Monday, June 28, 2021

A lucky escape in the Lot

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
On the banks of the Lot


Feeling Lucky in the Lot

It has now been two weeks since we returned from our five-night break in the Lot, where, if you read on, you’ll discover I was lucky not to break any bones. The last fortnight seems to have passed in a flurry of storms, rain and household chores, with the lack of sunshine seriously affecting my energy levels. It is just as well we were able to squeeze in two holidays, almost back to back, as with less than a week until I start work, I’m beginning to feel cheated out of a proper summer. 


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
The interior of the quirky cottage in St Vincent Rive d'Olt


Within a week of returning home from the Corréze, the car was packed once more, creaking under the weight of food and cycling gear as we headed south towards Angouleme and Bergerac, and then on to the Lot. It is unusual for us to return to the same location for a holiday but having enjoyed everything from the accommodation to the cycling last October, we were keen to see how the landscape would look in its spring greens, under sunny skies, rather than in its autumn golds. 

 

The day before we left, I was up at six o’clock and had ticked off six things on my to-do list before the eight o’clock morning angelus had rung. The day then ended with a thirty-three-kilometre apéro-picnic bike ride with friends and an evening yoga class. Knowing the effort Adrian had put into the route planning for the week, I hoped I wouldn’t be too tired to keep up.

 

I could quite easily have snoozed in the car on the journey down and my sleepy brain managed to text the owner of the holiday home saying we’d arrived (nous sommes arrivés) rather than we will be arriving (nous arriverons) at 16h45. It was only her reply of j’arrive tout de suite (I’ll be there soon) that I realised my error. At least she laughed at my grammatical mess-up and didn’t mind the wait.



French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
A view over the Lot and the vineyards

 

Once we’d moved in and unpacked, we set off on our prologue ride; a sixteen-kilometre loop that started straight up a serious hill. Adrian had wanted to do this ride when we were here in October, but I wasn’t so keen. For just over a kilometre, it was quite a climb, but the view down to an almost full circle loop in the River Lot, with vineyards tucked into the flat, and steep forested hills off to the distance, was stunning. We agreed we’d be back with the coffee pot and croissants for breakfast in the morning.

 

We first started cycling a holiday prologue route a year ago when we arrived at Lou Messugo in the south of France and set out to explore the gorges of the Loup river. After a day in the car, it left me with a huge grin on my face and ready to get out on adventures the following morning. Today was the same feeling. It woke me up, warmed up my legs and gave my senses a real taste of what is to come. It also confirmed we were right to come back here as there is so much more for us to see and explore on the bikes.


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
The view from breakfast

We'd promised ourselves breakfast with a view and it didn’t disappoint. The climb back up to the viewpoint didn’t take too long and once we were sat on our rock, watching the morning sun on the vineyards, it took even less time to brew a coffee and warm up the pain aux chocolats. It was the perfect start to a seventy-five-kilometre day ahead.


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Lunch in Floressas

We left Luzech and began a steady climb through oak woods and vineyards, with nothing more than a woodpecker to disturb the peace and every ascent was rewarded with a fast descent, where the view changed once more. We lunched in Floressas, a village at the top of our third climb, on a bench by the church, in the shade of a red sycamore tree. It was the perfect location as we also found a tap to top up the water bottles. The climbs were long enough to challenge without ever being too difficult and I certainly felt I’d earned my fish pasta salad and piece of flapjack. 

 


French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
The vineyards along the Véloroute Vallée du Lot


We then descended back down to the River Lot and picked up the Véloroute Vallée du Lot cycle path. This snaked through vineyards following the meandering Lot and was easy on the legs as it’s fast and flat. With the river, the vineyards and the scenery, it’s easy on the eye too, but we both agreed we’d preferred the challenging undulations of the morning route. We were treated to the sight of two young deer in the vineyards, one who was happy to stand still and watch us arrive and get the camera out. However, as soon as Adrian focussed it, he twitched his ears, turned and ran for cover. I smelt my first tillou tree blossom and saw my first flowering hollyhocks too. It was another superb day on the bikes, although our route barée call my bluff game didn’t work out so well today. The tiny old suspension bridge crossing the mighty Lot at Albas was closed for painting. We asked if we could walk the bikes over, but they had resurfaced the road and this time closed, meant closed, leaving us no option but to return to Luzech on the main road. The day ended on a high though, as a quick tour of the Luzech loop took us through the vineyards we’d looked down on at breakfast this morning.


