We've seen The Lot

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June 24th 2012
Published: June 24th 2012
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Monday 18 June – Happy Birthday Paul McCartney! We last blogged having a lazy Sunday at Elne – an afternoon by the pool and an early evening game of boules – too hot for a cycle into Elne. Anyway, after chores we checked out (rude French woman at reception) and set off in a north-easterly direction, inland. This means we’ve left the Med and now won’t get beaches ‘til the Atlantic coast of Brittany.

To start – another boring shopping trip in an Intermarche that sold just about everything. Then driving out through the pretty town of Elne, we drove through Bages – also very pleasant and having skirted the edges of Thuir, we saw a brown tourist type sign to Castelnou, which turned out to be one of the ‘Plus Belle Villages’ topped with castle. We ate lunch in the shady carpark, then meandered up into this ancient stone village but turned back at the castle gates ....6 Euros each – you’re kidding, we’ve seen heaps better castles for free!

From there we carried on - all this through acres of vinyards........lots of Caves, not the Wookey Hole type but the Degustion Vin tasting type...and fruit & veg growing. We passed through the nice looking town of Ille-sur-Tet, and took a cross country route, via a B road through the mountains. Just after climbing out of Ille-sur-Tet we stopped to gawp at amazing rock formations....a bit like sand castles that you drizzle wet sand on to make turrets. Our journey took us through lovely mountain scenery - ziggy-zaggy narrow roads, passing by two olden villages, Caramany and Ansignan, built into sides of the mountains with dammed rivers, reservoirs in the valleys below.

We followed one of these valleys with enormous mountains either side ‘til we popped out of a gap in the rocks and emerged at St Paulo de Fenouille. From there we followed yet another valley, stopping briefly to admire a castle atop a rugged mountain at Puilaurenes. As the road continued with the river Aude now alongside us, the mountains got closer and closer together until we were driving through a narrow gorge with rocks either overhanging or tunnelled through. Within a few minutes more we arrived at our destination – an Aires site on the outskirts of Quillan.

So here we are - doesn’t look too exciting at the moment – about 6 other motorhomes of various derivation and it’s actually now quite cool (only 73 degrees) . It was a HOT day with temps well into the 90’s ‘til we crossed the mountains – the sky became overcast and the air temperature dropped.....hope this isn’t an irreversible change.

Tuesday 19 June – Woken early by bus drivers who start their engines, then go off to have a coffee & croissant for half an hour....also to the pitter-pat of rain. The rain cleared but the skies remained dull all day – we abandoned shorts/sundress in favour of jeans & Tshirts and drove in, round and out of Quillan, which indeed did not become more exciting.

We decided on a route very near where we’ve been before (Carcassonne etc) but seeking out places new. So we drove through pleasing rural scenery that would have looked better in sunshine and following the river Aude. We drove through Couiza (ho hum) and on to Alet-les-Bains (which B insists on calling Alec Lez Baynes!)...... an untouched centuries old village of reasonable interest, almost completely empty of people. The only thing showing any signs of life was the village shop – come bakery/butcher/post office & cafe. We ordered coffee and chocolate croissants and sat at a pavement table in a brief spell of sunshine, next to the part restored/part-ruined 9th century monastery. There was a bit of argy-bargy over the bill, which should have been 4.10 Euros.....she wanted 6.20 Euros because we’d had cafe AU LAIT – bloody expensive milk at 2.10 Euros!!

We drove on to Limoux, which is on the river Aude – not ‘first-glance’ stunning, so we parked and walked to La Place de la Republic looking for a Creperie – we fancied creeping in, having a crepe and creeping out again! There wert none, only 4-5 posh looking pavement restaurants – so we drove onwards to Castelnaudary on the Canal du Midi. Half way there (and starving hungry) we took a side road to a brown-signed mediaeval village called Fanjeaux....there was bound to be an eatery there, crepe or no crepe. Sure enough at the base of the hilltop village was a cafe but our ‘Est-ce-que vous avez quelquchose a manger?’ was met with a firm ‘Non’. Furthermore, the unhelpful female told me the only place selling food in the village was closed on Tuesdays!

Since we were there, we felt obliged to climb to the church at the top and back – it was a fairly charming place but we were not in the mood for being charmed – just fed. So onwards to Castelnaudary an extremely busy main-streeted town, off which, having walked for a bit we found a sort of square with a huge covered market place and amongst the hairdressers, estate agents, hardware and fashion shops – we spotted ONE cafe (in Spain, there would have been a dozen)......AND – it was a Creperie! So at twenty to four in the afternoon we enjoyed a couple of ham/cheese & mushrooms crepes with a glass of white....at last. Walking back to the van in this uninteresting town, it began to spit (rain that is).

