The Length of France

May 4, 2012 by

The ferry sailed on a Wednesday evening from Rosslare.  We crossed a pond (literally) arriving on a Thursday evening in lovely sunshine in Cherbourg and hit the road quickly for the start of a long drive to the south.

Chartres Cathedral

The year before we had stayed in Alençon so decided to stay there again. Next day we drove through three cathedral cities Chartres, Orléans and Bourges, making time for a quick visit to each magnificent cathedral. We stopped in Chartres long enough for lunch after a walk around the cathedral. It was memorable in that we did not want the “plat du Jour” so asked for an omelette (on the menu).  Waiter told us we would have to wait 20-30 minutes for it…..and we did.  Talk about customer service. 

Orléans
The Cathedral at Orléans
After lunch it was on to Orléans. It is a magnificent city and statues of Jeanne d’Arc are everywhere.  Apparently it is the 600th anniversary of her birth and lots of celebrations are planned.  We had a walk about and then a coffee in a big square underneath her statue. Then into the cathedral.  I had recently read Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth which gives an insight into the difficulties they experienced building these monumental structures with the limited resources they had at the time.  Cathedrals are fascinating to me and a real tribute to the men who slaved over so many years to build them.  I love to wander about inside and try to visualise how they lived at the time and what their lives were like.  Orléans is a beautiful city and one I would like to visit again and spend a day or two in.
Bourges Cathedral at dusk

That night we stayed in Bourges. We found a little restaurant and had a fabulous meal and great wine.  We stayed in the same hotel my son had stayed in on his way back to Ireland last November.  It was central, luxurious and the staff were really friendly and most importantly spoke to us in French.

Approach to the Millau Viaduct

 Then the final leg – the longest part to Pezenas, the lovely old medieval city deep in the heart of the Languedoc over the stunning Millau Bridge (the tallest in the world) passing through the  Massif Central en route.  We drove through miles and miles of agricultural land with acres of rape seed in full bloom. From fruit in the north to gradually vineyards in the south.  When we eventually got to the south the vines hadn’t even fully leafed up. 

Clamouse

It was a tiring but very enjoyable few days. Saturday night was spent catching up with old friends and a very boozy meal. The next day Sunday, we were very hungover and everything was pretty much shut.  We went for lunch in a really lovely crêperie and then we spent a pleasant few hours in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert stopping off for a tour of the caves at Clamouse.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

On Monday we went for a drive in the Montagnes Noire where the already low temperature of 10 degrees plummeted to 1.5 and the ice warning came on in the car.  Other cars coming down out of the mountains had snow on the roofs.  The scenery was stunning but it was way too cold and miserable to get out of the car to take photos.  We had lunch in Neffies in L’Escampette, a stunning meal and the best of the trip, cooked for us by a friend of my son who had just moved back to France having worked in Ballyfin, Co. Laois under Fred Cordonnier.

Canal du Midi at Narbonne
View from Béziers Cathedral

 Tuesday we drove to Narbonne for lunch and had a walk along the Canal du Midi looking at all the boats and barges moored alongside.  Then onto Béziers to yet another magnificent cathedral and views out over the whole of the Languedoc to the Pyrenees. On Wednesday it was back home flying from Carcassonne.  Sad to leave France once again and my son but looking forward to the next road trip.

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