Keep on running…

It seems that we are fated to meet up with enthusiastic athletes. In Bilbao last year we arrived on the night of their marathon. Today, our route plans were rather disrupted by the Millau 100k, not only a marathon but a much extended run along the course of the Tarn. We were heading to Pezenas but our route of choice was closed for this event.

However, we said farewell to Etienne (himself a keen runner) and Adeline, owners and hosts of Villa La Muse this morning. We’d arrived as guests and parted as friends, which is as it should be. We hope to return in a couple of years. Our revised route to Pezenas took us to Les Vignes, away from the gorge and onto the causse or plateau. Driving across the causse, we joined the autoroute and crossed the Millau Viaduct, whereafter it was an hours drive to Pezenas.

Pezenas is not an easy town to negotiate even without a braderie taking place. Anyway, I managed to find a temporary spot near to our B&B, albeit on a red and white striped piece of tarmac saying ‘access pompiers’. We were only there long enough to unload and a space became available in a small car park nearby. Once settled in our huge room and after lugging the suitcases up a spiral stone staircase, we thought we’d have a walk round the old town.

This area of Pezenas is filled with small artisan boutiques and you can easily while away a few hours wandering round. We walked up one narrow street (this area is the old Jewish Quarter) and I heard a cats plaintive cries. Looking up I could see a very thin black cat, enclosed in a wire basket which was wedged on a window sill. The owner of the boutique below was concerned and tried to access the apartment but without any response from the occupier. He then got a ladder and climbed the last part to the cat and I believe gave it food and water. Just after, two municipal policemen arrived and with the help of other boutique owners put on an unrehearsed acrobatic act, while an intrepid policeman got up to window level and shone a torch through to see if there was anyone at home. By this time, we were suffering with hunger pangs and unfortunately went in search of coffee and crepe before we knew what the outcome was.

We came back to the B&B where we got ready for dinner, in the restaurant attached to (and underneath) the letting rooms. It was an excellent meal, even though it was burgers and not our usual gourmet fare.

Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast and lunch out (probably only separated by an hour or so) and wander round some more. Luckily the weather has again improved and I’ve managed to cast off my jumper. Who knows what else I’ll manage to throw aside on Sunday…

 

We built this city, on rock (and roll).

This morning, over a leisurely breakfast we said farewell to David and Marianne. Contact details have been exchanged and we are sure to keep in touch.

It was they who mentioned the Cite De Pierres, not as you may expect, a town where everyone is called Peter, but a site with grand vistas, some activities and walks.

I’ve never thought of us as walkers. In fact when anyone mentions walkers, I automatically think of the firm that produces shortbread biscuits rather than the process of putting one foot in front of another and producing forward motion. However, we arrived at Cite De Pierres this morning prepared to at least try a short waddle.

The brochure offers various options, you can climb on the ‘via ferrata’ and use the zip wire. I think we considered this for perhaps a nanosecond and moved on to the ‘on foot’ selection, which promised rambles from 30 minutes to 2 hours. There were limitations to our time (and legs) so we searched for the shortest route and set off. At first it was fairly easy going, though I did point out that we were descending and inevitably that would mean an ascent. There were interesting rock formations to view along the way, with luckily rather long explanations to read which gave us a short respite in which to catch our breath and rue our lack of fitness and mobility.

The further we went, the worse the ground underfoot became and gravel paths gave way to stone steps, with varying degrees of height and difficulty. We consulted the map and realised that we could either retrace our steps or complete the circuit back to the car park but by negotiating a more difficult route, which in all probability would include a stop at Everest base camp.

However our salvation came in the form of the sites tourist train. We had considered this option at the start and thought it best not to appear as complete wimps. Not far ahead, we could see that the train (and it’s four passengers) had stopped to look at some intriguing flora. Susie enquired whether it was possible to join the train at this point and was much relieved to receive a positive response. On the way to the loop where the train turns for home we saw that our intended route seemed to disappear then reappear on the other side of a huge rock outcrop before meandering down to the loop. Our legs were very grateful and we sat back to enjoy the ride back, noting with some satisfaction how much of the route we’d covered on foot.

In glorious sunshine, we had a small snack seated at the panoramic viewpoint. Crisps and biscuits rapidly replaced the calories we’d burnt in the previous hour. We’re now back at base camp as it were and will be getting ready for dinner at L’Alicanta where we’ll consume a comfort blanket of food, whilst bathing in the afterglow of our achievement….though that may be sunburn.

 

On the road again…

The sun began to shine today. It’s appearance didn’t influence our destinations though. We’d decided to go to Severac le Chateau yesterday evening and that a real effort to look round Liaucous should be made, as we’d postponed going a couple of times.