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
St Vincent Rive d'Olt

We left the pretty village of St Vincent Rive d’Olt early on day two, and made our way through the vineyards to St Géry, the other side of Cahors. The morning sun appeared to make the fresh green vine leaves sparkle and it looked like we were set for another hot, sunny day.

 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
St Cirq-Lapopie

We crossed the Lot and climbed up to St Cirq-Lapopie, and the rocky banks at the side of the road were covered in wildflowers in whites, pinks and purples, alive with butterflies in almost as many colours. Once again, we viewed the pretty village of St Cirq-Lapopie from afar, as steep, narrow, cobbled paths, whilst wearing metal-cleated cycling shoes and pushing a bike was asking for trouble. The views we saw may have been the same as last October, but the colours couldn’t have been more different. 

 

Making our way from the Lot department to the Aveyron, we climbed, we descended, and we crossed the river on narrow metal suspension bridges as we cycled from village to village. There were more people out and about than last October, but it was still quiet and peaceful and on one climb I was joined by a cornflower blue butterfly who circled the bike frame and kept pace with me until we reached the top. 


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
A drinking water fountain in the heat of the day

In the Aveyron the house style changed, with stone tiles hanging low on square roofs. The temperature climbed to over thirty degrees, so we made good use of the drinking water points we found, although it felt blissfully cool on the roads sandwiched between rock and river. We also indulged in two afternoon patisseries, a flan each as we returned through Cajarc and then a lemon meringue tarte for Adrian and a Jesuite for me (an almond and crème patissière filled flaky pastry triangle), just a few kilometres from the carpark in St Géry. After a day of ninety-eight kilometres, at an average speed of 20km/hr, I think we deserved it.

 

 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Sunset over the Lot


We finished the day with a celebratory wine at sunset, from the viewpoint above the village, just to ensure we completed a full 100km day. It had been cloudy down in the village, but as we reached the top of the hill the sun was a magnificent glowing ball, sitting just above the hills on the other side of the river that we’d cycled over yesterday. Our timing was perfect as it seemed to have been waiting for us to arrive before gracefully sinking behind the hill. It was a dramatic end to great day; my first 2021 100km-in-a-day.

 

Unusually for us we didn’t set an alarm and equally unusually, we didn’t wake up until gone eight thirty the following morning. I guess after yesterday’s epic day in the saddle, we needed the rest. Our local loop today started off with coffee and a croissant on a bar terrace in Luzech. Service was painfully slow, but the coffee was good and it was a great location for people-watching, including seeing quite a few fully loaded touring cyclists, off on big long-distance adventures, I’m sure.

 

Our ride today turned out to be quite an adventure and at seventy-four-kilometres, taking us out of the Lot and into the departments of Lot et Garonne and Tarn et Garonne, wasn’t too bad in terms of distance either. 

 


French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Albas

We set off along the other bank of the River Lot, to ensure we got to see Albas, where the bridge was still being painted, as it’s a pretty little village whose narrow streets lead down to the river. We then climbed up into the rocky vineyards, descended down through forests and then climbed back up again. The Garmin route planner thought sending us down rough, stony white tracks would be fun, while we thought sticking to tarmac would be preferable. When we saw signs for Floressas, where we had lunch two days ago, we decided it was worth the climb up to picnic there again. A shady bench and a cold-water tap were too good an opportunity to miss as it was a hot day and sweat was already glistening all over me.


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Off-roading on the Bromptons

If we’d thought the Garmin was having a laugh in the morning, the route in the afternoon was even more bizarre, thanks to my idea to cycle out of the Lot department and into two neighbouring ones. As we left the vineyards behind and headed into the Quercy, where cereal crops and walnut trees took over, the climbing got steeper, the descending more perilous and then we lost roads all together. What started as a stone path, soon became a grass track with overhanging young oak trees that needed careful ducking under. It was a slow crawl, totally off the beaten track, with no signs of life or habitation anywhere around that left me feeling like a real adventurer. At the edge of a field we had nothing but a narrow trail of stones to follow through the long grass, until we found ourselves back on a lane beside some houses.

