I recently joined three friends for a long weekend in Provence. One person wanted to visit the antiques market at L’Île-sur-la-Sorgue, and that was the seed of a lovely four days in one of my favorite regions of France.
Day 1 : Arles
We set off in two cars, because Maryse and Claude would be continuing on to Grasse, while Monique and I were returning to Bize. I won the coin toss to be the driver, so Monique became my co-pilote.
Maryse had found a lovely chambres-d’hôtes at a farm not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and that was our base for the weekend’s activities. As the time approached, Claude suggested that we leave early on the first day, in order to spend most of the day in Arles before going to our farm.
Day 2 : Saint-Rémy
Day 3 : L’Île-sur-la-Sorgue
Day 4 : Carrières de Lumières
A head-scratcher of a road sign Wait, what? To give this road sign some context, it’s on a busy road with two lanes in each direction. The speed limit—completely ignored—is around 30 mph/50 kmh. Cars are coming up a slight hill, so the unaware driver can’t see what’s ahead. The first warning is this sign, which a driver has about 1/3 of a second to see and digest, and then … there’s the mess shown in the diagram. The arrow with a diagonal to the right? That’s a hard right onto a narrow bridge. And the place where you stop if you plan to continue straight is in the middle of the intersection, so cars are moving on all sides around you.
Parting thought: American Thanksgiving The American holiday of Thanksgiving falls on November 25. For me, this is a time to reflect on all that I have to be grateful for. There is much. This is a wondrous world we live in, full of beauty and mystery. Life itself is abundant with joy, humor, warmth, and yes, occasional challenges. Rising above all else, though, are the people. It is people and community and the love they create that is the single greatest thing in life. Thank you for being present in this world, for being who you are, and for being part of my life. I give thanks that you are here.
Thanks to all of you who have been following along on my road trip through a lovely part of France. I had planned to make a couple of stops on my way home today, but when the tires began to roll on asphalt, I decided that I had done enough for this adventure. I’ll save those stops for another trip, another day.
This was another day where I didn’t make a lot of photographs. I’ll tell you why and show you a few photos from today, and then the rest of the post will include photos from the previous week that didn’t already make it into the blog. It’s a grab-bag of imagery—have fun!
This is my last night on the road; tomorrow I’ll set my course for home. Depending on the weather and my inclinations in the moment, I may take a detour along the way to see a couple of towns I found on the map. I’ll do one more post tomorrow to summarize the trip and sign off from the adventure of daily posting.
Today was a day that had its own to-do list, the last day to see things in this area before I head home. I returned to the cute village of Recoules-d’Aubrac, in the hope of getting into that 12th century church, but still no luck.
Next up was a visit to the atelier (studio) of a potter whose work I’d spotted last week. I called her to see if I could meet her in her studio, and today was the day. I quite like her work, and bought a few things from her, while playing peek-a-boo with her 17-month-old daughter.
I enjoyed a delightful lunch in Laguiole at a place named Le Bardière, which has a fresh, inventive, delicious menu and a friendly staff. After that, I’d planned to visit a shop a few doors away, named 12 Whisky, a local distillery. Alas, they were closed, so it goes onto the list for the next time I’m in the area.
I stopped into a shop called Les Buronniers (the fellows I mentioned yesterday, who used to live all summer in a stone buron in the mountains), with the plan of buying some cheese to take home. But the clerk told me that since I don’t have a proper cooler for the car, she thought it would be better for me to return tomorrow when I leave. So, that’s now first on the list for tomorrow morning.
I stopped to fill up on gas, and then took a meandering route back to my lodging in Aubrac, turning down more of those tiny, twisty country roads. Puffy white clouds skittered across the blue sky, sending their own shadows dancing over the rocky land. I saw more cows, and more of the raptors that seem to follow the cows; there are definitely peregrine falcons, and there’s another, larger bird (vulture?). It really is lovely here.
And now for a few new photos from the past week.
Parting shot I’d stopped for gasoline on my way out of Laguiole today, finding a station next to a grocery store. While I was pumping gas, I noticed a car pull up to what at first glance had looked like a bus stop (I really wasn’t paying much attention). When I’d finished and paid, I turned to look and realized that the bus stop is actually a drive-up laundromat. I’ve never seen anything like this, but I think it’s a brilliant idea!
Today’s forecast virtually guaranteed rain, so I hopped in the car to explore some of the tiny roads in the region—one of my favorite ways to see a new area. My plan was to see as much as I could before the skies opened up, but they never did. It was another full day.
