Each year a small group of Morganisti organise a tour in their home region. It is usually limited to 6 cars, and 5 or 6 days. Last year Alis and I organised a tour of Lombardia and Piemonte. This year it was in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, specifically the departments of Lot, Aveyron, and Tarn. We started in the town of Cahors and continued to circulate on wonderful roads following rivers and streams, spectacular gorges, passing medieval villages and towns, stopping every so often to refresh ourselves with local delicacies and wonderful wine.
Alis and I left Mandello on a cloudy Friday morning with the arrival of a gentle rain that quickly turned into a downpour as we headed first towards Milan (an hour lost for heavy traffic), then Torino and on over the Alps, passing the Frejus Tunnel (€ 44.20 toll: thank you!), and then on to Lyon (another hour of delays due to traffic). By the time we were out the other side of Lyon we decided to exit the Autoroute and seek a hotel. As much by good chance as anything else we selected the Aigle d’Or in Thiers. The owners made us very welcome and we put the Morgan in their private garage. We then explored part of the town, famous for knife manufacture, before enjoying a meal and some good local wine in the hotel restaurant.
The next day the weather better and we headed on to our rendezvous at the Chambres d’hotes, at Saint-Henri above Cahors. After everyone arrived and settled in we headed off for our first appointment of the Ballade.
The following is a brief summary of some of the highlights.
18 April. Our first appointment on Saturday afternoon was a guided tour of the wine cellars of Chateau Lagrezette followed by a wine tasting of some excellent Merlots and a white from Rocamadour. We passed by the Chateau de Cayx (unfortunately closed that day) which belongs to the queen of Denmark. From there paid a brief visit to the Chateau De Mercues, which is now a hotel, to admire the view of the Lot valley before returning to the hotel to prepare for an excellent meal at the home of Sergio and Sylvie.
19 April. We passed Cahors, stopping briefly to view the historic Pont Valentré, before climbing to the lookout at Mont Saint Cyr for a view of Cahors and then continued through some really lovely spring countryside to arrive for lunch at La Ferme d’Esparnol. This farm specialises in the raising of ducks for the table and produces an excellent range of products including Foie Gras de Canard.
Following lunch we headed for our hotel for the next two nights at Rocamadour. Rocamadour is a small town built on the side of a gorge on one of the important pilgrim routes. Six Morgans rumbling into the medieval town certainly caught the attention of the tourists. The town centre is restricted to traffic but, as we were staying in a hotel, we had permission to enter. The hotel had kindly reserved the space for our cars in the piazza. The rooms are just fantastic, ours by good luck, was almost a suite and the only on with a balcony overlooking the piazza. After settling in we took the opportunity to visit to the ancient pilgrims church and climb the walkway (also a Way of the Cross) to the top of the escarpment and the castle that overlooks the gorge. It was then time to return to our room where we enjoyed the spa bath before getting ready for dinner at the hotel restaurant.
20 April. A rather misty morning for the start of our days run. First we headed to Loubressec, a lovely village on a hill overlooking the valley, unfortunately somewhat obscured in the mist. We then crossed the valley to take a guided tour of Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux. The architecture of the castle evolved from the 13th through to the 17th century and following restoration now contains and important collection of furniture, art and other objects accumulated in the early 20th century.
Following lunch at Les Remparts, a café under the chateau we continued to one of the great surprises of the trip, the Gouffre de Padirac.
The Gouffre de Padirac is essentially a sink hole with a diameter of 35 metres and a depth of 103 metres. A passage leads from the bottom to an underground river and an extensive and spectacular cave system which includes an underground lake. Only part of the cave system is open to tourist who, in small groups, are conducted by guides for a quite modest ticket price of €10.50. It was first explored in 1889, by Édouard-Alfred Martel and opened for tourism 10 years later. It is not to be missed by anyone in the area. Those who feel the 100 metres of stairs is too much can descend by left, then walk the short distance to the boat that takes you along the narrow lake to the starting point of the tour.
21 April. On leaving Rocamadour we passed through some lovely countryside before arriving at the small medieval village of Conques. After a brief pause to explore the village we passed on to Laguiole where we had had lunch at the Hotel Aubrac before proceeding to a demonstration of the making of the traditional Laguiole knives at the workshops of the Coutellerie de Laguiole Honoré Durand.
Our overnight stop for the next two nights was at Hostellerie Fontanges at Onet le Château – Rodez
We enjoyed an excellent aperitif followed by dinner at the hotel.
22 April. Our tour on this morning took us to Roquefort sur Soulzan, the home of the famous Roquefort cheese. On the way we stopped for coffee and to admire the view at a small village of Montjaux where it is possible to see several extinct volcanoes and in the distance the Millau Viaduct. From there we passed under Millau Viaduct the and on to Roquefort and a tour of the “Société” and the oldest cellars for the maturing of the Roquefort cheese. The guided tour is very interesting and starts with an animated model of the Roquefort region which shows how the caves were formed. At the end of the tour you naturally have the opportunity to try and buy the different types of Roquefort cheese produced.
Following lunch we regained our cars to visit the Gorges du Tarn before returning to the hotel. By this point we were starting to feel a little weighed down by all the rich food and many of us opted for a lighter evening meal of fish.
23 April. Bidding adieu to Onet le Château we then headed North West to rejoin the Lot river. On the way we passed by the incredible Musee de l’insolite on the Cèlè river where we paused for a brief celebration of Odile’s birthday. Unfortunately the Musee was closed that day or we would have gladly paid a visit. It was then on to lunch at Restaurant les Falaises. After yet another excellent meal we re-mounted and followed a high road above the Lot to arrive at the medieval village of Saint-Cirq Lapopie. After a brief pause to admire the view we continued to join a river cruise which allowed us to view, at close hand, the working of one of the many locks that makes the Lot a navigable river.
Following the cruise, which included a view of Saint-Cirq Lapopie from below, we visited the village and shopped for a few souvenirs and enjoyed a glass of cider before proceeding to our hotel, Hostellerie du Parc at Cordes sur Ciel.
The renowned Claude Izard is the chef and one of the most excellent meals of the trip was prepared for us.
24 April. Or last morning together involved a guided tour of the cité médiévale de Cordes-sur-Ciel. Our guide was an extremely interesting lady who, together with the history of the town, regaled us with snippets of local gossip.
Or host absolutely excelled themselves with our final lunch. We were honoured to try two new dishes that would be presented the next day at the Fête des Responchons. Responchons are the young tips of a plant that grows locally and is used like asparagus.
As we had many kilometres to cover we bid farewell to our friends and took to the road and pushed on to regain our hotel of the first night at Thiers, the Aigle d’or.
The following morning we made some purchases at the Coutellerie Chambriard, one of the most interesting shops of the many knife makers at Thiers and then took to the road again to return home to Mandello tired but happy and 2 kg heavier than when we started.
Thanks to Alis for the photos.