A Travellerspoint blog

Nimes to home

...via La Couvertoirade, Millau, Vivoin, Arras, Bethune and Vimy Ridge

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Travels with Jet Set in Europe on SteveJD's travel map.

When we left Nimes, Gladys was in an ornery mood and was setting us off for goodness knows where, so I put Gignac in as a destination to ensure we were going in the right direction. It is a pleasant enough village but no PBV, so we settled for a coffee break before continuing on our way. To ensure a more interesting route, I then told Gladys to avoid motorways so we had a lovely scenic drive through the magnificent limestone scenery of the Causses area.

Horloge (clocktower) by the covered market

Horloge (clocktower) by the covered market

The (empty) market

The (empty) market

Not forgetting Jet Set - still with us, just outside Gignac

Not forgetting Jet Set - still with us, just outside Gignac

Our next stop was in Le Caylar which proved to be an interesting place with a large (deceased) elm tree in the centre of the town, carved with people and various fauna. A wander around the streets was rewarding as it was an interesting village with several old buildings, including Castel Roc, the remains of a 12th century 'castellas' or castle. However, we did not find anywhere that appealed for lunch, so drove on.

Horloge and carved elm tree

Horloge and carved elm tree

Fauna and flora carvings on the elm

Fauna and flora carvings on the elm

Carving of a man on the tree

Carving of a man on the tree

We are still in 'Cardabelle' country

We are still in 'Cardabelle' country

Castel Roc above the village

Castel Roc above the village

A short distance away was the PBV La Couvertoirade which is, to quote from the guide leaflet, "an authentic medieval village." Visitors must park just outside the village and a short walk brought us to the fortified village and, as we were hungry, to Café des Remparts where, although busloads of German visitors had depleted the menu, we had an excellent lunch. I had local sausage with aligot and salad. This was my first encounter with aligot which was/is delicious (Judith has since made it at home with equally good results - sadly not diet food!) It is finely mashed cheesy potato, with a couple of refinements, which suits me to a T! Crèpes were 'off' so we had pear gateau which was an excellent alternative.

Tower in the ramparts by Café des Remparts

Tower in the ramparts by Café des Remparts

We then headed through a gate in the walls and walked around the 15th-century ramparts and through the village. As with other fortified towns and villages, we enjoyed the perspective gained from the ramparts. Once back down in the village, we again found many doors adorned with dried cardabelle flowers. This time we enquired in a shop and learned that these are from Carlina acanthifolia. We couldn't obtain one of these as it was not the right season but it sounded as if harvesting these flowers from the Larzac Plateau is quite an operation, as they flower very low to the ground and the leaves are fiercely prickly. We made do with a glazed earthenware version! Inside the village, the alleys and lanes twist and turn but abutting the walls we found what remained of the castle which had been built by the Knights Templar, in the 12th-century, when they founded the village. In the 14th century, the Templars having been declared to be heretics, the village was taken over by the Hospitallers (later to become the Knights of Saint John of Malta), who built the ramparts and St Christopher's Church.

Gateway through ramparts into the village

Gateway through ramparts into the village

View from the ramparts showing St Christopher's Church, the windmill and the ruins of the Templars' castle

View from the ramparts showing St Christopher's Church, the windmill and the ruins of the Templars' castle

A closer view of the windmill above the castle ruins

A closer view of the windmill above the castle ruins

Looking over the village rooftops to two of the towers in the ramparts

Looking over the village rooftops to two of the towers in the ramparts

St Christopher's Church

St Christopher's Church

Inside the church

Inside the church

A lovely modern stained glass window with sunlight pouring through

A lovely modern stained glass window with sunlight pouring through

A replica Hospitallers' gravestone

A replica Hospitallers' gravestone

A moggy patrolling the village streets

A moggy patrolling the village streets

When we had been walking from the car park, we had heard the sound of bells but could not make out where the sound came from. When we reached the far side of the village, we went through a gate in the ramparts and found a herd of goats, each with a bell around their neck. As they browsed their way through the meadows, they caused this ceaseless ringing which was very easy on the ear. There was a goatherd with them but he didn't have much to do as the goats clearly knew where they were going - just a little cameo of the sort which makes a visit memorable.

Some of the goats we could hear

Some of the goats we could hear

On our drive through, we had seen classic karst (limestone) country but had not found a suitable place to stop. On our way from La Couvertoirade to La Cavalerie, we found a suitable place and took a few photos.

large_20191008_P1220218.jpgTwo views of the very weathered limestone features

Two views of the very weathered limestone features

Like many of the places we include on our trips to France, we had headed for La Cavalerie as it had had been the subject of a write up in France magazine. It is a pleasant village but, unfortunately, we did not feel that we had the time to explore as we needed to press on to Millau. A few kilometres before reaching Millau, we found a viewpoint which gave superb views of the craggy gorges above the Dourbie river which flows into the Tarn - and also, through to the Millau Viaduct.

Part of the Dourbie gorges from the viewpoint

Part of the Dourbie gorges from the viewpoint

Millau Viaduct from the viewpoint

Millau Viaduct from the viewpoint

Panoramic view from viewpoint, with Millau Viaduct in the left distance

Panoramic view from viewpoint, with Millau Viaduct in the left distance

The Millau Viaduct spans the river Tarn and is the result of an Anglo-French partnership, having been designed by French structural engineer, Michel Virlogeux, and English architect, Norman Foster. It was opened in December 2004 and, as of November 2018, was the tallest bridge in the world, with a structural height of 336.4 metres (1,104 feet). Gladys behaved well and took us straight into Millau and our Mercure Hotel. This was fairly easy to get to, even though more central than many hotels on this trip. We had a good room with a balcony, from which we had a good view of the town and over the rooftops to the viaduct. The light was good in the evening although there was a little bit of mist creeping in. It had been a long day and we decided to have room service. On this occasion, our 'franglais' let us down and we wound up with far more food than we could manage. However, we did make a brave effort!

Panoramic view from our balcony, with Notre Dame de l'Espinasse church to the left and Beffroi de Millau (also known as the Tower of the Kings of Aragon) to the right

Panoramic view from our balcony, with Notre Dame de l'Espinasse church to the left and Beffroi de Millau (also known as the Tower of the Kings of Aragon) to the right

Mist rolling over the Tarn below the viaduct

Mist rolling over the Tarn below the viaduct

large_20191008_P1220246.jpgTwo sunset views of the viaduct

Two sunset views of the viaduct

The following day, we woke earlier than usual and found that the mist had almost obscured the viaduct and it didn't clear before we had to make our way.

Waking up to a misty morning

Waking up to a misty morning

Panorama over the misty town

Panorama over the misty town

The viaduct shrouded in mist

The viaduct shrouded in mist

We backtracked so that we could drive over the viaduct and found a different viewpoint. By this time, the mist had mostly subsided back down into the river valley but, unfortunately, for much of the journey, it was not pleasant driving weather. We were pleased to drive over the viaduct but wouldn't it have been so much more enjoyable in fine weather?! I shouldn't really complain as we have been very lucky with weather on this trip. At this time of the year, we could have had almost anything!

The viaduct from the 'new' viewpoint

The viaduct from the 'new' viewpoint

Jet Set leading the way towards the viaduct

Jet Set leading the way towards the viaduct

Nearing the viaduct

Nearing the viaduct

Feeling dwarfed by this majestic structure

Feeling dwarfed by this majestic structure

A view from under viaduct after crossing

A view from under viaduct after crossing

Another France magazine article led us to Marvejols. For quite a few kilometres, Judith was annoyed by a driver behind, constantly flashing her. When we parked in Marvejols, the other car parked nearby and the driver walked over to point out that our filler cap was open! We thanked her and felt right twerps - obviously, I had not closed the cap securely when we refuelled at an aire some way back - oh dear! Sad to say, although the town has some interesting history, for the most part, it appeared to be closed (we had learned that the French tend to close up between 12 and 2 but we didn't even find an enticing shop for coffee or a snack). So, after a walk through the town gates and past some interesting-looking shops, we continued on our way.

