Category Archives: South West

Cordes-sur-Ciel, Episode 88


Cordes-sur-Ciel photo Thierry Llansades
Cordes sur Ciel photo Thierry Llansades

Cordes-sur-Ciel, Most Beloved French Village

On today’s show Elyse tells us about Cordes-sur-Ciel. Cordes was elected France’s favorite village because it is so beautiful, situated within gorgeous landscape, and it is rich in history. It is so close to Albi that you could visit both in one day and see very different places within a short time. Should you see it or should you skip it? It has its disadvantages (STEEP hills!) but we give you ways to work around those. Enjoy the show!


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To Prepare for Your Trip: Tales from the Hilltop: a summer in the other South of France (Free right now on Kindle Unlimited).

  • [1:19] French Tip of the Week: how do you pronounce the name “Manon” in French? Examples: oncologie, le Lubéron, Ontario, le baron, la Gironde.
  • [4:20] What’s the secret to making good soup?
  • [5:20] The new Exhibition at the Orsay Museum on depictions of prostitution in paintings.
  • [10:00] New Exhibit at the Grand Palais Picassomania, on Picasso and his legacy. If you want to get in you should get your tickets in advance.
  • [13:00] Discussion on Cordes-sur-Ciel.
  • The name Cordes-sur-Ciel is new, based on a work by a poet who  renamed it in 1993. The name Cordes is much older because this village was created in 1222. Today it is in the Tarn department.
  • Cordes was a heavily Cathar town in the Middle Ages. Cordes was on the northern edge of the territory that belonged to the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VIII.
  • Cordes was a charted town (a “Bastide”) where the people knew they would be protected (walled city), where they’d get tax rebates, every resident would be treated equally, the residents would be protected by his armies if needed. Raymond VII had the trust of the people, so he got a lot of people to go colonize this new area.
  • Why is Cordes named Cordes? Because of Cordoba in Spain which was a capital of textiles and leather work. Within the space of 30 years the town was so successful that they had to expand the wall 5 times!
  • Cordes is a steep town, walking all the way up is a bit of a hike. May 1st thru Sept 30th for 3€ you can take the tourist train at Place de la Bouteillerie and be dropped off at Porte de la Jane.
  • There are 32,000 villages in France. We’re not sure what the official definition is according to the INSEE, but that’s a lot of places for a small country. What makes a village special is its architecture, the site where it’s built, and its history. Cordes gets an A on all of these!
  • Cordes has the most civilian Gothic architecture in France. By 1250 it was the richest town in the south-west of France besides Toulouse.  The people of Cordes threw the Inquisitors down the well because they didn’t want to put up with it.
  • [36:30] The story of the water well in Cordes.
  • The bird business “ormeau” is NOT a bird or a tree, it’s a sea shell. The name “place de l’Ormeau” has to do with Saint Jacques de Compostelle!!! Elyse is embarrassed and Annie shall tease her about that for a long time 😉
  • [53:00] How long should you plan to stay in Cordes?
  • French people are not very tough about visiting places like Cordes when it’s raining, so if you go on a rainy day you’ll be mostly alone.
  • Cordes-sur-Ciel does not have a big cathedral, but the church it has is worth visiting.
  • Cordes-sur-Ciel est steep, it’s possible that in the Middle Ages they used mules a lot. You may want to even today!
  • Elyse recommends visiting Albi and Cordes in the same day. You have time for both.
  • To hire Elyse to give you a tour, look her up on Facebook: Toulouse Guided Walks.

 

Cordes sur ciel seen from Grain de Sel photo Adrien Béronuntitled
Cordes sur ciel seen from Grain de Sel photo Adrien Béronuntitled

Looking for Unique Experiences in France, Episode 86

Looking for Unique Experiences in France
Janice at the Marathon du Médoc with the Flash Gordon runners

Janice is a retired (How is that even possible? Look at her!) Elementary School Principal who has a passion for France and has visited so many times I declare her to be an honorary local. When she’s not driving around France she’s working on her second passion, a travel website called France Travel Tips. In this episode we talk about the many unique experiences she’s had in France and some of the great tips she can share with us to help us have a better time in France AND save some money along the way!

