Category Archives: France

LOLLING AROUND IN THE LOT.

Puy L'Eveque.

Puy L’Eveque.

Following on from my last post I’m in France not Austria, no I didn’t board the wrong plane, this is one of the weeks I spend at my friends’ house in The Lot valley. I’m wandering about in those new boots to ensure they are comfortable and intent on some secret training.  It really is too hot most days to walk far but I’m up and away for a few miles every morning. I enjoyed the local ‘communication tower’ walk more than usual as the tracks had a more rustic feel to them now that the quad bikes have been banned. The herds of deer and ibex were still present in their artificial enclosure and there were lots of illicit plums and hazelnuts to pick.

 

 

 

 

Walked the long way via Tousac and the old railway to the Marie Restaurant in Duravel for their 6 course lunch, 13 euros. needed a lift back. Another morning a long sweaty march through the vineyards to Puy L’Eveque and then up through the chestnut trees to a friend’s house in Martignac. He donated an abundance of tomatoes and courgettes from his small potager which featured in our menus for the week. Traditional markets were visited, several restaurants’ multi course lunches endured and much time was spent in the pool. We prepared lots of salads in the hot weather to try and eat healthier.

Up the road in Loupiac by coincidence my neighbours from home were spending a week and  we visited their luxurious accommodation. Reciprocating they spent a lazy afternoon by our pool. The area is famous for its tannin rich dark red Malbec wines and they had been donated three bottles of the best Domaine des Sangliers ‘Santon Black’, but as they don’t like red wine they generously passed on to us, lovely – all part of the training.

The nearby family Filhol  Chateau Hauterive  provides us with lovely fresh rose and rich red wines. They were also in the middle of plum harvesting and drying to produce the best tasty prunes. The vines were all well pruned and ready for picking in a few weeks time  – they just need a little rain before then.

 

 

 

 

Ten days of blue skies and thirty degrees sun – all things come to an end and Austria beckons.

Oh and bye the way always….

 

 

 

 

 

THAT’S YOUR LOT.

A quick update from France.

The weather patterns have certainly become confused this year. We arrived in The Lot at the tail end of the bad weather which saw flooding in Paris and for the first few days it was cold, wet and miserable. Despite that short walks were achieved every day, lots of weeding in the garden and I even braved a swim most days. The orchids were past their best but sweet peas brightened up the byways. Different, to us, restaurants were visited and old friendships renewed. Lots of dark Cahors wine was imbibed. Talk was of the referendum; even the British living out here are divided.   Due to duplicate shopping trips, we amassed at one stage three dozen croissants – breakfasts became a major event.

JpegJpegThe weather changed to hot and sunny, butterflies appeared in their hundreds, kites and buzzards wheeled over the garden, out came the barbecue, the sun loungers appeared and the pool became the most desirable place to be.

The change in our weather fortunes reminds me of that old comedy song by Al Sherman ‘A letter from camp’  – they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.

 

 

From now on the shade of the woods was needed to make walking in the heat possible.

 

Soon be  home – that’s your Lot.

 

 

 

 

 

France – one more trip to The Lot.

                                “If you have nothing to say, say nothing”    Mark Twain.

No point in telling you of my activities here in The Lot Valley – I’ve said it all before.

Two highlights though –

The most fantastic electric storm one night when the whole of the area was lit for hours by sheet lightening with terrible thunder. 10cms of rain fell.

The next moonless night I slept out in the garden under the most perfect starlit sky and watched the Perseid meteors shooting in. Magic.

The Lot Valley – it’s all about the food.

The French love their food and this area is particularly well endowed with local food markets and restaurants. Duck is often omnipresent on the menus. But starting at breakfast you can enjoy Agen prunes sliced into yoghurt or muesli. That’s after you have visited the local Boulangerie for fresh bread and croissants to savour with your coffee. Lunches eaten outside this hot June have mainly been delicious salads, have to keep the calories down somehow. However the local restaurants all seem to do a fixed price lunchtime menu so we availed ourselves of this on two occasions.

