Millau (Occitanie), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

We have crossed the magnificent Millau Viaduct, designed by our very own Norman Foster, on a couple of occasions but not once stopped to visit the historical town of Millau. That had to change and, while heading north on the A75 Autoroute in readiness for our return to the UK, we dropped down into the Tarn Valley. We chose to stay at the Camping 2 Rivieres on Avenue de L’Aigoual, just over the River Tarn from Millau old town.

Situated at the confluence of the Rivers Tarn and Doubie, Millau’s historical centre is a ‘must see’ destination in it’s own right and the starting point for numerous interesting outings across the Aveyron Department of Occitaine. We were staying just 24 hours and didn’t therefore have the time to explore anything other than Millau and, after parking the Van, I set off to explore the old town with a view to showing Vanya it’s highlights later in the day.

I really like Millau’s old town. It’s a warren of crooked cobbled lanes and tiny courtyards. Many of the lanes are arched and lead to sleepy little squares tucked away all over the town. They are gorgeous.

Except for when I crossed the Tarn to look at the the Millau Plage, using what looked like pedestrian pontoon bridge near the Pont du Larzac, I kept to the old town. Sadly, this meant missing out on a couple of Millau’s more interesting tourist sights, notably the Roquefort Caves and the Museum and Roman archaeological site of La Graufesenque (all that is left of a whole town of potters whose huge kilns were capable of producing 40,000 high quality pots per batch and whose wares have been discovered as far away as India). No matter, we’ll be returning and meanwhile I saw enough in the old town to keep me content.

I started by heading for one of the town’s highest points, the Belfry or ‘Beffroi de Millau’, not least because it is adjacent to the local tourist office and I figured they were best qualified to help me maximise my short time in the town. The tourist office informed me that visitors could ascend the tower except it was currently closed for renovation. They provided some background information on the town, starting with the Belfry (which is all that remains of a 12th century palace built by the Kings of Aragon) and then directed me towards some of the town’s more impressive monuments; churches mostly and various other historical points of interest. I’ll leave the photos to do the talking…

I visited a number of the larger churches but would comment on just two. The first of these was the Eglise du Sacre Coeur. Built in a Neo-Roman Byzantine style in the late 19th century and having two bell towers, it’s outside is more impressive than the inside. It’s one of the newer churches in Millau.

The Eglise Notre Dame de l’Espinasse is definitely the most interesting of all the churches I saw in Millau. It has history and some wonderful frescoes inside. The existing church was built in the 17th century although there has been an Eglise Notre Dame de L’Espinasse on this site (now the Place Marechal Foch) since the 11th century. The original church and contents (including a thorn supposedly taken from the crown worn by Jesus at his crucifixion and from which the church got it’s name) were completely destroyed during the Wars of Religion in the second half of the 16th century.

In contrast to the Millau Sacre Coeur, it is the inside of the Eglise Notre Dame which is the more impressive, not least because of Jean Bernard’s paintings which cover the apse ceiling.

Other historical points of interest in the town include the Lavoir de L’Ayrolle (a washhouse built during the 1740’s on the orders of Louis XV); the Fontaine du Moyen Age (known now as the Fontaine Basse, this has been a source of clear water for the town since at least the 14th century) and; Les Halles Millau (built near the Sacre Coeur church in the 19th century, during La Belle Epoque, this bustling covered food market is open every day except Mondays).

It is perhaps appropriate to mention here that there is a Farmers Market in the Old Town every Wednesday and at weekends in the area of the Eglise Notre Dame. Regional delicacies in the Aveyrone that are always available in the market include the local Roquefort blue cheese (aged in the nearby limestone caves), aligot (a creamy mixture of mashed potato and cheese), fouace (a sweet bread often enjoyed at breakfast) and echaude (an aniseed flavoured biscuit).

One last historical point of interest in Millau is it’s old grain mill (Moulin Vieux) on the town’s old bridge (Pont Vieux). There’s been a working mill on the Vieux Pont since the 12th century, even after most of the bridge was washed away by floods. The mill finally ceased working when the owners were declared bankrupt in 1937. I’m not sure what purpose the building serves now. I was unable to gain entry.

After dinner and a further wander around the old town with Vanya and the dogs we simply sat outside the Cafe Tout Va Bien on Boulevard de Bonald and watched the world go by over a couple of drinks. It was as chill a moment as you can get.

