie is in her element again with new walks and smells to explore and she just reverts back to being a 3-month old puppy. Her new love is walking by the River Thouet.

DSCN6665River Thouet at Airvault

We have already seen otters and kingfishers, but alas with Maggie, no photos to prove it. We’re here for several days so I may have a chance yet. The 30c weather is expected to last so what more could I ask for?

A Bientot!

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It’s Been Too Long

Well, what a hiatus that has been! Eight months, give or take. Everything seems to have changed SO much and to coin the phrase, the world is a very different place. Lockdowns and restrictions have kept me at home but the great news came last week that from Monday May 3rd, travel in France was once again allowed beyond the imposed 10kms.

Not one to sit upon my laurels, and mad keen to get away again in my pod, I opted for a short trip to a small rural campsite just 90 mins from home. The understatement has to be that it is quiet. Very! And lo and behold, I’m the only person here, so I have free reign. There is absolutely no need to worry about social distancing, no fears about using the facilities and catching any untoward viruses, and nobody else here when I have to be considerate of noise, lights, and Maggie (rarely) barking. I’m sounding selfish, but I DO like to have the place to myself!

So, I’m just outside a small town called Montguyon in the Charente-Maritime. I’m surrounded by trees, wildflowers and birds singing to burst their hearts. Beautiful.

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With clear blue skies and 20c, what more could I want? Oh, I can hear something….I think it is a cork popping 🙂 Come back soon for more adventures.

A Bientot!

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Timeless Florac

Some roads are meant to be taken. The one I am talking about today is the Corniche des Cévennes, a panoramic route linking St Jean-du-Gard with the little town of Florac. With views that seem to stretch for ever, every twist and turn is a delight. Unfortunately there are very few places where you can stop to appreciate the views and to snap that all important photo. For a much lauded tourist route you’d have thought that more provision would have been made to really ‘sell’ the stunning countryside and have regular stopping points, but sadly it isn’t the case.

The purpose of my journey was to end up in Florac, and my timing was perfect for a quick stroll around and then to grab a ‘bite to eat’. I always try to find somewhere that gives me the real French experience when eating. I appreciate that small tourist traps are exactly that, but it is nice to have some authenticity. I am forever reading about these people who just happen to stumble upon a way-out-of-the-place restaurant where they have been able to linger over a perfect home-cooked, authentic lunch, with amazing service and hospitality and all for a handful of coins in their pocket. Only in books and travel magazines I tell myself! Imagine my utter joy and surprise when I actually did find that very same place under the trees that the books all write about. The most enormous and practically perfect 3-course menu du jour of exquisite, freshly cooked food, wonderful service and neighbouring diners all chatty and  friendly. Maggie was fussed over and she was more than happy to lap up the attention. Sitting in dappled sun and taking 2hrs to eat lunch was such a delight. I was in heaven! The best part was it all came to just 13 euros…almost the loose change in my pocket. As reluctant as I was to leave this pleasant scene I needed to move (if only to let the feast shift down several notches in my fast growing belly).

I first came to Florac when I was in my early 20’s and I loved it then. The delight of my day only got better the more I wandered around, realising that nothing had changed and just about everywhere in the town was exactly as I remembered. It was as if I had been transported back 40yrs. And yet the town was vibrant and busy, and had obviously retained her charms without having suffered the fate of so many small communities – namely failing to survive in the modern world.

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DSCN6504Main Square beside the wonderful restaurant

DSCN6502A pretty corner of Florac

DSCN6512Facade of the old 16th century convent – shame about the grafitti!

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DSCN6509River Vibron

Obviously an afternoon nap is in order!

A Bientot!

 

 

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Travels without Modestine!

I think that I read R.L.Stevenson’s ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’ whilst I was still at school. I can’t say that it had any great impact upon me, and I do not recollect a single thing about it other than the title. I had no idea then that one day I would get to visit this area and to fall in love with it. I have been here several times, and each visit brings something new and revealing…. new vistas, fresh experiences and a sense of well-being that I haven’t found in many places on my travels. It is as if I just become part of the land, the concept of ‘terroir’.

My travels were definitely more modern and I can’t claim that my donkey (read car) is called Modestine. But in all fairness I did do some walking on the Le Chemin de Stevenson/GR70, (Robert Louis Stevenson Trail GR70), but having Maggie and with 36c heat, I was rather selective. It isn’t too hard to appreciate why this walking track is one of the classic French walks.

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Other than the fabulous scenery, and the thing I really would love to share with you, is the smell. Yes, that’s right, the smell, or rather the scent of the region. It is deliciously intoxicating, delicate odours of wild thyme and lavender, the spicy box and pine conjuring up heady masculine colognes, and the mingling of light almonds from the ubiquitous oleander, rosemary that releases a smell so comforting when bruised that you can only feel happy as it embraces you and lingers on your fingertips to remind you later. Much is said of the power of smell and if I could bottle it with all of it’s complexities, I know that just one hint would carry me back here no matter where I was in the world! It’s a little like the unique scent of the Australian bush with the rich eucalyptus oils…it can only be one place.

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I wonder, do smells evoke memories, places, events or people for you too?

Come back again soon for more ‘Travels without a Donkey in the Cévennes’

A Bientot!

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Simply Cévennes.

My morning really did dawn bright and early. The early light soon gave way to a pale blue sky, dotted with tiny cotton wool clouds, and after the obligatory ablutions, breakfast and a walk with Maggie I was on my way heading further south-east towards the Cévennes. The drive was uneventful but very scenic and the joy of going cross-country meant that there was very little in the way of traffic.

For me there comes a point when the topography changes, the sky takes on a different hue of blue; deeper and richer, and the vegetation looks and smells more Mediterranean. I have been to various parts of the Cévennes on a number of occasions, and I always get a thrill once I pass the signs for the National Park. It has a welcoming feeling, like coming home, even though I have never lived in this region. It embraces you and pulls you into its charms.

Arriving at the campsite was, as always, exciting, an element of intrepidation, (especially after the night before), and a large degree of pleasure at having arrived safe and sound. Like the proverbial chalk and cheese this site turned out to be absolutely stunning and almost perfect. (Sigh of relief)! Stretching out over a 30 hectare hilly estate and embraced by two rivers, the site was so well organised and the facilities excellent. With a choice of pitches on three levels (plain, terraces or hills) and in a natural setting, anyone would be spoiled for choice. I had opted for the hill but nothing would have prepared me for the magnificence of my pitch.

DSCN6568View from my pitch with the River Gardon d’Anduze and the Cévennes mountains

Honestly, could anyone want for anywhere better to be staying for 7 nights? Food for the mind and soul! The way that the site is tiered, the hill pitches are all individual and really amongst nature yet close to all the amenities. I couldn’t have been happier.

DSCN6472My spot!

The river flows through the site and is one of the many tributaries of the River Gard or Gardon, rising in the Cévennes that gives its name to the Gard département.

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Maggie seemed very pleased with the set-up and soon made herself comfortable, finding plenty of new smells and sounds, and just loving the new walks. With 30c heat, blazing sun and having eaten, she was more than happy to ‘assume the position’! Give her a moment or two and the head will drop, she’ll roll onto her side, the eyes will close, and before long she’ll be snoring! It’s a dog’s life!

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A Bientot!

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Here we go again!

I have been back home for a week now, but I am only just getting around to posting about my latest trip away in my pod. I can’t believe how busy I have been since getting home! Still, all good things come to those who wait.

My latest adventure was to the Cevennes, a beautiful mountainous region in south-central France. Being a good distance away, I decided to break the journey and have a night en-route. As with a lot of my campsites, I do a fair bit of research in advance, and even if it is for one night, I still want it to be a good experience. There is always some ‘back-of-the-mind’ anxiety when arriving somewhere new, and never actually knowing what the site will be like. On the surface it looked like a nice peaceful place, virtually nobody in sight and set in the beautiful Cantal countryside. After checking in, the owner said that seeing as it was empty, I could take my pick of where to pitch. The places lower down by the river were very dark and hidden away under trees, and there were swarms of bugs flying around, so that was out for sure! I headed up to the next level that was more open and away from the hoardes of nasty biting mozzies and flies. Monsieur cames running up the hill waving his arms around, (I don’t think he was trying to waft away the bugs)! “NON! Eet iz not pozzible to park ‘ere”. Well, he DID say I could pitch where I liked, but obviously it didn’t include this particular spot. We discussed it and had a few words…and I ended up staying where I was. Honestly, the place was empty.