Severac lies to the west of our hotel here, about a 40 minute drive. We’d looked round this picturesque medieval town three years ago and didn’t really expect any major changes, after all Medieval buildings can’t change substantially can they? Well, maybe they can as we found out. We walked in through one of the old city gates and strolled round to the Maison De Jeanne, which is 14th century and reputed to be the oldest house in France. Oh dear, whatever are they doing to it? It’s been replastered  externally and very inappropriate UVPC windows installed. It’s hideous and unsympathetically restored.

We carried on up towards the chateau but, as it was three years ago the final climb to the top defeated us. We descended, grabbed a quick coffee and made our way to Liaucous, which is practically on our hotel’s doorstep.

Taking a very narrow and thankfully short road just before the turn for our B&B,  we parked at the rear of the village. It is very pretty, perhaps enhanced by a brilliantly sunny afternoon, which has been somewhat of a rarity this trip. Getting up to the church was a challenging climb up very old, steep, stone embedded paths. The view at the top was stunning. The village wasn’t deserted as others have been this week, we saw at least two living people. Luckily they didn’t try to run us through with pitchforks either so we survived the walk back down to the car and made our way back to the hotel.

Tonight we invited our new American/Belgian friends, David and Marianne to have dinner with us at the Grange Templier. The restaurant is in a magnificent setting, with vaulted ceilings in a large hall. Sadly I wasn’t very impressed with the food. Although it was very good, I felt it lagged behind some of the other places we’ve visited this week.

We didn’t get back here until after 11pm so I’m writing a ‘midnight oil’ blog. Our plans for tomorrow aren’t definite, though we may end up riding a small white train round a circle of rocks……yes, really.

Castels in the air…

It rained again today, which was a little depressing. We had a leisurely breakfast and chatted to the charming American/Belgian couple who booked in yesterday. However, even though we delayed our departure it was still quite dull and miserable when we set off for the Gorges de la Dourbie. The road along the gorge isn’t as steep, winding or challenging to drive along as the road that follows the Tarn. It’s more verdant and gentle.

We were heading for Cantobre, a hilltop village, recommended as worthy of seeing by Adeline, our hostess here. The approach to the village is just off the main road, over a single track bridge and up several swooping hairpin bends. I’m more used to these oddities now but they still require some concentrated negotiation. In high tourist season, the village must be challenging to access. There were one or two overflow car parks lower down but we drove on, trusting that tourists as mad as us would be few and far between and that parking for overweight OAP’s would be close to habitation.

Luckily, I found a slot next to the village recycling centre, though we still had a steep incline to tackle to access the village. Cantobre is quaint and stunningly situated and as far as we could tell practically deserted. There were a smattering of seasonal gites to let but, like Castelbouc no human inhabitants to be seen.

After a short walk round, we left the village to it’s catatonic slumbers and drove on to Nant, a slightly larger town further down the gorge. By this time we were feeling in need of something to eat and stopped at a restaurant with a terrace in the old market halls. It began to rain more heavily and while we enjoyed our meals of shepherds salad and sausage and chips (guess who had that) we began to regret our choice to eat them outside. The arcaded market halls acted as a wind tunnel and we were quite chilled by the time we finished eating.

Nant has a few interesting, winding streets, though apart from a bar and two restaurants all other commerces seemed closed, possibly because it was out of season.

To be honest we were both cold and miserable and drove back to the hotel, via the vast military camp at Larzac, La Cavalerie, which seems to be almost totally given over to apartment accomodation for soldiers. We skirted round Millau, crossed the Tarn and missed out on visiting Liacous for the second day. We’ll try and go tomorrow….or Friday.

This evening we had another lovely meal at L’Alicanta, though we were both quite tired and ready for bed when we’d finished eating. The forecast is better tomorrow…it’s difficult to type this with crossed fingers…

Bridge over untroubled water…

Well, we didn’t argue or get lost today…….

Oh sorry, you want to know what else happened too? Well….

It was grey, overcast and spotting with drizzle when we left this morning. We had planned to visit three places today, St-Chely du Tarn, Castelbouc and Liaucous, we managed two out of three. Last time we visited St Chely it was warm and sunny, tourists had sprung from the earth like Jack’s beanstalk and we had trouble parking. Not so this time, the place was just about deserted. We went to the Moulin de Cenerat which is not only an artisans boutique but has the river running through one side of the shop. Apparently when it rains heavily the shop gets inundated and they come to work in wellies.