We’ll have to return for a few days when next in France. There’s plenty more to experience in Millau and the surrounding area. I’m thinking in particular of the two of Aveyron’s ten ‘plus beaux villages de France’ which are close by (Montpellier le Vieux and Peyre) and I missed out this time on Roquefort sur Soulzon (for it’s cheese). There’s also the Maison des Vautours Visitor Centre (to observe local vultures) and the Via Ferrata du Boffi (a rather interesting looking cliff-side walkway). Most important are some of the other local foodstuffs which I have yet to sample. I’m thinking of Veyreau Honey, Paulhe Cherries and Truffles at the Maison de la Truffe in Compregnac.

Banyuls Sur Mer (Occitaine), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

And so to tiny Banyuls sur Mer in the foothills of the Pyrenees on the beautiful Vermillion Coast.

The Vermillion Coast (La Cote Vermeille in French) is a jagged shoreline, crammed with rocky coves and small stony beaches stretching some 50 miles from Argeles sur Mer through Collioure, Port Vendres, Banyuls and Cerbere (on the French side of the Pyrenees) to Port-Bou and then on almost to Cadaques (on the Spanish side). During an earlier tour we stayed at Collioure (one of my favourite places in France) and resolved at that time to return to the area and perhaps drive the narrow coast road across into Spain. That’s how it is that we came to be in Banyuls sur Mer.

Banyuls is a tiny picturesque town situated on the edge of a small bay, L’Anse du Fontaule, in the Gulf of Lion. It was a fishing port. It is now a tourist resort albeit, a fairly quiet one (especially out of season). A palm lined promenade, dotted with diverse sculptures (more about those later), curls south around the edge of the bay towards a small harbour. The beach is not one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a mix of rough almost gritty sand and stone, so typical of beaches in mountainous areas, but it is clean and the water is almost crystal clear

George Orwell is said to have described Banyuls sur Mer as “a bore and a disappointment” but that was a long time ago when he was on his way back from the Spanish Civil War. The fact is, Banyuls doesn’t attract the large crowds that either Collioure or Argeles sur Mer does. It’s a little off the beaten track and doesn’t have the distractions of it’s larger neighbours but that is not to say it is boring and/or a disappointment. This is particularly true if you are into either the local wine (there are countless vineyards and wines to experience) or hiking (Banyuls marks the end of the GR10, an exhilarating 850 kilometre trek along the length of the Pyrenees). In fact, lovers of wine and walking can enjoy both at the same time in Banyuls by walking the ‘Cote Vermeille Wine Route’. That would be neither a bore nor a disappointment to me. I think ‘intoxicating’ is a more appropriate description.

Banyul’s doesn’t have the grand villas that so many French coastal towns are graced with and neither does it have such an abundance of colourful, flower bedecked fishermen’s cottages that certainly Collioure has but; it has plenty of sea front bars and restaurants from which to sit and watch the world go by and; there are even more on the Rue Saint Pierre which runs parallel with what I will call the Corniche (since I don’t know the name of the sea front road).

I’ve mentioned already that this is a famous wine producing area. It’s most renowned product is an unusual red fortified dessert wine known simply as ‘Banyuls’. Banyuls is made with a mix of grapes, never less than 50% Black Grenache (75% for the Grand Cru), which are left on the vine until they shrivel, like raisins. This helps to concentrate and intensify the deep fruit flavours. A particularly interesting feature used in the production of certain Banyuls (e.g. Banyuls Grand Cru Doux Paille) are the glass barrels known as “Dame Jeanne” or even “Bonbonnes”. They serve to ensure the wine is exposed to direct sunlight. When ready for consumption, Banyuls pairs exceptionally well with chocolate, be it a cake, a sauce or simply a strong bar of plain chocolate. The proof is in the pudding (Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself).

Of course, I had to try the local wines and in this regard I called in on one of the more prominent wineries (Cave L’Etoile), visiting first their beach hut bar (where better to sample wines?) and then their production centre and shop on Avenue De Puig Del Mas. And, yes, of course I bought a bottle or two.