Lets start with the wonderful Cafe/Restaurant de la Mairie in Duravel. I always try to eat here, preferably on a Friday for the fish. This is a no fuss lunch enjoyed by workers, locals and tourists. The mother and daughter team are welcoming and the meal is set, just listen carefully for the choices. First we can pick from the extensive salad buffet [soup’s off in summer] but don’t overdo it as there is lots to come. This time we had tasty merlu with gratin potatoes as the main course. The cheese board arrives next along with more fresh bread. The tarts for desert were all seasonal and delicious. Relax with a strong coffee after all that free wine. Can’t be beaten for 13euro.

Another day we went more upmarket and dined at La Terrasse Restaurant in Grezels [booking essential] A more formal dining area with no workers present, mainly English visitors and favoured French locals – they have there own personal napkins! One man serves the whole room with style and nonchalance, and more style. He knows his customers and has full confidence in what is being served. Meanwhile his wife slaves away in the kitchen. Again a fixed menu with ample wine included. Today we started with a wonderful noodle soup tureen with the freshest of bread. The maitre d’ encourages you to pour wine into your empty soup bowl and slurp it up – Faire Chabrot. [not recommended in your average English restaurant] Next was a goats cheese mille feuille on a tomato salad – superb. The main event was a pork casserole with roast potatoes accompanied by a simple green salad. The cheese board highlighted some of the local goats cheese and a well matured blue. Pudding was an egg meringuey  thing. 18euros this time. What wonderful food perfectly presented to you in a classy dining area.

Going more upmarket again, we ate out one evening at Le Vert, a country house set in lovely surroundings near Mauroux. The weather was perfect for eating out on the terrace. This place also has ‘chambre d’hotes’ and was therefore quite busy. Aperitifs of the local Fenelon [Cahors red wine, nut liqueur and cassis] are served tonight with melon balls. A salmon and salad starter was favourite.  The main course was a choice between duck and merlu, the latter was mine. Served with asparagus, mushroom and tomato it was perfect. The black fruits with meringue completed the banquet which had been enjoyed with a fresh white wine from a local estate. We splashed out at 32 euro a head. [drinks extra!]

Apologies to all those other lovely local restaurants we didn’t visit this holiday, will make amends next time.  Who needs trip adviser?

                                                                       Bon appetit.

 

 

 

Cycling in The Lot Valley.

This is a perfect cycling area – quiet lanes, not  really too many steep gradients, beautiful villages with refreshments and also a  good network of VTT tracks. The tourist information offices have lots of free leaflets and maps – try the ones in Puy L’Eveque and Duravel. There is a particularly good set of routes produced by The Lot tourist board  –  http://www.tourisme-lot.comOver coffee and croissants I pour over the 1 in 25,000 map as I want to explore tracks alongside a large loop in The Lot to the east near Grezels. Choosing an off road bike for practicality I planned quiet lanes over towards the area I was to explore. Memories of cycling through this area on a journey on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela several years ago came flooding back. On that occasion I spent a night in Cahors and cycled alongside The Lot somewhere, tasting the dark red wine of the area for the first time. I remember how the French people heartily welcomed a lone cyclist and how considerate car drivers were as opposed to the UK.

Soon I was on a well signed cycle route through steepish hills amongst the vines and on down towards The Lot. Here I left the road to follow a grassy track alongside the river passing an old mill on a side stream. At a slipway there were plaques showing the heights of ‘recent’ floods, March 1912 appeared the worst.  I’ve seen The Lot in flood and it’s a frightening sight.As I cycled along a green lane by the river I came across the newish tourist passenger boat sailing by,  operating from Puy L’Eveque it seems a fairly tame trip.Much better to hire a canoe from the same people and explore yourself. A little further upstream is one of the canoe launching sites I’ve used in the past below a new wear and lock. I once found it surprisingly hard work getting back to Puy with my young Grandson against a strong headwind, kept getting blown back up the river whenever I stopped paddling for a rest.

The lane left the river through fields of sunflowers which were just coming into bloom. They are a classic summer sight in this region of France.