To Prepare for Your Trip: Two for the Road Movie

Places Mentioned on the Show: Pauillac, Marathon du Médoc, Marathon de Paris, Gordes, École des Trois Ponts in Riorges, the restaurant Troigros in Roanne, Music at the Sainte Chapelle, Music at Église Saint Germain des Près , Patricia Kaas concert Nancy, Olympia Concert Hall in Paris, Saint Malo, Biarritz, Saint Sébastien, Saint Jean de Luz, Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne, Provence, restaurant La Truie qui Doute in Anduze, Saint Antonin Noble Val, Eiffel Tower, Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Collias, Pont du Gard, Inisttut du Monde Arabe


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Janice Tells Us About Her Two Marathon in France

  • Marathon du Médoc (see photo above with the Flash Gordon runners)
  • Marathon de Paris

The Médoc and Paris Marathons are very different, Janice explains what she liked in both.  [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]To run a marathon in France you need to get a doctor’s certificate that will state that you are fit enough to participate.[/pullquote]

Janice and the Citroën 2CV: she loves unique photos and is looking forward to riding in a 2CV.

Citroën 2CV in Gordes
Pink Citroën 2CV in Gordes, photo Janice.

Studying French at the École des Trois Ponts in Riorges where she particularly enjoyed the informal conversations and the cooking classes.

Making Macarons at the Cordon Bleu with a teacher who only speaks French (translator provided) and helps the students make their own.

Looking for Unique Experiences in France
Janice Making Macarons at the Cordon Bleu

Janice also loves Angelina’s Hot Chocolate on rue de Rivoli, it’s topped with whipped cream, but it’s OK because she runs marathons the rest of the time!

Listening to Music in Paris at the Sainte Chapelle where she heard the Four Seasons. You can see the beautiful stained glass and hear approachable music at the same time. Janice also attended a concert at the Église Saint Germain des Près. To find more concerts in France go to a FNAC store or the ticket office at any large grocery store.

Side note on how Casinos in France have strict entry rules. You need ID to enter and Annie explains why.

Janice goes through a typical day for her in France. She likes to rent a Gîte from Gîtes de France or HomeAway, she likes to go to the market in the morning, go to a café, go visit a town and explore, take some photos, go to a restaurant, enjoy some wine (a pichet of wine).  We explain how restaurants often do not want to substitute anything for the wine that comes with the meal.

Driving in France: Janice got two speeding tickets on her last trip from radars, once for going 7 over the speed limit. Annie got one for going 3 over the speed limit! Don’t speed in France! Also, how do you pay for a parking ticket in France? Janice explains because she had to do it! Use cruise control so you do not go over the speed limit and you’ll be fine.

Spending New Year’s Eve in Paris and a typical meal for Holidays in France. The Eiffel Tower is blocked off but you can have a spectacular view of the light show from the bridge called Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Another Paris tip: you can get a great view onto Notre Dame and the Seine Lookingfrom the Institut du Monde Arabe.  Going to the top is free!

 

Carla-Bayle in the Ariège, Episode 85

Carla-Bayle Post Office
Carla-Bayle Post Office photo Bernard O

It’s wonderful to have Elyse back on today’s show and we start the show by catching up on what she’s been up to and on the Journées du Patrimoine that happen on the third week-end of September in France.

Places and People Mentioned on the Show: Carla-Bayle (Ariège), Pibrac (Haute-Garonne), The Société d’Astronomie Populaire de Toulouse, the Lèze River, Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (Haute-Garonne), Alphonce de Poitiers, Lézat-sur-Lèze (Ariège), Le Fossat (Ariège), the Volvestre area, Mas d’Azil (Ariège), Arize river.