I also mentioned previously that the promenade in Banyuls Sur Mer contains a number of sculptures. Three of them are the work of Aristide Maillol, sculptor and painter who was born, lived and died in the town (1861 to 1944). He was a friend of Matisse and Derrain (whom I wrote about in my blog on Collioure) but also Picasso, Dali and, not forgetting, Dina Vierny (muse, model, avid art collector, museum director and member of the French resistance during WW2). Amongst other things, Dina Vierny was instrument in establishing the Maillol Museum in Banyuls.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Banyuls sur Mer. We stayed two or three nights and in keeping with the promise we made when last visiting the Cote Vermeille we used one of the days to travel the coast road down into Spain (visiting the pretty little town of Roses). The journey was everything I hoped it would be but that’s the subject of the next blog. I cannot finish this entry without writing something about the food.

We tried a couple of restaurants on the seafront but the one we enjoyed the most was La Table de Jordi. The service was first class, the wine was good (from Collioure) and, for the most part the fish was very good. My only disappointment was with the oysters (skinny, flat ones) but the rest of the food… the sea bass, monkfish, mussels and langoustines were superb.

Roses next.

Marseillan (Occitaine), France September 2023 (Tour 8)

We were on our way to Banyuls Sur Mer down near the Spanish border but, after just a couple of hours driving, we thought to stop at Marseillan Plage for what remained of the day and the night. It was a warm sunny day and the idea of spending some time by the sea appealed to both of us and; besides, we were in the former administrative region of Languedoc Roussillon where one of our favourite white wines is produced – Picpoul de Pinet.

Marseillan Plage is Marseillan’s beach resort area on the Mediterranean coast. We found a suitable campsite right on the beach. What I didn’t realise until we were parked up and I was already walking towards the town is just how far the beach is from the town. Marseillan Plage sits on the south side of a long thin strip of land which separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Etang Thau saltwater lagoon and the town of Marseillan sits on the opposite bank of the Etang Thau near the eastern end of the Canal du Midi. They are more than 5 miles apart which meant I was in for a 10 plus mile hike even without allowing for a wander of the town. Oh well, best get on with it.

It was an arduous walk, made worse by the 32 degree heat but it was worth it. The first part of the walk took me across and along the very southern (eastern) end of the Canal du Midi. This canal connects the River Garonne (which flows into the Atlantic Ocean) to the Etang Thau (opens on to the Mediterranean Sea). That’s an incredible 240 kilometres. The canal has featured in this website before; so, I’ll not risk repeating myself here. It will suffice to say that by any standards it is a fantastic feat of engineering and, even more so, when you take into account it first opened in 1681; that’s during the reign of Louis XIV.

One interesting fact I will share with you about this part of the world (and which pleased me as I returned to the Van later that evening) is that, the local authorities have eliminated all mosquitoes in the area and residents are required by law to report any return of the bloodsuckers. That’s another amazing feat given how marshy this area is.

Upon entering Marseillan I made directly for the harbour area. It’s not a large harbour and the trading and fishing industries which once dominated have for the most part given way to tourism but, having said that, the place is not overly commercialised. Fishing remains big business – the area is justifiably famous for it’s oyster and mussel farms and the lagoon still teams with sea bass, bream, mullet and eels. Trading along the Canal du Midi is not what it was (improved roads and heavy goods vehicles have seen to that) but there’s still a fair amount of river traffic (leisure boats mostly) which use the canal and take advantage of the facilities that Marseillan still offers. It’s that river traffic which continues to ensure the little town’s quays are lined with sufficient cafe-bars and restaurants.

The centre of the old town hasn’t changed much at all in the last 200 years. Some of the old wine warehouses down by the lagoon have been converted into apartment blocks (holiday-lets for the most part, I suspect) and what little remained of the old fort and it’s walls have long gone but, the 13th century covered market, the 17th century church of St John The Baptist and the old merchant’s houses and smaller fishermen’s cottages are all much as was.

We arrived out of season and there was little sign of tourism. A number of the cafe-restaurants down by the quay were open but it would have been easy getting a table. Indeed, the whole area was quiet and peaceful; very relaxing.

One of the most prominent buildings down by the port is La Maison Noilly Prat where the famous vermouth is produced. Using a mix of the local Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette grapes, Noilly Prat produces 4 different vermouths (Original Dry, Extra Dry, Rouge and Ambre). In case you are unaware, vermouth is a type of aromatised wine macerated with spices which can be drunk on it’s own (and is not unlike a dry Madeira to taste) or it can be mixed with gin or vodka to make Martini. It is the Original Dry Vermouth which is used to mix Martini.