Gateway into the town (we parked just to the right)

Gateway into the town (we parked just to the right)

One of many empty lanes and streets

One of many empty lanes and streets

An attractive door

An attractive door

Approaching another gateway from within the town

Approaching another gateway from within the town

Who sleeps in the nearest end of this unusually-shaped house?

Who sleeps in the nearest end of this unusually-shaped house?

For a brief while, we had some fine weather, when we came across the Aire Garambit. This is nicely sited to give excellent views of the stunning Garabit Viaduct spanning the Truyère river. This was constructed by Gustave Eiffel who, of course, is more famous for his Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was built later - perhaps at least in part due to the excellence of this viaduct?

large_20191009_P1220291.jpgTwo views of the Garabit Viaduct over the Truyère river

Two views of the Garabit Viaduct over the Truyère river

From here, we drove on to our accommodation, Logis Hotel, Les Hirondelles, in Orcines. Our room was very nice but there was no lift so we had to lug our cases up to our room on the second floor. Luckily, the building is on a slope, so we moved the car up to a car park a level higher, making our departure a little less strenuous! We enjoyed an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant before getting some much-needed rest.

The Chaîne des Puys-Limagne fault was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2018. This chain of dormant volcanoes lies within the Auvergne Volcanoes Natural Park. Puy de Dôme is the most accessible of these volcanoes and sits just outside the town of Orcines roughly halfway down the north-south chain of volcanoes. Le Panoramique des Dômes rack railway takes passengers up to the summit from which, normally, there are wonderful views in all directions. The day we had for visiting Puy de Dôme it was overcast and the live feed from the summit showed that it was completely 'socked in'! Undaunted, we boarded the rack railway and ascended into ever-thicker mist and cloud. At the top, it was just possible to make out the buildings there but, apart from the fact that it was several degrees colder than at the base, there was not much we could do other than enjoy some hot chocolate before making the journey back down.

The train on its way down into the station

The train on its way down into the station

Our carriage awaits

Our carriage awaits

A wet and misty rack railway

A wet and misty rack railway

The cloud becomes thicker as we ascend

The cloud becomes thicker as we ascend

Steve wandering over to a building while visibility allows!

Steve wandering over to a building while visibility allows!

Descending, we emerge from the cloud

Descending, we emerge from the cloud

But the summit is still enveloped in cloud as another train returns to base

But the summit is still enveloped in cloud as another train returns to base

As Judith started to drive away, her low tyre pressure light came on. This is not all that unusual but this time it didn't feel right, so she stopped and we found that the rear nearside tyre was flat. The car, a Toyota Auris is a lovely car to drive but has no spare wheel. Instead, there is an inflation kit. We rummaged around and found this but we had difficulty in unscrewing the fitment to attach the inflater to the aerosol can of filler. Luckily, a bus driver saw our plight and he managed to unscrew it and partially inflated the tyre. However, he tried to detach the inflater before Judith had turned the engine off and was sprayed with sticky gunk - the reward for a good Samaritan! We had an old towel and managed to get him cleaned up. Before we had started the whole process, I had 'phoned Toyota Roadside Assistance and in due course, a truck arrived from Clermont-Ferrand. The chap who came out had little English so communicated via a translation app on his 'phone. Apparently, it would have been unsafe to drive on the tyre as it was, so he drove the car onto his recovery vehicle and took us into Clermont-Ferrand where two new tyres had to be fitted - an expensive exercise! We returned to the hotel feeling rather deflated - pun intended! Back at the hotel, we felt in need of some sustenance and I had Auvergne Truffade which was delicious. In case anyone wonders, I don't only eat potatoes and cheese, the being the essence of this dish, but I do enjoy them. In this case, I particularly enjoyed the flavour imparted by the local Cantal cheese, not one I had come across before. We didn't note what Judith ate but it was equally enjoyable!

A flat tyre!

A flat tyre!

An undignified exit

An undignified exit

Naturally, the following day was fine and bright and we could see the summit of Puy de Dôme quite clearly but had no time to try a repeat ascent. We shall have to return! We drove north to the Loire Valley and aimed for Chateau de la Bourdaisière. We had been here on a previous trip and on that occasion were in time to see the extensive tomato-growing area where they grow several hundred different varieties (600 I think). At first, we thought their restaurant was closed but a lovely young woman showed us into a room with a huge dining table which we had to ourselves and, in due course, we enjoyed bowls of pumpkin and courgette soup, followed by a vegetable tart with a tomato salad which had several own-grown different varieties - delicious. Of course, we had to buy a few more seeds and can't wait to get them growing so that we have a taste of France later this year.

The chateau - we lunched in the building to the left

The chateau - we lunched in the building to the left

Our overnight stop was at La Suzannerie, just outside the village of Vivoin. We had tarried on the journey and had a bit of a delay finding our B & B, as the village of Vivoin had one or more routes barrées. Also, Gladys had no idea where we were and I could not get a signal on my 'phone to ask for directions but I was at least able to use the maps on my 'phone to get us there. As a result, we were a bit later arriving than planned and didn't have much time to chat with our delightful hostess, Nathalie. However, the following morning, we walked across to the house and met Nathalie's partner Philippe who produced a mound of delicious crèpes! It turned out that they had also lived in Australia, albeit on the other side of the country from us, in Sydney. Nathalie took advantage of the opportunity to try to persuade us to try their place in Corsica - we may well do that but, at the moment, our travel breaks are planned for 2020, so that will have to wait!

Our gite

Our gite

The owner's house

The owner's house

Steve about to get some of the blog written

Steve about to get some of the blog written

The rest of our room

The rest of our room

On the way to Arras, we refuelled at Villers-Bretonneux. We had visited the Adelaide Cemetery, on the edge of this village, a few years ago and tracked down the grave of a great-uncle of mine who died in the First World War. This time, we did not have time to revisit the grave and pressed on, arriving at Wellington Carrière Museum, just in time to book ourselves on the 4 pm tour. The museum honours the 500 New Zealand tunnellers who had dug out tunnels to connect existing quarries and extended these shelters to house up to 24,000 British troops. The troops launched an attack, as part of one of many ill-advised plans, in April 1917 and gained about 12km but at the cost of 4,000 men every day for two months! The tour took us underground to where the New Zealanders had laboured and we were shown where they lived, worked and worshipped. There was even an underground hospital. In the tunnels, there is some so-called graffiti, drawings of loved ones or one another and some humourous naming of caves and tunnels, mainly after familiar places, for example, Waitomo (a cave in New Zealand now popular with tourists for its glow worms). Before descending, we had been shown a film that covered the history of Arras during the war. It was essentially a ghost town, having been bombarded by the Germans from October 1914 onwards, so the British Army was pretty well forced to make use of the quarries. I never cease to wonder at the insanity of war and especially the First World War.

Some of the journey was a tad misty

Some of the journey was a tad misty

Memorial to New Zealander tunnellers

Memorial to New Zealander tunnellers

Looking up inside the memorial

Looking up inside the memorial

A closer view of some of the heads inside the memorial

A closer view of some of the heads inside the memorial

42bf8cd0-3ab6-11ea-995b-19014e90ec7e.jpgViews in the tunnels

Views in the tunnels

We stayed in the Mercure hotel in Arras which was fine. Nothing outstanding about it but all very acceptable. Unfortunately, we only had one night, as I would like to have seen more of the town. In 1966, I hitch-hiked from Dunkirk to Arras and then took a train to Paris. One day I will stay long enough to explore the city! Much of the drive to Arras had been in misty and overcast conditions and this continued the following day when we drove to Béthune. As we drove in, it didn't seem to amount to much but once in the main square, Grand Place, our view changed. It is delightful with beautiful buildings surrounding the square. The main feature of Grand Place is undoubtedly the Beffroi (bell tower), which survived First World War bombardments. Buildings around the Beffroi and the square were flattened so that what we took to be old, surviving, buildings had in fact been built in the 1920s, in the style of the originals. Hats off to the French for that and not only here has this thoughtful reconstruction taken place - unlike some of the ugly buildings erected in Britain after the Second World War! The buildings around the Beffroi had, apparently, saved it from destruction but these were not rebuilt, leaving the bell tower standing proud in the centre of the square.