It was only as I was setting up that I realised that the ground was squelchy and if there had been a lot of traffic, it would very quickly have become a muddy patch. As you can see from the picture, there isn’t much grass, and by the next morning, it was just a mess. Having had a good look around, all of the pitches were in this state, so I don’t know if it is naturally damp and there was some run-off from the hill, but it hadn’t rained in weeks and it had been really hot. As you can see from the photo, my car is beside the pod, but the rules are that you have to park your car on the other side of the river at the main entrance! Well, that wasn’t going to happen, I can tell you! Once again, Monsieur wasn’t too happy about it and after another discussion he agreed that as it was SO quiet, I could leave the car … there just this once!

The night passed OK and the place was very quiet and peaceful. At least it was tidy and the facilities were modern and spotlessly clean. I was booked in to stay here for one night on my return home but cancelled that after my experience. Let’s hope the next site will be better.

A Bientot!

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Falling into Autumn

I really shouldn’t have been so amazed this morning. But I was, because it took me rather by surprise. The regular routine of coming downstairs, feeding Maggie and then letting her out for her first circuit of the garden was unchanged. I am usually close on her heels so that I can take my first deep breath of the early morning air, smell the freshness of the countryside, listen to the crowing of the cockerel on the other side of the wall, check the weather, and set myself up for the day. But this morning it was different because it was foggy and rather cool – in fact only 9c! It hasn’t been this cold for many, many months. Of course, 9c isn’t that cold, but when the mornings have been 20c, it felt positively Arctic.

Breakfast finished, and after a hurried rummage around in the drawers for an old sweatshirt, we set off for one of our favourite walks known locally as the Prairie. Like the majority of walking tracks here, it takes a flat course, but is a route I love in all weathers and it is rare that we don’t see deer, foxes, hares or any number of birds including herons and buzzards, owls and falcons. The list is endless and is always such a pleasure. Maggie is more often than not looking for food in the hedgerows and is usually totally oblivious to the wildlife around her. Perhaps that’s just as well because I do get to see it before she scares it off!

dscn6427The road to nowhere!

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DSCN6425Fruity favourites of Maggie!

DSCN6424The old lavoir

DSCN6430As you can see there is great beauty in the simple things like these moisture laden webs clinging to the dried teazles

DSCN6436The maize is almost ready to be harvested but sadly for cattle feed!

DSCN6438Some are still waiting for their breakfast!

As lovely as the morning was I hope that this isn’t the end of summer just yet…perhaps Mother nature will allow another few weeks before announcing that summer will exit stage left!

A Bientot!

 

 

 

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It’s Coming!

Well, a lot of things are coming I suppose, but this is hopefully some welcome relief from the current ‘canicule’ – heatwave. After 2 1/2 months of no rain and daytime temps that haven’t been below 30c, we are promised some of the wet stuff. The air is so heavy and thick that I swear you could cut it. Over the last few days the heavens have rumbled like a growling bear and at night there has been a distant light show with the electrically charged atmosphere short circuiting….but sadly nothing has come of it.

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Everything is crossed that can be crossed!

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A Bientot!

P.S. A few large blobs of rain have just fallen on the car so I’m hopeful.

Posted in Weather | 5 Comments

Sweating it out!

Well, the French weather site http://www.meteofrance.com is often next to useless, more benefit being gained from a chocolate teapot. Even when you look at the radar, it is wrong. However, they have excelled with their predictions of a ‘Pic de chaleur, très intense’ – an intense spike in temperature. Oh how I wish that they had it wrong, but no, it is a scorcher out there with a searing, ferocious heat that reminds me of when I lived in Australia.

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I went into the garden early this morning to move my pod (to rotate the tyres) and to do the monthly battery check as well. All I can say is that I am really pleased that I am not away in my pod with the current temperature!

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Outside is just getting hotter and the day has been spent hiding inside, shutters closed, copious cold drinks on hand and I’m thinking that this is just way too hot.

DSCN6384It actually went just a tad higher than this!

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Unfortunately tomorrow is expected to be as hot. I think I’ll go and make another tray of ice-cubes. Hopefully you have some nice weather (not too hot) where you are.

A Bientot!

Posted in Weather | 4 Comments

Keeping it Green.

Pinching the idea from Colin’s blog ( https://colinbisset.com/2020/07/23/propagating-in-a-pandemic/?wref=tp ) I feel somewhat inspired to share my humble efforts in the veggie patch. It can be a challenge in this region of France where we get blisteringly hot summers and everything dries to a crisp. The ground is chalky, poor in soil and nutrients, and it can be a real struggle to keep on top of it all. Fortunately I have a deep well in the garden with a steady supply of water from the aquifer, but in times of drought it does run dry. Then I have the back-up of an electric pump and 2 huge water containers giving me 1000’s of litres of rainwater. The annual warnings of an impending drought have already been issued, and in fact there are currently 33 départements on water restrictions. Overall, planting in the garden has to be based on the flowers and shrubs that can cope with the dry and the heat, and people have to learn that they can’t ‘waste’ water on trying to maintain a green lawn that would be better suited to a stately home! Mine is currently resembling a cracked, crispy brown paddock. The grass will return.

The earlier days of confinement meant that we were very limited in travel and like many around the world, there was plenty of time to spend at home. I am blessed with having a reasonably large enclosed garden and being able to potter around outside was a joy. There is great truth in the healing properties of a garden and much has been said about the lowering of stress levels, the joy and happiness that can be gained, a great sense of wellbeing and calm. I feel very sorry for those that didn’t have this respite and I am sure that confined to a high-rise appartment block would have had me tearing my hair out.

Like an expectant kid at Christmas, I planted various seeds in the greenhouse and must have looked at them at least twice a day to see if there were any telltale green shoots. The excitement when they actually sprouted was wonderful. Nurtured and tended to with love bordering on obsessional, they survived and eventually were transplanted into the raised veggie patch. Too many were planted knowing that the snails and slugs would take their fill before I could trap the little buggers! Now I am reaping the rewards and saving some money in the process. The joy continues every day when I inspect them, harvesting as required, freezing the excess or sharing with my neighbours. The greatest joy is the flavour of fresh food that I have grown myself.

DSCN6361The birds love my succulent lettuce …. if only they could get to them!

DSCN6362Dwarf French beans that seem to go on forever.

DSCN6365Not yet ripe …… Espelette chillies.

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Unlike the supermarket cucumbers, mine do not bend!

DSCN6369You cannot beat walking past and picking ripe sun-warmed tomatoes.

Hopefully you have a garden or some space where you can enjoy the gift of growing a few things. If not, do try it and I think you will love the experience of watching it all grow and then picking some fresh herbs, a lettuce or two and perhaps some tomatoes.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

Posted in Garden, Nature | 2 Comments

‘Sunday’ Driver!

As nice as it is, I can’t stay on holiday for ever, and if I didn’t come home I wouldn’t appreciate the fun of going away again. As sad as it is to leave this beautiful area, it isn’t as if the Dordogne is far away – where I was staying was only 230kms from home so it’s all within a few hours drive. My last day was a lazy one, especially as it was blazing hot again and the sun felt really fierce. Maggie was more than happy to hop in the car and enjoy the air-con, as was I!

First stop was to see the nearby Château de Biron, a massive structure that dominates the countryside.

DSCN6300Climbing the small hill and entering an old gateway, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small hamlet with lovely stone houses and even a rather smart restaurant. But it wasn’t lunchtime yet, so time to keep moving.

DSCN6294One of the absolute pleasures of driving on the small back roads is that there is virtually no traffic (other than the odd farm vehicle) and there is no pressure to maintain a higher speed…. I hate it when the car behind is just about touching the bumper and you feel that you have to keep going faster!  Anyway, I was more than happy to motor along like a ‘Sunday’ driver, able to enjoy the countryside and to take my time. By the time I arrived in Issigeac there was just enough time to have a small walk around before the midday bells announced the daily ritual of closing up shutters, downing tools and heading home for lunch, or in my case, heading to the restaurant.

DSCN6304It’s not a bad view, is it? Sitting outside for lunch and being waited on is my idea of being on holiday! Another very good 3-course lunch for 13 euros with plenty of choice to suit all tastes. The other thing I really like about France is that even as a solo diner, you are not hidden away in the back of the restaurant or puched into a corner. I had prime seating right on the front and Maggie was made so welcome it was almost embarrassing. Of course she lapped up the attention and greeted everyone as if it was her restaurant!

Issigeac is a beautiful mediaeval village with some really stunning architecture. Unlike the ubiquitous bastides that fill the region with their grid layout, this one spirals and winds like a snail. The narrow streets and lanes are home to a number of artists and craftspeople and yet Issigeac doesn’t feel like a ‘museum’ or a ‘show’ village. It is positively thriving and has one of the biggest weekly markets in the area.

DSCN6307Église Saint-Félicien.

DSCN6317The Bishop’s Palace and church of Saint-Félicien.

