Driving through France

Through the arch in Saint Benoit du Sault

On Friday we left Saint Ybard. Our plan was to drive for hours and pick up a couple of beautiful villages on the way. We really lucked out in the Dordogne and Lot departments because there are lots of the beautiful villages there.

In the shade of an old tree

They’re a little more spread out in the rest of France. We checked the map and headed for Saint Benoit du Sault. Wandering around in the narrow streets is such an uplifting thing to do. Then it was lunch time so we found the boulangerie and bought some bread.

Tiny heart

Something we always have in the fridge is the ingredients for a French bread sandwich so lunch is always sorted. And if dinner becomes problematic we can have second lunch instead.

What time is it?

One of the things we had to let go when we started travelling like this was that we wouldn’t always have everything we need at hand. I suppose need is the concept we had to let go. In truth we need very little. Although we don’t always feel or act that way.

Cobblestone history

After lunch we set off again. Unlike our trip through France back in April on this return journey we were staying off the motorways. This can make me quite anxious as I’m sitting on the drivers side so every wide truck or van comes quite close to me. Sometimes too close for comfort.

Romeo, Romeo…

But I’ve been practicing my meditation and repeating my mantra and on Friday I was able to notice the countryside. And I noticed the sheaves of wheat waving in the breeze.

Isn’t this like a house in a fairytale?

Half of France is agricultural land. Imagine, half! I looked it up. (Then I looked up Ireland and it’s 64%.) Food is one thing we do need.

Relationship Advice

Fishing lake at Saint Ybard

It was time to move on and travel for a bit in the general direction of Ireland. Yes it’s nearly time to go home. We left the village of Martel and drove for a couple of hours to Saint Ybard. This is a very small village with a very pretty fishing lake and free motorhome parking. We stayed one overnight .

Beautiful shaded walk around the lake

Normally I wouldn’t be too happy staying near a still body of water due to the mosquitoes. You see they love me but their love is not reciprocated, in fact I would like to finish our painful relationship. So I’ve been taking mosquito relationship advice. Please wade in if you have an opinion, so far it’s just Denis and my mother in law, Eilish, who are counselling me.

There’s Ruby overlooking the lake

Denis says if you keep moving they won’t get a chance to bite. I walked quickly around the lake all day. Eilish said don’t wear perfume or deodorant. I kept downwind of other humans. And success… I was not bitten. But was that because there were no mosquitos? Or because they couldn’t catch me? Or because they didn’t like how I smell?

Evening at the lake

My sister has promised to bring back some Canadian anti-mosquito thick white cream stuff that works a treat over there where the mosquito are bigger… seemingly. In the meantime I’m afraid to slow down or apply deodorant. I’ve also stopped showering. Now I’m wondering if this is why the flies are following me…

Blending in to mislead the bugs

Villages 2

Rocamadour village from the top

Every village from the most beautiful list is different. Rocamadour makes you look up in awe and I suppose that was the intention. It’s a pilgrim site. On the door of one of the chapels in the cathedral it says, no visiting except for prayer.

Doggie Bag

Remembering that one of the reasons this list of villages was created was to allow the local population to stay locally by providing employment… I wonder are they happy with all the visitors? Do they ever want to close the gates?

A moment to notice what’s just over our heads

And do they get to enjoy just looking? When we arrive back in Ireland we see things we missed. The weather is very soft, so soft that sometimes it cries on your head. The fields are so green you want to photograph individual blades of grass. The castles are so raw you want to protect them from destruction.

This is the resting deer I could see way down in the valley

We found Martel when we were escaping the flies and didn’t realise it was on the list too. Unless you see the sign to announce this is one of the most beautiful villages you don’t know. It’s different because it’s not obvious. So every corner you turn, your eyes light up. There’s plenty of food for the eyes.

Tower house

Not so much food for the belly though. We were too late for lunch, too early for dinner, not in high season and nothing in the fridge.

That’s Denis leaning against a wall searching his phone for somewhere to eat

But it was just this situation that brought us to the small French tapas restaurant for our evening meal and to the supermarket for our coffee next morning. The surprise of ordinary when you were expecting more.