It goes without saying that I bought a bottle of the Traditional Dry but, I also bought a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka – anyone for a Vodka Martini? I didn’t know until visiting the distillery that Noilly Prat, together with Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Dewars Whisky and Patron Tequila (to name but a few) are part of the Bacardi Group.

By the way, La Maison Noilly Prat suggest the perfect Vodka Martini should be made using 60ml vodka, one tablespoon of Original Dry Vermouth and an olive or lemon peel to garnish. The process, they advise, is firstly, to stir the vodka with the vermouth and; secondly, the alcoholic mix should be combined with ice in a cocktail mixer and; thirdly, the resulting liquid should be strained into a chilled martini glass and; finally, the liquid should be served with the preferred garnish. Sounds easy in theory, doesn’t it?

Of course, it would be inappropriate to write about Marseillan and not mention a little more about the seafood.

If the truth be told, I goofed up during my visit by not finding time to visit Coqui Thau which is just up the road from Marseillan. Unfortunately, I heard about the company only after my return to the UK. The fact is, the calm salty water of the Etang Thau is ideal for farming oysters and mussels and that, primarily, is what Coqui Thau do. Moreover, they offer tours and tasting sessions. I’ve eaten and enjoyed countless oysters from all around the world but I know absolutely nothing about farming them. That will have to be put right when I’m next down in Marseillan.

So, I spent most of the day in Marseillan and then Vanya and I spent the evening and night in Marseillan Plage. Marseillan Plage does little for us but we did find an inexpensive bar in which to spend the evening where the Picpoul was good and the locals were very welcoming. Moreover, we were well placed to let the dogs enjoy a swim the next day before headed off to Banyuls Sur Mer.

Collioure (Occitanie), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Collioure is one of France’s best kept secrets. Nestled in a sheltered bay on the Catalan Coast with turquoise coloured waters and a dark green backdrop which are the Alberes Mountains, it’s a picture perfect little fishing town (anchovies) now given over to tourism (although only the French seem to know about it). It’s the smallest and most picturesque of the Cote Vermeille resorts and one of the most adorable coastal towns I have ever visited.

My first trip into Collioure saw me enter the town from the north. I walked the cliff tops from Camping Les Criques de Porteils, down onto the Plage de L’Ouille and then upwards and onwards past the CNEC military base (the Commando Training Centre) and into the town near the large fortress that is the Chateau Royal de Collioure.

The Knights Templar built the Chateau Royal early in the 13th century (1207?) and it was extended during the next 300 years, first by the Kings of Mallorca and then by the Spanish Hapsburgs. It is probably four castles in one now. I didn’t have time to explore the inside of the fortress on this occasion.

The Chateau Royal is on the left, towering over the Ansa de la Baleta Bay.

After gaining my bearings and taking numerous photos of the fortress and the 17th century Notre Dame des Anges church (i.e. the Church of our Lady of the Angels) – none of them very good – I followed a narrow path under the fortress walls and around the bay towards the southern edge of Collioure. I should say here that I didn’t see the church in it’s best light (it was covered in scaffolding, inside and out) but the Baroque interior is worth a look.

Left: The Bell Tower of the Church of our Lady of the Angels with the Saint Vincent Chapel caught behind it. Centre: The Saint Vincent Chapel photographed through a hole in the town walls. Right: The Church again with Lateen boats in the foreground.

This path under the fortress walls took me to another beach, the Plage de Port d’Avall (there are four or five small beaches in Collioure), and then on down the Rue Jean Bart to a terrific little bar with excellent views back across to the main part of the town.

That beach is the Plage de Port d’Avall and up on the hills behind is the 14th century Moulon de Collioure (a grain mill restored in 2001 and which is now used to produce the local olive oil) and yet another Templar Fort (Fort Saint Elme).

That’s the view of the church across the bay from the little bar I paused at and…

that’s a view from Fort Saint Elme (not mine – I gave up because the sun was simply too bright). The views from up on the hill are breathtaking.

Anyway, after refreshing myself with another (smaller) beer back at the bar I set off to explore the town itself.

The lanes behind the Plage de Port d’Avall are largely residential and the houses are invariably painted varying shades of red, orange and/or yellow and

… the buildings in the centre of Collioure, whether residential or commercial, tend to carry more vibrant colours and, by order of the town council, none may be painted black or white.

