[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 417, quatre cent dix sept.
[00:00:23] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.
[00:00:37] Today on the podcast
[00:00:37] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Meredith Wheeler about Lautrec in the Tarn, a remarkable town in the Occitane region.
[00:00:47] Annie Sargent: Meredith is the perfect person to talk about Lautrec because she’s been living there for years, perhaps decades actually, and she knows the place inside and out. We get into all sorts of topics that will be of interest to those of you who want to visit the Southwest of France and also to people who would like to, you know, think that perhaps they’d like to move to France someday, it’s definitely a lovely area.
[00:01:13] Annie Sargent: She’s a delightful guest and accomplished journalist, someone who has devoted a lot of time to recognizing the service of American veterans around the Southwest. She’s carried the American flag in lots of official ceremonies, and her husband is pretty cool as well as you’ll hear in a second.
[00:01:32] Podcast supporters
[00:01:32] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. And you can browse all of that at my boutique JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique.
[00:01:50] I am recording this on Thanksgiving Day, in-between setting the table and getting started on stuffing. Time is precious today, as you know. I am expecting many guests tonight and very happy to be able to do that, but my editor, Cristian needs to get this intro ASAP so it’s ready by Sunday.
[00:02:12] Annie Sargent: There won’t be any remarks after this episode. Let me thank my patrons right now, patrons old and new, you are wonderful and make this podcast possible. Merci.
[00:02:23] New patron shoutout
[00:02:23] My thanks today to new patron, MJ Lechner, delighted to have you. To become a patron visit Patreon.com/joinus.
[00:02:35] Annie Sargent: My thanks also to Alexis Butler for sending in a one-time donation and using the green button on any page on JoinUsinFrance.Com that says, Tip your guide.
[00:02:47] Annie Sargent: Alexis wrote: Thank you for a lovely podcast. My family is traveling to Paris over the Christmas holiday break for the first time. Woo-hoo. Your podcast stories, tips and French cultural insights have been a joy to discover. I’ll continue to listen even after we return.
[00:03:06] Annie Sargent: Well, thank you very much, that’s very kind of you and have a wonderful time in Paris over the Christmas holidays.
[00:03:13] Thinking of booking an itinerary consult?
[00:03:13] Annie Sargent: I need to mention also that if you’re thinking of using my Itinerary Service and you’ll be visiting France in the Spring, now is the time to book that because my calendar is full up until January 10th right now, as of today, that changes all the time.
[00:03:29] Annie Sargent: I think it’s ideal if you talk to me two or three months before your trip. So let’s get this lined up if that’s something you want to do.
[00:03:38] Annie Sargent: You can see all of that at my boutique JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique.
[00:03:44] Annie Sargent: And since there won’t be any remarks after my chat with Meredith, let me tell you that next week on the podcast is going to be an episode with Casey Amistad about her first time in France, and she was traveling by herself too.
[00:04:00] Annie Sargent: How many of you are thinking, I’d love to go to France, but perhaps I shouldn’t go alone?
[00:04:05] Annie Sargent: Well, think again. I think you will love that episode as well. She made a lot of wonderful suggestions.
[00:04:11] Annie Sargent: And now onto Meredith and the wonderful town of Lautrec.
[00:04:25] Lautrec in the Tarn
[00:04:25] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Meredith Wheeler and Welcome to Join Us in France.
[00:04:30] Meredith Wheeler: Thank you, great to be here.
[00:04:32] Annie Sargent: Meredith was a writer and producer for Network News in the US and that’s how she met her husband, Robin Ellis, who played the original Captain Ross Poldark. And he was also in a new version of Poldark as a cranky old judge, I think.
[00:04:51] Annie Sargent: He’s written four cookbooks including Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian cooking, and he used to do cooking workshops in Lautrec because he loves great healthy food, but he doesn’t do that anymore because he’s retired. We all have to do that at some point. Don’t we, Meredith?
[00:05:11] Meredith Wheeler: That’s right. Well, he is 80!
[00:05:12] Annie Sargent: Right. That makes sense. So I’ll do a brief intro of Lautrec because it’s a place that lots of people have heard of, but not everybody is familiar with. .