DSCN6306Ancient Halle aux Grains (Market hall)

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DSCN6321The charming ‘mushroom’ house standing alone like an island. You can’t really see it due to the vines, but it has an overhanging second storey which allowed the carts to pass through.

I’m sure that I’ll be back in the Dordogne again before too long. There is plenty to see and do and if only for the change of scenery and chance to get away in my pod.

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A Bientot!

 

Posted in Chateau, Dordogne, History, Podding | 3 Comments

Bastides-a-plenty!

It is impossible (almost) to get away from the fortified towns or ‘Bastides’ that seem to breed in this area. There are about 300 of them in the southwest part of France, and the Dordogne boasts some of the prettiest and best maintained. I mentioned before that they are all very similar and yet different in their own way. The design followed a rigid formula starting with the surrounding walls and a garrison and often a castle. The narrow streets all led to the main square and market place. The church was also usually constructed to the side of the square, often being fortified as well to provide a place of refuge and a safe store for relics. Around the main square would be arched walkways, a feature that now provides many towns with a restaurant, bar or café along with smaller shops. They also provide very welcome relief from the searing heat or the torrential storms. Fortunately no rain for me, but oh, the heat reflecting from the stones was rather unbearable at times.

Seeing as the campsite was within spitting distance of Monpazier it seems the best place to start our tour of some of these mediaeval towns. Monpazier is considered one of the better examples of a complete bastide and is yet another listed as one of the plus beaux villages de France. Founded by King Edward I of England in 1284 it certainly attracts the tourists even if my pictures make it look rather deserted! I bet that England would love to have this still in their possession! But it isn’t my favourite because I feel it could be a Disney set. It is as if it is there just for the tourist.

DSCN6226Monpazier – place des Cornières.

DSCN6227Monpazier – place des Cornières.

DSCN6222Monpazier – old market hall.

DSCN6221Monpazier – typical archways.

DSCN6231Monpazier – one of the fortified gateways and typical street scene.

I headed to my next stop through some really beautiful countryside of rolling green hills, fields of maize and golden sunflowers, orchards with hundreds of walnut trees (the Dordogne Valley is the biggest producer of walnuts in France), and lazy, empty roads that almost lull you into driving slowly. This is the joy of taking the road less travelled. And why hurry when there is so much beauty? Here we are in the bastide of Monflanquin. Unlike Monpazier, this was built by the French. (Actually we are now in the department of the Lot and Garonne, but they all join up)! The church bells were clanging wildly, announcing midday for all to hear, the small shops were closing up, and the restaurants were enticing me with their smells of cooking; garlic and onions, meat and fish, sauces and fruit. I sometimes think they must have a vent that wafts the smells into the path of the visitor! It was another wonderful 3-course lunch for Euro 13.50 and wine included.

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DSCN6239Monflanquin – Place des Arcades

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It’s always hard to get going again after a lazy lunch and even more so when you exit the cool of the restaurant courtyard and are blasted with 33c of furnace-like heat. Life’s so hard, isn’t it?

Villeréal is also in the Lot-et-Garonne and is in my opinion, one of the loveliest of the towns I visited. The very grand and imposing 13th century fortified church (complete with arrow slits) is equalled by the magnificent and rare 14th century market hall. Apparently it is very unusual to have a floor above the market hall. The nice thing about Villeréal is that the shops tend to be local stores and not just tourist traps, and the whole place is busy all year round. I got the feeling that this was a ‘proper’ town and not another pretty showpiece.

DSCN6271Villeréal – Church of Notre-Dame

DSCN6275Villeréal – the half-timbered market hall

DSCN6276Market hall

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Are you getting the idea that these bastides are similar but certainly have their own personality? Heaven forbid that I bore you with any more…after all, there really are just so many that you can take in one sitting! But I am going to leave you with just one more which I also liked a lot, mainly because it felt lived-in and less touristy. We’re back in the Dordogne and I’ll finish with Beaumont-du-Périgord, another one founded by King Edward I of England.

DSCN6334Beaumont-du-Périgord – Porte de Luzier

DSCN6328Beaumont-du-Périgord

DSCN6332Beaumont-du-Périgord – main square

Well done for sticking with me on my little tour. Go and pour yourself a glass of whatever you fancy, put your feet up and relax. You deserve it 🙂

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Dordogne, History, Podding | 1 Comment

Castles in the air.

I don’t know about you, but do you sometimes set out on a destination only to find that there is something really interesting on the way there? I was heading in the direction of La Roque Gageac on the banks of the River Dordogne and as usual, I like to take the less travelled routes – minor roads, virtually no traffic, and always the thrill of what may be around the next bend. Good old GPS took me on the most beautiful lanes and thankfully no farm vehicles to contend with because to say that they were narrow would be an understatement!

So, when you drop down into the valley and take the next bend, you have to stop when you see this. It just calls out to be explored, doesn’t it?

DSCN6187This is the mediaeval fortress, Chateau de Castelnaud.

As you might guess, parking was at the bottom of the hill and obviously if I wanted to visit a climb was required. I wasn’t relishing it in 32c of heat and blazing sun, but off we set, Maggie helping to get me up the pathway. It was worth it I have to say. The little village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is really lovely as it tumbles from the chateau down to the river, and there are great views of the river and across to Beynac-et-Cazenac and the northern side of the River Dordogne.

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DSCN6204But much more important things were on our minds. Lunch! It was really lovely to see places full and people enjoying meals out as a family. The tables were shuffled and re-shuffled to maintain the 1 metre distance rule to try every attempt to fit more people in…and why not? These small places rely on tourism and need as much custom as they can get if they are to survive. I for one was more than happy to stop and eat and support them.

DSCN6196Lunch stop in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

Of course, having had my fill of a superb simple lunch (plat du jour), dessert and drink all for 12 euros, I needed to walk it off. At least going down was a lot kinder than the climb up.

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Onwards and over the river towards La Roque Gageac. Well, I was really taken aback at just how busy it was when I got there. La Roque Gageac has always been a firm favourite with tourists and I have to say that I wasn’t expecting it to be very busy at all. But it was as if someone had given away free tickets for the day! The river was a frenzy of canoes and gabarres (traditional cargo boats) ferrying visitors to see the sights, and swimmers took their chance alongside them.

DSCN6206La Roque Gageac.

DSCN6209I have to say that the water looked so inviting… I could happily have jumped in to cool off but it wasn’t to be, and besides, what would I do with Maggie? Honestly, a Labrador who doesn’t like water! 🙂

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Chateau, Dordogne, Podding | 8 Comments

Belvès

The Dordogne is blessed with 10 of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’ (most beautiful villages) putting it in the top along with the Aveyron. It would be very fair to say that a lot of them are similar and yet if you wander their ancient streets and have a bit of a scratch around, they are different. In this region a lot of them are ‘bastides’ or fortified towns, mostly from the mediaeval period, and were built as a defence. I’ll be visiting plenty so come back again to see some of them.

Belvès is one of these ‘beaux villages‘ and follows the general layout for a bastide. A lot were built on the top of hills, giving them the much needed views over any attack. It seems like everyone spent their lives fighting!

DSCN6168Life is (supposedly) safer these days and the need for mediaeval defence has long gone.

I can’t believe just how lucky I was to get a parking spot. It seems that these places are wanting tourists and visitors and yet they make little provision for parking. I found myself asking the question ‘what the locals do’?…. It’s easy… they just seem to park where they want, even at the expense of partially blocking the road! I snagged a spot right outside the ‘Mairie’ … possibly in the Mayors private place, but hey-ho, when in France! As you twist and turn in the narrow streets and alleys you really do wonder what you’ll come upon next. A good guide is to make your way into the centre where their is almost always a main square.

DSCN6171I love these old market halls. This one is really magnificent and is from the 15th century.

DSCN6172Great to see tourists again. These were Dutch doing a guided tour.

DSCN6173In this square and under the market hall are some troglodyte dwellings … amazing to think that people lived in caves on this same spot. You can visit but obviously it wasn’t possible with Maggie in tow. (Not that I was really interested).

DSCN6175Entrance to the original 11th century town – love the key left on the wall!

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DSCN6186The ‘new’ town

With the clear blue sky, the sun up and almost 27c it’s time for a much needed drink for Maggie and me.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Dordogne, History, Podding | 5 Comments

Isolation with a difference.

Time to get away again in my pod. I had this site booked for a stay in May but with restrictions and the fact that it was still closed, I wasn’t able to visit. No matter, I’m here now. And very nice it is too. I’m on a tiny site just a stone’s throw from Monpazier in the Dordogne. It is a lovely region, usually blessed with throngs of tourists from the UK and the Netherlands. I’ll come to the touristy bit in another post, but for now I’ll just let you see the campsite. There are only 10 pitches and sadly for the owners (but lovely for me) I am the only one here! I feel rather isolated and certainly I have no fear of coming into contact with many people for this short visit. This is 100% isolation without even trying!