St Vaast Church behind Grand Place

St Vaast Church behind Grand Place

Some of the reconstructed buildings on Grand Place

Some of the reconstructed buildings on Grand Place

The Beffroi

The Beffroi

The Town Hall

The Town Hall

A rather attractive Art Deco building, now a bar

A rather attractive Art Deco building, now a bar

After a coffee break in Béthune, we drove to Vimy and visited the impressive memorial to the many Canadians who fought and died in this area. By this time the weather had improved so it was very pleasant walking to and around the memorial and then around the small museum, a short distance away. The museum is staffed by keen young Canadians who are only too happy to chat with visitors about the museum, the history of the battle or why they are there and where they have come from. This made for a very enjoyable experience in what is really a rather sombre environment.

French and Canadian flags flanking the memorial

French and Canadian flags flanking the memorial

The first sight of the memorial is officially the rear but still very impressive

The first sight of the memorial is officially the rear but still very impressive

The front of the monument

The front of the monument

The Figure of Canada, overlooking the Douai Plain

The Figure of Canada, overlooking the Douai Plain

A closer view of the front of the monument

A closer view of the front of the monument

At the base of the front of the memorial are groups of figures, this one known as Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless

At the base of the front of the memorial are groups of figures, this one known as Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless

Maple leaf detail, part of the memorial

Maple leaf detail, part of the memorial

An avenue of Maples in Autumn colour leads from the memorial towards the museum

An avenue of Maples in Autumn colour leads from the memorial towards the museum

Near the museum, the ground has been left as it was at the end of the war, pock-marked by shell craters

Near the museum, the ground has been left as it was at the end of the war, pock-marked by shell craters

A replica of a trench, by the museum

A replica of a trench, by the museum

Conifers growing amid the shell holes

Conifers growing amid the shell holes

Fungi thrive on fallen timber

Fungi thrive on fallen timber

Some of the trees had lovely Autumn colour

Some of the trees had lovely Autumn colour

A small garden had been made by the museum

A small garden had been made by the museum

A Red Admiral butterfly feeding in the garden

A Red Admiral butterfly feeding in the garden

Our home leg took us to Calais, where we visited Calais Vins to replenish our wine stocks, also being tempted to some nougat and a small bottle of speculoos liqueur - the latter to be enjoyed in small doses at respectable intervals! We travelled on a P & O ferry and enjoyed an excellent meal in a far better restaurant than we normally encounter on cross-channel ferries. By the time we had finished our meal, we had almost reached Dover! Our drive home was a bit tiring but uneventful. Another great French (and Spanish) holiday to fill the memory banks.

Posted by SteveJD 02:02 Archived in France Tagged buildings villages france history millau viaduct vimy viaducts arras vivoin gignac le_caylar la_couvertoirade bethune world_war_1 Comments (0)

Based in Nîmes

..with outings to the Camargue, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

sunny 25 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Travels with Jet Set in Europe on SteveJD's travel map.

Apologies for a longer than usual blog. For a change we had given ourselves long enough in one place to explore the area, so it all fits together - for me at least!. On our first day out, just outside Nîmes, we spotted a sign at Aire de Caissargues which looked interesting, so pulled in. We had the impression that the Theatre in the grounds was Roman but it turned out that it was all that remained of a theatre which had been built in Nîmes in 1827. After it burnt down in 1952, and after some agonising by the local council, the columns that remained of the facade were moved to this site. Adjacent to this, in the aire, is an interesting little museum about the prehistory of the area.

Intriguing sign at the aire

Intriguing sign at the aire

View across park to the theatre facade

View across park to the theatre facade

Wildflower near the theatre facade

Wildflower near the theatre facade

Closer view of the theatre facade

Closer view of the theatre facade

We continued to the Camargue and paid our entry fees at the Pont de Gau, the best place to see birds in the area. The reserve started after WWII when André Lamouroux acquired a blockhouse and some ground on the western side of the Camargue. He later bought two hunting grounds to the east, which allowed for expansion. Initially, he lived there and had a small garden. He then noticed that there were many injured birds, so he built aviaries to house them and, until 1972, visitors came to see the birds in the enclosed spaces. André died in 1974 and his son, René, demolished the aviaries and started creating the Ornithological Park which exists today. Initially, visitors were not charmed to have to find relatively few birds in their natural habitat but, gradually, more and more birds became attracted and, to some extent, habituated to human presence, so that they can now be observed fairly easily. The family continues to operate the park with two main trails, 2.6km and 4.3km. The shorter walk takes in the areas where the ludicrously beautiful Greater Flamingos gather while, on the longer walk, birds were less numerous but equally very interesting. One of the surprises was to find that Coypu were wild but quite unafraid. These are large South American rodents that I had not expected to find in France but it seems that a colony has grown from some escapees and they appear to do no harm, so are tolerated as exotic visitors.

Our first sight of a Coypu

Our first sight of a Coypu

A flamboyance of Greater Flamingos

A flamboyance of Greater Flamingos

Greater Flamingo starting to sweep its beak through the water to sift out food

Greater Flamingo starting to sweep its beak through the water to sift out food

Two Little Egrets

Two Little Egrets

White Stork

White Stork

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Greater Flamingo wading through the lagoon

Greater Flamingo wading through the lagoon

Greater Flamingos reflected

Greater Flamingos reflected

Having spent the morning in the park, we had a light lunch there before driving down to the pretty seaside town of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer. We enjoyed a walk by the Med and spotted some new (to us) dragonflies. On our way out of the town, we saw some of the famous Black Bulls of the Camargue. Driving back into the Camargue, near Cacharel, we found some of the lovely semi-feral White Horses that live in the area.

A glimpse of the Mediterranean

A glimpse of the Mediterranean

4e9f6000-3086-11ea-9698-6d1881f94d56.jpgMale and female Red-veined Darters

Male and female Red-veined Darters

We found some White Horses after quite a search

We found some White Horses after quite a search

One of the White Horses

One of the White Horses

Showing off!

Showing off!

Cattle Egret getting a lift on a White Horse

Cattle Egret getting a lift on a White Horse

One of the semi-feral Camargue Cattle

One of the semi-feral Camargue Cattle

Having driven half way round the Etang de Vaccarès, the largest lagoon in the park, we decided that we would return to the Pont de Gau to explore the reserve further. Initially, we took the longer walk on which we found more horses as well as some different birds but returned to "Flamingo Central" for the best of the afternoon light.

Mothers' meeting?

Mothers' meeting?

Coypu

Coypu

Grey Heron showing off in front of egrets

Grey Heron showing off in front of egrets

Orb Spider

Orb Spider

Camargue Horse with Cattle Egret

Camargue Horse with Cattle Egret

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank

Snipe

Snipe

Some Greater Flamingos are more flamboyant than others

Some Greater Flamingos are more flamboyant than others

A Eurasian Spoonbill found itself slightly outnumbered by young Greater Flamingos

A Eurasian Spoonbill found itself slightly outnumbered by young Greater Flamingos

Who can resist reflections in the afternoon?

Who can resist reflections in the afternoon?

Beauty contest winner?

Beauty contest winner?

