Dwight Peck's personal website

Kristin's visit: Southwest of France 2008

A ten-day respite from All That -- Kristin's visiting and we've been in Sarlat for four or five days, medievalizing, and then some days in Carcassonne and the Pays Cathare, and now we're broke and it's time to start for home.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep aEngineering marvels

The Millau Viaduct, the Tarn Gorge, and the Nougat Capital of the World

First things first -- I've been instructed that we are not going anywhere until we've motored up the back roads from Albi to see the Viaduct of Millau. Because it's an engineering marvel.

So there it is. Some viaduct (world's highest)! We're in the middle of the regional natural park of the Grands Causses, the network of high plateaux in the southern Massif Central, and Millau is just down between this shadowy ridge and the causse/plateau in the distance.

Wow, long! Two and a half airborne kilometres, shaving months off the highway travel on the A75 from Clermont-Ferrand south to Béziers and Montpellier. The mighty river Tarn flows underneath.

Wow, and high! 343m to the top of the pylons, 270m from the road surface down to the mighty Tarn. And 205,000 tons of concrete. Started in December 2001 and opened for traffic in December 2004. An engineering marvel!


We haven't been finding a grand multiplicity of hotels open at this time of year, so we've sped past Le Rozier (shut up pretty tight) and through the scenic Gorges de la Jonte to interesting Meyrueis in the Lozère region, a town of a thousand souls and an aspiring tourist-activity centre in its own right, in season.

Here's an hotel that's "ouvert toute l'année" -- the Hôtel Le Sully and its annex out the back, the Hôtel la Renaissance. We're booked! And just a word to say that "Térésa et Joël vous accueillent toute l'année dans le calme de leur hôtel et vous proposent leurs spécialités régionales", and that Térésa is a stunner and the spécialités régionales include the magnificent "aligot" with saucisses d'herbes. Aligot is a simple traditional dish of the Auvergne region made from mashed potatoes with melted tomme cheese, often with garlic and other odds and ends. Aligot is a culinary marvel. 

Just past dusk, as the mighty Bethuzon flows merrily through town

A quick twilit view of downtown Meyrueis as we prepare to dive into the aligot.

Our annex, the Hôtel la Renaissance (same management), historical, comfortable, and cheap.

A room the size of a football pitch, and a second bedroom, a large bathroom, and another large room dedicated entirely to the bidet (an engineering marvel).

We're discussing what DVD to watch after our aligot in the restaurant.

The next morning, a quick walk round town: here's a fixer-upper for sale.

Back to the car; we've got to clear out of this back street in front of the hotel before the delivery trucks start lumbering through it.

Reversing westward out the Gorges de la Jonte, because we really want to see the famous Gorge du Tarn.

Le Rozier is where the gorges of the Tarn and the Jonte meet.

So now we're turning northward into the Gorges du Tarn (but looking back at Le Rozier).

The limestone cliffs come nearly down to the river in many places, and the road through the gorge is an engineering marvel.

These are sights along the way on the road "D907 bis" through the Gorges du Tarn, but I can't remember which is which.

Perched in the gorge, probably with a great sense of purpose.

The Château de la Caze hotel in the middle of the gorge -- significantly out of our price range.


One's first view of Ste Énimie. Stuck way down in here where sunlight probably strikes every 21st of June.

Ms Énimie was reputedly a Merovingian princess who decided to live in a nearby cave to demonstrate holiness, or something.

The Tarnside town is pretty enough, but the old town leading up to the abbey looks still better.

It's very pretty, in fact . . . but quite up.

Still pretty. Still up.

Even prettier. Even more up.

A breathy pause just to reflect upon things for a while.

And another brief pause, just to admire the downward view as well.

And another upward view.

And now a downward look. These Benedictines had a strange sense of humor in the old days.

A breather.

Kristin pursuing the Path of Former Benedictine Holiness

An old charred house

The Former Benedictines' view back down to the river Tarn. An engineering marvel.

Time to go get some lunch (omelette).

A cosy coin on the hillside

We have miles to go before we sleep. We're headed for Montélimar on the Rhône, in fact. But first -- an omelette.


We're in Montélimar in the Drôme department, and if this is good enough for an emperor it's surely good enough for us. At least for one night.

In such a lively town at nightfall, it's reassuring to have our carpark inside the gates. In fact, we were awakened by a series of inexplicable explosions nearby at 2 a.m. The girl at the front desk the next day explained that a local chap of diminished capacities had been celebrating his 50th birthday by firing off M-80s in the courtyard. (Until they got his chains reattached.)

Montelimar is world-famous as the Nougat Capital of the World but we'll let that pass quickly. The lower town looks worth a quick look-in but we're chiefly interested in the Château des Adhémars at the top of the hill, lair of the family who reigned over the city for much of the Middle Ages.

The Château des Adhémars

Here we are -- a Romanesque castle with a keep (left), circumvallations, chapel, and a big residential block in the middle (right), with contemporary art in it.

Reflecting back on the nougat, for years everyone who drove southward through France on the old N7 made a point of stopping to buy a bootful of nougat de Montélimar. Since the A7 autoroute was put in, nobody stops anymore.

So there's much less nougat in the world today -- that's progress? The keep is on the right, the central residential block is on the left.

Kristin dwarfed on the curtain wall, viewing the little chapel below

Kids in the courtyard (perhaps looking for nougat).

Montélimar in its post-medieval and post nougat-boom years.

-- Je m'excuse, madame, do you know where I can still get some good nougat?

Contemporary art in Great Hall of the castle. Somebody doing the dishes without her trousers.

The beautiful Renaissancified main building is a spacious treat in itself, but the contemporary art exhibitions make it all more . . . thought-provoking? Lollipops, etc.

-- Contemporary art, is it?

Goodbye to the emperor's hotel and to Montélimar, whose sister cities are Racine, Wisconsin, in the USA and Managua, in Nicaragua. Good luck with the nougat. I'm grieved to say that I don't even know what nougat is.

Next -- No Next. Holidays are over. Back to work.

1. Sarlat
2. Roque-Gageac, Beynac
3. Castelnaud
4. Gardens of Marqueyssac
5. Castle of Fenelon
6. Carcassonne
7. Castle of Peyrepertuse
8. Carcassonne by night
9. Meyrueis, Tarn

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 1 January 2009, revised 3 January 2014.

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