I pedaled along happily, pleased with my chosen route alongside the river. Even better was my arrival in previously unvisited Pescadoires which turned out to be a delightful hamlet just above the river. In the village square by the 11th century church [with its series of Gargoyles] I had a potted history of the place from a lady out of one of the adjacent houses. She also proudly told me she lived next door to an English family who fly in for short breaks – such is the nature of modern travel. I wonder how many English own houses in the area and how this has affected traditional community life and the prices for the locals. My French wasn’t good enough to delve into those issues.Road cycling took me through Lagardelle as the clock struck 12 – mad dogs and Englishmen….      and on to Grezels. The restaurant La Terrace here had an interesting 18euro lunchtime menu, would return. Again in the village some of the buildings displayed faded old signs from the recent past. These rural places must have been much more vibrant 50years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy with my morning’s cycle I returned home the same way I’d come, this being the soft option rather than a longer loop over steep hills.  Next time!  and in any case I was ready for lunch. The afternoon temperature rose to 34C in the shade, they were harvesting the rapeseed in the adjacent field so the Kites were flying in. As a bonus in the evening we were visited by a deer and her fawn.

 

 

 

 

Long(er) walks in The Lot Valley.

Long is relative, in this heat  20k seems long. These walks take me into a more diverse landscape. Different valleys and ridges are visited from my base without having to use the car. I have several routes which, this fantastic week, have provided top class excursions. A long morning is set aside for exploration and  I’ve returned each time full of admiration for the landscape of the area.

As a good example I leave this morning along easy tracks in the oak forest. Sunday scrambler bikes, much as I shun them, help to keep these ways clear. Very few other people use them. Over a ridge little paths brush through aromatic lavender. This is a splendid spot for a breather and a chance to admire the varied butterflies and watch the buzzards wheeling overhead. I’ve given up trying to get decent photos of either.

Down  into a secluded valley of scattered houses  threaded with quiet lanes [ideal for cycling – see later post] and I’m soon into the little village of Touzac. The cafe is closed today but there is a welcome water tap, as there is in all the hamlets passed today. It’s good to reach the River Lot itself, a grand stretch of water, which here is crossed by an impressive metal bridge.

A scheme is well under way to restore navigation to this once important river by installing a series of locks thus providing for boat trips as a tourist attraction.

There is a gradual climb up a wooded valley and on past hillsides of tidy vineyards.At the top there is a stone cross as this part of the trail is on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, hence the Scallop Shell the symbol of the route.Worth visiting just a short distance off the track is the pretty village of Cavagnac centered round the church.

As you leave the village steeply downhill there are views towards the valley of La Theze and the next village to be visited, ancient Saint-Matin-le-Redon. The cliffs on the right, Montcabrier, have given me good days climbing in the past. The cafe in the village has closed long ago. I love these traditional, but now fading, signs on cafes and shops so evocative of France.

A long ascent over yet another ridge on good paths is made bearable by the shade of the Chestnut trees.

Lanes lead into Duravel giving views across the valley to Vire, numerous family vineyards and the wooded ridges behind with the prominent water tower visible. Duravel has pleasant stone houses and narrow alleys surround the medieval church and is worth exploring. Time for a refreshing drink in the Cafe de la Mairie. It is difficult to find off road walking back to the bridge over The Lot at Vire-sur-Lot and the road is long and hot – better to phone for a friendly pick up.

View over The Lot Valley from Duravel.

View over The Lot Valley from Duravel.

Short walks in The Lot Valley.

All short walks lead to home.  In this heat days drift into one and so do the walks. There are many short circuits from the house. To fit in with gardening, cooking and lounging I can do some before breakfast, some before supper and at this time of year in the late evenings. The bird life is best early but the light is magic in the evenings.

Usually I’m heading up into the woods, which here are mainly dense oak. In the mornings you hear but hardly ever see deer scuttling away. There are few flowers on the forest floor, Scabious and Red Hellibore are probably the commonest.

Wild boar have been especially busy grubbing up the ground this year. They come right down into the garden at night.

Most orchids have died back but in a meadow of poor soil I come across a few Lizard Orchids which I haven’t seen before.

Where forest tracks join roads waste tipping often seems to be a problem – same as in England unfortunately.

Views can be limited until one is on the ridges clear of the trees but then distant vistas open with scant habitations. Lovely old farmsteads, many now holiday homes, dot the valleys and hillsides. Pigeon towers are often a feature, typical of the area, giving both food and fertilizer in the past. Today deep in the woods in a secluded valley I came across an old well, complete with bucket on a cord, I wonder when it was last used? There are ruins hereabouts.

A word of warning – these woods are home to ticks. Tucked in trousers have become de rigueur, trez chic.