Places You Shouldn’t Miss in France

Places You Shouldn’t Miss in France

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Have you ever
heard of Rocamadour? Most non-French visitors don’t know of it but it
happens to be the second most visited place in France. Now I know that
many of people are “off France” these days but I have to say if you
feel that way, you’re missing so much and proving nothing.

Consider
Rocamadour, in the Quercy area. While the main street is a little
touristy and the town is basically a religious site, Rocamadour is a
photographer’s dream. Just a view of this tiny town hanging from the
side of a cliff is worth the trip. The drive is not difficult and
getting there is full of rewards. It is east of the highway going from
Limoges to Toulouse and once you’re there you can climb to the top or
just meander, take pictures or buy souvenirs. Here is where St. Amadour
once preached and is perhaps one of the most unusual sights in central
France.

The best place for that
prize-winning shot is from the route via Hospitalet. A picture from the
elevated viewpoint across the gorge will be memorable. Rocamadour is
well known and the people are friendly. You can find nice souvenirs of
this religious site, but remember, in France one says “Bonjour” first.
A pleasant, comfortable, no-frills place to stay near Rocamadour is
Auberge de la Garenne on D247 North West of the town.

Nearby
there are caves and medieval villages to visit and at Cahors where the
north-south highway meets the Lot River, you’ll find the famous 14th
century fortified bridge. This was an important place during the
Hundred Year’s War. There’s also a fable concerning the bridge builder
and the devil. It seems the engineer was running out of material to
finish the bridge fortification, and the city was being threatened by
the English. England controlled much of this area for many years. The
frustrated builder made a pact with the devil, who would supply all
required material in return for the engineer’s soul. When it was almost
completed, the engineer asked for holy water to cement the last stones
in place. The devil was not able to get into the church so the contract
was annulled. But after the bridge and turrets were complete, the devil
kept throwing rocks from the top onto the defending soldiers. The
English invaders looked down from the hills above the town. When they
saw this formidable fortress bridge, they retreated. The engineer had
the devil cemented into one of the towers. There’s an image of the
devil there today; see if you can find it when you visit.

And
since you are on the Lot river, I recommend a drive east to picturesque
St. Cirque-Lapopie and on to Figeac. This market town is worth the time
to get there. You’ll find adequate accommodations and reasonable
restaurants but the draw to me was the small square where they
recreated the ebony-colored Rosetta Stone. It takes the whole square
and you can walk on it. Now there’s a photograph. The stone is
important to Figeac, the birthplace of the archeologist Champollion who
deciphered the stone. It proves once again that great people come from
out of the way places.

Once
you’re in the area, I suggest a short drive to Albi, the birthplace of
artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. You can see the house where he was
born, and visit the Lautrec Museum next to the tourist office. Here
you’ll find originals of Lautrec’s work, which we’ve all seen
reproduced. There’s something warming about a session with the drawings
and paintings. Here too are good restaurants and a hotel that I
personally recommend.–the family run Grand Hotel d’Orleans across from
the railway station. Dinner there will be rewarding. Try the Gaillac
wines of the area. They include fruity, dry white wines as well as
sweet aromatic sweet wines. Finally, when you leave Albi, head south
through Cordes-sur-Ciel. Between here and the main highway at Toulouse
you’ll be able to sample the best Roquefort I know.

From
here it’s only a short hop to the fortress city of Carcassonne. The
fortress city never fell but I will say, your children will enjoy it
and I know you have never seen anything like it. It looks like one of
those castles we see in movies but it is more exciting when you’re
there.

There are many fables
about ancient Carcassonne. Under siege, at one point, the inhabitants
filled the body of a pig with grain and threw it over the outer wall.
The invading army, seeing this waste of food, figured that the
villagers had enough to live on for a long time so they lifted the
siege. Carcassonne never fell. It did fall into neglect, but was
rebuilt by the famous architect Violet-le-Duc, thus saved for visitors
interested in authentic historical sites. It’s certainly worth a visit.
True, it is touristy now but it’s too late to see it as it once was.
Time has changed France as it has changed all countries. We must learn
to use our imaginations to see the invading armies, especially as we
walk on the ramparts. Photographers will still enjoy it, and lunch of
‘cassoulet’ in the main square under the trees is something you’ll long
remember. It may not be dietetic but this is the grandfather of all
casseroles. It’s best to visit between May and September.

There’s
something to see or taste on any route in France. The question now is,
do I want to continue to deride the French, refuse to eat their cheeses
and pour their wines down the drain? Or do I want one of the most
satisfying holidays a gourmand or a photographer can ask for? France
was once America’s closest ally. People and governmental attitudes
change but the fact remains, there is so much culture and quality in
all corners of France. Miss it and you’ll be the loser.

It’s your choice.

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