Synchronised (well, almost) preening

Synchronised (well, almost) preening

Another sunset reflection

Another sunset reflection

And at this time of day, the Greater Flamingos take to the air

And at this time of day, the Greater Flamingos take to the air

By the time we returned to our hotel, there were clouds of Starlings and Jackdaws wheeling around outside our room before suddenly dropping down to their roosts below, just to add to our bird-watching enjoyment for the day.

During our travels we plan to visit some places and others we chance on. Some are such a delight that it is hard to say what they mean to us. However, I have just been re-reading Byron's "Childe Harold" in which there is a line "And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim". I am not an academic but I think that Byron was saying that thereafter it all goes flat! However, taking the line out of context, I feel that it describes the feeling when we come across places like Lescun, Sarrant, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert and Uzès far better than I can in my own words. This in no way means that the other places visited are the dregs!

The following day, we were a bit ambitious and drove out to Uzès, where I thought we would spend little time before pressing on. I had not realised what a lovely town this was, nor how interesting. As we walked through the town, we came across the Ducal Palace. The site has been occupied since Roman times but the present building has elements of the Middle Ages, the Renaissaince, the 17th century and modern times. It has had mixed fortunes but is now being restored by the family who re-acquired the property from the government around 1950/51. As a private residence. we could not amble in, so we walked on towards Cathédrale Saint Théodorit and la Tour Fenestrelle. The cathedral is actually now just the parish church, as the diocese of the Bishops of Uzès was abolished in 1801. The building had been destroyed in the 12th century Albigensian Crusade, was destroyed again during the French Wars of Religion, was rebuilt and then gutted during the French Revolution and was restored over the centuries to its present state. The oldest part of the complex is the campanile, known as La Tour Fenestrelle, although even this is two storeys shorter than it was when built in mediaeval times. There was a 'fun run' in progress so many access points were blocked off and we had to admire the runners' fitness before wandering back into the town where we found a lovely market in Place aux Herbes - and also an excellent place for lunch.

Street cafés abound

Street cafés abound

Strange things can be found in side streets!

Strange things can be found in side streets!

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

Coat of arms on the Ducal Palace

Coat of arms on the Ducal Palace

Cathédrale Théodorit and La Tour Fenestrelle

Cathédrale Théodorit and La Tour Fenestrelle

Rue Saint Théodorit

Rue Saint Théodorit

Some of the arcades around Place aux Herbes

Some of the arcades around Place aux Herbes

Dining areas and the market in Place aux Herbes

Dining areas and the market in Place aux Herbes

Steve enjoyed a long cool drink with lunch in the shade of the arcades

Steve enjoyed a long cool drink with lunch in the shade of the arcades

I had thought that we would just drive to Pont du Gard, park on a hill, take a couple of photos and move on. I really must read up more before we visit places! We had to park in a massive car park and then pay (no complaints, very good value) to go through the reception area before getting onto a path leading to this amazing aqueduct - the tallest ever built by the Romans and, apparently built without any mortar! Built around 50AD, in its heyday, it carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. It is an amazing three-level arched structure, straddling the Gardon river and was in use until the 4th century when it became so clogged with mineral deposits that the water ceased to flow. Over the centuries, stones were removed for building and parts of the aqueduct were endangered when extensions were added to facilitate traffic. Napoleon III realised that this structure was of national importance and had it restored to, very largely, its former glory - even if no longer operating as an aqueduct. One of the first things seen as you walk from the visitor centre is a large old olive tree, This was originally grown in Spain in 908 and was transplanted to this site in 1988 but I could not find the significance of this.

Ancient olive tree

Ancient olive tree

Olive tree and first sight of the aqueduct

Olive tree and first sight of the aqueduct

View of the central portion of the aqueduct

View of the central portion of the aqueduct

The aqueduct from a viewpoint high on the left bank

The aqueduct from a viewpoint high on the left bank

Closer view of the arches from the viewpoint

Closer view of the arches from the viewpoint

View from the aqueduct up the Gardon river with the old mill on the left and the right bank visitor centre to the right

View from the aqueduct up the Gardon river with the old mill on the left and the right bank visitor centre to the right

Between Uzès and Pont du Gard, we were now running well behind 'schedule', so it was getting late in the afternoon when we reached Avignon. We had a few problems with Gladys, and the one-way system, before we reached a position from which we could see and photograph the famous bridge - all four spans of the original 21 spans which made up the Pont Saint-Bézénet, better know as the Pont d'Avignon. Clearly, to see anything else in Avignon was perforce left for another visit.

Pont Saint-Bézénet

Pont Saint-Bézénet

A closer view of part of the bridge

A closer view of part of the bridge

We reached Chateauneuf-du-Pape while it was still just light enough to visit the ruins of the chateau which was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second pope to be based in Avignon. After the popes left, the building was neglected and stones were taken for building. At the time of the Revolution, the building was sold off and only the donjon remained. During the Second World War, Germans attempted to destroy it but only managed to demolish the northern half. What is left is now respected and the site gives superb views out over the Rhone. We have seen many vineyards around the world but none so stony as the ones near the chateau. Maybe that is why the wine from this region is so superb.

Panoramic view over the village from the ruined chateau

Panoramic view over the village from the ruined chateau

The remains of the chateau

The remains of the chateau

Small vineyards below the chateau

Small vineyards below the chateau

Part of the vineyard near the chateau, showing the stony ground

Part of the vineyard near the chateau, showing the stony ground

Our last day based in Nîmes, allowed enough time for some exploration of the city. We bought a pass which allowed entry to the Arènes de Nîmes, the Maison Carrée, the Tour Magne and the Théatre Antique d'Orange - we just managed the first three in the day and felt that it was good value for money. The Arena is an amazing construction, the first Roman Coliseum we have seen. From a photographic viewpoint, it was a bit disappointing that a stage was being dismantled in the main arena and that scaffolding covered many areas. However, it is a 'living' building which is probably why it is the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world, some 1,800 years after its construction. The free audio-guide is excellent and really brings the structure to life but it is quite easy to become temporarily 'mislaid' in the maze of corridors and stairways covering several levels. The atmosphere of the annual three-day Feria each May must be something which would remain with you for ever, although the bullfighting central to this is not to our taste! Nonetheless, a return visit one May could be memorable!

Part of the Arena from outside

Part of the Arena from outside

Some of the seating area inside, showing the scaffolding

Some of the seating area inside, showing the scaffolding

A stark contrast is the Musée de la Romanité viewed from one of the external corridors of the Arena

A stark contrast is the Musée de la Romanité viewed from one of the external corridors of the Arena

Steps leading down to where the gladiators gathered

Steps leading down to where the gladiators gathered

Work continues to keep the Arena in good condition

Work continues to keep the Arena in good condition

Part of one of the many corridors

Part of one of the many corridors

By the time we left, we were becoming peckish, so we made our way through the city to Place du Marche where, I regret to say, we had probably the worst meal we have ever had (even the cider was barely potable), with poor service to match - a real disappointment, as by now we had fallen in love with Nîmes. Not really fortified, we walked on to the Maison Carrée, a beautifully preserved Roman Temple. The interior has been converted to a cinema, where our pass allowed us to see a fascinating film about the origins and history of the city - what a history!

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

On the way to the Jardins de la Fontaine, we found ourselves in Place d'Assas. This is a lovely open area with a narrow watercourse running from a fountain through to a large head. The sculptor of the figures was Martial Raysse.

One of three fountains

One of three fountains

The watercourse and head

The watercourse and head

Tumulus with figure of the Gardener of the Mount of Olives, reading the Book of Wisdom

Tumulus with figure of the Gardener of the Mount of Olives, reading the Book of Wisdom

Statue of Ernest Denis, a French historian born in Nîmes

Statue of Ernest Denis, a French historian born in Nîmes

We walked on to the Jardins de la Fontaine much of which had originally been constructed by the Romans. Sadly much of the original had fallen into ruin and had become buried. However, in the 18th century, the ancient traces were uncovered when another source of water was required and the gardens were recreated, becoming the first public gardens in France. Apart from the water features, there are walking areas with many statues and, tucked away to one side, a ruined building which is believed to have been the Temple of Diana.