 

It was a relief to make our way back to the vineyards and rocky valleys of the Lot department and our final climb into Sauzet. We knew from there it was just an eight-kilometre downhill breeze back to St Vincent Rive d’Olt, on what had turned out to be a bonkers day in places, but another excellent ride.



French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Our shady apéro terrace



What happened next was so close to being a disaster, I wish we had we just stayed at the little bistro table on the shady terrace, instead of thinking a quick explore of the riverbank would fill the time between pre-apéros (a chilled drink) and our apéros with nibbles. While Adrian got the bikes out, I picked up my phone and purse, locked the door and headed down the steps where I soon discovered cycling shoes with metal cleats and smooth, stone steps are not a good combination. One minute I was walking, then my feet slid out from underneath me and the next minute I was sitting, having slid down about four steps, mainly using my right elbow and right back ribs as my contact points with the steps. After a moment to gather my composure and have a good feel for aches and pains, miraculously all seemed to be fine. 



French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
The gorgeous stone steps

 

I had no scuff marks to my skin, no rips in my favourite cycling shorts and thanks to the application of the arnica we always travel with, much less bruising than I deserved (although a week later and things were rather colourful in places). We avidly watch all the ambulance and hospital documentaries and know it could have been so much worse; with broken bones, bleeding, or concussion. 


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
A hidden path on the banks of the Lot

My right elbow seemed to take the worst of the impact, but I got on my bike and we set off as planned, following the mill stream and then the river. The road gave way to a cool, shady track through the trees, where the rocks rose sharply to our left, up to our sunset point on the hill. To the right was the curve in the river that we could have followed all the way into Luzech. The thick tree cover was eery and jungle-like, dripping in hairy lichen; the sun barely penetrating through the thick canopy. We explored for a kilometre or so, before retracing our steps and enjoying our apéro nibbles back on the terrace.

 

I slept more comfortably than I thought I would and my elbow and back only felt tender when I lay on them or sat against something hard. I definitely believe in guardian angels, as someone must have gently cushioned my fall and stopped me bouncing all the way to the bottom and doing some real damage.

 


French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Célé gorge road

We parked once again in St Géry and made use of the boulangerie for pastries to have with a coffee at the bar next door, which set us up nicely for the day on the bikes. We began by retracing our steps along the Lot until the Eiffel railway bridge at the confluence of the Célé with the Lot. Here we took the D41 Célé gorge road. 


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Célé gorges

What a hidden gem of a road this was, with hardly any traffic, a very easy, gentle gradient and a nice smooth road surface. We seemed to glide gracefully for kilometre after kilometre enjoying the views of the steep, rocky gorges, canoeists on the river and pretty villages (some on the Compostela pilgrimage route). We lunched in Marcillac sur Célé, on a shady bench by the river where dragonflies dipped, and frogs sang. 


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Espagnac-Sainte-Eulalie

The afternoon gave us houses cut into rocks, herds of cows and the smell of freshly cut hay in the fields at the side of the road. It was so quiet and beautiful that when we got to the village Adrian had planned for us to turn back at, we carried on, only starting our return when we reached the end of the road. A boulangerie stop about ten kilometres from the car sugared us up nicely with a local delicacy of a walnut and raisin briochette.

 

It had been a cloudy start to the day, but the sun came out just before lunch and stayed with us for the rest of the day. We got back to the car having cycled 111km at 22.3km/hr – the furthest I have ever cycled in one day and not a bad effort following my acrobatics last night. It was a superb end to another great holiday and if you are ever in the Lot, by all means climb up to St Cirq Lapopie, but don’t miss the less well known Célé gorge road either.


 

French Village Diaries a lucky escape in the Lot cycling holidays Brompton France
Sunday morning breakfast picnic

Despite it being a Sunday, the alarm went off at 7h and we were up and out, cycling back up the hill for a breakfast overlooking the Lot valley and vineyards. After breakfast, we carried on up the hill and in Sauzet felt a fitting end to a lovely break would be a couple of croissants for another breakfast back at the cottage. It was just what we needed to fuel a busy morning making lunch, packing and cleaning up, before locking the door and leaving at 10h45. Our 17km breakfast run had taken us to a whopping 400km cycled between Tuesday to Sunday and I was feeling very lucky to be alive. 



