WEEKS 6 & 7 - THE LOT
We had a very pleasant drive across the Plateau des Millevaches ( perhaps those cows from yesterday were there !!). It was very busy getting through Ussel and later around the edge of Cahors, but other than that the roads were quiet.
Our gite this week was about 5kms outside the village of Montcuq en Quercy Blanc. It was on a small property with the owner's house and used to be the barn. It still had the large bread oven, also used for drying prunes, in the downstairs living area. The gite was comfortable and well equipped and had an inviting outdoor terrace with table and chairs as well as loungers. It looked out over a paddock where three horses grazed and on to a hamlet with a small chateau style buildings, outbuildings and a porte. It was just perfect. Let's get unpacked and open that bottle of rose the owner left in the fridge!!
Montcuq is a pleasant small village with a large donjon, lovely shaded centre with shops and cafes and a small Carrefour Contact on the edge of the village. The supermarket was selling locally produced apples and pumpkins. It also had one of the best fish sections we had come across and a great wine section selling the local product. We enjoyed shopping there. Montcuq also has a good small market on Sunday.
We had a quiet day on Sunday as it was our first really rainy day of the trip. I also felt I was coming down with a cold, but it only hung around a day or so and fortunately did not develop. It was a perfect night for magret de canard and roast veges.
The rain cleared by next morning, but it was foggy early on so we went out a little later after it lifted. We passed lots of vines - Vignerons du Lot and also the Cahors wines. This area has several bastides and the first one we stopped at was Tournon d'Agenais. It has a nice town square with old houses and arcades, very high walls and ramparts which give wonderful views over the agricultural country below. Another steep village was Montaigu de Quercy with some lovely houses and two churches.
After lunch on the terrace, the first of several, we went for a drive around some of the surrounding country where the leaves were beginning to turn. The villages were nice - very clean and tidy with lots of the white stone which gives the region the name Quercy-Blanc. We were interested to see some houses with wooden porches similar to those in parts of Burgundy.
The weather was much better the next day so we set out through rolling country with ploughed paddocks, an occasional patch of grapevines, lovely farm houses of white stone and pretty hamlets. What more could you want? Castelnau Montratier is a bastide with listed arcades around the town square. The white stone was lovely and there were also some buildings of colombage. The church was impressive with domes and it looked wonderful as we looked back when leaving the village. We stopped for a photo of the village and church later that day on our way back. There are also a couple of old mills here.
We were on our way to Monpezat de Quercy which is a lovely village. It has several small squares with gardens and lovely little streets with quite a lot of colombage buildings. The jewel in the crown here is the 14th century collegiale built by St Jean de Pres as his burial site. It is a lovely church and houses a special collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries which have been recently restored. They tell the story of the life of St Martin de Tours and are arranged around the choir. Both the village and the church are well worth a visit. Another place I have not seen mentioned on travel forums.
After a late lunch at home ( we cannot resist that terrace!), we visited the nearby PBV of Lauzerte. There were information panels around which made it easy to explore. It is on a hill and the views were again wonderful from both sides of the village. The buildings are a mix of white stone and colombage and are tall - several levels - and the streets in places are quite wide for an old French village. The town square has couverts and a church. We saw lots of interesting doors and windows and there were lots of plants and creepers such as jasmine and wisteria. It is a beautiful village.
It was still warm enough to sit outside with a glass of wine, some Comte cheese and salty black olives. Some one has to do it.
One day we set out on a small circuit of some villages. We began in Roquecor which has an impressive mairie and a viewpoint over the valley. I cannot keep repeating how wonderful the country was, so just take it as a given. Not far away was Lacour on a hill. Bourg en Visa was larger and had interesting 19th century market halles made of iron. After Bourg we headed to St Maurin which has very old wooden halles in front of colombage house - very picturesque. There are also the remains of what had been a large abbey in the Cistercian style. Parts are still standing and parts are now houses.
Puymirol is another bastide with arcades and long streets. Then Montjoi is chocolate box pretty . It is just two main streets with white stone buildings, coloured shutters, potted plants and flowers.
By this time it was lunch time and we had not found a baguette. Our last stop was Castelsagrat, another bastide with wonderful couverts with big arches. And good news, a place open for lunch. It was a 13euro menu du jour - three courses with wine and coffee but no other details. We sat in the bar with several locals - everyone seemed to know each other and any new arrivals. When a large bowl of piping hot soup and ladle arrived at each table, we assumed this was the entree and tucked in. But then the entree arrived and the main course ( chicken cuisse with potato and eggplant braise and puy lentils ) and citron tart with raspberry sauce. No dinner for us that night!
It had been an enjoyable day the like of which we always appreciate. Each village on its own may only have something small of interest and not need a lot of time, but together as an ensemble it makes a very pleasant day.
We visited Puy l'Eveque in 2006 in only our second week in France, so we were overdue for a return visit. It is a larger village in a attractive location on the Lot river, and we followed the map from the TO. It has some interesting old buldings - a chateau, Chapel de Penitents, some towers and attractive houses. The view of the river from the promenade is lovely and there are good views over the village from Place de Rampeau and also from across the river. Before leaving, we sat in the car and enjoyed some patisserie while taking in the view.
After leaving Puy l'Eveque we drove along the river. There is a belvedere at Belaye for a panorama over the valley and beyond. The villages are pretty and it is a pleasant drive past grape vines and walnut groves. Albas is another village overlooking the river, and Luzech is built on a loop of the river which almost forms an island. We stopped at the Carrefour on our way home for some trout for dinner. They were perfect with a simple salad and we followed with walnut cake and creme fraiche.