[00:05:22] A brief history of Lautrec
[00:05:22] Annie Sargent: I want to give you a picture of what the village is like. It’s a village of about 2000 inhabitants in the Tarn Department. It is listed as a most beautiful village of France. It has a wonderful garlic festival that we will get into in a second. And even if you’ve never set foot in Lautrec you’ve heard of the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who did not live in Toulouse or in Lautrec. But nevertheless, he carried the name of his illustrious family who descended from both the counts of Toulouse and the Viscount of Lautrec.
[00:05:58] Annie Sargent: There has been people living in Lautrec since Antiquity between the 1100s and the 1400s, so you know, that’s the late Middle Ages. Lautrec was the only city in this area that had fortifications, a castle and a viscount. During that period, there were about 5,000 people in the village proper, plus all the people who came to seek refuge within the walls as needed. This is how it worked, if you had walls, people came to seek your protection.
[00:06:26] Annie Sargent: You can still see some of the walls, the impressive door into the city. La Collegiale, which is a church, well, not anymore. A beautiful windmill that still runs when there’s enough wind and if the tour guide is there because she needs to keep an eye on it. There are also silos, but not a lot left of those.
[00:06:46] Annie Sargent: Anyway, Lautrec is about an hour and 15 minutes east of Toulouse and about 30 minutes south of Albi, about 20 minutes north of Castres, to give you an idea of the region.
[00:06:59] Annie Sargent: So Lautrec is not on a major river, but there are several streams in the area that provide plenty of water. It is a major agricultural area where historically, they grew pastel, a plant that they used to make a dye, makes a beautiful blue color, which is the ancestor of the indigo. They also produce a lot of garlic and they even have a garlic path that’s marked in the village, it’s about seven kilometers around the village. They make wine nearby, they grow wheat, it’s famous for the garlic soup of course, and we’ll get into that in a second as well.
[00:07:38] Annie Sargent: But what is for sure is that Lautrec is surrounded by beautiful agricultural lands. It’s a beautiful little village on top of a rock.
[00:07:48] Annie Sargent: One more quick thing, Lautrec is an area that we call Le Pays de Cocagne, which is popular intraditional lore, as the land of plenty, a place of luxury and ease.
[00:08:00] Annie Sargent: And Le Pays de Cocagne has been mentioned since the Middle Ages in several European languages, so it’s a very well-established cultural reference. Okay. I’m done blabbering.
[00:08:12] Why did you choose to move to Lautrec?
[00:08:12] Annie Sargent: Why don’t you tell us about Lautrec and why you chose to move there? Because that’s how I met you. I mean, when I met you, you were living in Lautrec already.
[00:08:21] Meredith Wheeler: Yes, we’ve lived here since 1990.
[00:08:24] How did we end up here? You know, I came down here to introduce my fiance, Robin, at the time, to Hughes Rudd, who was a very well known anchor man and corresponded for CBS News and ABC. And I worked with Hughes at ABC. And he had been a pilot in France during World War II, and he fell in love with the country and he retired to the Tarn, which is what our department is called here.
[00:08:52] Meredith Wheeler: And he took us to lunch with some friends in Cordes-sur-Ciel, which is a beautiful bastide, medieval bastide in the region, the north of the Tarn. And over lunch, Robin who had always loved Tuscany, looked around and said, Do you know anyone selling a house here? And this other couple at the table said, Yes, we do. And that house they knew about was this house we live in now.
[00:09:18] Meredith Wheeler: It’s an old early 18th century stone presbytère. And we went to look at it the next day and Robin fell in love with the house. And as we drove away, there was a double rainbow, and when we got to view this house that night, he said, Lautrec, Lautrec, I think there’s a garlic festival in Lautrec. And that sealed the deal for Robin because he loves cooking, particularly Mediterranean cuisine. And the idea of living in a place that had a Garlic festival, well, that was it.
[00:09:53] The Garlic Festival in Lautrec
[00:09:53] I assume you’ve attended the Garlic Festival many, many times over the years.
[00:09:58] Meredith Wheeler: We have, but you know, it’s changed so much. The first year, we bought the house in 1990, we went and we rolled up to the village, because we live about two miles south of it in the countryside. At about 11:30, and everything looked normal and we said, Well, where’s the Garlic Festival? And some guys said to us, Oh, if you go down on the ramparts, they’re probably wrapping it up now.
