Sunday, 22 November 2015

The source of the Loire

I've had a busy ten days, seeing old friends and newer friends, and trying to keep to my goal of 5,000 words a week while juggling other commitments. Under it all, like everyone who loves France, I've also been struggling to come to terms with the Paris atrocities, though I won't be putting the tricolour over my facebook avatar. I would rather simply carry on, celebrating the strength of the country and its people.

The stately Loire river...most people, when they think it, will visualise the châteaux at Chinon and Saumur, Blois, Angers, Amboise, Nantes and Orléans, those grand stone fairytales rising from the gentle banks. But then, last month, I found myself in the Auvergne region south of the Massif Central, and was amazed to discover that the Haute Loire was on the doorstep. I had no idea the river rose so far south. So, in the grand tradition of exploration, we set off to find the source.

Autumn colours were beginning to take a grip on the hillsides south of Le Puy-en-Vélay. It was cold and a bit grey, but the road wound through some pretty countryside. We hardly passed another vehicle as we headed for Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the southern Cevennes hills within the department of the Ardèche. The temperature dropped fast as we climbed.
There came a point when the road was a white-out in freezing fog, and we wondered whether this was such a good idea after all. Then we emerged, and followed a logging truck for a while along otherwise lonely roads. The sign for Gerbier de Jonc was barely visible, but a café provided a parking place, and the promise of hot chocolate. To the side, steps were cut in the slope:
Leading to this snowy vantage point...
And the first glimpse of the conical summit from which the springs emerge to start a mighty river:
As I say, a very long way from the Loire that we think we know, seen below at the Château de Chenonceau. And a tough landscape in winter. But the French are like that: tough underneath, where it counts.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Autumn escapade II

The second day of our autumn road trip down to Provence and on to the Parisot literary festival took us south past Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne, to the pretty riverside village of Lavoûte-sur-Loire. Who would have thought the Loire flowed quite as far south as this?

The village is hidden away in a valley north of Le-Puy-en-Velay, and we were lucky enough to find the most delightful B & B in an old mill: Les délices de Lavoûte. As the photos show, it was a damp, grey day October day, but the warmth of the welcome from owners Florence and Frédérique dispelled any lingering chill.

The mill sits on the banks of the young Loire, surrounded by gardens, trees and water. Inside, a log fire blazed and the room we were shown was spacious and charming. As in Honfleur, a lot of thought had been put into creating an interesting and quirky ambiance, like these seasonal displays on the walkway into the building.
Best of all, we could stay for dinner, as the ladies offer a Table d'hôtes where guests can eat together in the evening. We had a fine supper with a French/Dutch family, found out that the establishment is also a patisserie, and slept like logs. Breakfast was a special treat, with homemade bread and rolls, as well as jams and delicious fruit salad.
In the daylight, we could see the view from the dining room: the misty Loire meandering north under the bridge. It gave us an idea... (To be continued.)  
Les délices de Lavoûte B & B is a lovely discovery. Highly recommended. Click here for their website.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Autumn escapade

Back at my desk in misty, damp Kent. And with no more excitement on the horizon apart from the leap in the dark of starting a new novel, I thought I'd rewind a bit and show you at bit more of our French escapade. This was the first stop: medieval Honfleur on the northern coast, and the very pretty Cour Sainte Catherine B &B. Typical Normandy architecture marries to a quirky sense of style in what was once a collection of buildings, including a priest's house, attached to a seventeenth century convent.
I particularly liked the red apples on the grey table. The morning rain adds a sheen. Here, a courtyard tree is painted red, and set off with matching table and chairs. Can you imagine how delightful it would be to sit here in better weather?
At night the harbour is atmospheric and restaurants crowd round the water, a short walk away.
The website for the Cour Sainte Catherine is here. Just be careful when trying to reach it through the narrow streets in your car, as we found to our cost. Treat every turning with caution!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...