Shady watercourse leading to the gardens

Shady watercourse leading to the gardens

Fountain at a junction of water courses

Fountain at a junction of water courses

View over the gardens with sculptures and water features

View over the gardens with sculptures and water features

The start of the ascent to Tour Magne

The start of the ascent to Tour Magne

Having explored the ground level ares of the garden, we then wound our way up the hillside through a pleasantly shady series of walkways, to reach the Tour Magne. This is the only remaining part of the Augustan fortifications. The original Celtic tower was 18 metres in height but Augustus had it doubled in size - the current tower has lost a few metres but is still a bit of a climb. The population left the heights but the tower was still used as a defence against the English in the Hundred Years' War and, in the 19th century, was used as a telegraph relay station. Today it is preserved as an ancient monument and affords panoramic views over the city.

Tour Magne

Tour Magne

View from Tour Magne to the Church of St Baudile

View from Tour Magne to the Church of St Baudile

View from Tour Magne to the Arena

View from Tour Magne to the Arena

By this time we realised that we did not have time to reach the museum so walked through to the Cathédrale Notre Dame which looked fairly tired on the outside but, as usual, the interior was interesting, colourful and in good condition. We were pleased to find a good tea shop just outside, in Place aux Herbes, where we treated ourselves to soothing Earl Grey tea with a couple of yummy pastries. When we returned to the car park, we found that it had been rather expensive and then our tag pinged as we exited. However, it seems the tag system is quite sophisticated as, when the charges came through for toll roads, there was no duplicated charge for the car park - a nice surprise. In future, we must check carefully for signs that the tag is readable. It is only the second car park we have come across in which the tag operates, the other was in Agen. Tomorrow we start wending our way home after a thoroughly enjoyable drive across part of southern France.

Stylized statue of a bull on Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle

Stylized statue of a bull on Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle

Posted by SteveJD 07:46 Archived in France Tagged animals birds horses france avignon flamingoes nimes pont_du_gard camargue pont_de_gau chateauneuf_du_pape coypu Comments (0)

Perpignan to Nimes

...via Gruissan and Aigues Mortes with a side trip to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Travels with Jet Set in Europe on SteveJD's travel map.

After leaving Perpignan, we decided to make a stop at Gruissan where, in very blustery conditions, we climbed to the Tour Barberousse and were rewarded with magnificent views of the harbour, the town and the countryside all around. It would appear that the tower was built in the 13th century but, in the 19th century a legend grew that the corsair, Barberousse, had built the round tower, even though he plagued the seas between 200 and 300 years after the tower was known to have been built - the power of myths and legends! After the clamber we were getting thirsty, so descended and found a very nice little café where we had coffee and hot chocolate (Judith had the latter). In the afternoon, we ducked through the market, dodging a light shower and then found an interesting restaurant which served an unusual formule lunch.

Fishing boat moored just below where we parked

Fishing boat moored just below where we parked

Narrow lane and start of steps to the tower

Narrow lane and start of steps to the tower

Tour Barberousse loomed above us

Tour Barberousse loomed above us

View towards Salin de Gruissan from the tower

View towards Salin de Gruissan from the tower

Judith in front of what is left of the tower

Judith in front of what is left of the tower

View from the tower to our car and the little fishing boat moored in the Etang du Grazel

View from the tower to our car and the little fishing boat moored in the Etang du Grazel

View over the church below the tower, and the town rooftops

View over the church below the tower, and the town rooftops

View from the steps down to the café where we stopped for drinks

View from the steps down to the café where we stopped for drinks

In the afternoon, we crossed a narrow neck of land to L'Ile-St-Martin to visit Salin De Gruissan where you can see salt being harvested from pans - just below a restaurant, shop and museum. We succumbed to temptation and bought a few salt products which we have used and are still enjoying.

Fishing boat by the salt pans

Fishing boat by the salt pans

Fishing net

Fishing net

Industrial scale harvesting of salt

Industrial scale harvesting of salt

Our destination for the next two nights was Tourbes where we stayed in a lovely B & B, La Bergerie de Laval. In order to be in time to meet our host, we had only a short time in Béziers, where we visited the Plateau des Poètes garden. This is a lovely place and had a good variety of ducks and other water birds on a large lake near the edge of the interesting and restful gardens.

Béziers coat of arms painted onto grass embankment

Béziers coat of arms painted onto grass embankment

Mute Swan cob

Mute Swan cob

Mandarin Duck drake

Mandarin Duck drake

Mandarin Duck, hen or colour variant

Mandarin Duck, hen or colour variant

Ornate fountain in the gardens

Ornate fountain in the gardens

View over lake and coat of arms to town

View over lake and coat of arms to town

We had planned on returning to Béziers, which looked fascinating, but our host instead recommended that we visit Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, a Plus Beau Village (PBV). The village is situated at the bottom of a rugged limestone gorge and sprawls up the hillside. It is one of the stops on the Chemin de St-Jacques pilgrim route from Arles to Santiago de Compostella. Walking up through the village brought us to the abbey which was constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries. Adjacent to the abbey is Place de la Liberté, a large square shaded by a large plane tree. Like several other PBVs we have visited, the village has narrow laneways linked by little arcades with surprises at every twist and turn. Although I am sure we would have enjoyed Béziers, we were so pleased to have been directed to this delightful village. We enjoyed galettes for lunch and also took pleasure in the owner's photographs from a two-year world tour, showing on a screen not far from our table. One of the things that we noticed here was that many doors had large dried cardoon-like flowers and leaves. We were unable to find anything about these until later on our trip - stay tuned!

Sign for Chemin de St Jacques

Sign for Chemin de St Jacques

One of the narrow lanes in the village

One of the narrow lanes in the village

91f69660-2984-11ea-b6c2-7b9d6609a4f6.jpgTwo examples of doors with cardoon-like flowers

Two examples of doors with cardoon-like flowers

The Abbaye de Gellone

The Abbaye de Gellone

Abbey cloisters

Abbey cloisters

High altar in the abbey

High altar in the abbey

Magnificent organ in the abbey

Magnificent organ in the abbey

Garden in the cloisters

Garden in the cloisters

Place de la Liberté

Place de la Liberté

Ornamental, ceramic, house sign

Ornamental, ceramic, house sign

Wall tile showing the prevailing winds

Wall tile showing the prevailing winds

Amusing house number 'decoration'

Amusing house number 'decoration'

Ruins of older buildings high above the village

Ruins of older buildings high above the village

In the afternoon, we drove over past Clermont l’Hérault, aiming to visit the Cirque de Mourèze but we found to many routes barrée, so instead drove along by Lac du Salagou to the ‘deserted’ village of Celles. On the way, we passed through some rugged limestone country which, I believe, is typical 'garrigue' country. The second stage of the building of the lake would have engulfed the village and villagers were moved or moved of their own accord before this was due to start. However, stage two was never implemented, so some villagers re-occupied buildings in the village. In spite of this, the official attitude was that the village would be left to decay. In 2017, a scheme was announced for the re-population of the village and by the time of our visit, the population was supposed to have reached 119 - we didn't see many people at all, so perhaps a return was not attractive to former residents.

Limestone landscape

Limestone landscape

The road had been cut through the limestone

The road had been cut through the limestone

The limestone showed a soft palette of colours

The limestone showed a soft palette of colours

This country did not seem to support a great deal of plant life - survival of the toughest

This country did not seem to support a great deal of plant life - survival of the toughest

Lac du Salagou lapping at the edge of the village

Lac du Salagou lapping at the edge of the village

The village mainly still looks rather derelict

The village mainly still looks rather derelict

The church appeared to be intact and there was holiday accommodation just nearby

The church appeared to be intact and there was holiday accommodation just nearby

We then wanted to get a good glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, so I headed for Mèze but found this was on the landward side of the Bassin de Thau so then tracked back to Agde. Along the way, we spotted what we thought were oyster hatcheries in the bassin and thought they looked worthy of a photograph - but not that day. We reached Agde but, although it was very attractive, between fading light, one-way streets and dead ends, this turned out to be rather an abortive journey.