You can almost imagine walking along this street in the middle ages… except for the parked cars

And ordinary is surprisingly good. Theses villages are not perfect, they are just beautiful. Isn’t that enough, though?

The Villages 1

My Map could do with a bit of beautification

So here’s my map of the beautiful French villages from the official map of the most beautiful… you get the idea. I am also including some extra pictures – there is no limit to the number of beautiful things you can photograph in a most beautiful French village.

A view of the outside of the walls of Navarrenx

Starting with Navarrenx, do you remember I forgot to take a picture from the approach to the town? Turns out I had taken a picture from on top of the village wall and with a little editing, it works just fine. Also, do you remember the tunnel of lights under the wall in that same village? Well here’s the channel that lets that light in.

Can you see the iron grating on the right? It’s on top of the wall walkway. This unassuming construction is responsible for light getting down through a channel
And here’s the channel, from below

Next stop, Romieu. Do you remember, this village began when two monks returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and Santiago de Compostela? Here’s some pictures of the outside and inside of the tower we climbed via spiral stone staircase.

One of the towers in Romieu. See the windows second from the top?
The spiral staircase to those windows
Denis looking out the windows from the inside

And finally (for this post) the village of Monpazier where the streets were set out on a grid and that means there are lots of long beautiful streets and lanes to photograph.

I think this was the main street
Long quiet lane

And lots of shops in the old buildings, even the small supermarket was in an old stone building. This was the town we were staying in when the thunderstorm arrived. There was also a museum here but unfortunately closed the day we visited.

Can you see the lace curtain! And they sell piles?
Can you imagine sitting here with a coffee? And a cushion?

More tomorrow…

The Coffee Business

Closed restaurants

It was difficult to leave Rocamadour but the flies helped. For some reason we were inundated with flies. Something we forget about when we complain about the cool summers at home. Sunshine and heat equals flies. We got on the road again and moved to a different motorhome parking just twenty minutes away.

Big tower with spider

And you’re not going to believe this… it turned out to be in another one of the beautiful villages! It seems you can’t swing a motorhome without landing in a beautiful village in this small area. This village is called Martel and it’s in the department of Lot. The free motorhome parking is just a few minutes walk from the center of the village.

Narrow streets

We parked up and went for a walk and found a square with covered old market, lots of restaurants (although mainly closed) shops and adorable narrow streets. Again the streets seem too narrow for cars and yet there were cars driving on them.

French tapas…calamari, mini hotdogs, fried chicken, chips, with homemade mayonnaise and homemade tomato sauce. Can you see the price of a Baileys on the blackboard?

Eventually we found an open restaurant, it was a tapas one. French tapas. When we were in Pontevedra, Spain we mentioned we had been to a tapas restaurant over the border in Portugal to a local man. He shook his head and said, tapas are Spanish, no that wasn’t a tapas restaurant. He probably would say the same about our French tapas but we enjoyed it.

The tapas restaurant was called Au Coin de la Rue (on the corner of the street)

Next morning we walked the town searching for our coffee fix but there wasn’t a cafe open, none… Except for the small supermarket where we bought two coffees from the very friendly owner who was supplying the town’s coffee needs using (what looked like) his own coffee machine. We happily queued outside the window behind his cash register. We are very grateful for his service and his eye for a business opportunity.

Coffee in paper cups outside the supermarket (croissants and bread in paper bags from the bread shop across the road!)

Extremely Magnificent

Rocamadour. The chateau with clock tower on top level. Cathedral on middle level. Village street on lower level

On Wednesday we went to the extremely beautiful French village, Rocamadour in the department of Lot, it is magnificent. Built into the side of the hill overlooking a valley, the village consists of a chateau on the top level, a cathedral on the middle level. Then a village street with shops, restaurants and homes on the lower level. The motorhome car park is at the top and there’s a lift to take you to the middle level and another to take you to the lower level. Of course we didn’t take the lifts…

Looking up from the village street level

We took the lifts. Down and up. (It was a very hot day.) There’s a story that Saint Amadour (meaning amateur) built a hermitage here way back in the day. It turned into a popular place of pilgrimage and pilgrims still come here today. On the village street level there’s at least three village gates, that we saw. We also saw a deer resting in the shade way down at the foot of a private stairway into the valley.