DSCN6148My lonely little corner is absolutely ideal as it is an enclosed dog-friendly pitch; fenced all around with gates and plenty big enough for Maggie to run around and to explore. I haven’t come across enclosed dog pitches before and I really have to ask why don’t more people have them on site. I mean, this campsite of only 10 places has 3 specific dog ones. Admittedly they charge a bit more for them, but it’s just so convenient and stops dogs wandering around (even though a ‘dog on lead’ policy doesn’t always mean the same to the French). Seems like a no-brainer to me!

DSCN6149As you can see, even though I have a tiny pod, there is plenty of space. If I look in the other direction I have a lovely view over the small lake.

DSCN6152I really feel a bit bad calling it a lake because it is more like a great big pit dug into the ground, but it is lovely and clear and the owners said I could swim in it (seeing as the pool has been delayed by Covid-19)! I’m not too keen on that idea, and even though it’s been almost 30c, I think I’ll stay on dry land and sweat!

DSCN6156Looking back to the property and the site, I’m sure that you can make out a caravan to the right that is in storage.

So as the evening sun starts to set and the shadows grow long I think it’s time to pour another glass of wine and to contemplate that in my world right now, all is good and I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

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A Bientot!

Posted in Dordogne, Maggie, Podding | 2 Comments

Freedom in the Mountains.

Being in a mountainous region can be very beautiful but also very frustrating, especially when you are a visitor with limited time. Being right at the foothills of the Pyrénées, I was almost desperate to get into the mountains but the weather really wasn’t that great for the views I wanted. My week saw the peaks always hidden under cloud and to be honest, it would have been a terrible waste of time making the drive. However, my last day promised to be the best option so I kept all fingers and toes crossed and set off. The only way to visit is to take the mountain passes or ‘cols’ and the first one was the Col de la Crouzette, As I climbed I was rapidly becoming more gloomy because the cloud was closing in (or was I just getting higher into the mountains)? The headlights came on automatically and I felt sure that it was going to rain. Then suddenly I reached the top and behold! 🙂

DSCN6102View from the Col de la Crouzette

If you go up, at some point you have to go down, and the valley below was my route. And being the mountains, you eventually end up climbing again, this time on the The Col d’Agnes. I think for me, this pass was the most scenic and enjoyable. At the start of the col is the lovely Étang de Lers (Lake Lers).

DSCN6111Étang de Lers

This was a perfect lunch stop, and what better place to sit – on a rock, overlooking the mountains and the lake. And as you can see, the weather wasn’t that bad either!

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DSCN6123Aulus-les-Bains

Then onto the Col de la Core.

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Here, and all around this part of the Ariege you can see signs, plaques, memorials  for  “Le Chemin de la Liberté” or Freedom Trail. From November 1942, his route was of vital importance for people fleeing the Nazis and the terrible oppression in France, Local guides took them across the mountains and into Spain. You can still walk the trail and it is chilling to think of the risks these people took and their amazing bravery. Today all is safe and calm. Next stop was the Lac de Bethmale, an emerald green lake surrounded by lush woodland.

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Maggie was happy with all the mountain walks and I was thrilled that the sun shone for most of the time. Time to be heading back to camp and also time to wind up my trip here in the Ariege. The forecast for the next seven days…yep, you guessed it – clear and sunny and hot! I’ll be back here again because there is so much to see and enjoy.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 5 Comments

Castles, churches and villages.

This day was a real tour around the eastern part of the Ariege. You have to love the long days of summer with enough light to make you feel as if you have no need to hurry.  Making a trip on these quiet roads with few tourists makes for a leisurely drive, and I wasn’t in any great hurry either. First stop Foix. The mediaeval castle dominates the old town and looks down onto the narrow streets below.

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DSCN6033Beautiful half-timbered buildings in Foix.

DSCN6034The Halle aux grains was the perfect stop to have a drink and snack, with views to the castle. Maggie was impressed with the nibbles too!

DSCN6039Church of Saint-Volusien

I could so easily have missed my next stop. In fact I would have just driven along the road and not turned off had it not been for the campsite owner telling me I must make a small detour to the sleepy, almost forgotten village of Vals. The thing that strikes you most about this village is the ‘citadel’ that you see before you reach the centre.

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On closer inspection you realise that it is a church – l’eglise rupestre de Vals, a troglodyte church. Built into the rock you ascend into the ‘cave’. It has frescoes from the 11th/12th century.  but you’ve guessed…it was closed 😦 However, the stop was still well worth it and it just means I have to come back another time.

DSCN6047Church of Notre-Dame, Vals, built on three levels.

DSCN6051Vals

Sometimes you read about places and know you want to visit, but when you get there it is a real disappointment. Not the case I am pleased to say with Mirepoix. I parked right outside the last remaining ‘gate’ of the once fortified town and walked along a relatively uninspiring lane.

DSCN6073The Porte d’Aval

But once I reached the end, I passed into the main central square and caught my breath. WOW! Half-timbered houses supported on huge wooden pillars to create magnificent covered arcades. Stunning!

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If you look closely, the ends of the joists on the wealthiest houses are carved with faces, heads and fantastical images.

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It was really lovely to see people enjoying the relaxation of the distancing rules as they sat and enjoyed drinks and meals, ice-creams and cakes under the covered arcades. The small shope were proudly displaying their wares and hoping to start to get the tourist Euro into their coffers. I do hope they survive and ride the wave. Small places like this can only survive with visitors. Anyway I loved it here and happily parted with my money with a ‘slice’ of beautiful Nougat de Montélimar.

DSCN6071These massive ‘cakes of nougat’ command a high price! (but worth it).

I needed to move on and being so close I wanted to visit the ancient fortress village of Camon. The village is often called the village of a hundred rosebushes as there are roses absolutely everywhere, climbing up the walls of houses, their heady scent filling the air. And not one greenfly in sight!

DSCN6079Entrance to Camon, the Clock Gate.

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Time was passing and it was time to start making my back to the campsite. Maggie was totally exhausted with all the walking about and was soon snoring away on the back seat of the car. Just one last stop to a small waterfall at Roquefort-les-Cascades. This small waterfall (30 metres) is a fragile and rare ‘tufa’ waterfall…. “The water from the spring that feeds these falls is very calcareous, and calcium deposits form on the rocks and moss over which it flows. When the vegetation underneath the deposits dies, it ferments, and the beige crust left behind has a porous texture resembling a sponge.” (just in case you were wondering)!

DSCN6087The Cascades.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the little tour. Come back soon for some more travels in the Ariege.

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in History, Nature, Podding, Pyrénées | 5 Comments

Closed today!

It hasn’t been the brightest of days…low cloud, the threat of rain, unseasonally cool but certainly not cold as it is still 20c. I had to get some provisions, so whilst out and about I stopped off in a small village called Saint-Lizier. The same story as everywhere; closed today (and for the immediate future). No matter, it didn’t stop me having a good wander around the ancient streets and lanes. There is evidence of it being occupied for over 2,000 yrs. The first view of it from the road is impressive. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo, so I’ve pinched one from Wikipedia to give you an idea.

Saint-Lizier_-_panoramio_(2)I would have loved a sunny day like this!

The two dominating structures are the Cathedral of Saint-Lizier and the huge Bishop’s Palace. The Cathedral was built about 900 yrs ago and has a beautiful octagonal tower built of bricks. There are supposed to be some beautiful 11th century frecoes, but ‘Closed, Today’.

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There is a lovely little Romanesque cloister, which was open 🙂

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Let’s take a stroll around the village and see the Bishop’s Palace as well.

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DSCN5990I came upon this rather crumbling but quaint former B & B…..lovely door but I won’t be staying here!

DSCN5994The Bishop’s Palace.

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As I said, the weather wasn’t playing the game, so the views were not as impressive as they would have been if it had been clear, but still very nice I’m sure you’ll agree.

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On the way back home we stopped off at the ‘voie verte’, a ‘green’ pathway that runs from Saint-Girons to Foix. There are loads of these all over France and a lot are old railway lines. They are for walkers, cyclists and are totally car-free, perfect for a walk in nature. A good few hours walk was just what Maggie needed. I guess I needed it too as I seem to be eating rather well….It must be the fresh air and being outdoors.

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DSCN6032Back home, dinner cooked and a certain little lady is knackered!

I wonder where we’ll get to next?

A Bientot!

 

 

 

Posted in History, Maggie, Nature, Podding, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

In the know!

