Good morning sunshine…

We aren’t having much luck with breakfast here. We are having some, but it isn’t where we are staying. It may be poor communication but we’ll see if we fare better tomorrow.

It was hot and sunny today, probably into the high 20’s and we had chosen this day to visit Sete, which is on the Med coast, not too far from here. We’d already booked a promising restaurant for lunch which was a little away from the centre, so we parked up just across the bridge and prepared for an hours wander round a beautiful town. Oh dear…

I’m not saying Sete doesn’t have it’s good points, it has a lovely waterfront. But there’s no charm, it’s full of commerce and tourist trap bars and restaurants. The town centre is quite built up and pedestrianised. We got lost trying to find the Tourist Information Centre which says a lot. Anyway, we eventually did and armed with a map and directions we went looking for Terre et Mer, our lunch spot.

It was worth the walk…The waiter was charming, food delicious and we ate outside in glorious sunshine, what more could you want?

It was very warm when we waddled back to the car, perhaps the excess food didn’t help. We walked over the bridge, just a French version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’ went under. A peculiar looking thing, I guess it may be a glass bottomed boat, at least I hope so, otherwise there will be some very wet tourists if it’s semi submersible.

We drove back to Pezenas and found our sneaky parking spot had been taken, so we’ve had to leave the car up at the old railway station overnight. Tomorrow we go in search of special jam….hopefully that doesn’t involve one leaving our car park….

Strike a pose…

We weren’t expecting today, or should I say we didn’t expect such an action packed Sunday. Well, not that we were in the action exactly…

We began by walking along the main street here, searching through the many kerbside restaurants for one that served breakfast. We found one which faced a cordoned off area of the car park, on which we were informed a tournament of tamborin was taking place.

It’s very much like tennis, though without a net and lines on the court and five players on each side. It’s played with a form of tambourine, though without the jangly bit on the outside.

We finished our breakfast and strolled on into town, where we could hear music being played. A little way further and we saw a ‘float’ being carried along by hidden figures and accompanied by a band. It paraded around the streets, the children dancing along.

Along the street, a small cordoned off area was holding a fashion parade, further up there was a mass Zumba session, for which we were sorry that we’d forgotten to pack our exercise gear. A lot of the artisan boutiques were open, so we shopped a little, then rested on a nearby seat, watching the passing ponies and a donkey taking children for rides around the old town, where they left deposits outside the shops. Luckily, they were collected quite efficiently. We’d reserved a table for lunch at a restaurant we’d used and liked three years ago. what a difference now. The food was ok, but not to my taste. Susie was suffering with her air conditioning allergy and we had our coffee outside on the terrace. We were supposed to be dining there on Tuesday but the attitude of one of the waiters today precludes us going.

We strolled back towards the B&B, pausing to watch a little tambourin, which was apparently reaching it’s final exciting stages. We tore ourselves away, got back to our room and had a nap. It’s all that tambourin that does it….and the Zumba…

 

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….