On Tuesday we left La Flèche on the long drive to the department of Normandy and Saint Mère Èglise. The long drive was made longer by traffic diversions due to a new road or a bridge or something. Suffice to say our sat nav was at a loss to take us anywhere except narrow roads.
Very lovely narrow roads with lots of wheat and barley growing in the fields either side. With tractors working in those fields. And sometimes a line of grass growing in the middle of the narrow road.
A road with grass growing down the middle is my definition of a road that is too narrow for Ruby but it is also a road that doesn’t get much traffic. Just as well because by the time we realised we were on said grassy road there were no options for turning back.
We were very lucky, it was lunchtime and as we have found out the French are very strict regarding the time of meals and we met no one. Did not prevent my nervous system going on full alert as we approached every corner.
I do wonder if I’ll ever completely get rid of the anxiety. But do I want to get rid of it? In the moment it seems the most sane thing to be anxious about moving faster than walking speed down a – lets call it what it is – a farmers laneway when at any moment another vehicle could be travelling as fast or faster towards us. Surely, anxiety is the sanest response? Right?
And yet, when I apply logic to my challenge, I do realise the danger from my habit of repeated self-dosing with adrenaline is probably more dangerous to me than the possibility of meeting a car on a country lane.
And now here I am packing a bag for our night on the ferry. The road to the ferry is wide. What could I possibility be anxious about? The forecast. The forecast says there will be wind, in fact it’s already been blowing all day yesterday and again today.
This would be a good time for me to download a book that cures anxiety automatically and without having to read it as I won’t be able to read if the ship is pitching…
As I write we are in the lovely little town of Saint Mere Eglise, Normandy. And would you believe they are having D-Day celebrations. The town is hopping with American soldiers (who will be dropping out of the sky in parachutes in the next few days.) We’ve never been here at this time of year and didn’t realise it was such a big occasion.
After our Friday night in the cave houses town of Turquant we left the Loire valley and drove to the Loir – no that’s not a typo – there really is a different river with almost the same name as the longest river in France with all the chateaux. We stayed in the campsite in the town of La Flèche where there’s a bridge over the smaller river, the Loir.
The weather was hot with blue skies for two days and then hot with a lovely breeze for the third day. I was chasing shade around the motorhome but showering helped and the bugs were still not biting. Yaa! (By the way, thank you for all your suggestions re the mosquitoes, next time I will be well equipped. Also, that was a joke about not showering… just in case you were wondering)
It was a holiday weekend in La Flèche (and the Uk and the USA) and that always makes it a little more tricky to line up nourishment options. This is due to the further tightening of the already tight time range of opening times for shops, restaurants and supermarkets.
But we have been adding to our Information about France basket and were able to supplement the enduring dried porridge with other possibilities. Plus there was a surprise – the baker had a spot at the campsite from 8am to 9am on Sunday morning! Again we have managed not to starve. Do I talk about food too much?
On Friday we also visited Richelieu on our way north. You may have heard of Cardinal Richelieu? From the Three Musketeers? He was also a real Cardinal and at the same time a politician. It all seems to have been a bit more complicated back then or maybe it was simple economics. In a nutshell his mother needed one of her sons to become a bishop. There was money promised to her husband from the king but it was in the church budget so she needed a bishop in the family to get at it.
Richelieu’s older brother was already a priest but he was not keen on the plan and he became a monk instead. The younger Richelieu was keen and agreed to become a bishop for his mother. He studied what he needed to study and became a priest and then a bishop in 1607. The money was now safe.
Sometime in the 1630’s the Cardinal bought land (near his original home) where the town now stands and had the architect, who designed the Sorbonne, design a walled town on a grid.
You might remember the town of Monpazier was also on a grid? But while Monpazier is beautiful Richelieu is tidy and neat. Kinda like it’s pretending to be old. Of course it is old but not old-old. (Have I become an old snob now?) There’s also a park and there was a big chateau but it’s gone. Oh and the bishop built a smaller chateau a few kilometers outside the town, for his mistress… as you do.
It was a hot day and we went in search of ice creams but it was not to be. The ice cream signs outside the cafe were just for decoration, not to be taken too seriously.
We travelled on until we found motorhome parking for the night on the banks of the Loire in a village called Turquant. The village is built into caves of Tufa stone. There are miles of tunnels in the caves and it’s possible to take a tour of the homes. We were still in travel mode so left early the next morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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?
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
And ordinary is surprisingly good. Theses villages are not perfect, they are just beautiful. Isn’t that enough, though?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.