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when the name of a place or person crops up and you are absolutely expected to know who or where or what it is! You know what I mean? Not far from Le Mas d’Azil is a small village called Carla-Bayle. (What!? You mean you’ve never heard of the name before)??? Well, to the uneducated (and that includes me), the village is named after Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher and author born in 1647. He was a Protestant and Carla-Bayle was a bastion for the Protestant faithful. OK, so you are now ‘in the know’.

An old Huguenot citadel, this village is located on a 400 m rocky peak, and overlooks the valleys of the Lèze and Arize rivers, and offers a magnificent view of the nearby Pyrénées. Unfortunately my view was somewhat lacking but the countryside is beautiful.

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Today it has become synonymous with painters, sculptors, ceramists and other ‘arty’ types, and the village itself is really colourful with the brightly painted buildings and shutters.

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DSCN5965Place de l’Europe

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DSCN5972Part of the old fortified walls

As with so many places at the moment, they are closed or have very limited opening due to Covid-19, so I didn’t even get to see any of the art. I’m sure a lot of it would have been well out of my pocket money budget, but you never know, there may have been that one piece that captivated me!

A Bientot!

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 2 Comments

Le Mas d’Azil.

If I take a walk along the bank of the River Azize from the campsite I come to the charming village of Le Mas d’Azil. The walk itself is really lovely and a chance for Maggie to really go mad and stretch her legs. I don’t know if it is the change of air, the new smells or what, but she is like an 8-month old puppy! Most important of all is that she is happy. Anyway, back to the village. (Yes, I know, I get sidetracked very easily)! Take a look for yourselves.

DSCN5958Panorama of Le Mas d’Azil

DSCN5936Louis XIII Bridge

DSCN5961I LOVE the funky pollarded trees.

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DSCN5962The church of Saint-Etienne

The claim to fame of Le Mas d’Azil is the cave of the same name. If you are into archeology, geology, palaeontology, prehistory and history of caves, this will have you very excited. There is evidence of humans going back 30,000 yrs and is classed a “supersite”. It is the only cave in Europe that you can drive through (and you have to drive through it cos it’s the only main road)! It is impressive and the entrance is like a massive yawning beast.

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DSCN5956The River Azize as it enters the cave.

I can see already that I am going to need a lot more time in this region…so much to see and do. I guess the joy of having my pod is that I can visit whenever I want 🙂

A Bientot!

 

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 5 Comments

Perfect Pitch.

This is new territory for me – the Ariege, or to be precise the Pyrénées Ariégeoises. It is a Regional Natural Park, and as the name implies, it is part of the Pyrénées. It is a wonderland of forests, streams, nature at every turn, wildlife and sweeping vistas. My first impressions are just how lush and verdant it is. I’m in another fantastic campsite, almost empty, and I was given the choice of pitch. I plumped for a spot right beside the river, the River Arize. I love the sound of running water and that combined with birdsong everywhere, I am well pleased!

DSCN5930This is beside me.

DSCN5944As you can see it is crowded!

DSCN5946All ready for my week here – perfect!

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So, where am I? I’m just on the edge of the village of Le Mas d’Azil. It is only 1.5km walk into the centre along the riverbank, an ideal walk for Maggie filled with new smells and sounds. Pictures will follow in time 🙂 For now I am just absolutely content with the change of scenery, the variation to my daily routine…in fact what holidays are all about.

A Bientot!

Posted in Podding, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

Worth the wait.

Oh, it has been a long time coming. Or so it seems! Here in France our restrictions from Covid-19 are gradually being relaxed and numbers of people with the virus and the number of deaths are dropping. Good news indeed. On a purely selfish note I was thrilled to hear that our 100km travel limit was dropped and that campsites were allowed to open from June 4th. Some may remember I posted about my new ‘pod’ that I bought and collected in the UK in January P(l)odding Along! I did manage a very brief trip to the coast but after that it was parked up in the garden, just waiting and wanting to go out and about.

Well, it’s happened! Here I am on my hols, in my pod and loving it 🙂 I’m on my way to the Ariege, but first stop is a one-nighter in Pujols in the Lot. It’s a fabulous campsite, really clean and tidy and perfectly situated at the foot of the mediaeval village of Pujols. Things haven’t taken off yet and sadly for the site owners there are only 6 people here. But it’s a start, and some people are still a bit wary about going out. I really hope that they survive the financial crisis that this virus has brought. Still, I’m not going to get all maudlin about it. It is what it is and we all continue in our own way as best we can.

So, Pujols is really a very typical old village, (one of the “Most Beautiful Villages”) and has a prime position on top of a hill – it was a fortified stronghold and has magnificent views over the valleys of the Lot and the Mail, and a stunning view of nearby Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The bar and some small shops were open, along with a tiny café that was doing a roaring trade. I settled for a beer as I sat and relaxed and people-watched (a wonderful time-waster and so much fun).

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_DSC0254Pujols from the campsite

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DSCN5906I’ll be back along this way on my return, so some more photos I’m sure. Next stop the foothills of the Pyrénées.

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Podding | 2 Comments

All Change!

I’ve been very remiss at posting recently. I must say that I have been very busy with one thing and another, and with spring upon us, the garden has occupied a lot of my time. With the longer days and warmer weather, the grass has needed twice-weekly cuts, there have been seeds to tend to in the greenhouse, the raised veggie plot to prepare and to plant out… so I have not been idle! The countryside has been bursting into life with it changing almost every day; where there wasn’t a leaf or flower a day ago, the buds have popped open and now blossom fills the trees and hedgerows, there is a beautiful green haze everywhere and life is good.

But of course, as we know, life isn’t really ‘good’ in the current situation, but it is really important to stay positive and upbeat, and thankfully I have the freedom of the garden. It must be so very hard for those confined to a small appartment with no garden space or balcony to get outside.

These last 2 weeks have been really warm and settled with wall-to-wall sunshine and I have lived in shorts and T-shirt…oh, such a delight to feel the warmth once again. I thought that as I am restricted in my outings (essential travel only), I’d share the garden with you.

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DSCN5839This is my ‘wild’ area with cowslips, bluebells, foxgloves and daisies

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So, can you imagine my shock and dismay when I woke this morning and saw the white stuff falling? Actually it wasn’t falling, rather it was being blown sideways in a 70km wind and only 1c (no idea what the wind-chill was but it almost ripped my face off)!

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And as you can see, my pod is sitting in the corner, sulking. I have already cancelled 2 trips away and I fear that it will be some time till I can get away. Such is life! Hopefully you are all safe and well and coping with whatever restrictions you have in your part of the world.

A Bientot!

Posted in Garden, Seasons, Weather | 5 Comments

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.”

So goes the song, and yes, I do like to be beside the seaside. I have to say that it has been a long time since I was at the coast and smelling the salty air. With my new pod and a few days of predicted good weather it was a great opportunity to get away and to have my first ‘podventure’. I found a site that was open all year at Fouras-les-Bains, just 100kms from home. Perfect for a trial run!

Sadly the site was not that great and in any other situation I would have turned around and come home, but I wasn’t to be daunted and I really did want to see how I got on, along with Maggie. The problem with the site is that for the winter, most pitches are closed due to the weather, and it runs at a very limited state. Campervans seem to be OK but caravans are not well catered for out of season, and I was directed to park up on a small gravel road nestled between closed-up mobile homes!!! It was like being hemmed in on a run-down housing estate.

DSCN5795The only really good thing was that I was 50m from the sea, and when the tide was in I could hear the lovely sound of the waves lapping and breaking on the beach. Anyway, at only 16 euros a night all inclusive of power, dog charge and modern heated toilet and shower facilities, I couldn’t go far wrong. And it was only for 2 nights.

As I said, the beach was only 50m from the site and there are some really lovely walks along the sea front and around the headland. I was on the North Port side and just a 20 min walk away were the larger beaches of the South Port.

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DSCN5808As you can see the tide was out and I have to say that I haven’t seen such an enormous expanse of mud for ages…it seemed strange that the beach was so sandy and yet just a few metres away was treacherous mud!

One of the characteristics and part of the heritage of the coast of the Charente-Maritime are the traditional carrelets or fishing huts. The huts, perched upon wooden pylons driven deep into the sea-bed, take their name from the carrelets (large square fishing nets) which are balanced in a rather precarious fashion. They are simply lowered into the low water to catch whatever my swim past – mullet, sole, crab, prawns, or eels.

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DSCN5803Hot-footing it in the shallows for a tasty snack!

