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The villages of the Lot valley [Mar. 2nd, 2016|06:00 pm]
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As I was saying, the next stage of our French holiday took us through a series of extraordinarily pretty old villages. Here, for example, is Montcuq:

Into the old town

We were staying a couple of nights at La Borde Grande, a magnificent old farmhouse on the hillside, with a fine view across the valley to the village, where the peace of the countryside is broken only by the screeching of the resident parrot. Our plan, insofar as we had a plan, was to spend a day in Cahors before turning back south towards the Pyrenees; it didn't work out that way. But first we went down into Montcuq, and took a stroll around before dinner. The one restaurant on the through road was busy, but up in the old town the streets were quiet, and many of the lovely houses seemed empty. A single tower is all that remains of the castle which used to crown the settlement, and we had it to ourselves. Montcuq - like everywhere else in the southwest of France - claims to be on the Chemin de Saint Jacques, the pilgrim route to Compostella: had we been here before, on a walking holiday? The name rang a bell, but we didn't recognise the place.

The next morning, durham_rambler woke me after his shower, opening the curtains to bright sunrise just clearing the hills, throwing a shadow onto the bedroom wall. A moment later the sun had risen into cloud. Time to get up. We breakfasted with our fellow guests, Norwegian pilgrims - or rather, I think, walkers on the pilgrims' way. It was a good breakfast, with coffee as good as it is at home, so when Madame urged us to go to Prayssac for the market, we thought her advice was worth taking.

Market day

Prayssac was not dramatically pretty, or startlingly ancient, but the market was good, and provided a colourful frame for the church. I bought provisions for an evening picnic, to be eaten at La Borde Grande, on the terrace by the pool ("oh, no, you really don't want to swim, it's not heated..."): pastries and tomatoes and funny little greengages the size of mirabelles (and disappointingly bland in flavour). The lady selling the fruit and veg had proper, professional greengrocer's cards giving the variety and price of each item, and in the space for 'country of origin' she had written "chez moi". Some of goods on offer had travelled much further; I bought some organic vanilla beans.

After lunch we drove west along the valley of the Lot, as far as Puy l'Evêque:

Panorama of Puy l'Eveque

This view back across the river came from the furthest point of our explorations, and we didn't see it until we had climbed up and down the narrow streets, and admired the fine old houses:

Private house with tower

with their gothic windows and medieval carvings and their quirky metalwork and odd pieces of art (more pictures here).

By the time the next morning dawned scarlet, we had revised our plans: instead of heading south and west straightaway, we would head a little further north and east, and visit Figeac. But first, since we had not spent the previous day in Cahors, we would stop there, just long enough to walk across the Pont Valentré, there and back:

Pont Valentré

- and maybe buy some wine, especially when we realised that the building right at the end of the bridge was the shop of Château Lagrŕzette, the one Cahors I know by name. "Now very grand," say my notes, and until I starting poking around the internet to write this, I would have said I'd been following their progress from modest origins. But it seems that even at the first, shopping at the market for a picnic to eat on the train, I had stumbled by chance on rather a grand wine: that bottle of 'vin de printemps' from the Moulin de Grézette which was so fresh and easy, so perfect for this very informal meal is not part of the current production, but I finally tracked it down in, of all publications, L'Officiel de la mode:
>C'est son jardin, pas si secret que cela: chez Cartier dont il est le Pdg international, Alain- Dominique Perrin, par ailleurs propriétaire de Château Lagrŕzette et Grand Maître de la Confrérie du vin de Cahors, fait déguster la Cuvée de printemps du Moulin de La Grézette : un cahors 'junior', jeune et fleuri, à boire frais et dans l'année, contrairement aux cahors traditionnels.
- it was the sideline of the managing director of Cartier (here's an interview with him (in English). I didn't know any of this at the time, though, so we wandered around the shop and eventually bought three of their cheapest, entry-level bottles.

Beyond Cahors the Lot valley road felt very familiar: surely we had driven this way before, between the still green river and the overhanging rock? Pausing to admire the view from a metal bridge, I was almost convinced that I had photographed it before, in the long ago days when a photograph actually cost part of your stock of film: it wasn't a particularly interesting view, but there were so few places where you could actually stop and photograph the river... I was still thinking about this sense of déjà vu (déjà photographié?) when we came to Saint-Cirq Lapopie. Surely I'd never seen that before in my life? I couldn't have forgotten this:

Village ensemble

From the car park at the far end of the road, we looked down on the village stacked up the crag below, and even further below to the wide green river. We walked down into the village, and further down through its narrow winding streets. We were very conscious that by now it was lunch time, and that the French are strict about punctuality in this respect; if you leave it too late, restaurants stop serving lunch. So we installed ourselves on the terrace pf a restaurant in the square opposite the church, and waited. And waited. And eventually lost our tempers, and left - and were rewarded, because further down the hill we came to L'Oustal (which doesn't seem to have a website, but Tripadvisoe seems to like it). We could easily have missed it: the sign is at the foot of a flight of stairs, which lead up to a shady terrace. The atmosphere here was altogether more welcoming, and the food was good, although the only thing I seem to have found worth noting down was that my starter had the literary title "la Salade de M. Seguin" (the reference to M. Seguin being justified by the aumonière of goat's cheese, but, beecause we were in Quercy, there were also nuggets of - home smoked - magret de canard).

After which we followed the river almost all the way to Figeac.