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Sunday, June 27, 2021

Book review of Midsummer Magic and Miss Moonshine's Emporium

French Village Diaries book review Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium
Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium 


Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium

Are you ready to meet Miss Moonshine? Life may never be the same again…

It’s summer in Haven Bridge and Miss Moonshine is getting ready for a busy season. From the window of her Wonderful Emporium, at the heart of the pretty Yorkshire town, she watches and waits, weaving plans to bring happiness to all who step through her door. For Miss Moonshine is no ordinary shopkeeper. She may not have what you want, but she will always have what you need…

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this anthology of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This magical collection of contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry and wish for a Miss Moonshine in your own life.


 

French Village Diaries book review Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium
A map of Haven Bridge, home to Miss Moonshine's Emporium

My review

This is the third collection of short stories set around Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of wonderful things and if you haven’t yet opened the door and stepped inside, then now is the perfect time. 

 

Waiting to catch your eye are nine short stories, by nine authors, set in different time periods, but with a common theme; making lives better with a bit of Miss Moonshine’s magic. I was over the moon when I found out that despite the year we’ve all endured with the pandemic, these wonderful ladies had been busy putting together another great collection of stories to raise our spirits. A visit to Miss Moonshine’s was just what I needed, and I wasn’t disappointed. From a French perfumer who arrives in the Yorkshire village of Haven Bridge looking for inspiration, to old friends crossing paths once more, to music bringing young people together, and more, every story is carefully crafted to make you smile from the inside out. Miss Moonshine is eccentric, quirky, mysterious and a little bit magic, but she always knows how to make you feel better. 


We all need a bit of Miss Moonshine in our lives every now and then, if only to remind us of the pure joy escaping into a short story can give us.

 

This would be a perfect summer read. It is easy to dip in and out of, with lots of colourful characters to entertain and happy endings that will leave you with that contented feeling that everything will be ok in the end.



French Village Diaries book review Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium
Blog tour Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium 


Purchase Links  



UK  

US  

 

Author Bio  

The nine Miss Moonshine authors – Mary Jayne Baker, Sophie Claire, Jacqui Cooper, Helena Fairfax, Kate Field, Melinda Hammond, Marie Laval, Helen Pollard and Angela Wren – meet up regularly in the little mill town of Hebden Bridge, on the border between the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire – hence their group name, Authors on the Edge. This picturesque town, home to many writers, artists and musicians, was the inspiration for their magical character Miss Moonshine, and their uplifting series of anthologies featuring romance and happy endings.



French Village Diaries book review Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium
Blog tour Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine's Emporium 

 


You can read my review of the first of the Miss Moonshine collections here:

Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings




 










French Village Diaries Reviewing books on a French theme
Reviewing books on a French theme




Monday, June 21, 2021

Welcome to summer

 

French Village Diaries welcome to summer
Storm clouds in Melle at midsummer 


Midsummer's Day

It's 21st June and summer has officially arrived here in France, allegedly. This photo shows the weather as Ed and I arrived in Melle this afternoon for his first covid-19 vaccination. 


The thunder was rumbling almost immediately after the lightning flashed across the sky and the rain fell hard and fast. We were early enough for his appointment that we could sit it out in the car for a bit, but the only parking space I could get was quite a walk from the vaccination centre and I didn’t even fancy getting out to check the boot for an umbrella. Luckily, I am nimble, so I climbed over the driver’s seat into the back, flipped one of the back seats down and crawled into the boot to retrieve the umbrella I was so pleased was in there.  By the time we got out of the car we had to paddle through puddles as the car park had turned into a lake. So much for summer and the live music events that are normally held all over France for the Fête de la musique every 21st June. I’d like my hot, sunny days back please.




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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Things change once more

French Village Diaries Covid-19 changes
Hollyhocks in the sun


Changes

Life seems to have done nothing but change since early 2020, when Covid-19 burst into our lives. Some of these changes have turned out to be more positive than expected, like lockdown meaning we spent more time together as a couple and a family, as well as the ensuing changes to Adrian’s work that have enabled him to do so from home, without an international commute. 

 

More recent changes to our lives have also been great news, like Ed finishing his degree, getting accepted for a Masters degree, returning home for the summer and getting himself the best holiday job in the world at the library in Sauze-Vaussais. I’m also looking forward to the change in routine that working at the Chef-Boutonne library will give me when I start at the beginning of July. 