To Prepare for Your Trip: Movie the Return of Martin Guerre


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Carla-Bayle City SignOne of the reasons why Elyse wanted to talk about Carla-Bayle is because it’s a major artist colony. There is an art festival that goes on each summer (put together by an association of residents called Rue des Arts) that presents interesting and original artists. There are craft festivals all over France in the summer, this is much more than that.

Carla-Bayle is on the crest of a cliff and enjoys lovely views towards the Pyrenees. We have records of people living there as far back as the 10th century, with Alphonse de Poitier arriving in the XIII century who turned it into a Bastide and developed it further.

It’s difficult for us to imagine how small places in the middle of nowhere today could have been such important centers for commerce. It always has to do with successful agriculture and trade. In this instance the Pastel plant was also vital to the economy of the area.

Carla-Bayle used to be called Carla-le-Comte in honor of Alphonse de Poitiers, but it was renamed to Carla-Bayle after the French Revolution in honor of a French philosopher and author (who was born not far near Pamiers) from the 1600s called Pierre Bayle. This philosopher was a Protestant and Carla-Bayle was a bastion for the Protestant faithful.

In Carla-Bayle today you can see remnants of the castle, the church is from the 1680s, so not very old by French standards, but it is still lovely. But what is striking is that all of the houses have blue shutters. It is gorgeous, especially on a sunny day. There are some nice restaurants there too.

The movie Le Retour de Martin Guerre was filmed in Carla Bayle. The actual story (based on a true story) actually took place not far in Artigat. It is the story of a man who disappears,  then a different man comes into the village pretending to be Martin Guerre. He settles in with his wife, has two children with her, then another Martin Guerre shows up. There was an American remake called Sommersby, not set in France at all, but a similar story line. In the French movie they didn’t glamour it up at all, which gives a great idea of what life was like in France in the 1500s.

Carla-Bayle seen from Moulin le Fossat
Carla-Bayle seen from Moulin le Fossat

Trip Report Loire Valley and Dordogne, Episode 82


Loire Valley and DordogneOn today’s episode Matt from Boston tells us how to have a great vacation in France with young children, specifically in the Loire Valley and Dordogne. Matt tells us how he and his wife and daughters spent three and a half weeks touring around France and what their favorite places were. Today we concentrate on their visit of the Loire Valley and the Dordogne, and as it turns out Dordogne WAS one of their favorites!


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Some of the Topics Discussed on the Show

  • Why did they choose France? Why did they choose late spring?
  • Can they speak French? Did that become a problem? How much French do you really need to be comfortable getting around in France?
  • How did they deal with their daughter’s severe food allergy while in France?
  • French Tip of the Week: How do you say “my daughter is allergic to eggs” in French? “Ma fille est allergique aux oeufs”. Just in case, do what Matt did, print out a card in French that you can show to waiters.
  • How did they like the food in France?
  • What is it like driving in France? See Episode 16 for more on that.
  • Why did they skip Paris?
  • What is it like landing in France in the middle of a huge taxi strike?

A Few Navigation Time Stamps

18:00 Matt talks about driving in France, that it was great and that episode 16 on that subject helped him greatly. He found that French people pretty much don’t speed, don’t pass on the right, don’t honk at you when they disagree with your driving choices, he even loved  the roundabouts. Bring a stand-alone GPS such as a Tom-Tom that rely on GPS signal alone and not maps tied to your smart-phone.

24:45 Matt mentions how it’s lovely that there are so many picnic tables in France. You can bring your own food, it’s encouraged!

29:00 What it is like shopping at French grocery stores? Going to the butcher’s and the open-air market. Great bread everywhere, great fruit and vegetables. Annie explains briefly how food distribution works in France.

35:00 Why some freeways are toll roads in France and others are not.