One of the gates

Once we were down on the village street level we picked a shady spot for our regular morning coffee and watched the people go by.

Here’s the lift entrance on the village street level

Afterwards it didn’t take long to walk along the one street in the village looking at the shops and it was time to go back up to the car park.

And a few steps from the entrance there’s the lift. In a cold tunnel – lovely

The lifts are built into the stone of the hill and as soon as you go through the entrance the temperature goes way down. Worth the €6 each for that alone. The lower lift is like any lift but the upper one is more of an escalator with a car on it, kinda… a picture might help.

The lift that takes you from the top level to the middle level and back has an incline of 38%

After forgetting to get pictures of the outside of our first beautiful village with the tunnel and light shafts under the walls (Navarrenx) I was delighted to discover there was place you could walk to on the top level to see the village in it’s entirety and at it’s best. So in the afternoon I headed off there. Did I mention it was a very hot day…? I was determined to get the view for you.

Buildings at the middle level

If the legend is to be believed people have been coming to visit this village for over a thousand years, well before it got on the most beautiful villages of France list. I’m busy working on my new copyrighted (not to scale or accurate) Map with all the villages we have visited… I’ll be sharing it with you before we get home.

Denis with his new friends inside the car escalator lift

I’m very cross with croissants!

Sorry , we’re closed

Don’t tell anyone but I’m tired of visiting the beautiful villages of France. I can’t believe I feel this way. I’m probably coming down with something. Anyway, it looks like we won’t be visiting all 170 this month. (Just to warn you there are a few more villages in my photos (possibly even my favourite, favourite one) so I will share those before I stop completely but today I’m not writing another thing about beautiful villages.)

Cross looking statue in Monpazier

Do you know when you’re hungry and you eat your favourite dinner and it tastes amazing? Well, when we were on the food tour in Porto I was hungry (yes I know I did have a coffee and a pastry just before it but that was two hours before and I hadn’t had breakfast) and Clara handed us a plate with three different cheeses on it. By the way, I don’t eat cheese…

In France some restaurants are open and look closed. Others are closed and look open. This restaurant seems open but the sign may only mean we are open for business but only at dinner time…

But of course, to be polite, I tried one of the cheeses. And it was amazing. Seriously, amazing. The second one was even better and the third one, I bought from the vendor. I was cured of my cheese-hate.

Pain au raisin (danish pastry)

Time passed, we were in Spain, I decided I’d try my lovely cheese after my lunch one day. I was really looking forward to it. Hating cheese always seemed like a childish thing plus I was missing out on the calcium. But no more, I had found my cheese and now I was a cheese lover.

Very smart bird feeder near the university, Santander… the big birds and the squirrels can’t get in (may be an experiment?)

No I wasn’t, It was terrible, truly. And smelly. My cheese-hate was back. In case you think I had bought bad cheese, I didn’t. There was nothing wrong with the cheese… I just wasn’t hungry. Something (almost) similar is happening with croissants…

No idea who this guy is, also in Santander

But first a confession, I haven’t been totally honest with you. I’ve been leaving some things out of the photos. I’m coming clean now. Here it is -: since we arrived in France I have had a croissant with coffee every morning. Every single morning without fail. The boulangeries of France make the best croissants, of course they do, they invented them. And they are so buttery, so satisfying. But now… I am no longer satisfied with one. One doesn’t taste lovely, it tastes like, I’m starving, I’ll have another one, please. And it’s very annoying. I’m very cross with the croissants. But not cross enough to say no thank you.