 

The changeable weather we have experienced this week, however, has not been so positive. The storms, rain and wind, interspersed with the odd moment of sunshine left me feeling unsettled and fed up that I couldn’t get out on my bike. That post-holiday feeling really hit hard having had two fantastic holidays in such a short space of time.

 

The recent Facebook updates for managing a Page made it more difficult to share my new blog posts directly on my page, and what I do post is now seen by fewer people, thanks to the algorithms. It was good to know that many of you had signed up to directly receive an email notification whenever I added a new post, until another change was thrust upon me; the withdrawal of the email subscription service by FeedBurner. Why do so many changes in the name of progress ultimately make things more complicated and create more work? 

 

If you are an email subscriber, in the coming weeks the way you receive your email will change, but thankfully there is no need for you to do anything. Adrian and I have been busy setting up and testing out the new MailChimp email service, so please do look out for the new email and keep your fingers-crossed the transition will be a smooth one. I couldn’t have done it without him.

 

If you haven’t yet signed up but would like to receive an email whenever I post a new blog, you will find the new sign-up box at the top of the sidebar on the right. Thank you.

 

French Village Diaries Covid-19 changes
Sunshine and storm clouds and hollyhocks


One change I don’t mind at this time of year is that every time I look out of the window, there are more hollyhock flowers to look at and admire. Every self-seeded plant stands at least as tall as me and although they are mostly all pink, each one is a slightly different shade of pink and shape of flower. Whatever the weather, they put a smile on my face.


French Village Diaries Covid-19 changes
Outdoor apero concert organised by the Chef-Boutonne library


Covid-19 changes in France

Today sees the next step in France’s ‘life with Covid-19’ policy come into force; our curfew is over. From six o’clock this morning and for the first time since the end of October 2020, when lockdown number two came into force, we are now free from any restrictions on our movement outside the house. The wearing of masks outside has also been relaxed, unless you are walking around a market or other crowded place, and we attended our first outdoor event on Friday night. 



French Village Diaries Covid-19 changes
My individual apero selection

Organised by the Chef-Boutonne library, we enjoyed a poetry and musical apéro concert, held in the outdoor theatre at the back of the Mairie. There was ample space for everyone to sit in their small groups, sensibly distanced from the groups around them, and we were all served our own individual plate of nibbles, ensuring no contamination on a buffet table. It was a simple thing, but a sign of a return to normal, that gave so much pleasure.



I’d like to say we will be celebrating the lack of curfew with an all-night party, but with the excitement of so many changes to cope with, I think a family Father’s Day meal of spaghetti bolognaise with a nice glass of Cahors wine from the vineyards we were cycling in last week, will do for us tonight.

  

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

A Shush of librarians

 

French Village Diaries a shush of librarians
Ed and I in our village library

Those of you who have been following our life here in France for a while, will remember how much I enjoyed working at the library in Chef-Boutonne in 2018, on a four-month maternity replacement contract. I have good news; way back in January I received a phone call from them to say a second baby was on its way and would I be interested in covering the maternity leave this summer. No surprises, I said yes please. 

 

This time, however, things weren’t quite as straightforward. Firstly, they had to ensure I was happy to commit to working all of July to October, without taking a holiday, something many French people would struggle to accept. I was also made aware that the other librarian had already booked her three-week annual leave during this period, so I would be in sole charge for those weeks. 

 

Then we had to navigate the bureaucratic uncertainties caused by Brexit. As a third country national I no longer have the right to hold a full public service post in France (to be a fonctionnaire), and it took quite a bit of toing and froing before it was clear that a temporary contract, for a local authority, would be allowed.  

The next issue was that they wanted a copy of my residence card, and my old (still in date) EU card wasn’t good enough, they needed proof of my Withdrawal Agreement status. We had already applied for this in January, but it was March before we had our file completed and were called in for finger printing, and then the end of April before the card itself arrived. Much as I was hopeful all would be OK; I didn’t dare get too excited.

 

On the morning of 1st June, as we were preparing to leave our holiday apartment in the Corréze, my phone rang. It was official, the council had met the night before and agreed my appointment. From 1stJuly, I will be back at the library for the summer, yippee.