Our accommodation in Tourbes

Our accommodation in Tourbes

Breakfast by the pool before setting off for Nimes

Breakfast by the pool before setting off for Nimes

The following day, we headed towards Agde but this time drove east of the town to a strip of land which ran between the bassin and the Med; rather a fruitless trip as there was nowhere to stop and you could not see the sea from the road! We stopped at Balaruc-les-Bains, hoping to see the photogenic oyster hatcheries but it was high tide - nothing to see except water!

Our next stop was Aigues-Mortes and I wish we had more time - how often have you heard that from me?! It is a complete walled city with a very interesting history. In the days when Aquitaine was in English hands and Provence was owned by the Pope, the French king had limited access to the sea. In the 13th century, King Louis IX (Saint Louis) had a city built to act as a port from which he could launch his crusades (the Seventh and Eighth, on the latter of which he died on his way home). The port lasted for about 100 years but began silting up and then, in the 15th century, Marseilles came under French control and Aigues-Mortes languished. The oldest remaining part of the fortifications is Tour de Constance (Constance Tower) and this once had a castle attached to it. In the 16th century, Aigues-Mortes was one of the southern Huguenot strongholds, during the Wars of Religion. In the 17th century, Louis XIII accepted the surrender of the city and, after the revocation of the Treaty of Nantes, Constance Tower was used a prison for Protestants, including many women. The last woman prisoner was released in 1768. The walls give excellent views over the rest of the fortifications and the other towers and gateways, as well as into the old town, including the Parish Church of Notre-Dame-des-Sablons.

Statue of Saint Louis

Statue of Saint Louis

Tour Constance from the west wall, where we started our circuit

Tour Constance from the west wall, where we started our circuit

Typical roofing tiles of the region

Typical roofing tiles of the region

View into the enclosed town from the north wall

View into the enclosed town from the north wall

Porte Saint-Antoine (I think) on the north wall

Porte Saint-Antoine (I think) on the north wall

Steve on the north wall

Steve on the north wall

View over Etang de Psalmodi and distant salt pans from east wall

View over Etang de Psalmodi and distant salt pans from east wall

Panoramic view over town and north and east walls from Tour de Villeneuve

Panoramic view over town and north and east walls from Tour de Villeneuve

Bullring below south wall

Bullring below south wall

Renovated holiday home tucked into the corner of the walls

Renovated holiday home tucked into the corner of the walls

The Mam Goz, a barge which operates on the canals

The Mam Goz, a barge which operates on the canals

Bell tower of the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Sablons

Bell tower of the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Sablons

Outside the walls - petanque is a serious sport

Outside the walls - petanque is a serious sport

Petanque player in action

Petanque player in action

Much as we would like to have stayed longer, we needed to press on and travelled past the western edge of the Camargue, of which more later. We then got snarled up in heavy traffic on the outskirts of Arles, so were a little later than planned arriving at our Ibis hotel in Nimes. This was located in one of these blindspots for satnavs and Gladys simply could not tell where we were but, in spite of 'her', we found our way and settled in very comfortably.

Posted by SteveJD 09:02 Archived in France Tagged birds villages nimes beziers aigues_mortes gruissan saint_guilhem_le_desert garrigue Comments (0)

Carcassonne to Perpignan

...via Peyrepertuse and Queribis

sunny 24 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Travels with Jet Set in Europe on SteveJD's travel map.

Our pre-booked tour of La Cité was very good, although we didn't seem to gain much from pre-booking. Before wandering around the ramparts, we watched a very interesting film in which we learned that much of La Cité, as it is now, was restored to its late 13th century glory, in some cases re-imagined, in the 19th century by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. The site had been occupied since ancient times and was variously occupied by Romans, Visigoths (who founded the city), Saracens and Franks. It would appear that the fortified city was constructed over the centuries between the Roman occupation and the 11th century. As a stronghold of the Cathars, it was besieged in the Albigensian Crusades and in 1247 submitted to French rule. Further fortifications were built and it withstood attacks by the Black Prince during the Hundred Years' War. After the Treaty of the Pyrénées in 1659 its significance was reduced and, while the town grew, the chateau and ramparts gradually disintegrated until Viollet-le-Duc was tasked with the restoration.

Our self-guided tour was very good and interesting, taking us into the chateau, where we watched the film and were able to see a model of the fortified city, statues, a sarcophagus and other relics surviving from the past, before embarking on our trek around the walls and entering the keep and other towers. Once back on terra firma, we found our way to the northern (Gallo-Roman) ramparts from which we gained different perspectives of the 'new' town and the various buildings inside the walls. Be warned - there is no exit at the end of the walk, so you have to retrace your steps - by the time we had done this we were ready for lunch and found one of a number of good restaurants within La Cité.

Porte Narbonnaise, the main entry to La Cité

Porte Narbonnaise, the main entry to La Cité

A street just inside the walls

A street just inside the walls

View along the ramparts to the outer walls

View along the ramparts to the outer walls

View from the ramparts over Basilica Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse

View from the ramparts over Basilica Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse

Reconstructed 'hoardings' (wooden galleries) on the eastern ramparts

Reconstructed 'hoardings' (wooden galleries) on the eastern ramparts

View from the ramparts to Église Saint-Vincent in the 'modern' city

View from the ramparts to Église Saint-Vincent in the 'modern' city

A mediaeval fresco in Chateau Comtal

A mediaeval fresco in Chateau Comtal

Chateau Comtal

Chateau Comtal

A lovely shady garden just inside the walls

A lovely shady garden just inside the walls

A well-deserved lunch!

A well-deserved lunch!

Before leaving Carcassonne, we crossed the river in order to take some photos of the Pont Vieux and in the process found a house with an amusing mural over most of one side.

La Cité from across the river

La Cité from across the river

Pont Vieux and La Cité

Pont Vieux and La Cité

A closer view of the Pont Vieux

A closer view of the Pont Vieux

Mural on the side of a house by the river

Mural on the side of a house by the river

We had intended to visit Rennes-le-Chateau but by the time I remembered this, we had travelled too far to make an about turn sensible! We therefore continued to the village of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse where we found a quaint cafe by the road, L'Aouzine. We enjoyed a warm welcome and some excellent food. After lunch, we drove up to the car park for Chateau Peyrepertuse, perched high above on a limestone cliff. In the visitor centre, the lady on duty offered to loan us walking poles, which we took and were truly glad of. The walk is quite uneven in parts and, for us, rather steep in parts. Nonetheless, we succeeded in reaching the Old Keep which we explored and found very interesting.

The ruins of the chateau sprawl across the cliff top

The ruins of the chateau sprawl across the cliff top

Delightful restaurant L'Aouzine in Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse

Delightful restaurant L'Aouzine in Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse

As you get closer, the ruins look like a movie set facade

As you get closer, the ruins look like a movie set facade

The fortifications follow the rugged line of the cliff edge - clever builders

The fortifications follow the rugged line of the cliff edge - clever builders

The village of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse nestles in the valley below - in the far distance, a 'pimple' on a hill is Chateau Quéribus

The village of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse nestles in the valley below - in the far distance, a 'pimple' on a hill is Chateau Quéribus

The start of the path to San Jordi Keep

The start of the path to San Jordi Keep

Inside the ruins of the Old Keep

Inside the ruins of the Old Keep

I find the whole area's history very interesting; this one of five castles sited on unassailable peaks, the "Five Sons of Carcassonne". The site was occupied from Roman times but the first historical reference to the castle was in 806, at which time it was in Spanish territory. Although it was not attacked during the Albigensian Crusade to rid the country of 'heretic' Cathars, its owner sympathised with the Cathars and eventually surrendered after the Siege of Carcassonne. King Louis IX took possession in 1240 and built new fortifications, including San Jordi Keep on the highest point. The castle then became part of the defences against Spain until the 17th century when the Treaty of the Pyrénées was signed. The castle was then abandoned and fell into ruin.

