Today marks the midpoint of my road trip, and it was a day unlike the others of the past week. I woke up a little tired and groggy, which I chalked up to the weather: continued rain, clouds down to the street, the barometer even lower. Grey, grey, grey.
One necessary chore was to find a laundromat. I could easily hand wash a few things, but they’d take a week to dry in this weather. After a couple of false starts, I got that chore taken care of, along with a visit to the Mont Dore visitors center. I scrounged up some lunch, had a nap, and then got myself out the door again for a return trip to Orceval. I’d noticed yesterday that they would be offering a guided tour today, and that sounded like a good idea.
This is a long way of saying that I don’t have a full day’s worth of photographs and stories to sort through for this blog post. Instead, I decided to look through the past week’s haul, and I chose at least one previously-unpublished photo for each day, including one for today. I grouped them by subject more than by time.
This weekend is Heritage Days in Europe (Journées du Patrimoine in French), when an astounding list of places are either open when they usually are not, or are free of charge, or include guided tours. It’s a great time to visit Europe, because it’s a time to see things you otherwise might not be able to visit.
The Château de Val is generally open, so I don’t think much was different. But the Patrimoine people were there, handing out all kinds of information, and the local fishermen were doing some kind of event on the lake.
There’s a myth that Dieudonné d’Estaing saved the life of the French king, Philippe Auguste, in the Holy Land in 1214. In return, the king gave him land and some extensive rights. That story has been disproved, but it’s still a pretty good story. Meanwhile, the castle we see today was probably begun in the 13th century, and then heavily modified in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
And while what we see today is a picturesque fairy-tale setting on a lake, there was no lake when the arrows were flying here. Shortly after World War II, the French electrical giant, EDF, pushed out the last owners of the castle, the d’Arcy family, in order to build a dam and flood the valley. The castle was to be fully submerged. After a protracted battle with the d’Arcy family, EDF backed down and agreed to a lower water level in order to preserve the castle, but the family had already left, taking all of their furniture with them (including nearly everything original to the castle’s construction).
In 1953, EDF sold the castle for one French franc, to the nearby town of Bort-les-Orgues, which continues to maintain the castle.
From the castle, we drove up to les Orgues de Bort, just outside the town of Bort-des-Orgues. The French “les Orgues” refers to a rock formation that has the vertical look of the pipes on a pipe organ. The rock cliffs themselves were lovely, although not out of this world. However, the setting is quite wonderful: perched on what feels like the edge of the world, there is a little café with tables and chairs, and a view that spans 180 degrees, from Puy-de-Dôme and its volcanic mountains to the northeast, then south into the valleys of the Dordogne River, to the mountains of the Cantal, and finally to the hills of the northern part of the Aveyron. It’s a pretty darn sensational place to sit and gaze, maybe sip on a beer, chat with friends, breathe… and be happy that it’s not raining on this particular day!
After our refreshing lunch break, we drove different directions for the remainder of the afternoon. I had a few tasks on my plate, including finding a gas station, and I really wanted a break. Back in our chambres-d’hôtes (bed and breakfast), I got started re-packing my stuff, took a nap, and generally didn’t do much before dinner. Tomorrow we’re parting ways, as Maryse and Claude will head southwest, to visit friends, and I’ll be turning my car toward volcano country in Puy-de-Dôme.
Note: I apologize for this arriving late: it was almost ready to post when the WiFi failed, and stayed down for quite a long time.
I was supposed to join a group of friends in Ireland, but that tour has been postponed. In the meantime, I decided to take a road trip to a region I’ve long wanted to visit, the Aveyron.
The first part of the trip will be with friends Maryse and Claude, and we will set out early on Tuesday morning. After a few days together, we’ll split up and go our separate ways. With the blog, I thought I’d try something a little different for this trip, and do a short post every day. Be sure to keep checking in and follow along!
To help you get a sense of where I live and where I’ll be traveling, I’ve made this map of France.
See you tomorrow, from Saint-Gêniez-d’Olt in Aveyron.
I spent the Covid lockdown of late winter and spring 2020 in the rural South of France, in a region that had few cases and very few deaths. Ours was one of the first regions to be declared “green,” which meant that we got to ease out of the restrictions a little more quickly than other parts of France that were labelled orange or red.
As the confinement came to a close in mid-May, my friend Olivier suggested that this summer might be a good time to visit Paris. In my mind, Paris is always a good idea (thank you, Audrey Hepburn!), but I really waffled about whether to make this trip. Traveling from a region with low numbers for the disease into a red-zone city that saw a high number of cases and deaths was enough of a risk to give me pause. Eventually I decided to go, mainly to see what Paris would look like without the crowds. Today’s post is a little journal of my visit to the City of Light.
Checking out the bottling truck
A friend and I recently visited a local vineyard that we quite like, and while there, we learned that the bottling truck would arrive a few days later. I’ve been intrigued by these trucks since I first landed in the South of France, and had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph one in action.
Annabelle, our host, was very welcoming of the idea, giving me a big smile and opening her arms to say that I would be welcome to watch, learn and take a few photographs.
Gasp! You mean the wines aren’t tenderly bottled by hand at each winery?
Some wineries still do their own bottling, but it’s an expensive, time-consuming and error-prone process. Here’s a list of the necessary steps: clean and dry the bottles, fill with wine, cork and cap, add labels, place bottles in cartons. Each step requires its own machine and/or operator. The equipment is precise, it needs to be maintained, and it can break down during bottling. There is also the complication that different wine varietals require different bottles, along with their own unique labels. If someone inexperienced is operating the machine for corking the wine or for placing the labels, things can go wrong, which means that while the wine inside might be perfectly fine, the bottle doesn’t look good enough to sell, so it’s set aside, and if that happens too often, there’s a problem with profits. Of course, the entire process must be done under strict hygiene restrictions. It all adds up to a nightmare of organization that many vintners are happy to hand off to the experts.
All things pink and red
Cupid’s arrows are zinging around with extra vigor because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. To help you get into the mood—just in case you’ve missed all the advertising in shops and in every possible variety of media—I bring you a selection of my photographs, paying special attention to pink this year.