Originally I had planned that this blog would be chronological; alas that went out of the window a little while ago. Just before Christmas we were back in Carcassonne for a few days R&R in the ‘Big’ city and, yes, it was raining (for new readers you may like to check some previous posts about the rain). I will point out however that it was a bright and really warm day with no sign of rain as we drove down.
We took a new route from Bon Abri that cut across the Foret de la Double via St Aulaye and passed through Mussidan before crossing the Dordogne river on the ring-road around Bergerac. Soon after passing the airport we took a left fork off the main road and headed into the fruit trees and vines on the southern edge of the Dordogne Department. From there the roads rolled and climbed through the hills all of the way south to Montauban. Some of the villages on the way were spectacular. For instance as we passed through Issigeac and looked up the narrow streets we could not resist a detour and stopped to abandon the car for a short while. The half-timbered buildings striding into the narrow streets are well worth the detour.
Tucked into some of the quieter side-streets there are more remarkable buildings that would be well worth at least one return visit (at only 1.5 hours from home in Puymangou we will be visiting again as soon as we can).
Because we had a long day of driving ahead of us we were reluctant to make more stops than we needed to but were forced by nature and the need for coffee to stop at the hill-top Bastide town of Monflanquin. High on the list of previous visitors is the Black Prince who rampaged through this part of France (or led a disciplined army to consolidate his fathers inheritance – it all depends on how you read history). The central square is precariously perched on the slopes almost at the top of the hill with arcaded shops all round. You enter the square through one of the arched approaches; each from a different building period.
Continuing out through another arch and on up the hill you come to the massive church and its plaza (with stunning views across the plain below). Inside the church above the altar is a beautiful window in modern glass. The nave is huge and open with, I would guess, a new ceiling and roof (‘new’ being within the last 3 or 400 years).
We were followed into the church by a very friendly cat that kept close to our heels as we walked around. She seemed to know the itinerary and we thought that she was probably a frequent visitor. When she broke away from us and sniffed at the hay in the ‘Nativity’ I was a little worried (cat pee in the stable would not be appreciated) but she was content with a sniff. As we passed the intricately carved door that led up the steps to the bell tower she sniffed the wood then to our horror leaped through the fretwork and started to bounce up the stone steps. We could not face the guilt of shutting the cat inside the church and so stood for 5-minutes calling and coaxing (in both French and English) until, in her own time, she ambled back out and followed us through the main door.
Having seen us off the premises she sat in the sunlight and watched us walk back to the arch and into the main square.
Our journey continued south bringing us to Carcassonne early in the evening as the rains settled in. Over the next few days we wandered the streets enjoying the superb preparations for Christmas. The toboggan run had been set up in Place Chenier, the whole of Place Carnot was taken up with the ice-rink (and Vin Chaud stalls), there was a Christmas fair in Place Gambetta with a huge Ferris wheel and in Place du Dome they had wonderful regional agricultural produce.
Everywhere in the City the festive spirit dominated despite the poor weather. A few glasses of Vin Chaud can deal with the cold and damp remarkably well. To top a great trip off we were even able to take in some music at the Celt (The Long-Horses), watch a rather surreal version of the Nativity (which included the shepherds absailling down the outside of the tower of St Vincent church) and an exhibition of photographs by Claude Simon in the Maison des Memoires.