[00:10:22] Meredith Wheeler: And so we went down and in those days what would happen is the local garlic farmers would bring their cars and vans loaded with pink garlic, and they’d be waiting for either big culinary organizations, or actually the pharmaceutical industry used a lot of garlic, those garlic pearls that people would buy in health food stores. That’s where some of this garlic goes.
[00:10:50] Meredith Wheeler: But anyway, we asked one of them if we could buy a kilo of garlic and he looked very annoyed with us and said, Oh, you know, Okay. But really they were looking to sell 150 kilos at a time.
[00:11:00] The Garlic Festival is on the first weekend of August
[00:11:00] Meredith Wheeler: But that has changed so much. It used to be just the first Friday in August and now it’s Friday and Saturday, and they’re also events on Sunday, and it’s become a huge festival.
[00:11:13] Meredith Wheeler: You know, the village population, I looked at it last night Annie, online, it said it was 1776 people, which is easy for an American to remember that number. We have 10,000 visitors who come over the weekend for the garlic festival. It is huge event, they give away free garlic soup in the main square, which is delicious. And it’s made that morning too. The local women make it that morning for so many people.
[00:11:39] Meredith Wheeler: But my favorite part of it is, they have a competition for the most creative object you can make out of garlic. And over the years, I have to say, my favorite was the Lochness monster, but there’s also been the World Cup Trophy, lamps that work. There was a beautiful sheep made out of garlic. And the prize for the winning entry every year, that’s fun. And they have a big dinner associated with it.
[00:12:10] Meredith Wheeler: And the other thing they’ve instituted in recent years, is a parade of the guilds. And I have to say, in all honesty, this has come out of a, a kind of French Disneyland mentality, but they tend to be older people and there’s the Guild of the Garlic of Growers.
[00:12:28] Meredith Wheeler: There’s the guild of, for example, Cassoulet, from Carcassone and honey and all kinds of guilds, and they all have fabulous costumes, and they parade down the street as a kind of nod to medieval times when there really were guilds. But it’s very colorful, and a very fun event to attend. I highly recommend it. It’s the high point of the year for the village.
[00:12:55] Buying Lautrec Garlic
[00:12:55] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And you know, if you can’t make it in early August, well, there’s still a lot to enjoy in Lautrec. Butyou can buy Lautrec garlic in a lot of places around the Southwest. I’m not sure if you can find it everywhere in France, but you can find it at the better grocery stores throughout the Southwest anyway.
[00:13:16] Annie Sargent: And it’s, I mean, it’s garlic, right? It’s prettier because it has this pink, kind of reddish hue to it a little bit.
[00:13:26] The Garlic Soup
[00:13:26] Annie Sargent: And the garlic soup, I love it, I made it for the first time this week actually. I wanted to try it. I’ve had it in Lautrec. There’s this one restaurant, that I’ll put a link to in the show notes, where I’ve had it and I thought it was very good. I made it for the first time, it’s not health food, okay?
[00:13:42] Meredith Wheeler: No.
[00:13:44] Annie Sargent: But it is delicious. Yes. So I’ll share a recipe for garlicsoup from Lautrec with my patrons at some point. But it’s really a very easy thing to make. The first time I made it, it wasn’t perfect, but since I’ve had it in Lautrec, I know what it’s supposed to be like and I know what I need to fix, anyway.
[00:14:04] Meredith Wheeler: It’s sold in Lautrec too, in jars, if you come here. And you know, the pink color of the garlic is really coming from soil and it’s only the outside leaves, not really the, what do we call that, the outerlike onion skin… that’s pink. When you get into it, it is white.
[00:14:23] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it is garlic. Yeah.
[00:14:24] But, its properties, the people here would say it’s the champagne of garlics. It lasts quite a long time, and it’s a mild garlic. And just for people who are interested in garlic, you know, there’s white garlic, there’s violet, which I think is grown mainly over in Nigeres. And then they have an Appalachian Controlee here on the pink garlic.
[00:14:48] Meredith Wheeler: And so there’s a special label, a very special product for Lautrec. But what’s sad is, because we’ve had this horrible hot summer and a drought, many of the garlic farmers lost their entire crop. You can still buy it, I’m amazed, some people must have access to water on their property, but I do know some garlic farmers, and my neighbor said the garlic was misshapen this year and much smaller than usual.
[00:15:16] Meredith Wheeler: So climate change’s affect on Lautrec garlic.