Unfortunately my battery gave out on me, so no pictures of the town or the imposing mediaeval Fort Vauban. Perhaps next time 🙂 So, it turned out to be a good podding lesson and even though it was just 2 days away, it felt like a good change of scenery.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Podding | 5 Comments

A Wake For the UK

Yesterday was Day 1 for the UK to be out of the EU. It has little impact here in my sleepy village, for now at least. The Brits living here have no idea what the future holds for them and they seem resigned to the fact that there is nothing more that they can do. So, my small circle of friends gathered yesterday evening for a “Brexit Wake”. Really it was just another excuse to get together for a meal and drinks, much needed in winter when we tend to be in hibernation mode, and with all the depressing news, a chance to let off steam, moan and groan, but also laugh a lot 🙂 It seems that France is sad to see the UK leave, and President Macron wrote a letter expressing this, and it appears that he is keen to have the Brits here still.

_67016068_67007615I tend to not enter into political debate too much, but this picture sums up my feelings about the departure of the UK from the EU.

A Bientot!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Seasonal Confusion

Well, here we are…we made it to the end of January! I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that January seems to just go on for ever and ever. As always, at this time of year, there is little joy in the weather and for the majority of the time there is little chance to be out in the garden or doing outside chores. Walks with Maggie are a daily pleasure, even in the pouring rain and winds that take your breath away, and she is happy any time that she can sniff around in the grass and be on the endless search for a snack…typical labrador!

To say that it has been mild would be an understatement, the result being that things are starting to wake in the hedgerows and gardens. The birds are singing as if it is spring and it is almost impossible to keep up with feeding them.

DSCN5779This robin is more than happy to sit under the feeder and get it’s fill on the seeds that drop.

DSCN5765One of my greatest joys is the arrival of the first daffodils…they are so cheering and even when the skies are heavy and grey, they can gladden the heart and soul. I have a good mix in the garden so I am assured of them for a few months. Another favourite has to be the primroses, of which I have loads…they just self-seed and pop up in the most unusual places.

DSCN5787Another self-seeder and equally as lovely are the cowslips. These are much earlier than normal. It’s all ‘wrong’!

DSCN5786With virtually no frosts this winter things haven’t died back and I have still got geraniums, petunias and lobelia in flower. Honestly, these are flowers associated with summer! What is going on? And roses too.

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DSCN5782Almost overlooked but such a pretty wild flower, the celandines are starting to cover the grass verges and banks, along with sweet violets. So, there is much to enjoy in this quiet, dull season, even if Nature is all very confused! I wonder if it is just a very mild winter or is it the effects of climate change? What is it like in your part of the world?

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Flowers, Garden, Nature, Seasons, Weather | 7 Comments

P(l)odding Along!

The month is already racing along at a crazy pace. I always think that January is a rather miserable month with the cold and damp, the dark mornings and nights and when the sun does decide to shine, it is watery and low in the sky with virtually no warmth. Last week I was in the UK for a very welcome and really lovely visit to my brother and sister-in-law. Unfortunately it was way too short, but better than not seeing them at all!

One of the reasons for this trip was to collect my new micro caravan – a ‘pod’! I have toyed with the idea of having something that will allow me to travel around and still be able to take my dog Maggie with me. At one point I thought about a campervan, but a) they are expensive, high on fuel and restrictive in the fact that if you want to explore, you have to take your home with you. Obviously a small caravan was the choice.

….. And here it is!

DSCN5731As you can see, it’s certainly ‘micro’!

The day I brought it back to France coincided with Storm Brendan. Very high winds, lashing rain and really, the most awful conditions for towing a van and for taking a ferry. Towing it was an absolute breeze (literally) and held to the road like a dream. The ferry crossing was another story with one of the roughest sea trips I have ever made. To be honest I actually like rough seas and the whole thing of ‘riding the waves’. (Yep, I know, I’m crazy 🙂 )

DSCN5743Check-in for the ferry – this doesn’t show the rain and gale-force winds.

Arriving in France was much calmer and the drive home was easy and relaxed. Even so, it was nice to be home and to get pod parked up.

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Unlike in the UK, I have to register the van here in France and wait for a separate log book and number plate. That could take some time, so I have plenty of opportunity to sort out where to put things and to find out what works and what doesn’t in terms of ease of use. I hadn’t got any plans to go away just yet anyway. Once I get my documents sorted there will be no stopping me and I will be off ‘podding’ around France.

A Bientot!

Posted in Podding | 4 Comments

Renewal

Well, there’s no escaping the fact that Christmas is over and that we have moved to the edge of another new year. For some they will be cheering the end of 2019 and the last decade, and others will be expectant of great and wonderful things to come in 2020. Whatever the new year brings, I wish you peace and happiness, good health and joy. But most of all, I wish you all that you wish for yourselves.

Happy New Year 2020 background with fireworks.

A Bientot!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shepherd’s Warning

Well, we have made it through the month and here we are at the end of autumn, meteorologically speaking. I was thrilled to be able to walk Maggie in the dry for a change and no doubt she was happy too. (I don’t know many labradors that don’t like water, but I got the one)! LOL 🙂 It was only at the last moment that I remembered to grab my camera…so pleased I did.

DSCN5714The glorious sunrise was extremely short-lived. Even though we managed our outing, the clouds built up and within an hour of getting home the wet stuff started to fall…again! Tomorrow is December and who knows, it may be a nice start to winter.

A Bientot!

Posted in Local travels, Seasons, Sky, Weather | 1 Comment

Waiting for…..?

The third Thursday in November is always awaited with a certain degree of excitement here in France. This is the date when at 12.01 am the Beaujolais Nouveau is released – that much-ballyhooed cherry-red coloured vintage that’s best served chilled — is clearly not for wine snobs. This fresh and fruity red is the result of a quick fermentation process that ends up with a tasty, clean wine that is enjoyed by palates the world over. The Gamay grapes that go into Beaujolais Nouveau are handpicked in the Beaujolais province. The wine actually originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season. 2019 has been hailed as a good year.

900_Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive posterBeing France, it is also a very good reason (who needs one of those?) to celebrate with some form of party, social gathering or whatever. Locally we had a picnic! Yes, I know it’s mid-November and it is cold and wet, but this was indoors. Nine of us friends went and sensibly decided in advance who was making/cooking what. We’ve been here before and ended up with a lot of the same things! The picnic was fun, plenty of food – far too much food, and wine. A local band played (far too loudly) music from the 50’s through to the present day, the focus being on the ‘old’ hits. Their sound sytem would not have been out of place in a small stadium. Hearing-aids were hastily removed or turned off!

DSCN5707Unfortunately the turn out was low and as I looked around the room it reminded me of God’s waiting room. I reckon the average age was pushing 70yrs, and the sound of creaking backs, clicking hips and knocking knees gyrating on the dance floor was drowned out by the music. By 9 pm the table opposite were yawning and several were visibly nodding off. Surveying the room it was like a ‘Darby & Joan’ convention! By the end of play at 11.30pm most had gone home or had succumbed to Death, with one or two determined to compete with the band by snoring rather alarmingly. Hopefully they had a good time.

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Oh well, there is always next year’s harvest to look forward to! Cheers everyone 🙂

A Bientot!

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Misty Morning

Under a mantle of frost and mist, the countryside is looking radiant this morning as the low sun reminds us that winter will soon be upon us.

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The early morning mist and dew
The faintest sunlight shining through,
The branches of the languid trees
That slowly forms this autumn frieze*

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The mist almost reduced the view
to something dark and eerie
like a fog it rolled across the grass
and made it look quite dreary
and yet it did not quell the joy
of this still Autumn morning
for as the sun warmed up the day
it vanished without warning***

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Late November, our season changes.

Sun-bright is the early morn, but cloud and mist
Have quite white-washed the sky, the familiar hill
Is veiled.**

 

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A frost does form now winter nears
That glistens like the fallen tears,
Of autumn for its end is nigh
As if to say its last goodbye.*

 

* ‘Early Morning Mist and Dew’ by Andrew Blakemore

** ‘Beyond Season, Mist or Mystery’ by Ananta Madhavan

*** ‘An Autumn Mist’ by Phil Soar

Hope that you are enjoying some nice autumn weather wherever you are.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Local travels, Nature, Seasons, Weather | 6 Comments

Remembering

Armistice Day, November 11th, is a public holiday in France. For a great number I am sure it is seen as an extra day off and a very welcome extension to the weekend. Here in the village our population is very small, but it is still sad that only 20 of us made the effort to attend the brief and simple commemoration this morning with a few words from the mayor, the laying of a wreath and a moment of silence. Perhaps the ‘Glorious Dead’ are remembered in other ways.

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A Bientot!

Posted in Village | 2 Comments

Adieu, Pyrénées.

Better late than never, eh? I have been waylaid these last number of days and just couldn’t find the time to make my last post from my Pyrénéean trip. Although I am back home now, the memories of my time in the mountains will last a good while; until my next jaunt at least! It will be funny to think that a lot of the routes I travelled will very soon be cut off due to snow and ice. The villages will hunker down for the winter and a tourist will inded be a rare sight away from the ski centres. Here in the Deux-Sèvres we have had our first frosts and temps have dropped to 0c, so it it very comforting to reflect of the last rays of warmth from the autumn sun in the mountains.