More, more, more please

My boycott today of the beautiful French villages makes me wonder… have croissants and villages pushed me over the edge of satisfied? I didn’t even know there was an edge to satisfied. Is hunger – not just for food – a good thing? Where we are not stuffed to capacity? What about hunger for information? Where we are ok with not knowing? What about hunger for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter? Where we are ok with boredom? What about hunger for company? Where we are content with the memory of our beautiful friend sitting with us for an hour long ago?

No idea what this is but it makes me smile every time I see it. From the museum in Pontevedra, Spain

What about hunger for beauty? Where we look in the mirror and see our own beauty looking back?

Thunderstorm at Monpazier

I don’t often go out this late to take pictures, it was lovely to get a picture of a red sky at night after the storm

Another day, another beautiful French village…Monpazier, in the department of Dordogne and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. This might be the most lovely village we’ve seen this far but I don’t want to make the others jealous. So let’s just say, I love all the beautiful villages equally (but I love this one a bit more equally…)

One of the town gates, there are many

This village is laid out on a grid as if it had been planned during medieval times and I assume it was. I didn’t visit the museum where I might have been able to ask but it was closed. To be honest it was just lovely to walk around and take photos and smell the roses (literally) and just put one foot in front of the other.

The church and the roses

What started out as a very hot day turned into a thunderstorm by the late afternoon and we were confined to the motorhome until 9pm. During our confinement we realised water was getting into one of the cupboards! The one with the Switch! The Switch is the gaming system that the Zelda runs on – see Zelda and the Viaductos.

Pretty shopfront

Don’t worry, Zelda is fine, just a bit damp. The motorhome is fine too and the damp is gone because the red sky brought sunshine this morning. Turns out, if our motorhome is parked in a particular position facing the wind and completely level – rain water will pool on the roof and seep inside. Not ideal but at least it doesn’t happen often. The Switch and Zelda have been moved to a safe space in case it happens again.

Bike for rent?

Something we notice more when we travel is that we regularly get challenges. Like the rain coming in. Like the bugs biting me. Like supermarkets closed on Sundays in France. Like the sat nav sending us down roads that are too narrow. Like finding it difficult to find a place to stay at night. Like not having enough gas to cook dinner. In the moment these feel very big – I know that’s hard to believe but I promise you that they do. Somehow we take steps to solve each challenge that arrives and then they’re gone.

Laneways and streets run parallel and perpendicular to each other so it’s impossible to get lost but also nearly impossible to pass the same place twice!

And we forget them and soon the next challenge turns up. Of course this happens at home too. Maybe that’s all life is, a series of interesting challenges that we overcome until we die. So now I’m imagining myself welcoming the next challenge with some joy because I must be still alive!

Morning coffee in beautiful Monpazier, all is well

Romieu Village

Porte de Rocamadour (Rocamadour gate)

On Sunday we arrived at our next beautiful village, Romieu. The name is a combination of pilgrim and Rome. The story goes that two monks returning from a pilgrimage to Rome in 1062 (they went via Santiago de Compostela) decided to start a monastery here in southern France. The town grew and the walls went up and the gates were built in the wall and the results was a very beautiful village. With monastery and church.

Cloisters of the monastery

There’s a legend that during a very severe famine the people of the town had to do the unthinkable. They had to eat their pets… specifically their cats. But one young girl who was willing to starve rather than do that, hid her two cats and kept them safe. When the famine had passed and there was a successful harvest the girl and her cats and their kittens and grand-kittens saved the day. By protecting the town from the rats who were eating the harvest.

There are statues of cats all around the village. Can you see one?

On Sunday there was a market on the streets of the village. Mainly flowering plants but also baskets, hats, jewellery and food. The place was hopping so much so the camping car parking was full of cars. It’s a surprising thing, coming from Ireland, that the French reserve parking places for camping cars just like they keep parking spots for disabled drivers. We can’t really blame them if they park in our spot on a busy market day.

Shopping bags at the market

We were just driving away when we saw a space outside a business on the edge of town. Well this is perfect because in France most businesses take Sunday off so we would not be in the way. And we headed back to this beautiful village, once more feeling very grateful to the French for the choices they make that end up taking care of us. Merci, France.

Spiral staircase to the top of the church tower