37:00 How you can deal with hot weather in France if your rental home does not have air-conditioning: open everything up at night and close everything, especially shutters, all day. Go swimming. Don’t cook inside, use the barbecue outside!

Places Mentioned on the Show

Château de Chenonceau, Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo DaVinci), Beynac, Vitrac, Lascaux, Fond de Gaume, La Roque Saint-Christophe, le Gouffre de Padirac, la Fôret des Singes, Castlenaud-la-Chapelle.

Loire Valley and Dordogne
Chenonceau, photo Andrea Schaffer

Matt’s Detailed Itinerary

Wednesday June 24
• Flew from Boston to Paris via Iceland

Thursday June 25
• Arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport during taxi strike, train terminal very busy, missed our TGV reservations
• TGV to Tours in afternoon, picked up rental car in Tours, drove to B&B in La Croix-en-Touraine
• Picnic dinner from food obtained in Blere
• Kids played on the swing set at the B&B

Friday June 26
• Toured the Chateau du Chenonceau in the morning*
• Toured the Chateau du Clos Luce in the afternoon
• Dinner of pasta with sausages from the butcher in Blere

Saturday June 27
• Drove from La Croix-en-Touraine to Beynac (400 km)
• Settled into our gite
• Dinner of roast chicken from butcher in Beynac with potatoes and veggies

Sunday June 28
• Market day in Saint-Cyprien, kids played at the playground in the town center
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of Toulouse sausage from the butcher and market veggies

Monday June 29
• Toured Grotte de Lascaux II in the morning*
• Toured La Roque Saint-Christopher after lunch
• Toured the Elevage du Bouyssou goose and duck farm in the early evening*
• Dinner of eggs with lardons over greens

Tuesday June 30 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured the Gouffre de Padirac in the morning*
• Toured La Foret des Singes after lunch*
• Dinner of pork ribs from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbeque*

Wednesday July 1 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured Castlenaud-la-Chapelle in the morning*
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of pork ribs and Toulouse sausages from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbecue

Thursday July 2
• Market day in Domme, toured Domme in the morning
• Canoed the Dordogne River between Vitrac and Beynac after lunch*
• Toured La Roque-Gageac during canoe ride
• Dinner of duck confit from Beynac butcher, eggs, and greens

Friday July 3 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured Chateau de Beynac in the morning
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of pork ribs and sausages from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbecue

Saturday July 4 (Happy Independence Day!)
• Drove from Beynac to Tarascon (500 km)
• Saw the Canal du Midi at the rest stop along the way
• Settled in to our gite
• Swam in the pool

Loire Valley and Dordogne
Matt and daughter at Clos Lucé

 

 

Mirepoix, Episode 81

Elyse giving a tour in Mirepoix
Elyse giving a tour in Mirepoix

Mirepoix, Medieval City

On today’s show Elyse shares with us the wonderful and unusual story of the city of Mirepoix in the Arriège department. This medieval city is full of charm but it is not as well-known as some of the others cities nearby such as Carcassonne or Foix. On the show you’ll hear about Cathars, about a dramatic flood that entirely destroyed the city in the Middle Ages, how Mirepoix rose back from the disaster from the help of a family of magnanimous conquerors, and how it is one of the places that should not be missed in the south-west.

Places Mentioned on the Show

French/Dutch Island of Saint Martin or Saint Marteen in the Caribbean. Mirepoix, Arriège.

French Tip of the Week

“J’ai une mémoire de poisson rouge” = I have a bad memory (starts at 53:42)

To Prepare for Your Visit

Medieval Gnostics: Cathar Rituals


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Mirepoix

Cathar Area

1206 Convention of Cathars in Mirepoix to find a way to defend themselves against anticipated Catholic assault on the Cathars. They were correct to think about it because the war that took the Cathars off the map started 3 years later. This war is also the one that took Carcassonne and Foix later. Simon de Montfort was at the head of this army and his first Lieutenant was Guy de Lévis and they took Mirepoix without much resistance because it was not a fortified city.