The weather was still miserable when we moved on to Castelbouc but the little village brightened us up considerably. Access is via the bridge above, which a sign helpfully tells you is liable to be submerged. Not so today and we parked up at end of a narrow road. Castelbouc is set right next to the River Tarn. It’s almost been chiseled out of the overhanging cliffs. It appeared empty apart from a couple of other tourists. There are no level roads or paths, houses can only be accessed by narrow, unpaved winding paths and then flights of stone stairs. It’s indescribably pretty but a delivery mans nightmare.

By the time we’d looked round, searched for residents, or checked to see if Amazon had left a parcel behind a rock, it was getting quite late. We headed back to the B&B and left the third village for another day.

Our dining spot tonight was the Hotel De La Muse. Three years ago we had our meal on the terrace, overlooking the Tarn, a little way below us. I hadn’t been comfortable, as the staff were a bit aloof and nearly all the other diners were residents. Tonight it bucketed down and as it was dark, eating al fresco wasn’t really on the cards. The staff were much better and the food superb but the dining room isn’t set out well and seems a bit staid and reserved. However, we really enjoyed our meal. (Susie loved her Madras curry carrot cake)

There are already three targets in view for tomorrow, though they may be only seen from the interior of the car, as the forecast is a bit dire. Well, we didn’t really come here to get a sun tan….

High on a hill drove a lonely goatherd..

I confess I have a problem with maps. Not ones that you buy to read properly but tourist maps, ones that either don’t bother to put North at the top or put so many symbols on that it’s impossible to read them. So, that’s my petty excuse out of the way. We drove out of the B&B this morning, I turned left, Susie insisted we should have gone straight ahead, we drove a couple of kilometres down the road, stopped, had an argument, then I apologised as Susie was obviously right….as usual.

When we last visited here, we were introduced to Przewalski’s horses, a breed with it’s origins in prehistoric times, who’d almost been eradicated and were now breeding in protected status, here on the Causse Mejean. They are being successfully introduced to Mongolia and of all places, the area round Chernobyl. We sponsor a mare, Volga, who has recently given birth to a male foal, Phenix. So it was our intention to visit the Causse to see if we could catch sight of them. Thanks to my map reading we arrived a little later than intended but still managed to find a small herd, relatively near to the road and the reconstructed village of Villaret.

Susie insists that we saw Volga and Phenix and considering my performance today, I’m not inclined to disagree.

We regrouped back here and as it was quite early decided to drive up to Point Sublime, high above the Gorges du Tarn where we thought we’d enjoy a nice relaxed coffee and a piece of cake. The view from there is unmissable. Sadly the snack bar will only take cash, strictly no credit or debit cards or cheques. The cheery chap behind the bar won’t let you use the loo if you don’t buy something either…..

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We took the winding road along the edge of the Tarn back to our hotel, had a short rest and popped over the river to Pas du Loup where we were having dinner tonight. What a lovely, tasty meal, slightly different courses and well seasoned too.

So here we are, tired, full, calm and rested. I’m resolved not to bother with the map anymore. Or perhaps it would better to listen to Susie in future….

 

(K)nights in white satin…

We slept really well and our breakfast was superb, no self service buffet here, all served at your table, including orange juice, yoghurt, croissants, pain aux chocolate, baguette, home made jams and a large bowl of coffee. It makes you wonder why we bother to leave the house really. However, we did leave eventually and headed to Sainte Eulalie de Cernon. To do so, we crossed the Millau Viaduct, always an awe inspiring sight, even though it costs you €8.60 to do so and if you get in the wrong lane at the peage (as I did) you have to get out of the car and pay by credit card.

We’d visited this village three years ago and remembered it’s Templar Commanderie, which we thought was worth another visit. It was grey and overcast when we pulled into the car park and low cloud hung across the valley. The village had a deserted, eerie feel, as if the inhabitants had been struck down by a 21st century outbreak of the bubonic plague. Sadly, I’d left my antiseptic and medical mask at home, so we had to trust the abscence of people was due to it being Sunday not the impending apocalypse.

There was a a human in the tour office who helpfully informed us that we could look round the commanderie for free today (well we had to make some money back on the viaduct tolls) and we set off up several flights of stone and wooden steps on our self guided tour.

Though small it’s a fascinating building to tour round. I must confess to finding such things a tad ‘dry’ though this is well laid out and for the most part well lit. I can only imagine what it was like to inhabit during the chilly winter months.

There were still no villagers around when we completed our tour and we decided to return to the car rather than outstay our welcome and be burnt at the stake as outsiders. Retracing our route and again emptying our bank balance to cross the viaduct we returned to the B&B.

Our intended restaurant for tonight turned out to be closed. However, we were advised by Adeline (the owner here) to try the Auberge De Peyreleau, just within a foodies easy waddle from the closed restaurant. She kindly made us reservations and it was much better than our first impression. It’s not fancy but the service is warm and friendly, the food well cooked, flavoured and wholesome and very reasonable. We may well return, obviously if we don’t develop plague in the meantime.