[00:15:20] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And this year, I mean, I have a vegetable garden and nothing went right this year. It was just too hot, too long. Even if you watered, it was just so hot for so long that the plants did not grow normally. It was just not, not right.
[00:15:38] How did you learn French?
[00:15:38] Annie Sargent: So you speak pretty good French, people are going to be wondering how you learned your French? Was it just listening or did you take classes? What did you do?
[00:15:47] Meredith Wheeler: I had had four years in high school, so that was some basis. Robin had had, I think, eight years in his elementary school. But the British in those days, didn’t really teach French as a language you might actually use. It was more of a discipline. So he found it much more difficult initially than I did, to speak.
[00:16:11] Meredith Wheeler: And I have to say, one thing that’s great about the people in the Tarn is they’re very, we find our neighbors very pleasant, patient, tolerant of our kind of kung fu French in the beginning. They themselves don’t speak much English, so you really have to try. But when we were living here, it was a maison secondaire. Originally, we lived in London and came back and forth for nine years. And we took French at the French Institute in London for a morning every week, and that was great. I really recommend that. We employed French speakers to come to our house and give us private lessons, and that varied depending on the teacher.
[00:16:53] Meredith Wheeler: And right now, Robin has got two different French women, he does Zoom classes one on one, because his project this year is to improve his French. And so he’s working very hard one to one. He has an hour lesson with each one each week to get better.
[00:17:11] Meredith Wheeler: You know, neither one of us are gifted in languages, we don’t find it easy. But I must say the thing that helped me the most, one thing was listening to French radio in the early days, and just letting it run, letting my ear hear it. Because after a while, you begin to discern the different words, even if you don’t know what they mean. And there sounds in French that for an American in particular, the U sound, the difference between au dessous and au dessus took me about two years to hear.
[00:17:42] Annie Sargent: But you can do it!
[00:17:44] Meredith Wheeler: Well, it took me a long time to even hear and appreciate there’s a difference and it’s meaningful.
[00:17:51] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes.
[00:17:52] Yeah, I don’t find French easy. I later learned Italian. I studied in Italy and Italian for me, much easier language than French.
[00:18:00] Involvement in community
[00:18:00] Annie Sargent: So are you very involved in the community? Did you join associations or how did you get involved?
[00:18:09] Meredith Wheeler: Well, we did join the local choir in the village when that got up and running. And that was fun, we met a lot of local people through that. Robin ran cooking, healthy cooking weekends in Lautrec for about five years. But for that, we had people coming from all around the world to attend. But it was good because we then took these people to the local shops.
[00:18:35] Lautrec, the land of Pastel
[00:18:35] Meredith Wheeler: One of the shops you talked about, Pastel Bleu, there are two shops in the village that sell clothing and soaps and things made out of this particular dye that’s associated with the region, it’s very attractive, blue color. And they give demonstrations on how the dye works too, which is really fascinating. We’d never seen it because they take a piece of fabric and dip it into this, and it comes out green, but then when it’s exposed to the air, oxidation turns it blue.
[00:19:08] Meredith Wheeler: And you can just imagine in the Middle Ages how this must have seemed pretty magical. And there was a guild protecting how to do this. But so I think the cooking classes helped also to let us be involved.
[00:19:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and you know where that store, the Pastel store, that’s also where the restaurant where I had the beautiful garlic soup is. And they have this nice little courtyard and they set up the tables in the courtyard. It’s a small restaurant, but it’s very nice. I’m sure you’ve eaten there before.
[00:19:41] Meredith Wheeler: I have. You know, it’s gone through many changes. There was a traiteur who supplied the food at one point. It’s varied, I think on who made the food, so I’d be careful about recommending it. Every year you have to try it out and see where’s the food coming from, but they’re quite few restaurants in Lautrec now.
[00:19:59] It’s great. We even had a wonderful popup restaurant that started, it’s Lebanese, called AFKA and it’s in a very unlikely spot, but it’s sort of outdoors with huge trees shading it. It’s got a lovely view and it’s an open air kind of kitchen, and they make wonderful Lebanese food, which if you live in France permanently, it’s nice to have a change of the cuisine and very modest price compared to some restaurants and we enjoyed a lot this summer.