 

In a bizarre coincidence, at the same time, on the same day, Ed was at an interview for a three-month summer job, to keep him busy before returning to Poitiers in September. The stars must have been aligned for us, as he too got the job. He started his work this week, as … wait for it … a part-time librarian in Sauze-Vaussais and I’m delighted to say my little bookworm is loving it almost as much as I do. There is something quite nice, and reassuringly positive, that his first real taste of paid employment is something he is enjoying, rather than it just being a means to an end financially.

 

I am sure there must be a ‘how many librarians’ joke out there somewhere, but what I did go looking for was the collective noun for librarians. Google gave me three options; a stack of librarians (which I find a bit dull), a catalogue of librarians (which I quite like) and my favourite, a shush of librarians.

 

Well done Ed we are both so proud of you and it seems sharing my love of books with you from a very young age was one of my better ideas. 

 

As there will be no holidaying for us from July, we decadently set off on another adventure a week after our Corréze holiday, so my next post will be brought to you from the Lot Valley. Happy days!!!


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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

9th June Covid-19 changes in France

French Village Diaries 9th June Covid-19 changes in France
Coffee and a pain au chocolat in a bar


9th June Covid-19 changes in France

From today, we have a few more significant changes in order for daily life in France to return to ‘normal’. These include the pushing back of our nightly curfew to eleven o’clock in the evening (until six o’clock in the morning) and the opening of the interiors of cafés, bars and restaurants, although only at fifty percent capacity for the moment. Life will certainly feel a bit more normal, summery and celebratory, although I have to confess, we are in no rush to eat in a restaurant just yet. After a winter of nothing but lockdowns, curfews and rubbish weather it will take a bit of time for going out to become routine again, although we have enjoyed a few outdoor bar stops in the last two weeks, and we are very much enjoying the return of the hot weather.

 

Sports halls, stadia and theme parks will also be opening this week, just in time to welcome the foreign tourists, who from the 9th June will be permitted to arrive in France. The rules of entry depend on where you are coming from and whether or not you are vaccinated. This handy graphic from FRANCE24 should give you an idea of what you need to do, if you are planning a visit this summer. Don’t forget, for the moment, masks are still required inside and outside is some areas of France.

 

French Village Diaries 9th June Covid-19 changes in France
France 24 summery of information


In terms of vaccinations, since the end of May, anyone in France who is over eighteen has been eligible for their vaccinations and certainly in our area there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of appointments. As all under fifty-fives in France are only eligible for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, which are being given with a six-week interval between first and second jabs, by the end of the summer we should see the majority of the population fully vaccinated.

 

These are great steps forward, but to ensure we with don’t find ourselves hit by another wave of the virus, or a new mutation, we need to learn to live sensibly alongside it, rather than go mad with this new-found freedom. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Cycling the Gorges de Haute Dordogne


We’ve managed our first getaway of 2021, and I can’t tell you how fantastic it was. We were only just over a three-hour drive from home, staying in a cosy self-catering apartment, in the quiet and rural Corrèze, but for cycling nutcases like us, it couldn’t have been any more perfect. 


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Our accommodation in Neuvic


I lazily leave all the holiday and cycle route planning to Adrian and he certainly excelled himself this time. His start point is always the accommodation. Does it fit our budget? If yes, are there any good cycle routes nearby? The converted basement of a family house in a quiet residential street, with its own little terrace and access to the garden, near the lake in Neuvic, ticked all the boxes. With a large double bedroom and a living room with kitchen area, that led on to the shower room, there was plenty of space for the two of us and all the bike bits, all for only 41€ per night. 



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The lake at Neuvic

 

The weather, which has been pretty rubbish all year, was on our side too and by the time we stopped for our picnic lunch on the way there, I had to begin stripping off some of the many layers that have encased me all winter. I’m pleased to say, it remained warm and sunny every day, until the evening we returned home. This meant we were able to get out on the bikes every day, including a quick early evening spin around the Neuvic lake the day we arrived. 

 

Adrian’s cycle route planning was also spot on. In the four full days available to us he had routes that took us up and down the gorges of the Haute Dordogne, through the volcanic landscape of the Corrèze and Cantal departments, up the Puy Mary (a summit finish on the Tour de France) and a hilly circuit that took as around the Puy de Sancy, the highest mountain in the Massif Central, and the location of the source of the Dordogne river. We managed a pretty impressive three hundred kilometres of cycling in terrain much more challenging than the flat lands of home. He is also very clever in that he plans the routes to ease me in gently. 