Some of the streets are truly striking. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular area of the town is known locally as ‘La Petite Montmartre’.

Around 1904/1905 the artists Henri Matisse and Andre Derain were inspired by the light and colours of Collioure to create what subsequently became known as the fauvist style of painting – they used strong colours and fierce brushwork and sometimes even applied colour directly from the paint tube. These painters were considered wild beasts of the art world by certain critics and with ‘fauve’ being French for the ‘wildcat’, so the Fauvists were formed.

Examples of the Fauvism. On the left a painting of Collioure by Matisse (Les toits de Collioure) and on the right one by Derain (Charing X Bridge, London).

Unfortunately, Vanya was troubled with a sore hip during our stay in Collioure and couldn’t handle the walk into town. We therefore missed out on seeing the place at night but it has given us a reason to return – As if we needed one!

Of course, Collioure is in the former administrative region of Languedoc Roussillon (now part of Occitanie) and any visit to such an area has to include a trip to a local winery whether it be to the likes of Picpoul for a nice dry white or Banyuls, just to the south of Collioure, for it’s famous sweet wines. We broke with convention and sought out Les Vignerons des Alberes.

Waiting for our wine in Les Vignerons des Alberes, just outside Collioure. We bought almost 10 litres each of their red and white wines. Their more expensive red is sold in 3 litre boxes and is superb. We will be buying considerably more upon our return.

Yep. Collioure really did it for me and we will definitely return. The only thing I would do differently next time is (a) to take a meal in one of the three Michelin recommended restaurants on the seafront (La Balette has a Michelin Star but Le 5eme Peche and Mamma Les Roches Brunes look equally appealing) and (b) to continue the journey into Spain using the D86 road to Cerbere rather than the motorway. I suspect the coast road will provide some great photo opportunities.

And so onto Spain but, I’ll leave you with one more photo of this lovely town…

Cassaigne (Occitaine), France September 2022 (Tour 6)

With just 200 inhabitants, Cassaigne is the smallest of the three villages we visited during our stay in Eauze. In reality it is now little more than a hamlet.

Built by the Bishops of Condom the original 13th century Chateau de Cassaigne was remodelled over a period of time and by the turn of the 16th century a pretty little village, complete with church, had formed around it.

During the French Revolution the State confiscated the property from the church and it was auctioned off. For many years thereafter it remained in private hands until in 2003 the wine cooperative Plaimont purchased the 30 acre Cassaigne estate. Nowadays, 20% of the estates vines are used to produce Armagnac and the other 80% goes towards the production of red, white and rose Cotes de Gascogne wines.

Plaimont operate wine tasting sessions from the chateau but we didn’t have time for that. We simply sampled some of the cooperative’s produce and then purchased a few bottles of their white wine for drinking back in the UK. I also bought a three bottle sampler selection of the chateau’s Armagnac. I’ll try those on my own one cold winter evening in Brighton.

After a short walk around the outside of the chateau primarily to get a closer look at the Fallow Deer enclosure, we made our way back to Eauze for dinner at the Michelin rated restaurant La Vie en Rose.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Cassaigne but it could perhaps be taken in on the back of a visit to nearby Condom, a quiet rural medieval market town with a fairly impressive cathedral.

Larressingle (Occitaine), France September 2022 (Tour 6)

From our base in Eauze, we took the Van out to visit three local villages. The first to be visited was Montreal sur Gers (see previous post). We then drove a few kilometres further east to the medieval fortress village of Larressingle, also known as the Little Carcassonne of Gers.

Larressingle is also a ‘Plus Beau Village de France’ and fully deserving of the title. It is also something of a tourist attraction being the most visited destination in the Gers (and on the Chemin de Puy to Santiago) but it was almost empty as we arrived. It is a small village almost completely surrounded by 300 metres of heavy fortified walls (that are for the most part in excellent condition) and it is full of charm.

There is only one entrance into the village, across an old moat and through a double arched stone bridge. Inside the fortress walls is a church and a range of medieval houses, most of which are set with their backs to the castle walls and are now home to craft shops and cafes and the local tourist office. It is beautiful.

Having walked all around the inside and the outside of the village we paused for a light lunch – a local artisan beer and a local pizza with goat’s cheese. Very tasty.