[00:20:32] Places to visit in Lautrec
[00:20:32] Annie Sargent: So when you have friends that come to visit, where do you take them to visit Lautrec? What are the places that are not to be missed?
[00:20:40] Meredith Wheeler: Well, we always take people to walk up the hill to the very top of Lautrec. There’s a, I have to say, a rather ugly big cement cross, but you have this most beautiful vista across the valley that goes all the way down to the Black Mountains, to the south, and to the south-west on a clear day, you can see the Pyrenees.
[00:21:03] Meredith Wheeler: And on a clear day, they loom up like the Himalayas. You can’t believe that you don’t see them all the time and off the top snow capped. And it’s a very beautiful view and it’s a spiral walk, you circumambulate this hill till you get to the very top. And it’s a lovely view down on the village too. So we always take people to see that.
[00:21:25] Meredith Wheeler: And as you mentioned, the windmill, it’s rarely in operation, but in the tourist season, they do on weekends get it going. And it’s fun to see that. There’s a little tour of that.
[00:21:37] Meredith Wheeler: And we usually go to other places. I mean, the places in striking distance of Lautrec include Albi, the regional capital of the Tarn.
[00:21:47] Meredith Wheeler: And that of course has the world famous Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, which is not to be missed. And to the south, in hot weather, in the Black Mountains, there’s some lovely lakes that are fun to walk around and swim in and that’s a nice resource that we have here.
[00:22:06] The markets in the area
[00:22:06] Meredith Wheeler: But the other thing, of course, since Robin’s great passion in life is cooking, is we take them to the local markets. And Lautrec has one on Friday mornings, Realmont, the next village to the north has a great farmer’s market on Wednesday mornings. Castres, which we adore, a town, is about 15 minutes south of us. They have an excellent Saturday market and then other days of the week as well. And they have a organic market on Thursday afternoons, which we love.
[00:22:37] Meredith Wheeler: And Robin never misses that. He orders his bread from the baker there, organic bread and buys a lot of his vegetables there.
[00:22:46] Meredith Wheeler: So it’s, the markets fun.
[00:22:49] So when you need to go shopping, you go south to Castres.
[00:22:53] Meredith Wheeler: Mainly, yes. Although of course, we do go to the market in Lautrec. There’s a very good fishmonger there. And the village, having lost its old butcher just in the past month or so, a new young butcher and his wife moved here from Nice and opened a wonderful butcher shop that has all kinds of other things in it too. The old-fashioned butcher would not have poultry, for example, but he does, and he sells pink garlic and a lot of other things. We’re lucky. There’s a little grocery store in Lautrec, which is great, and it’s really got two good bakers. So we’re lucky, we don’t have to go too far to get the basics of life, which nice.
[00:23:34] Renovating an old house
[00:23:34] Annie Sargent: I’ve been to your house and it’s a beautiful but very old house, and I’m sure the renovation work was quite substantial. Can we talk about that for a little bit, of how involved was it?
[00:23:47] Meredith Wheeler: Well, when we bought the house, the main house itself was in really very good shape. You know, Nina, who was part of our Democrats Abroad Group here, she had restored it really very well. So we didn’t have much to do in the main house, but there was a small stable block that hadn’t been touched in 300 years.
[00:24:07] Meredith Wheeler: So we did do that and that was fun. But when we were doing these things in the early days, there were lots of artisans who are very accustomed to working on old buildings. And our menuisier, our carpenter was born in thehamlet of Dauzats, which is a short walk from our house, and he remembered as a boy walking across the fields barefoot to sit in what is our kitchen now to do his catechism with the local curé, because this house we live in was the presbytere, the rectory where the priest would live.
[00:24:43] Meredith Wheeler: And another neighbor who lives in the opposite direction from us, he also used to walk here and sit in our kitchen to do the catechism.
[00:24:50] Meredith Wheeler: So Gilbert, our carpenter, his father worked on this house before him and then he worked on it. And the thing about these old-fashioned carpenters is they know how to deal with the house that doesn’t have any right angles, where things are, everything’s slightly askew. It’s not like a modern house. It takes a certain kind of craftsmen to put the windows. So we’ve just had some of the shutters taken off to be redone.
[00:25:18] So there’s special skills, but what we’re finding is the kinds of craftsmen and artisans who do this work are harder and harder to find.
