Monday, Hilltop Villages. Today’s weather was forecast to be worse than ever, and indeed so it turned out to be. At no time did the temperature rise above 9°C/48°F, and with the wind chill factor added, I was absolutely frozen at times, and wished I had gloves with me. A complete relook at plans was necessary, and I decided to drive to the fairly large town of Montauban, about an hour away, as there was a substantial Ingres museum there to occupy me. I had gone about halfway when I realised it was Monday, so thought I’d better check that it would be open, as so much in France is closed on the first working day of the week. It took me a while to obtain a signal, but in due course I was so glad that I had checked. The museum was indeed closed, but not (only) because it was Monday. It was undergoing substantial renovation! At this I really could think of no alternative but to set off on the trip round the hilltop villages and countryside that I had imagined would in fact, in decent weather, occupy me for the two full days I had in the area.
The first village was Puycelsi, and I drove up and up and up and up the wind-y road until I reached the main square, where I was delighted to find an open café. There was no-one of course sitting on the extensive terrace, but there were two pairs of apparent tourists inside.
I spun out my coffee as long as I could, then ventured outside to explore. Magnificent views on two sides. Being so high up though, this corner took the full force of the wind. I did my best to take photos and this video, my camera in one hand and my umbrella in the other.
At this point the wind broke two spokes of my brolly. I continued walking round the village, somewhat more sheltered from the wind, and the rain ceased for a while. My hands were still bitterly cold.
I drove on
to Bruniquel of which I had very pretty memories from 1990. By now it was nearly lunchtime, so I looked out for either something to buy or somewhere to eat. Everything shut – it was Monday, as I explained to some Canadian (?) tourists who approached me to ask firstly if I spoke English and then if I had seen an open restaurant. I walked up to one of the two castles. Given the age of each, I was not sure whether this was the old one or the new one, but I took a few more photos up there.
As I recall I didn’t actually have my umbrella up at all in this village, and the wind was a little quieter.
The next stop was Montricoux, where I was happy to find a bar, serving meals, and open. I only wanted a soup and a coffee. They were happy to serve this to me, but the computerised till was stumped in due course. The soup was just the first course of their set menu, and there was no icon to press for that alone. So the proprietor decided to charge me as if I had had a portion of chips (frites/French fries)! I wandered round the town for a while, until it started raining again.
I then drove on to St-Antonin-Noble-Val, a fascinating place, via the beautiful Aveyron valley and its gorges. When I eventually found parking, I saw from my satnav that the interesting old town was pedestrianised, and a five- to ten-minute walk away. I didn’t get out of my car. A further long drive followed, and I was delighted that the satnav took me off the main roads and by some fields of wildflowers, and between rain showers. Sadly, I don’t think these photos do justice their prettiness.As I was gasping by now for a drink, I just parked in the centre of Cordes, and went to the nearest salon de thé for a lemon tea. As I am trying Toulouse weight (sorry) I resisted, as I did throughout the trip, all the wonderful pastries on offer. I also resisted wandering round the town, (although I remembered it was very pretty), because of the rain. In 1990 we had seen on a poster the name of its local choir: Cordes Vocale.
The final part of my circular drive, back to my lodgings, took me through mile after mile after mile of vineyards on rolling hills (Gaillac is the local wine). I was very frustrated that I could not stop to take any photos of these, but I was on main roads in the rush hour. There was just too much traffic for me to stop, and any laybys were in the wrong place for photos.
The day finished with another lovely meal prepared by my host, who by now had learned not to pile the new potatoes from his garden too high. I was in bed by 8.30, so cold was I (despite the additional heating provided) until 8.30 the following morning.