As we did not have unlimited time, and are not as fast walkers as we once were, we decided not to go up to San Jordi Keep but instead to drive over to Cucugnan and look at Chateau Quéribus, another of the "Five Sons of Carcassonne". Beyond finding that this was probably the last of the Cathar strongholds to fall, I can find very little historic information. Again, although the climb here was fairly easy, we had to press on, so just had to admire it from the car park. Having since read about it, it sounds as if more has survived at Quéribus (where most of it was restored in the 1990s) than at Peyrepertuse, although I think the latter is stunning in the way that the buildings were moulded into the contours of the clifftop.

The village of Cucugnan with its Omer windmill

The village of Cucugnan with its Omer windmill

large_20190930_P1210750.jpgTwo views of Chateau Quéribus

Two views of Chateau Quéribus

Judith takes it easy when taking photos!

Judith takes it easy when taking photos!

Gladys then gave us a misguided tour of the village of Cucugnan, getting close to the restored Omer windmill, before taking us back up the hill and past Chateau Quéribus and, eventually, to our Mercure Hotel in Perpignan. The room was very nice, as we have come to expect, but the parking was in a very awkward spot underground, for which we had to pay extra - not too impressed!

On our one day in Perpignan, we tried to find a laundrette but the one we were aiming for, being reasonably close to the hotel, was closed with no sign of life. Luckily we had not taken laundry with us! We then found that the Majorcan Kings' Palace was closed so we were a bit disheartened but continued to explore and found some lovely 'Places'. At the end of one of them, Place Gambetta, we found Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptist. Of course, we were unable to enter through the main door as this was covered with scaffolding. We used a side entrance and found more of the ornate decoration and interesting side chapels, as well as more beautiful stained glass.

View along the Basse, not one of the prettiest of rivers, with its concrete banks

View along the Basse, not one of the prettiest of rivers, with its concrete banks

We passed the Castillet on our way into the city

We passed the Castillet on our way into the city

Interesting street art

Interesting street art

Picturesque balcony and shutters

Picturesque balcony and shutters

One of the narrow streets

One of the narrow streets

The cathedral bell tower seen from Place Gambetta

The cathedral bell tower seen from Place Gambetta

Arches and doorways offer an entrance into another world

Arches and doorways offer an entrance into another world

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

One of the ornate side chapels

One of the ornate side chapels

We walked back through the streets to the Castillet and paid the small fee for entrance to the Tower and the Catalan Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. The museum is not large, with exhibits on different floors, but it is quite interesting. Once on top of the Tower, the views were wonderful - over seas of roofs in one direction and across to the Pyrénées in another. Well worth a visit. By now it was lunch time so we found a pleasant restaurant on the banks of the Basse, Le Vauban, having bought tickets for the afternoon trip on Le Petit Train.

Restaurant in one of the many lanes

Restaurant in one of the many lanes

Part of the Castillet exterior

Part of the Castillet exterior

Catalan costumes in the museum

Catalan costumes in the museum

View from the tower towards Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptist

View from the tower towards Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptist

Panoramic view from the tower over the Basse to the Pyrénées

Panoramic view from the tower over the Basse to the Pyrénées

Old spiral staircase in the tower gives access to the museum rooms and the tower

Old spiral staircase in the tower gives access to the museum rooms and the tower

An Airbus Beluga transport flew over

An Airbus Beluga transport flew over

Looks like crime stops for elevenses!

Looks like crime stops for elevenses!

The two remaining parts of the Castillet, the gateway and tower were built in the 14th-15th centuries and were formerly part of the old ramparts but now stand alone. The tower served as a prison up to the 19th century.

Le Petit Train was excellent and, if we had known about it, we would have hopped on the first one in the morning as it really helps to pick out highlights and get ones bearings. At one stage we were advised in advance that we were entering a Gypsy area and that we were not to take photographs. It looked like an interesting area but I think any photos from the Train would have failed to capture the atmosphere.

Waiting for the bank to open?

Waiting for the bank to open?

Our route took us over the Basse

Our route took us over the Basse

Statue - Dali in Levitation

Statue - Dali in Levitation

Fountain in Place Bardou Job - from le Petit Train

Fountain in Place Bardou Job - from le Petit Train

Statue of Francois Arago

Statue of Francois Arago

Statue - Venus by Aristide Maillot

Statue - Venus by Aristide Maillot

That was all we had time for as we were heading east the following day and needed to get ourselves sorted ready for the off - also taking a little time to write up some of the blog and process some photos. Next stop Tarbes.

Posted by SteveJD 09:06 Archived in France Tagged castles statues france history ruins bridge dali carcassonne chateaux perpignan chateaus cathars duilhac_sous_peyrepertuse cucugnan queribus francois_arago Comments (0)

Auch to Carcassonne

via Albi etc.

sunny 25 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Travels with Jet Set in Europe on SteveJD's travel map.

At this stage, our journey is still gradually moving us east across southern France. We had only one day to visit Auch and it remains on our 'to visit list' as when we drove in, it was market day and 'route barree' signs barred us at every point. We went round in circles trying to find parking and eventually gave up and decided to visit more towns mentioned in 'France' magazine articles. First stop was Fleurance, which is a very pretty country village with a covered market square, housing the Town Hall, surrounded by the almost obligatory covered arcades. It also had an interesting church, Eglise de Saint Laurent.

15th century bombarde outside the Town Hall

15th century bombarde outside the Town Hall

Stained glass window in Saint-Laurent

Stained glass window in Saint-Laurent

Exterior view of Eglise de Saint-Laurent

Exterior view of Eglise de Saint-Laurent

Fleurance was only a coffee stop and we pushed on to Lectoure which is a fortified hill village, so gave our legs a bit more of a stretch. Parking proved to be easier than in some towns and villages and we walked up towards the cathedral of Saint Gervais and Saint Protais. Near the cathedral, we found a lovely restaurant, Le Bellevue, which was well-named as it is perched on the edge of the village with views down and over the surrounding countryside. Luckily, the food lived up to the view!

Good calf exercise

Good calf exercise

Bellevue Restaurant

Bellevue Restaurant

The cathedral

The cathedral

Stained glass windows inside the cathedral

Stained glass windows inside the cathedral

After lunch, we visited the cathedral before heading westwards to La Romieu, on the outskirts of which we found Les Jardins de Coursiana - beautiful flower gardens, some described as 'English', with vegetable plots, fruit trees and an arboretum. The owner is very friendly and helpful and has a lovely little shop to browse around (and of course to buy some tasty local specialties!).

Relax among the flowers

Relax among the flowers

Garden produce outside the shop

Garden produce outside the shop

Part of the 'Jardin anglaise'

Part of the 'Jardin anglaise'

The owner's house in the middle of the garden

The owner's house in the middle of the garden

Distant view of La Romieu from the vegetable gardens

Distant view of La Romieu from the vegetable gardens

Still heading westwards (via Condom where we were not tempted to stop!) but backing south a bit, we continued to Larressingle which is described as a mini-Carcassonne. This is probably over-egging it but it is a fascinating little fortified village. They must have been a warlike mob in this area or was it defence against the marauding English!? Depending on the area, I think it is a bit of both. There were several wars against Protestant regions, Cathars, Huguenots etc., but there were also some areas that we travelled through which were involved in the Hundred Years' War which involved the 'English' of the day (still really Norman of course!). Many of the castles in the areas we travelled through had either formerly been Spanish, as in Pau, or were to guard against the Spanish.