One day we drove around Cahors and followed the scenic drive along the river with the road cut into the cliff. We crossed the narrow one lane bridge to Bouzies where we parked and then walked along the Chemin d'Halage. This is the old tow path along the river and is cut into the white cliffs. In a small section there sculptures and carvings of plants and shells and other aspects of river life along the walls. It is a very pleasant and peaceful walk and you can walk from there to St Cirq Lapopie.
After a picnic lunch by the river, we continued on to St Cirq Lapopie which we had visited in 2006. Now there are several carparks ( 4 euro) with electronic capacity boards. We parked in a carpark at the top and walked down. It was busy and the restaurants were doing good business. It is built on the side of a hill beside the river and has more great views. I always enjoy looking over the roofs in villages to see the different lines and shapes and this village is especially pleasing. I sat in a quiet spot admiring my surrounds while P walked down the road to get a photo back to the village. Lazy, I know. It is another beautiful village . We then returned along the other side of the river to Cahors and home.
On the middle Saturday we just went for a drive around the beautiful countryside . We did not go through many villages but saw a wide variety of agriculture- cultivation, grape vines, cattle, apple orchards. There were lots of little churches scattered around. Then home for lunch and a quiet afternoon on the terrace with a book, a coffee and later a glass of wine.
Sunday was very windy when we went into the market. We came home with a bottle of Cahors wine from the producer, a barquette of sweet black grapes, a small goat's cheese rolled in garlic and parsley and a shiny black eggplant for ratatouille later in the week.
After lunch we went on another circuit of villages. Penne d'Agenais is a medieval village with an old port and an old part high above the river. It was pretty with a lot of buildings made of flat red brick. It is then a steep walk up through the village to the Notre Dame de Peyragude. The church is huge and quite attractive inside. It is only about 120 years old and has two large silver domes. The jury is still out on whether we liked the domes.
Next stop was Laroque Thimbaut which has lovely stone halles, a porte and clocktower. Frespech is a sweet little fortified village with the remains of a chateau, a lovely Romanesque church with cut stone roof, and the remains of walls.
Last stop was Beauville which was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. The large church has a porch opening onto the square, and there are arcades and colombage buildings. There were people sitting outside the cafe and some children playing quietly in the square as their parents watched. Very nice. It was then a very pleasant drive home in time for a glass of wine and another favourite for dinner - gesiers salad followed by apricot tart and creme fraiche. A lovely day.
The Monday of our second week was another wet day with showers . That day we saw the shocking news of the terrible floods near Carcassonne and the tragic loss of 14 lives. Our next gite was only 30 kms away from Carcassonne so we were a bit concerned.
Montcuq is about 26 kms from Cahors . We did make a quick stop in 2008 to see the Pont Valentre but did not visit the town . We parked over the river and walked across the bridge to the historic centre where we stopped in at the halles. The cathedral St Etienne is quite lovely with two domes, one of which is painted, as are parts of the walls. There are attractive cloisters with detailed capitals and little hedges. We walked through the town to the Barbacane, Tour St Jean and St Barthemly church. We enjoyed the walk with the lovely old buildings and squares, and of course, another look at the bridge. The town was quite busy, well for us anyway.
There are several moulins in the area and we stopped to see the moulin du vent at Boisse. Lalbenque was a busy small village with shops and cafes and a wonderful sculpture of a truffle hunter and his dog on the steps of the mairie. One of the things I enjoy is going into a boucherie/charcuterie when there are other customers. This gives me time to look at the products as well as to see what others are buying and their interaction with the butcher. Lalbenque had an excellent boucherie and we came out with some boudin blanc and a piece of boudin noir. When people wonder how we can afford to spend ten weeks in France, this is how we do it. This purchase was meat for two dinners and cost just over 7 euro.
After leaving Lalbenque we passed through Labastide de Penne and climbed up to Puylaroque. Once again it was high on a hill with a panorama, 12th century church with painted pillars and ceiling, pleasant houses and a tower. On our way home through Belfort du Quercy, we saw a pigeonier. Boudin noir for dinner.
Our last day was foggy until mid morning, so we went into Montcuq for a last wander, had lunch out and then stopped at the Carrefour for fuel and a few things. The young man in the fish section was singing and the young staff were dancing around as they worked. It was always a pleasure to go in and for a small supermarket, it was very good.
We loved this area and this gite and will return , possibly for three weeks next time. P will miss his daily walk up to the chickens with our vege scraps and stale baguette. It was a wonderful two weeks and we are at the stage now that we do not need to be seeing a Mont St Michel or a Pont du Gard every day, or even every week for that matter, and if we miss something, so be it. The whole south west area - we have stayed in the Gers, Lot et Garonne, Lot, and three different parts of the Dordogne - is one of our favourites, along with Burgundy.
From the kitchen
Magret de canard with roast veges
Magret de canard with lentils , sweet onions and creme fraiche
Montbeliards with potato and apple
Pasta salad with gesiers de poulet and roast pumpkin
Trout and salad
Sardines and salad
Toulouse sausages and ratatouille
Gesiers de canard salad
Leek , lardon, pumpkin and camembert frittata
Salade composee with boudin noir and caramelised apple
Next week - the Aude bordering the Herault