Saturday, April 7, 2012

April in Aquitaine

04/05, Thursday
A glorious first day in France. Beautiful sunny day which we started by a leisurely breakfast on our balcony. Very peaceful watching the slow moving Lot River.

Madeleine and John are spoiling us with a well stocked refrigerator and such a comfortable apartment.

Late morning we go with Madeleine and John to their local outdoor market. We pick up lots of goodies for lunch and many others that looked too good to pass up. Wandered around and met many of the vendors that they know. Great having Madeleine explain foods and preparations, since so many are really foreign to us.

We meet up again at 4:30 for tea and wonderful pastries. Then we walk into Fumel to get a French SIM card for our phone. We take a long walk by a park and then down to the river along an old train trail into several villages. We end at the oldest church in Aquitaine. It is 1,000 years old in the village of Cotrol.

They have a couple bikes that we plan to use on the path along the river to explore further villages. The Lot River meanders through many towns.

It is still light when we return at 8:30, so we sit on the balcony and have some wine, cheese and French bread. No need for any more eating !

04/06, Friday, Good Friday
It's a late start for travels today. John & Madeleine have loaned us their car for a day trip (while they prepare for a dinner party tonight). Our first stop is Cahors about an hour away. The drive along the Lot River headed east through small river towns is captivating. The river, the cliffs next to it, the towns are picture perfect.

Cahors is a big town (21,000 people) and is the prefecture (government seat) of the Lot Region. The Lot River forms a horseshoe bend around the town with many bridges. The most notable is Pont Valentre with three towers. The Tourist Information Center is very helpful with brochures. Its a pretty town with lots of spring flowers blooming. We enjoy ambling through town and walking along the river to see the bridges. Cahor has over 30 small secret gardens throughout the town and we seek out several. One is in the courtyard of the Cathedral. Courtyards are peaceful places and I can see why the monks always had them.

We proceed on to Pech Merle, an ancient cave with drawings from the Paleolithic Era. It's at the top of a good-sized hill where in 1922 two boys found an opening to explore. Unlike most caves where you see giant, colorful stalagmites and stalactites, this cave has several remarkable images of horses, bison, mountain goats, and human beings. Also, the footprints of Cro-Magnon man. These relics are 20,000 years old! Unfortunately, photos are not allowed. The cave itself is estimated to be 500,000 years old.

St. Cirq Lapopie is our final point in today's exploring. It is a medieval village perched on a cliff way above the river. Quite a setting and they have kept it's heritage and charm intact. In medieval times many people settled here to take advantage of the protection the site offered. They were able to export their goods from the river port and became quite wealthy. That is why the village has outstanding houses and architecture.

Then the onset of the railway took away the river trade and people left. The village was rediscovered in the 20th century and restoration brought it to today's beauty. We walked up to some fortress ruins, and the panoramic view was truly one of the best we have seen to date. We enjoyed crepes while sitting outside and then when restaurants opened we had cassolet. It was good, but not on par with Matt's. I'm spoiled with his that he makes for my birthday.

We are just discovering how many wonderful sites that the Midi-Pyrenees has to offer. Lots to see!

The return drive home is almost 1-1/2 hours, dark for half the time. It's a bit stressful not knowing the roads which have plenty of curves.

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