Bridge over the moat into the fortified village

Bridge over the moat into the fortified village

The church

The church

The ruined chateau

The ruined chateau

The keep and bridge

The keep and bridge

Striking rose growing against one of the walls

Striking rose growing against one of the walls

Now our road took us southward and we stopped at Valence-sur-Baize to watch some Aussies manoeuvre their boat into their mooring, joining their friends who had already settled in. We watched with some sympathy as we had a boating holiday some years back with my sister and her husband and it takes a little while to become accustomed to the ways of boats, if you are landlubbers like us!

large_20190926_P1210614.jpgA couple of views of the 'last man in'

A couple of views of the 'last man in'

The last stop this day was Lavardens where we arrived too late to tour the chateau inside but just enjoyed walking around looking at it, its church and other buildings.

The chateau

The chateau

Church beside the chateau

Church beside the chateau

Narrow street dropping away from the chateau

Narrow street dropping away from the chateau

On our way from Auch we detoured to Sarrant, a very attractive and unusual village with the older central part enclosed in a wall within which are old, often colourful, houses and a church. Unusually, the church was closed but we were fascinated by the village.

The Porte - mediaeval gateway

The Porte - mediaeval gateway

Colourful flowers by houses around the inside of the walls

Colourful flowers by houses around the inside of the walls

The best of several interesting doors!

The best of several interesting doors!

A rather strange decoration on another doorway

A rather strange decoration on another doorway

An artist in residence (Valerie Dumas) created a gallery of local characters

An artist in residence (Valerie Dumas) created a gallery of local characters

A view towards the church from within the walled village

A view towards the church from within the walled village

Rows of houses disappearing around a curve of the wall

Rows of houses disappearing around a curve of the wall

We started heading out of town but spotted a sign to a 'moulin' so took another detour to Brignemont where we found a handsome windmill, well situated on a hill.

large_20190927_P1210635.jpgA couple of views of the moulin

A couple of views of the moulin

Continuing on our way, we stopped briefly at L'Isle-Jourdain where I managed to find a shop which sold the Zone Bleu discs. On this trip we had found many parking areas outlined in blue. In these areas, one can park for an hour or, in some cases 90 minutes, free of charge, provided the Zone Bleu disc is displayed. It had taken a stretch to our limited French to elicit this information from a local in Lectoure (plus a bit of confirmation on Google!). This town did not seem especially attractive so we continued on our way.

Parts of the town were only good enough for pigeon roosts!

Parts of the town were only good enough for pigeon roosts!

After a fruitless search for enticing food places in villages en route, we finally parked in the middle of Albi and quickly found a very nice place, Cascarbar, where we had a light lunch. A lady at an adjacent table turned out to be English too and advised us to buy an Albi City Pass. As it happened, we just had time to break even on costs but had our stay been longer, it would have been a real boon. These passes are available in many cities in France, so do look out for them. In the time we had in Albi we visited the magnificent red brick Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. The latter did not have many pictures of the type that we had expected to be there, based on our limited knowledge of the artist, so it was a little disappointing. The building of the cathedral commenced in 1282 and took some 200 years to complete what is claimed to be the largest brick-built building in the world.

The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum beside the cathedral

The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum beside the cathedral

Sainte-Cecile Cathedral

Sainte-Cecile Cathedral

Steps leading to the entrance to the cathedral

Steps leading to the entrance to the cathedral

Magnificently carved entrance to the cathedral

Magnificently carved entrance to the cathedral

Detail of the carving inside the roof of the entrance

Detail of the carving inside the roof of the entrance

Beautifully painted ceiling of the cathedral

Beautifully painted ceiling of the cathedral

One of many colourful murals in side chapels

One of many colourful murals in side chapels

Elaborate screen

Elaborate screen

The large organ must sound superb inside this cathedral

The large organ must sound superb inside this cathedral

Entrance to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

Entrance to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

Gardens below the museum

Gardens below the museum

Bridges over the Tarn as seen from the museum

Bridges over the Tarn as seen from the museum

As it was a warm day we cooled off with glaces at Cascarbar before checking into our Ibis Hotel which was, typically, comfortable and reasonably roomy.

Unfortunately, we had only time for one night in Albi and it is somewhere that I would definitely likely to revisit. On our onwards journey, I had not originally planned on stopping at Castres but, serendipitously, we made the decision to drive in. We parked right in the middle of the town with no problem and came up in the Bishop's Palace Gardens, very close to the Musee Goya. Don't expect to see many of Goya's paintings but do expect a beautiful building filled with beautiful and interesting artworks and other collections. At the time of our visit, there was an exhibition of works by a Peruvian artist, Walter Barrientos - a most unusual and colourful collection of works.

Municipal Theatre

Municipal Theatre

Bishop's Palace Garden

Bishop's Palace Garden

Bishop's Palace Garden from Musee Goya

Bishop's Palace Garden from Musee Goya

large_8ea5fd10-fb27-11e9-b100-65e416d46e08.jpgTwo examples of work by Walter Barrientos

Two examples of work by Walter Barrientos

"Don Quichotte" by Carlos Vazquez y Ubeda

"Don Quichotte" by Carlos Vazquez y Ubeda

large_8dd95e40-fb27-11e9-b100-65e416d46e08.jpgTwo views inside the museum

Two views inside the museum

Painting of, I think, the Day of Judgement

Painting of, I think, the Day of Judgement

"Christ Served by the Angels" by Pacheco

"Christ Served by the Angels" by Pacheco

We wandered down to the banks of the River Agout where there are lovely old buildings, formerly housing tanners and parchment makers - I dread to think of the pollution and smell in those days! We ducked back into the town and found a market in full swing in a large square so we enjoyed browsing through before breaking for a coffee and, in my case tea. My tea came in a lovely cast iron tea pot which did not drip! We bought a slightly larger version as a souvenir and it makes an excellent cuppa!

Fountain at one end of the market

Fountain at one end of the market

large_20190928_113822.jpgTwo photos of colourful fresh produce

Two photos of colourful fresh produce

Anyone for a basket - or three?

Anyone for a basket - or three?

Old tanners' and parchment makers' house reflected in the River Agout

Old tanners' and parchment makers' house reflected in the River Agout

One of the River Boats moored under a bridge over the Agout

One of the River Boats moored under a bridge over the Agout

Weir and houses on the Agout

Weir and houses on the Agout

We had hoped to have time for a trip on a River Boat but this will have to wait for a return visit. It looks like a lovely way to spend a Summer's day - or even a warm Autumn day!

Our original stop was to have been Mazamet but we found "Rue Barree" signs everywhere (did someone see us coming?!) so continued to Hautpol, a mediaeval village perched on a hilltop. We found, after driving around narrow, winding roads that there was a car park with a climb up to the village. Much as I would love to have seen this, I found that on the day my knees were just too painful to make the climb, so we continued to Carcassonne where we checked into the Mercure Hotel. This was again a very comfortable place, although we had been spoiled by the Mercure in Pau and when booking could only get a twin-bedded room. Still, a good place to stay. We had time to find our way to the walled city (for which we had pre-booked tickets for the ramparts walk the following day). We walked round the outside of the old chateau and some of the western ramparts and got a taste for what is a very interesting and historical place.

Bridge to Chateau Comtal

Bridge to Chateau Comtal

Eglise Saint-Gimer from the western ramparts

Eglise Saint-Gimer from the western ramparts

Part of the western, mediaeval, ramparts

Part of the western, mediaeval, ramparts

Basilica Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse

Basilica Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse

View down the nave of the basilica

View down the nave of the basilica

Large organ in the basilica

Large organ in the basilica

Ornately decorated pulpit

Ornately decorated pulpit

Rose window inside the basilica

Rose window inside the basilica

More of Carcassonne in due course!

Posted by SteveJD 09:22 Archived in France Tagged villages france auch france-magazine fleurance Comments (0)

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