Montreal du Gers (Occitaine), France September 2022 (Tour 6)

While staying in Eauze we took time to visit some of the surrounding villages, starting with Montreal du Gers, a “Plus Beau Village de France” just 10 miles or so to the north east of Eauze.

Sitting on the banks of the Auzoue River, Montreal du Gers is an old bastide town dating back to 1255. It is organised around a small central square of arcades and the gothic collegiate church of Notre Dame (sometimes referred to as the Church of Saint Philippe et Saint Jacques). Unfortunately, we didn’t see the central square in it’s best light. It is used as the town car park and during our visit was packed with cars. It was a pity because if ever a square needed to be pedestrianised it is this one.

We paused in Montreal du Gers long enough to enjoy the small market on the square and walk a slow circuit of the place before moving on to another much smaller but more impressive village to the east, Larressingle. Overall, I didn’t rate Montreal du Gers. It certainly doesn’t have the charm one would ordinarily expect of a “Plus Beau Village de France”.

Notwithstanding the above, just outside Montreal du Gers is the small hamlet of Seviac and the remains of a 2nd century Roman villa, the ‘Villa Seviac’. This villa was a large and luxurious residence discovered by a local farmer in 1864 although it was neither explored nor excavated until the 1970’s. It is now a museum. Little is left of the villa’s original walls but many of it’s mosaics have been restored to their original splendour and they rank amongst the best of their kind in France.

NB We visited Montreal du Gers mid September 2022 but this blog was not completed and posted until 22 October – apologies.

Eauze (Occitaine), France September 2022 (Tour 6)

And so to Eauze and an altogether nicer part of France. Eauze is only a small town (4,000 people) but it is recognised as the capital of the Armagnac area. Moreover it is surrounded by a clutch of interesting villages, a number of which are included in the list of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ and it has a reasonably priced Michelin Restaurant (La Vie en Rose). We knew immediately that Eauze was going to be good and so we booked into the municipal campsite for a few days with a view to using it as a base from which to explore both Eauze and various local villages (Montreal du Gers, Larressingle, Cassaigne). The campsite was quiet (it would close for winter the following week) but it has a pool, a pleasant and very popular restaurant (Restaurant au Moulin de Pouy) and is just a short walk from a large Leclerc supermarket and the town centre itself.

Initially named Elusa in Roman times, Eauze is a town of some considerable historical significance (especially during France’s Religious Wars). It was home to Henri III of Navarre (who was subsequently crowned Henri IV of France) and his wife Marguerite de Valois (who was sister to no less than three French Kings – Francis II, Charles IX and Henri III – and popularised by Alexandre Dumas in his historical novel ‘La Reine Margot’). I recall watching the 1994 film version of Dumas’ book which starred Isabelle Adjani in the title role.

Eauze may be small but around it’s main square (which, unusual in rural France, has a bar that stayed open until one o’clock in the morning) there is a decent sized medieval quarter of narrow streets simply teeming with character.

Also on the main square is a former cathedral, now a church, dedicated to Saint Luperc. Luperc (sometimes known as Luperculus) was a Bishop when the town was controlled by the Romans. He was martyred by the Romans during the reign of Emporer Trajan (3rd Century?). The original 15th/16th century church was destroyed by Cardinal Richelieu during the final days of France’s Religious Wars and the current building was built during the 18th century on the site of the older church. It is a tall but narrow Gothic building which, while not all that impressive from the outside, is quite distinctive on the inside. It is unusually light and airy and the apse contains a series of impressive paintings depicting the life of Jesus Christ and some beautiful long colourful stained glass windows.

One of the highlights of our visit to Eauze was a meal at La Vie en Rose, a Michelin listed restaurant which clearly deserves a star. It highlights local cuisine at very reasonable prices. A budget menu of the day was avalable but we went a la carte. I started with a really refreshing Salade de Saint Jacques a l’orange et aux avocats and followed it with the chef’s speciality, an earthy main of Papillotes de Saint Jacques au Foie Gras. The accompanying wine was a local Tariquet Amplitude recommended by the chef. I’m writing this blog some weeks after we left Eauze and, shame on me, I cannot remember Vanya’s main (she didn’t bother with a starter) but I recall her having a great looking dessert, a Marquise au Chocolat Creme Caramel, which she described as “simply divine”. I finished with a very good Armagnac but, in hindsight, I wish I too had taken a dessert. The ‘La Croustade’ looked fantastic.