2, 4, 6, 8, Autoroute…

After a reasonable breakfast this morning, we left out overnight B&B. We were very impressed by the medieval town, less so the hotel, though we would return.

It wasn’t long before we were heading south on the A71 towards Clermont Ferrand and the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne. We even stopped at an ‘aire’ to top up with some overpriced fuel and buy some insipid ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Shortly after devouring the sandwiches we encountered something rare on French autoroutes, roadworks involving a diversion. We took in a slow tour of some intriguing semi industrial areas, including a second hand vehicle outlet selling a red ‘Arriva’ double decker bus. Anyone standing at a stop waiting for the number 72 will have a long wait…

Eventually we got back onto the autoroute and drove further south to our exit towards the Gorges Du Tarn. A very twisty, almost single track road led us to a small French village which is confusingly called Boyne. Seeing no obvious signs of a battle we drove through and a few short kilometres later, here to the Villa La Muse, where we stayed three years ago. The image above is the view from one of our bedroom windows.

This evening we strolled over the river to Le Rozier for our evening meal. We’d discovered L’Alicanta last time and it didn’t disappoint this time either. It made the 15 minute walk there and the 25 minute walk back worthwhile…

Apart from having breakfast tomorrow our plans are fluid and undefined. If the forecast rain appears they’ll definitely be fluid.

Shall we go or shall we stay?

On Wednesday we eagerly awaited our petsitters, who arrived in good time. They stayed about an hour and decided to leave. I should stress this was no fault of ours or theirs. A family illness had worsened considerably and despite their willingness to fulfil a commitment to us, they decided to go back to the UK. We understood though obviously it put us in a difficult position.

We managed to get in touch with Trusted Housesitters and our dates were turned ‘live’ again. I sent off multiple requests to sitters who appeared to have dates free without success. Wednesday became Thursday, we cancelled our first two hotels and we became convinced that our holiday wouldn’t take place at all. Then someone smiled on us and we found Jayne, a petsitter from Brittany who’d had a cancellation and could be with us on Friday morning. I don’t think we’ve ever been so glad to see a stranger turn up at the house. After a brief tour and a ‘greet the animals’ session we hit the road.

Obviously our travel plans had to change and I found a hotel in Mennetou – Sur – Cher, about half way between home and La Muse, our destination for Saturday. The hotel is good, the owners welcoming and the village rustic and charming….

We had a passable meal, (you’ll notice an absence of foodie photos which should tell you everything) and here I am slaving over the keyboard while France’s noisiest fly tries to land on my head. Let’s face it, I have a pretty wide runway to aim for.

So tomorrow we head off for La Muse. Hopefully breakfast will be filling and the roads empty…..though I suspect those two wishes may be interchangeable….

 

A holiday, a holiday, the last one of the year…

I’ve done two shameless things. Firstly, I’ve used an image of our soon to be new kitten Cleo, to gather in readers. Secondly, I apologise to any Fairport Convention fans (a folk rock group from the 1970’s)  for altering the first line of their track, ‘Matty Groves’ to suit the blog title.

Since returning from the UK at the end of July nothing really newsworthy has happened. In fact nothing newsworthy ever happens here, nothing that would grace the front page of a tabloid newspaper anyway. We’ve hosted Monika, a lovely German workawayer from Cologne for a fortnight and continued to sample the local restaurants once or twice….a week. Obliquely, there’s a new bean to cup coffee machine in the kitchen and we’re making travel plans for next year.

However, lets preview the last instalment of our 2019 excursions. Next Thursday, we drive to Tours for an overnight stop, then Vichy for another. We have decided not to drive long distances any more, preferring to break the journey into smaller bite size pieces, sort of a ‘menu degustation’ by car.

After Vichy we drive to the Gorges De Tarn, staying in the same B&B we used a few years ago. Then Pezenas, which we love and a short stay with friends Maggie and Martin in the Ariege, where Susie used to live. Much as I tried to dilute Susie’s enthusiasm for Toulouse I’ve been persuaded (torture was implied but not carried out) to stay there for a few nights and have been promised interesting and informative walks round the city. I trust these are relieved by numerous refreshment breaks. We return via the I’le D’Oleron, somewhere we haven’t visited.

It would be folly to think we haven’t planned where to have meals ahead of time. I think there’s only one night we haven’t got a restaurant booked and we’re on the waiting list for that.

So as ever, I look forward to boring everyone with our adventures, copious photos of our food and the sunlit scenery…well we hope it’s sunlit…