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The abandoned old Transcorrézian tramway


The first day was a 64km ride through the gorges that began with the excitement of a coffee and croissant, on the sunny terrace of a bar, our first bar coffee since October last year. The route took us through undulating forest roads that often followed the route of the Transcorrézien, a steam tramway that ran from Ussel to Tulle from 1912 until it closed in 1959. Coming across odd remains of track, abandoned engines and carriages, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, gave us plenty of opportunity to take train photos.

 


French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The Resistance Dam


From Soursac, things got a bit more exciting with a climb up to a rocky gorge road which gave us tunnels and views over the Dordogne valley, followed by an easy descent to the impressive L'Aigle hydroelectric dam, also known as the Resistance dam. Work started on it in 1939 and was expected to be finished in 1942, however Resistance workers ensured enough delays to the project, that the occupying German troops never benefited from the electricity generated.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The washed away road


After lunch we played our favourite game of Route Barrée Call My Bluff, as so often road closures mean no vehicle access, but bikes can pass. The barriers had been pushed to the side of the road, so we decided to continue, even though the single-track, tarmacked road looked rather abandoned. The foliage at the sides was overhanging and slowly creeping in and along with the leaf and tree debris under wheel, nature was reclaiming this long-forgotten road. It was equally exhilarating and frightening to be so far off the beaten track, with no idea how far we could go before possibly being forced to turn back. It was peaceful, beautiful and with just the sounds of the river far below us, the birds above and the odd scurrying of unidentified things into the undergrowth as we approached. Three times we lost the track and had to walk the bikes through mud, stones and trickling water running down the gorge. It gave a real sense of achievement, along with relief when we found civilisation once more, although I was also a little sad to leave it behind.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The viewpoint over the Dordogne Gorges


The final fifteen kilometres were probably the hardest with a steady climb up the gorge, in the sun. Luckily, we stumbled on a shady table, by a cooling waterfall, that gave us the perfect flapjack rest point, before continuing on to a stunning viewpoint high above the Dordogne river valley. Our legs were certainly nicely warmed up for the rest of the holiday.

 


French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Eating a Mother-in-law's tongue in Salers


Day two was a much shorter day, but with a Tour de France mountain top finish, my legs felt every one of the 46km (or at least the 23 uphill ones). Our start point was the Plus Beau Village of Salers, where we had a wander of the quaint cobbled streets and although we didn’t find a croissant, we did get a delicious, chewy almond biscuit, big enough to share, with our morning coffee and hilariously called mother-in-law’s tongue. As we left for the twenty-kilometre climb up the Puy Mary, the village church bells were in competition with the deep-toned cow bells gently ringing in the fields all around us. It was so pretty, with rolling green hills and volcanic peaks in the distance, and white snow caps still visible in places. Even the cows here are beautiful, with their deep orange colour, slender, wide horns and huge lashed eyes. 



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Climbing towards the Puy Mary


To begin with the climb is gentle and almost too easy, especially when it descends into the pine forest. The weather was perfect, warm but not hot, and then cool and shady in the forest, but not cold. With the snow on the Puy Mary looming large above us, I knew the easy ride couldn’t last much longer. 



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Approaching the top at Puy Mary


With four kilometres to go, things began to get tough, and the final two kilometres were at an average gradient of 12% but significantly steeper in places. With my heart hammering and lungs burning, my legs kept their slow and steady turning of the pedals, until I reached the top, where the views were spectacular and worth all the effort. 



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
At the top of Puy Mary


This route was a defining day on the 2020 Tour de France route, and rewatching the footage, even the pro-cyclists struggled towards the end. I had a happy smile on my face at the end of the day and was ready for whatever Adrian had planned for the following two days.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Bort les Orgues



Having warmed my legs sufficiently, the third day was 75km, back in the Haute Dordogne gorges, with the volcanic rock formations resembling giant organ pipes at Bort les Orgues, our lunch destination. It was a meandering and undulating route, that was slow going in places, but with dramatic views that eased the suffering. The viewpoint above the town of Bort les Orgues provided an eye-level view of the pipes, a bench for lunch and a panorama which gave us a clear view of the Puy Mary to the right and the Massif du Sancy, our final cycling destination, to the left. 