We finally drove another few miles to an Aires site near the Canal du Midi at Montferrand – quite pleasant, surrounded by trees and popular. We were the 6th van here and in the last hour or so, another half dozen have appeared – couple of GB plates, one Spanish, the rest French. I doubt if there’ll be any chumminess as it continues to rain – now we know what you poor lot have had to put up with. A quiet night in.

Wednesday 20 June – We needn’t have worried about the weather – blue skies and the temps up in the 90’s. Our first stop was in the town of Revel – an OK place but the best bit being an ancient and enormous central covered market place, where we had a wander round and a coffee. From there we drove through Puylaurens and Vielmur-sur-Agout and onwards to Lautrec, where we’ve been before. We always try to choose the back roads, often single track and the scenery is extremely beautiful.....golden corn fields, rolling green hills and most roads are boulevard-style with tall trees planted either side.

Lautrec was as good as we remembered and once again, having walked through the mediaeval streets we climbed up to the windmill and the hill behind for amazing views. We had lunch in the van before moving on and after a few miles, enjoying the breeze as we motored along towards Graulhet – it was VERY hot..........there was an almighty BANG as our driver’s side rear wheel exploded!....scary stuff. Luckily it was on a straight piece of road and we just about managed to limp partially into a driveway, half on/half off the road with the offending tyre being on the traffic side. We donned our high-viz jackets, put warning triangles out fore & aft and began to jack the van up.......this was all in the full over 100 degree sunshine with one of us prostrate and puffing with the jack and the other holding a golf umbrella for shade! Luckily we were offered help from a workshop (whose driveway we were parked across) – they had a small trolley-jack which made the whole process easier and after toasting each others health with the lemon squash drinks we produced, and kissing Monsieur Freddy on both cheeks, we were on our way.

Not long after, we stopped at Gailac, another OK town with a few interesting buildings and sat at a bar enjoying cool glasses of Panache (shandy). From there, through a great little place called Cahuzac-sur-Vere to our destination -Cordes-sur-Ciel . We saw this stunning hilltop village from afar but needed to park up and relax, so headed for an Aires site at the base of the village. Thank God we’re able to have a lovely cool shower whenever we want – although with another 8-9 motorhomes on the site, it was indoors, not al fresco. The linguist had some very pleasant chats with our French neighbours who gave us some good info on visiting the town (and the husband also asked if my tan was ‘all over’...cheeky), a game of Scrabble and a fantastic late meal of beef meatballs in a wine/olive sauce purchased from a market. Although it was still very hot, we slept well.

Thursday 21 June – Another HOT day..... we walked up the steep stairs and small track to the base of the village where we had been told there was a Petit Train, which for 2.50Euros each, return, would take you to the top of the village. However on obtaining a village map from the tourist office, we were told the train didn’t run until 2pm....this was 10.30am. So we walked....my word it was arduous! Even the one who hasn’t got sweaty, creamed-up feet that slip-slop about in sandals, found the age-smoothed cobbles quite heavy going. Up and up AND UP, ‘til it finally flattened out at the top. This place has to be very high on our list of superb locations – it was magnificent, much of it built in the 13th century....and only bits of it had succumbed to very low-key tourism. After a good look around and a stop for Panache in the shade of the covered market square, we headed back down and found a pleasant restaurant with an outdoor terrace and lovely view, where we enjoyed pizza and white wine. The food was good but the customer service was lacking!

Continuing on via the most wonderful little tiny roads, we came across Laguepie, where we stopped to admire the charming view of the castle from the bridge over the river, then carrying on along these fabulous little roads with delightful scenery, we rounded a bend and saw the splendid castle of Najac , with the village nestling below. After a brew-up at this viewing spot, we descended to the town, procured a map and did a circuit of this lovely place (another Plus Belle Village) including another steep climb up to the chateau/castle. Finally, we returned to our viewing spot where we’ve parked up for the night. Life is good.

Friday 22 June – A cooler day......cloudyish skies but with long bouts of sunshine. We set off for Villefranche-de-Rouergue, where we hadn’t originally intended going – but our France book gave it such a terrific write-up, we felt we oughta visit. We had hoped to follow the river Aveyron to get there, but TomTom was having none of it ..... ‘No route possible’. However the more main road we took was pleasant enough and even from outskirts to arrival, the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue didn’t tick any of our boxes. We did of course explore and indeed the central square, built on a slope with the enormous Notre Dame church forming one side of heavily arcaded buildings....as well as a few good-looking buildings in the off-shooting streets...............BUT it didn’t do it for us – we’ve been spoilt. There were a lot of cars – both traffic in the central areas and clogged parking. We had intended to stop for coffee but moved on instead.

