Published: September 20th 2012September 20th 2012 Trip: HIDDEN FRANCE 1.On the road
au revoir St Civran
The trip goes from my place in St Civran, an unknown tiny village in the Region "Centre", to Champs-sur-Tarentaine, a farmlike Bed-and-Breakfast in a similarly unknown tiny village in the Region "Auvergne". It meant some 300ks across the middle of France, through yet another Region called "Limousin". Confusing?... not at all :-) The thing to know here is that France is made up of 22 Regions very much the size and purpose of the 'Länder' in Germany. For details, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regions_of_France. Provinces as such do not exist any more, and Provence is actually the name of a province... but I digress!
So, at about 8 am on Saturday, under a grey and misty sky, my Japanese Helper Aska and myself sat in the car and I turned on the ignition key of my ye old faithful dark green Ford diesel car. Diesel cars, booh!, dirty, filthy, causing the sky to fall on our heads soon. Yes, I know, but I can't afford a Ford that wouldn't pollute, at the moment. Besides, it is quite convenient to be able to drive some 999 ks with a full tank without stopping at a
au revoir St Benoit!
pump at all... but I digress!
Aska has been my Helper for 3 weeks and I'm taking her to her next Host in "Auvergne". The HelpExchange system, worked out by a clever Kiwi guy down town Auckland in New Zealand, is absolutely wonderful to meet people travelling the world on a shoe string, as the saying goes. It is on the model of the Vwoofing system (Volunteer Worker On Organic Farms) except that it doesn't have to be on a farm. You list as a 'host' if you have free accomodation to offer and a travelling tramp lists as a 'helper. The agreement is to host someone who is able and willing to help you with any job around your place, on your farm, in your garden, or whatever. Aska had been a great help for me, sorting out my moving from one house to another. In return I helped her with her studies of French and with food and a room... but I digress!
So, we left the village of St Civran in the Region Centre and headed south for the Region Limousin. The next big place was going to be Guéret. I could have taken the
bonjour Region Limousin
at the 'border' between Region Centre and Region Limousin
A20 motorway down the middle of France, from Paris to Limoges and Toulouse, but I wanted to travel slowly to admire the misty landscape. Therefore we drove on a road parallel to it, on the former highway used before the motorway was built. What a luxury, 2 roads for the price of one (?!) and in good order too. We passed villages by the name of Bois-Mandé, Villeaubrun, Montmagnier and Le Dognon.
Then we veered to the east onto a motorway going to Montluçon. Speed limit 110 km/per hour. We left it at the exit for Guéret-'centre ville' i.e. 'down town'. This city is built in grey granite stones on a rugged kind of terrain. No street is plain straight or flat. The usual Saturday morning market was on. It took us a while to wind ourselves out of it, finally finding the sign for our next destination: Aubusson.
That was it, on the other side of Guéret, we were treading mountainous grounds, the forerunner hills of the Massif Central. I do enjoy driving on winding roads. It's more fun than on straight ones! Speed limit here: 90 km/hr. It went fine and we arrived at
running parallel to autoroute A20
Aubusson around 10 am.
I was a bit worried of what to expect next, beyond Aubusson into the unknown Massif Central ranges. To my great surprise, the road was rather straight and smooth, climbing up and down passes, all the way to Ussel. As we had spent 4 hours visiting Aubusson and surroundings, we didn't stop for very long in Ussel. Aska's next Host was expecting us before 6 pm at Champs-sur-Tarentaine, somewhere beyond Bort-les-Orgues, and I had no idea what kind of driving I was heading for.
I know, it sounds silly, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the road from Ussel to Bort-les-Orgues (pronounced 'Borleyzorg') very pleasant to drive. Sure, hilly and winding, but offering at times stunning views on the Massif Central ranges. We finally arrived ahead of schedule and our hosts treated Aska and myself to a folk dinner at the night market held every Saturday night in summer inside the sport centre in the middle of the village. The traditional food was cabbage, potatoes and pork, or a cheese-potatoe mash called 'alligot', or something called 'chou farci' which is minced meat inside a cabbage leaf served here like a slice of cake.
Aska on the pedestrian bridge above the Creuse river
We were more than full when we left the table.
So far so good. The driving was great. Here are some photos. I shall tell of our stop-over in Aubusson, Felletin, Ussel, Bort-les-Orgues and Champs-sur-Tarentaine in my next entries.
There are more photos below