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
The old station Bort les Orgues


 

On the sweeping descent to the enormous hydroelectric dam in the town of Bort les Orgues, we stopped to listen to cow bells, a sound I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing. Standing at the bottom of the dam made me feel extremely small and insignificant, and I have to say, I don’t think I’d like to live underneath it. It would seem I am not the only one as poor old Bort les Orgues, despite the impressive dam and rock formations was a rather sad and forgotten town. Even the station, that is home to a number of rusty and graffitied old engines, was derelict and deserted, and where nothing seemed to have moved for years.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Easy riding on the Voie Verte


The first part of the afternoon was along a voie verte, on an old railway line. The sun was out, the views were good, and we found a bench for a snack. It was a gentle, easy ride and a nice break from the climbing, but I knew we had a hard slog ahead to return to the Dordogne on the way home. It was a cruel, hot climb, and more so as no sooner had we reached the top, we had a long descent back to the river, that seemed to take forever. Every glimpse I took down the valley still didn’t reveal the water at the bottom, and the knowledge that the only way back out was a long climb up the other side, was tough. The bridge and water at the bottom were blissful and calming and if I’m honest, that final climb didn’t seem as bad as I’d expected, thanks I think to the shady tree cover. A picnic bench under a tree, hairy with moss and lichen, gave us a chance to catch our breath before the final few kilometres. It was one of those surreal moments, sitting in a cool, damp forest world, tired and sweaty, discussing the merits of hydroelectricity over wind turbines, on a Sunday afternoon. Today really proved that you don’t need to be in the mountains, or even near a Tour de France mountain stage to experience real climbing. Our elevation today was 1440m, significantly higher than the Puy Mary climb.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Above Le Mont Dore


Our final full day was a 75km route following the C11 cycling circuit around the Puy de Sancy, starting from Tour D’Auvergne and taking us to Le Mont Dore, Besse and Lac Pavin, never losing sight of the Puy de Sancy. I always find it weird cycling into ski resort towns, past ski-hire shops and seeing chairlifts rising in the distance. The first part to Le Mont Dore was a gentle climb through forests with great views over the volcanic landscape, but from Le Mont Dore it was a steep climb up the Col de la Croix Robert and then a chilly descent in the shade of the mountain. Our plan was to lunch in Besse, but a picnic bench in the sun was too good an opportunity to miss out on, so Besse provided an early afternoon patisserie stop instead.

 


French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Besse


 

Besse is classified as a Petites Cités de Caractère and with its narrow, cobbled streets and dark stone houses with deep red shutters, it was very sweet. It also had an open boulangerie where we sampled the sables aux myrtilles, a blackcurrant jam filled shortbread biscuit. It was delicious and probably the only thing that got me moving again. The rest of the afternoon was tough and slow, and despite the food I’d eaten, I was feeling the kilometres and the climbing. Thankfully the view over the almost perfectly round volcanic Lac Pavin was stunning and helped keep me going. 


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Look, no road, just a stand-alone bridge


Most of the route so far had been on small, quiet roads, but the final part took us onto a busy main road, which then revealed the dreaded Road Closed ahead signs. Looking at the map, the diversion would add too many kilometres for my tired legs to cope with, so fuelled on haribos, we pushed on hoping to call its bluff once more. This one turned out to be a more serious closure, as a bridge was out, but as luck would have it, in order to get the construction vehicles in place to build the new bridge, the river had been diverted through some large pipes and a temporary gravel track laid over the top. We were able to walk the bikes right past and I was so relieved, it gave me the push I needed for the final twenty kilometres back to Tour d’Auvergne. It might have been a tough 75kms, but it was worth it for the views, the challenge and the patisserie.



French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
A very pretty cow

 

As the sun was still shining on our last morning, we couldn’t resist a cycle into town for a coffee and croissant, then a quick 15km loop through forests and fields. It was a delightful ride with sunshine, dappled shade and cows, on sweeping single track roads up and down the valley and was a perfect post-exertion leg stretch, before the drive home.


 

French Village Diaries cycling holiday Tour des Gorges de Haute Dordogne
Perfect holiday views


I really don’t think we could have asked for anything more for five-nights away and once again I am thankful for living in France, a country that offers so much to see, no matter where you are. The icing on the cake was returning home to some great news, but that’s for another blog post.