Mirepoix

Guy de Lévis Rebuilds

Guy de Lévis is gifted lordship over Mirepoix and it turns out that he is a benevolent ruler who helps develop the city. On June 22nd, 1289 a damn up-river (L’Hers-Vif) breaks and the village of Mirepoix is left. The only thing that remains is a bit of the castle that you can still see today. The village is rebuilt on the other side of the river and instead of putting the church at the center of the city (perhaps they were still a little sore about the war against the Cathars?), they put the market at the center of city life. The Lévis family has had a very positive influence over the area.

Mirepoix
Labyrinthe inside the Cathedral in Mirepoix

The Black Prince Destroys Mirepoix

Mirepoix is the victim of the Black Prince from England and this latest disaster convinces the inhabitants to build stone walls around the city. These came much later than most fortifications, with four gates and trenches all around. You can still see two of those gates in Mirepoix today.

MirepoixSeeing Mirepoix Today

Elyse gives recommendations on what you should see in Mirepoix today and discusses the hotels and events in the city. And of course we encourage you to take a proper tour with Elyse, you’ll love it! We end on a small rant on how a small town such as Mirepoix still has two great bookstores while Annie couldn’t find more than one book store left in Philadelphia!

Mirepoix

 

Corbières and Tarn Trip Report, Episode 78


Corbières and Tarn
Shari and Craig

Corbières and Tarn

One of the most important decisions you have to make when traveling is how much can you fit in and where should home base be? In part 2 of their interview, honeymooners Shari and Craig tell us what they decided to do and what they enjoyed most in the Corbières and in the Tarn. Also in this week’s episode French tips for travelers: phrases you’ll hear all the time in France and won’t necessarily understand unless you train your ear!

How to Order Your Meat in French
  • Bien cuit = Well-done
  • À point = Medium
  • Saignant = Rare
  • Bleu = VERY rare

Mentioned on the Show: Corbières, Aude Department, Camplong d’Aude, Lagrasse, Abbaye de Lagrasse, Le Temps des Courges in Lagrasse, Château de Villerouge-Termènes, Tarn Department, Toulouse, Grand Rond, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin Royal, Musée des Jacobins, L’Entrecôte Restaurant, Saint Sernin Basilica, Japanese Garden at Compans Caffarelli, Puycelsi, Bruniquel, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.


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Corbières and Tarn
Lagrasse
Recommendations:
  • If you can avoid it, don’t come to Toulouse in August because so much is closed, you won’t experience the city as it really is.
  • Bring a GPS that is not linked to a data plan, make sure it includes France maps!
  • Puycelsi, Tarn: Up on a hill, small village, not too hard to park, beautiful greenery and country-side, beautiful classic cars, not crowded on the Sunday they visited. Also very clean and well-maintained.
  • Bruniquel, Tarn et Garonne: Also up on a hill, with a castle on a cliff, looks down over the river, a bit of a hike up because you have to park at the bottom. Castle was not remodeled, some of the rooms were closed because they might be dangerous to walk there. Le Vieux Fusil movie that was filmed there.
  • Penne: Again, this village is on a cliff, Shari and Craig didn’t have time to visit.
  • Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val: Nice place also, white cliffs, canoeing, there were a lot of people on the river.
  • Albi: Shari and Craig enjoyed staying at the Ibis Style, visited the Cathedral, beautiful French Gardens, river. The whole city is beautiful.
  • Another place you might consider in this area: Cordes sur Ciel, Tarn.
  • Toulouse is a good central location to a lot of gorgeous areas in the south of France.
French Tip of the Week

“Tout s’est bien passé ?” = Was everything all right?

“Sur place ou à emporter ?” = Eat here or take away?

In France, should you sit yourself or wait to be seated? At a terrace you sit yourself, the waiter will come to you.

Corbières and Tarn