We had our dogs with us when we visited La Vie En Rose and so ate outside.
Papillotes de Saint Jacques au Foie Gras. They were cooked and served in aluminium.

One other feature of Eauze which I found particularly impressive was the local street art (most of which seemed to have been created by the one artist).

Saint Gaudens (Occitaine), France August 2022 (Tour 6)

Camped up in Montrejeu and I somehow broke the Van’s fly screen. There’s no way you can spend Summer in a van in the south of France or Spain (our next port of call) without a fly screen so; we drove to the nearest (larger) town of Saint Gaudens to find the French equivalent of B&Q – Mr Bricolage.

Saint Gaudens is not the prettiest town in France but we arrived on a market day and we love local markets. So with the fly screen temporarily sorted via the purchase of a Moustiquaire Magnetique (just 12 euros), we wandered around the market; Vanya sourced a supply of ‘cbd’ in a local shop and; best of all we sat at the edge of the market and nursed a coffee and watched the world go by for a while.

Oh, and there’s one more thing worth knowing about Saint Gaudens. Dominique Bouchait, one of the great French cheese masters, is based in Montrejeau and, while his cheese factory is in his home town (alongside Camping Paradis), he has an impressive store in Saint Gaudens (Les Fromagers du Mont Royal).

It was a lazy four days in Montrejeu.

Montrejeau (Occitaine), France August 2022 (Tour 6)

I last visited in Montrejeau in July 2019 (during Tour 2) but I never kept a blog that Tour, choosing instead to simply post brief details on Facebook. I recall I wasn’t very complimentary about the town in my FB entry. That was perhaps unfair because I didn’t get a good look at Montrejeau. My focus then was more towards the excellent camp site I stayed at (Camping du Paradis) and my trip to ‘le plus beau village’ of Saint Bertrand de Comminges where a medieval festival was under way. That was a great day but, it is time to put the record straight about Montrejeux.

Once again I chose to stay at Camping du Paradis and once again it was brilliant (nice pitch, facilities and people) although it is now three times more expensive than it was in July 2019. No matter, it was good enough for us to stay 4 days.

As for Montrejeau it’s a small town with no more than 3,000 people but, it has a couple of real plus points and it has some history. On balance I was a little unfair about the place and while Montrejeau is unlikely to set the world alight in my lifetime, it is a reasonable base from which to explore the Haute-Garonne.

So what did I see this time that I never saw before? Well, for a starter I missed the town’s main street. Instead I made my way from the campsite down along the Boulevard Bertrand de Lassusand then onto and over the town bridge to Saint Bertrand de Comminges. I returned the same way and as such missed the Marie (the town hall), the war memorial (it’s really quite unique), the Eglise de St Jean Baptiste (beautiful plain inside) and L’hotel de Lassus (the town’s most impressive mansion).

The church, L’Eglise de St Jean Baptiste, has an unusual octagonal shape tower but is otherwise unimpressive, until you get inside. The arched dark wooden roof and the roughly hewn cream coloured stone walls complement each other wonderfully well and the church isn’t full of garish furniture that might detract from what amounts to a beautifully simple interior. I like it.

L’Hotel de Lassus is not, nor ever was, a hotel. It’s a mansion (many French mansions are referred to as l’hotels), dating from the late 18th century and it belonged to the same Lassus family whose progeny subsequently built the 1892 Chateau de Valmirande. Nowadays it is used as a reception hall and there is a small space museum inside it.

Chateau Valmirande

One other attraction I sought out during this more recent visit to Montrjeau is it’s leisure centre and lake. The lake was developed out of a former gravel pit and extends over thirty hectares. To one side of the lake is a ‘Blue Flag’ water park complete with water slides and a bouncy obstacle course (I had to restrain Vanya from the obstacle course on the water) and the other side of the lake is for fishing.

So, Montréjeau does have more to it than I first thought after my visit in 2019.

I mentioned too that it has some history. Well, it was the scene of one of the last battles between Republicans and Royalists during the French Revolution. In the summer of 1799, anti-revolutionary insurrection broke out in the area which threatened even the city of Toulouse. The Paris Directory quickly sent an army to the area and the rebels were crushed at Montrejeau in August 1799.