From there we continued – lovely countryside of course, stopping for a delish prawn/lettuce/mayo roll lunch – to Cajarc, a small town with an interesting central core and pleasing views of/from the river – which is now the Lot. The continuing route more or less hugged the Lot river, firstly from on high and then beside. We meandered through many tiny villages and hamlets – all attractive and often with houses built into the overhanging cliffs. By the time we reached St Cirq-Lapopie, which we spotted as we approached, looking magnificent - being built high above the south bank of the Lot, we’d had enough. So although it was only 5pm the Aires site near the base of the town and beside the river, was right there. So we decided to make camp, relax and explore the town tomorrow .............. another quiet night in.

Saturday 23 June – So St Cirq-Lapopie....another absolute stunner. These places really are amazing – like something out of a film set – so beautiful it’s hard to believe they’re real; yet still so natural and lived in, not done-up and manicured for the tourists.

We set off along a footpath through fields next to the river and cycled about 1km to a pretty house/watermill beside a lock, where we tied up the bikes and followed an extremely pretty steep woodland track on foot, which brought us to an ancient gateway at the lower end of the village. The uphill walk to the main square was very manageable (both wearing sensible trainers/socks this time) and the views from the ruined castle at the very top were terrific with the river Lot and the Lot valley spread out beneath us. This upper part of the village showed signs of tourist-needs but very low key........just a number of Artisan type shops and several wonderful eateries. The maze of side and back streets was delightful and whilst there were obviously a number of other sightseers, the village was uncrowded.

We stopped for a Panache (shandy) and laughed at the grumpy waiter who huffed and puffed having to remove glasses/cutlery/mats as we were only having a drink – as he did with other subsequent customers ......we didn’t leave a tip! Finally we wended our way back down, untied the bikes and cycled back to the van where we had a leisurely lunch.

Moving on – next stop Cahors. Our onward route took us along a splendid road squeezed between river and overhanging cliff edges and some tunnels, following the contours of the river. We passed through a number of charming villages and finally to our chosen campsite within easy cycling distance of Cahors’ old town, just over the river..... still being The Lot – so B has been cracking lots of Lot jokes!

On arrival we asked the extremely friendly wife of this family run site, about the possibility of buying a new tyre to replace our exploded/shredded one. She had to make several phone calls to find somewhere that had what we needed in stock. Suffice to say that despite it being late on a Saturday afternoon, the place she found us was only a mile or so out of town, had what we wanted (we were rightly persuaded to buy two new back tyres) and within 2 hours we were back at the campsite with fitted/balanced etc tyres and 365Euros poorer!

Once we’d made camp we headed for the pool where we spent a pleasant couple of hours swimming and reading. Now back at the van and looking forward to a day in Cahors tomorrow.

Sunday 24 June – Great day for cycling – blue skies but only 25 degrees. It was an easy ride along the river, over the bridge and into Cahors old town. However we were not overly impressed. It had the ingredients of an interesting mediaeval town, with a number of lanes with a few look-looking houses to cycle through and a large double domed cathedral and its position, with the surrounding river was great....but it lacked charm (we’ve been spoilt).

We stopped at around midday in a bar on a square at the edge of the old town for drinkies, where we enjoyed listening to an excellent Peruvian band (2 guitars and one on the pipes). From there we cycled across to the other side of town where the river bends up around again, to admire the dramatic 14th century bridge – Pont Valentre, with three towers – originally with portcullises and gates.

Back to the edge of the old town (gee it’s great to have the bikes), where we chose a restaurant bar for lunch .......and very nice it was too. Finally, the pleasant cycle back to camp and an afternoon by the pool........it’s gotten hotter. One of us (bless him) did a machine wash – all hung up etc.

So another week ends and we hope to blog here. However the Internet can only be received in/around the reception area, which is quite a way from our pitch.....we’ve been using the cycles to pool & showers etc. So here endeth Blog 10.

Since Elne: Bages; Thuir; Ille-sur-Tet, Caramany; Ansignan; St Paulo de Fenouille; Puilaurenes; Quillan; Couiza; Aler-les-Bains; Limoux; Fanjeaux; Castelnaudary; Montferrand; Revel ; Puylaurens; Vielmur-sur-Agout; Lautrec; Graulhet ; Gailac; Cahuzac-sur-Vere; Cordes-sur-Ciel ; Laguepie; Najac; Villefranche-de-Rouergue; Cajarc; St Cirq-Lapopie; St Gery; Cahors;

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25th June 2012

Happy Birthday
Hiya Kiddo and Baz. I am so enjoying your blogs and look forward each week to the next one. I thought I woudl also take the opportunity of saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY for the 27th. I will be thinking of you and have a glass ready. Spookily enough we are off for 5 days to Carcasonne on the 4th July - so only just missed you!!! Much love Mort xxx

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