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All being well I will be back sometime next year. It is comforting to know that it is unlikey to be changed, other than it being a different season. I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief travels in this really magnificent part of France.

A Bientot!

Posted in Pyrénées | 4 Comments

Picture Postcard Views.

One of the things I really enjoy is the sheer unadulterated pleasure of being almost completely isolated, planted firmly in the middle of fantastic scenery, the sound of nature all around me. Add to that a dose of perfect autumn weather and I am happy. It sounds selfish, but when I get moments like this I really get a wee bit grumpy if there are other people about. Fortunately I encountered only a handful of people on my travels in the truly beautiful Aspe Valley. This valley forms one of the through routes to and from Spain via the Col du Somport, but before that there are some historic and beautiful mountain villages.

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One of the well-visited villages is Lescun, a typical village of the region, still very untouched by tourism, despite it being in one of the most celebrated positions in the area.

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Sitting at about 900m it is in a cirque, a natural ampitheatre of mountains.

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I had been told that I should take the dirt track a little way along from the village to Le Plateau Sanchèse, an easy hike and one offering the most spectacular views. I have to say it was one of the best bits of advice I was given. It was 26c, beautiful sunshine as you can see, and the plateau itself was just a total delight. Cascades, bubbling brooks, mountain streams, cow-bells clanging periodically in the distance, birds of prey sceeching from the peaks as they circled above. This was nearer to heaven than I could ever have felt when I visited Lourdes!

_DSC0172Le plateau Sanchèse

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After all the fresh air I was, (as always), ready for lunch. It was only by chance that I came upon a superb little restaurant in the village of Etsaut. True to form, the daily meal on offer (no choice), was cheap, wholesome and with 3-courses, wine included for 12.50 Euros, what is there not to like?

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Suitably stuffed, I continued my way through the valley and took the turn off to the Col du Somport. There is a route (toll) through the mountains via the Somport tunnel, but where’s the fun in that, especially with empty roads, the russets and bronzes of autumn, and scenery to die for?

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_DSC0186At the summit of the Col du Somport. (1632m)

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A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Pyrénées | 9 Comments

Pilgrims of Desire.

Here I am, back again for the continuation of my trip through the beautiful Basque country. Who would have believed that at the very end of October it could have been so warm…23c and wall-to-wall sunshine. Of course I was thrilled to have such wonderful weather especially with the scenery on hand.

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During the Second World War, this part of the mountain border between France and Spain soon acquired a reputation as the exit to freedom for many individuals fleeing the Occupation. The Basque shepherds, who had first-hand knowledge of the rock outcrops, risked their lives by defying the German patrols to smuggle people out. During the daytime, the fugitives would lie low in surrounding barns. They were given safe passage over to Spain at night… all thanks to these behind-the-scene helpers.

DSCN5643Today the Basque shepherds seem content to ‘block’ the roads as they move their flock to new pastures, not that I was complaining. I mean, what better scenery than this?

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Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the Griffon vultures that were circling overhead, but they were certainly plentiful.

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As with a large part of this region, the Chemin St Jaques is ever present. The pilgrim route Camino de Santiago has a starting point (“the French Way”) in the small town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Nestled at the foothills of the Pyrénées and just a few kilometers from the Spanish border, this pretty town with influences from it’s mediaeval past was buzzing with pilgrims and tourists. The hilly streets are mild compared to what lies ahead as they wend their way to Spain.

DSCN5645The 15th century church of the Assomption-de-la-Vierge also known as Our Lady at the End of the Bridge

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Pilgrims of a very different type gather in their numbers in the small but very popular village of Espelette. Known nationally for its unique and subtle red peppers that hang on the facades of the houses to dry at harvest time, this village is never short of devotees of this important ingredient. In Espelette and around the region, you’ll find plenty of products made with this red pepper: from jelly to salt, salsa, jam, and even oil, honey and chocolate. I was really lucky to be there on the eve of the two day pepper feastival…had I been later I’d never have been able to park.

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DSCN5671Perhaps a chilli flavoured beer?

DSCN5673Or a chilli coffee?

DSCN5675At least chilli goes with meat!

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Strolling through the pedestrianised streets was a real joy, savouring the delights of the local cuisine (free tastings), the ‘buzz’ of the impending festival and the beautiful local houses. This area has so much more to show me and a future visit will be on the cards.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

The Hidden Gorges

Today is part one of a trip into the peaceful and rural French Basque country. The Basque country of Spain seems to be much better known, unfortunately due to the association with the Basque Separatists and the Spain-ETA conflict in days gone by. French or Spanish, the people of the Basque country are both fiercly proud of their heritage, language and culture. For me it was just a fabulous day, empty roads, beautiful weather, superb scenery and great walking.

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DSCN5586Hidden away in the folds of this wild land is the outstanding natural site of the Gorges de Kakuetta, a canyon that was formed more than 80 million years ago. The sunshine was left behind as I entered the cool of the gorges, mosses and ferns adorning the walls and rocks. DSCN5594

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At the end of the walk you are rewarded with a 20m high waterfall. Other than the few people also visiting, it was amazingly quiet with only the sound of birds and water for company….perfect for recharging the batteries!

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Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you more of this fabulous area.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 2 Comments

Pilgrims and Plastic Virgins.

Where do I start? Being so close I decided to make a visit to Lourdes, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrénées. It is perhaps best known as a major Catholic pilgrimage site with millions visiting every year to the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, or the Domain of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is where in 1858 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette (later Saint Bernadette), a 14 year old peasant girl. She was commanded by Our Lady to wash and drink the water from a spring. The waters were subsequently declared ‘miraculous’… I will leave you to look up the story if you don’t know it!

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DSCN5529This is the Grotto of the Apparitions and the site of the events that took place. The spring is protected by a glass panel and you can’t actually touch the water here, but lines of the faithful, hopeful, or just interested or doubtful file past the spot. Water dripping from the rocks seems to serve as an adequate substitute for the spring water with pilgrims running their hands over the wet rocks and then wiping their heads and faces in the hope of divine intervention. Nearby there are numerous taps where you can fill bottles, wet your face and hands and drink the water.

DSCN5533The crowds gather (between the orange trees) to await their chance to be ‘submerged’ in the miraculous waters. The baths seem to be an integral part of the experience. There is the constant murmering of prayers and the never-ending fumbling of the rosary beads.

DSCN5528The view towards the 1000 year old Chateau.

I have to say that I am not a believer and remain very cynical. But I also appreciate and acknowledge that faith is a huge factor and for millions of people around the world, this gives them great hope and comfort. But the thing that really jarred with me is the commercial aspect. To me it seems that the sick and the vulnerable, the weak and the hopeful are being taken for a major ride. Surrounding the sanctuary are rows and rows of shops with fantastic names; ‘Palace of the Rosary’, ‘Mini-Market Alleluia’, ‘Our Lady of Victories’, and so it goes on, selling everything from china virgins made in China, plastic virgins, luminous statues, resin saints and every form of religious exploitation you can think of. Plastic containers of various sizes can be snapped up for several Euros so that you can have a religious ‘Take-Away’ of the holy water. And don’t forget your candles!

DSCN5513Obviously no environmental concerns here!

DSCN5514Luminous Virgins

DSCN5534Statues and candles of every size (and every price)!

DSCN5515I think that this tops it all. I’m not sure what a 12th century Archbishop of Dublin has to do with Lourdes, but as I said, it seems that everyone is on the religious band-wagon.

My visit was certainly an eye-opener and left me feeling rather sad and depressed at the whole fiasco.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Pyrénées | 4 Comments

“Un Bouchon”

It’s time to leave behind all of the pretty little towns and villages and to get back to nature! OK, so I’m driving, but to be able to enjoy the great outdoors I need to drive! I am NOT going to be walking up these mountain passes, I can tell you.

Overnight I was woken a few times by the heavy rain pelting against the windows but I was very pleasantly surprised when I looked out to a relatively clear sky. No good staying in bed (even though it was only 8c and I was SO comfortable). My little trip today was to the Col du Soulor, a mountain pass of spectacular beauty and one that is a Tour de France classic, having featured in over 60 rides since 1910. I did encounter a few lycra-clad sweaty bums as I drove to the summit…not my idea of fun (either the cycling or the lycra-clad bums)!

DSCN5482As you can see there is little room for cars to pass and in a way I dreaded meeting a large truck, campervan or coach. Just imagine how pleased I was to come across this…..

