And so, so many little villages as we drove in and around rural [south west] France. It is so beautiful here with rolling hills covered in crops waving gently in the breeze, rustic villages besprinkled with roses and vineyards with vines bursting into life. The buildings are seemingly ruins and dilapidated with shutters and an oldy worldy feel, but many people are still living in them. Rural France is still closed between 12 & 2pm and Sunday afternoons, you won’t find any of the big chain stores in them, the shops are mostly locals and produce markets are common.
The land is continuous rolling ‘flattish’ hills with crops being grown on every spare inch of land. When you look to the horizon across ‘fields forever’ you will always find church spires and Chateau turrets. We most stayed on secondary roads and have had the delight of stopping and exploring a lot of villages along the along the way – Preginan, Fleurance, Nougaroulet, Saint-clar and so many more.
We booked into a decommissioned ‘nunnery’ [which is now accommodation] in Narbonne and it was just so fantastic (I think I liked it better than my Chateau, but more on that later!). We stayed in an apartment on the fourth floor … the lift went to three! Colin again very kindly carried my bag up the stairs … it seems to be getting heavier … surely baby things can’t weigh that much😂. We were invited to climb to the roof, but first we had to walk down to one [on the restored staircase] and then climb back up a decaying staircase to the 5th floor!!
The restored staircase is lovely … but the decaying staircase was treacherous!
Narbonne is such a wonderful town with a river / canal running through it. The buildings are beautiful, it has fabulous history, wonderful shops and such a friendly feel. We visited the underground vaults / stores from the Roman days [Horreum] which was absolutely fascinating. These former grain / wine / oil / weapon stores are still being excavated and are extensive. It is amazing to think that a modern city [well not really modern!] has been built on top of the old ruins [which aren’t really ruins, more a buried city] – we came across this in Sophia as well.
We also visited the art museum which is located in the Palais Neuf. We saw a picture of King Louis XIII who was the guy who stayed in the Aulnay priory house we looked after back in March and also a picture similar to the one we saw in Florida – I asked the attendant if it was a copy here in France and she was horrified. When I looked back through my photos I found the Florida photo – it turns out they are both originals of the same subject!! Left is Florida,USA and right is Narbonne, France. Still love the story behind it.
In Narbonne the impressive Cathedral [Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur – built in the late 13th Century] is one of the must visit places, although it was never finished as they ran out of money – seems it isn’t a modern problem!! It has a treasure room / acoustic hall which contains medieval transcripts, impressive tapestries and the most amazing ceiling! You can stand diagonally opposite each other and whisper and the other person can hear it. Then when you stand in the middle and talk or tap your feet you have this incredible ‘fold-back’ of sound. It also has the most fabulous stained glass windows. While the Cathedral is free, it was worth the few Euros to go in the treasure room.
Then it was on to Carcassone, which is a monumental, double walled, fortified city that is still ‘living’. It has all these fantastic medieval towers with slate roofs that glint in the sun and tiny lanes that would make you think you are in a Harry Potter movie. Three million people a year visit here and while it was busy when we visited, it was still okay. It is similar to Mont St Michel in the north of France (which we visited in 1987). I burgled this aerial photo from a google site so you can get the idea of it – just amazing! You can see the Pyrenees with snow in this photo, which we too could see too [not quite as much snow though!] but I just couldn’t get a great photo!
From there we went to Auch which is another beautiful city built alongside a river and saturated with wonderful history. There is a monumental stair case which takes you up to the Cathedral (every city, town, parish has at least one, mostly two and often three! – we are a bit ‘Cathedralled’ out!!). The staircase [which connects the old town at the top and the new town at the bottom by 375 stairs] has a monument of D’Artagnan from the three musketeers – I thought he was a fictional character!?, gardens and fountains every 100 stairs or so and at the top of the stairs was a modern (1992) installation to remember the devastation of the floods noted in the bible and more recently the floods in 1977. We stayed here for two nights in a lovely ‘gite‘ [French B & B] which had two lovely dogs and was quite, and relaxing.
Finally we headed to the Chateau – I was really looking forward to staying in a real proper Chateau, a bit posh, a lot sumptuous, with a few turrets and a beautiful garden! Hmmmm when we finally arrived I really wanted to turn around and pretend I didn’t have this dream. It looked so unloved, nothing like the wonderful pictures you see on-line. The pool was empty, the gardens underwhelming and while the caretakers were lovely, friendly and made us breakfast … the whole experience was just a little bit [okay, a lot!] disappointing!! Not to mentioned the 70’s styling inside! Although the large old-fashioned couches were quite comfy, [finding that silver lining again]!! Actually we got upgraded to an apartment with a lounge and kitchen, as all the B & B rooms were full, so it wasn’t all bad, just a bit sad! I think they also needed some ‘Wet & Forget’ – it would help a lot!!
We did have the chance to visit Auvillar while staying here which is just beautiful. It is on the Pilgram trail which leads through to Spain. Auvillar is considered one of the prettiest villages in France. It was perched up on a hill with views out over ‘our Chateau’ and the nuclear power plant! It was such a gorgeous wee village with heaps of places to stay for those on the trail …. I might put the trail on my ‘to-do-list’.
We went into the visitor centre here and gathered some information for our travels and were talking to the lovely young girl and I was amazed that she had barely travelled. She had never even been to Paris!! She had done one trip to Ireland for a long weekend! I rattled off some of the places we had been in France and she didn’t know where many were, and hadn’t visited hardly any of them!! I am amazed that working in a information centre and meeting people from all over the world doesn’t inspire you! Anyway, there you have it … she did however give me a ‘scroll’ with a travel quote which I thought was very appropriate as I have been using them here! So this time the quote is from Auvillar – very appropriate from a place on the Pilgram trail 😊 (and next time too!).
So we have now arrived on our next ‘Mr & Mrs Smith assignment‘ in Valence sur-Baise and will bring you our adventures from here in a few days.
“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a county … even a bicycle goes too fast”