I began by taking a turnoff from the larger road between Nasbinals and Laguiole, and found myself almost immediately in terrain that was even rockier than what I saw yesterday. I turned up a narrow track toward a place called Recoules d’Aubrac.
Recoules is an immaculate and lovely stone village/hamlet that boasts a big claim to fame: it was founded by the Knights Templar. I wanted to visit the Templar church, but it was closed (I’ll see if I can get in before I leave the region). But even without the church, it’s a lovely place to have a stroll.
I’ve been talking to you about lauzes, the thick, flat stones that are used for roofing around here. I finally found a place where I could photograph it for you, so you can see what I’m talking about.
Like all the other settlements in the area, nearly all the buildings are made of stone. Here are two from the village of Recoules-d’Aubrac.
As you walk or drive through this area, you begin to notice large stone huts in the hills. These are burons, and they represent a way of life that has all but disappeared. In the summer, men would move the cattle into the hills (this is called transhumance); the buron was a home base. The structure was built into the hillside, to take advantage of the cooler temperatures provided by the earth. The buron provided a simple home for the men working with these animals, as well as the work space for producing and storing the cheese. These men were called buronniers.
This is the ancient method of production of Cantal and Laguiole cheese. Laguiole cheese dates to the 12th century, and its younger form (tome fraîche) is what is used to make the local dish called aligot (cheese and potatoes, a perfect combination).
Today, many of the burons are abandoned, and others have become popular restaurants that typically specialize in… yes, aligot! It turns out to be difficult to get a reservation, so I have to save that experience for my next trip to the Aubrac.
I’m spending a few days in the far northeastern corner of the Aveyron, where it meets the Cantal and the Lodève départements. My whole trip has been in cattle country, cows grazing everywhere. I’ve spent much of my life in cattle country, but now I live in goat country, and it really is different. Before I left on this trip, my friend Sue said that Aubrac has beautiful cows, and she’s absolutely right. So, more cow photos coming.
This region is remarkably rocky, and as I drive along the winding roads, I see fields full of rocks of all sizes, many far too large to move without huge equipment. Some of the rocks that are “merely” large have been used to create stone walls. Again there’s something different going on here than where I live: the walls in my home region tend to be drystack walls, but the walls here are much lower and tend to look like someone just dumped the rocks there. I think that’s not actually true, but as I drive past, I find it hard to discern a building technique.
And all those rocks have been used for millennia to build structures in the region, from simple shelters to small houses to castles. This is cattle country, but it’s also rock country.
It was a gorgeous day, one to be outside as much as possible. I took a drive to nearby Laguiole, famous for its cheese and its knives, and made a lot of stops along the way to admire the countryside.
I wanted to have a cheese tasting, but that didn’t quite work out. Maryse had suggested that I try to have a tour of a buron, which is an ancient style of stone structure, usually found in relatively remote areas (not in town); they were used in the production and storage of cheese. Alas, they are no longer used for this, and many of them have been abandoned. Others are now restaurants, where one can go for a meal of aligot, the soul food of this region. I’m still working on finding a slot; so far, everyone I’ve called is all booked up. Dang, I guess I’ll have to come back!
Aligot, by the way, is a dish that is made of silky mashed potatoes, to which either Cantal or Laguiole cheese is added in copious amounts, plus some crème fraîche, to create a smooth, elastic sort of cheese porridge. It’s a trick to dish up, because it forms long ribbons that just keep stretching. It is total soul food, perfect for warmth and comfort on cold winter nights. It’s usually served with grilled sausage.
Another thing to do in Laguiole is to peruse their lovely knives. This area has a long-standing reputation for master knife-making, and there are shops all over town displaying their wares.
Today was a travel day, as I moved from Le Mont Dore in the Puy-de-Dôme region to Aubrac in the Aveyron. I drove through both the Cantal and the Lozère to get here.
Aubrac, as you can see by the red dot, is right at the point where three départements meet: the Cantal, the Lozère and the Aveyron. And keen eyes will note that I’ve come nearly full-circle since the start of the trip in Saint-Geniez-d’Olt.
I didn’t drive directly here, and along the way I found myself on more than one very tiny country road (which I adore), and I also found myself waiting in traffic stops for road construction. Thus, there wasn’t much exploring being done, and there aren’t a lot of photographs.
My first stop was to visit the lovely Viaduc de Garabit, for which Gustav Eiffel was the construction engineer. This bridge came several years before its famous cousin, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. This was not a straightforward construction project, and it involved some top-notch engineering by the Eiffel team.
The resulting span was used regularly until 2009, when an inspection showed some cracks. They were repaired, and the bridge reopened, with a 10-kilometer per hour speed limit.