DSCN5472There was absolutely nowhere to go and these two were locked together in a metallic embrace by their side lights. Although there is virtually no traffic on these roads, especially at this time of year, a small bouchon developped. A bouchon is a cork (as in wine bottle) but it is also a traffic-jam. How frustrating was this? I could see where I wanted to go but nobody was going anywhere very fast. Well, they jiggled and shuffled and shouted and looked. They climbed in and out of their cabs, the poor driver on the right having to climb the wall each time. Eventually, I don’t know how, like a cork being pulled from the bottle, they slipped by each other without incident. Perhaps they’ve done this manoeuvre before!

Onwards and upwards, with sweaty lycra once again my companion. It has been said that this is one of the most beautiful roads in the world…I don’t know about that, but it certainly has spectacular views, making driving so hard because there is something to see at every turn.

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DSCN5474The overnight rain had fallen as snow at this altitude, and was some of the first of the season. I’d love to see it after a really good amount of snow on a crisp winter’s day.

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DSCN5489And we’re here…at the summit of the col in glorious sunshine. 1,474 metres (4,836 feet) altitude, and just a handful of tourists.

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DSCN5496… And down the other side.

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DSCN5502My legs are tired now after all that pedaling! (As if).

A Bientot!

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

A trip around the Béarn

This was a day spent dodging the rain, but eventually it caught up with me. Thankfully I am on the western side in the Pyrénées Atlantiques. To the east on the Mediterranean side they have been experiencing massive deluges of rain with terrible flooding and so much damage. They have had 2 months of rain in 24hrs! I consider myself very lucky.

My day started of with a beautiful drive to the Bastide (fortified town) of Navarrenx, one of the Beaux villages de France. It is amazing to think that there has been a site here dating back to the 1st century. The fortifications were built in the mid 1500’s with 10 metre high ramparts, reputed to be impenetrable.

Navarrenx (hélicoptère)Obviously not my photo, but it gives you a very good idea of the fortified town.

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DSCN5412There’s a LOT of wall to get through, isn’t there? I’m not suprised it was impenetrable!

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DSCN5401Navarrenx has also been, and still is, a major stage of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela, with the crossing of the Gave d’Oloron.

DSCN5406Onwards through the glorious countryside to Sauveterre-de-Béarn, a mediaeval village and originally a walled refuge, perched above the river Oloron. In the Dark Ages this was one of the main routes to Spain due to it’s old bridge. The stone part remains with the old wooden section long gone.

DSCN5422The Bridge of Legend

It is called the Bridge of Legend because, as the legend goes, in 1170 the recently widowed Queen Sancie gave birth to a still-born and malformed baby. Witchcraft was rife in those times and she was accused of killing her new-born child. So, her brother, the King of Navarre, ordered that her fate should be decided by God by having her hands and feet tied and to be thrown into the raging river below. She survived and was therefore declared innocent! Nice lot, weren’t they? From the bridge there is a lovely view of the church and the Monréal Tower. I doubt that Queen Sancie had time to take in the view.

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DSCN5424The 12th century Tour Monréal

DSCN5417The 13th century Église Saint-André (Church of Saint Andrew)

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The bells had rung out and everywhere was closing for lunch…well, it’s France so everything stops for 2 hours! And if you can’t beat them, join them! In such a small place, options were limited so I followed the crowd to the only restauant in sight. Initial feelings were that it wasn’t going to be that great…it looked a bit grubby and run-down, the staff were totally not bothered and one spent more time on her mobile phone than serving. That left a young chap (who looked to be about 14yrs old) to take orders, run around like a headless chicken and smile when he had time to breathe. There was no choice of menu so you had what you were given or went without! But at 13 Euros for a 3-course meal that turned out to be really excellent there was nothing to complain about.

Suitably refreshed (well, I just wanted to go to sleep really), it was time to continue my round-trip. The rain had started to fall and the clouds were lowering at every turn in the road, but I was only a short distance from Salies-de-Béarn and as I always say, you never know when you’ll be back in the area, so go and see places! I’m pleased I did.

DSCN5432Salies-de-Béarn

This is the ‘Citadel of Salt’ Throughout the ages salt has been it’s lifeblood and the town has grown and developed due to the salt. The River Saleys runs through the town in a sort of long drain, set below the street level.

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Along with it’s picturesque streets and buildings, Salies-de-Béarn has developed as a renowned health spa, due to the salt. If you are feeling in need, you can take the ‘cure’.

DSCN5441The Thermal Baths

It seems that you can get cured from all manner of ailments.

DSCN5443I can happily report that I am in no need of any of these being ‘cured’!

But there was a funny incident when I was wandering around and snapping pics at the Thermal Spa. A couple, perhaps their 70’s, were leaving the spa. They were in a state of semi-undress, sandals unbuckled, hair still wet and Monsieur licking his lips as if to savour every drop of salt he could manage. I have to say that they didn’t look in great shape, and Madame was wheezing and coughing whilst hanging onto old Salty Lips. Next thing…Salty was on the ground having slipped down the last step. He yelled out and of course Madame Wheeze went with him. She was NOT happy with him and whilst both were sitting on the gravel, in the pouring rain, she started yelling at him like an old fish-wife! Before anyone could get to help them, she fished in her bag and produced a hip-flask which was passed around, but not before they both lit up a cigarette! Obviously the ‘cure’ was working 🙂

Last stop of the day was a brief dip into the Basque Country and another of the Beaux Villages de France, La Bastide-Clairance. This fortified village was founded in 1288 and features the traditional and very distinctive white and red (or green) colouring, typical  of the region.

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The church, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (1315) is unique in the region for it’s covered cemetery yard with pavements of gravestones…very unusual indeed.

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DSCN5467Inside I was also amazed by the tiered wooden galleries that completely circles the nave…certainly I’ve never seen this before in my travels. I wonder if ayone else has.

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I’m sure that like me, you are tired of the travelling and need a nice glass of wine! Cheers till next time.

A Bientot!

Posted in History, Pyrénées, Weather | 3 Comments

Taking a Break…

No, not from blogging, but having a small holiday 🙂 I am currently in Oloron-Sainte-Marie in the region of Béarn at the foot of the Pyrénées. It is only about 4h30 from home, so only a half-day drive. Maggie has gone for her holiday as well, staying with a wonderful lady who runs doggy kennels. From the moment I dropped her off I was missing her, but she has been there before and is really well looked after.

It was a rather miserable drive down with a lot of fog, rain on and off, and not that warm. However, I don’t expect great weather at this time of year and certainly not in a mountainous region. My initial impression of Oloron is that it is a lovely old town with some really nice buildings, a great situation and bigger than I expected. I am staying in the old quarter of Sainte-Croix.

DSCN5371My ‘home’ for the week (my room is the double windows).

DSCN5366Place St. Pierre, the view from my room

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DSCN5372After driving I was more than happy to stretch my legs and to get a bit of a feel for my surroundings. The evening light was fading fast, but still a chance for some pics.

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DSCN5388Along the Gave d’Aspe ( Gave is a mountain river)

DSCN5389Autumn trees in the public gardens

I have plenty to explore and places to see. I just hope that the weather plays nice this week. Stay tuned! I’m off to have dinner as it is being cooked as I type and it smells amazing! Bon Appétit

A Bientot!

Posted in Pyrénées | 3 Comments

Summer’s Last Hurrah?

Well here we are, mid-October and it is 26c. Much needed rains have fallen for the first half of this month and everywhere looks refreshed and invigorated. The weeds are making up for the heatwaves of summer and the grass is requiring an almost twice-weekly cut! It has remained very mild and to be honest, other than the darker, shorter days, it is all very bearble. The last 3 days have been wonderfully warm again with clear blue skies and almost summer temps. In fact our minimum teperature last night was 18c and I am so pleased I didn’t pull out the warmer duvet!

As my neighbours keep telling me, “Il faut profiter” – Take advantage! I don’t need to be told twice and I did just that this afternoon with a short drive to Sompt, a small village about 20 mins from home. The main attraction for me was a walking trail that is nearby, and as you can guess, Maggie was in her element having new territory and a plethora of smells to explore and investigate. We only did a short section but it forms a 10km round trip. We’ll be doing the whole circuit someday I am sure.

DSCN5354The old ‘lavoirs’

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DSCN5357Following the path through the trees you come to La Barbette – a small picnic area and the site of an old mill that pressed walnuts for oil

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DSCN5359The Barbette Mill

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DSCN5363I have to say that it was absolutely idyllic walking along the river bank, shaded from the heat and the only sounds were the numerous birds and the water tinkling over the stones. Oh, Maggie was also rustling through the leaves, but she is a very quiet walker 🙂 It beats mowing the grass!

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Local travels, Nature, Weather | 2 Comments