[00:25:27] Meredith Wheeler: But anyway, we did redo our stable block, actually we had a great British friend who did the main work and we went to architectural recuperation places to get the old floor tiles, and he worked with some of the wood he found on site. I don’t think that part of the process is any different than if you were in London or rural Maine for that matter. You just have to find the local people who have the savoir faire, but that’s getting harder and harder.
[00:25:57] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah, and also my brother has done a renovation like that and it went extremely slowly for years because he was waiting to find the right beam of wood, find the right this or that. And of late, now he’s getting closer to retirement age, so he’s had it, he just decided, Okay, I’m just going to buy a new door, because he couldn’t find an old door that would be good enough, you know? And so he just bought a new one, he gave up. It’s really, it can take years to do a renovation. If you want it to look old, but you want new materials to look old, it takes forever to find this stuff. It’s really not that easy, is it?
[00:26:40] Buying furniture at brocantes
[00:26:40] Meredith Wheeler: No, but you know, one thing that was interesting was, we furnished our place mainly with furniture we bought in brocantes. And we noticed that the furniture we ended up bringing down from London, when we finally moved here permanently, which was in 1999, that furniture didn’t really sit easily in this old house, and the old French furniture worked much better.
[00:27:06] Meredith Wheeler: And there’s a couple who attended Robin’s cooking workshop who ended up quite recently buying a house in Lautrec. And they’re now going through this process of going to brocantes, antique shops, and junk shops trying to furnish their place and finding all kinds of good treasures. And we were talking about how to find the good brocantes and antique shops. And I posted on English Speakers in the Tarn, which is a Facebook page, which is very useful. Hey, could everyone please post their favorite brocantes? And a number of people did. And then someone said, well, there aren’t very many, I think people are keeping their favorites secret.
[00:27:49] Meredith Wheeler: But thanks to social media, you know, you do have more help if you’re looking for a particular item, you have more options, social media can really help that way. We didn’t have that back in the day.
[00:28:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah. No, it’s true. It’s true. If you ask around, and social media is a very efficient way, and for some reason, I think Facebook works particularly well for that. The Facebook groups would work well for that. Every town and village in France has its own Facebook group. My village does. I’m sure Lautrec does. Now, they probably wouldn’t want people to join if they’re not from there, because that’s the whole point is to, you know, is to be in between ourselves so we can talk about the things that are happening around us. But it would be really helpful to find all of this stuff.
[00:28:38] Meredith Wheeler: I was just going to say that regarding Facebook groups, there is a group called, Americans Retiring to France, and they accept people who aren’t here yet who pose questions and things. So you can find groups that do welcome people who aren’t here yet, but are thinking of moving.
[00:28:54] Anything not to like in Lautrec?
[00:28:54] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah. Is there anything you do not like about living in Lautrec? I don’t know what, the weather? Does it rain constantly? I know that’s not true. Is there anything you don’t like?
[00:29:03] No. You know, I think the only thing I miss is we’re not that close to the Mediterranean or to the Atlantic. It would be nicer to be able to drive an hour maybe and get there. But as it is, about two hours south to the Mediterranean, and I don’t particularly like the Med immediately south of here. I don’t really like the villages, the way the coastline is handled there.
[00:29:30] Meredith Wheeler: To find really nice Mediterranean coast, we go to the Costa Brava, just over the French border into Spain. Some of that is really beautiful. We’ve enjoyed that Begur in particular. And the Atlantic is at least a three-and-a-half-hour, four-hour drive, and we have done it, but that’s just too far to be very convenient.
[00:29:54] Train Station in Lautrec
[00:29:54] Annie Sargent: And there is no train to Lautrec, which, you know, it would be so much easier if they had… I’m sure there used to be a train. Is there a train station, an old train station in Lautrec?
[00:30:06] It’s not in the village because the village is up on a hill, but at the foot of the hill, there was a train station. There was a train that used to go, and it ran right through World War II, through Castres and up to Albi. But sadly, they turned that into a walking path. Well, it’s nice if you want to walk or ride your bike on it, but the nearest train station is Vielmur-sur-Agout.
[00:30:30] Meredith Wheeler: And that’s not too bad, it’s only about a 10-minute drive from Lautrec. So when we have visitors come, if they’re flying into Toulouse, we tell them to take the Jitney bus to the train station and get on the train that’s destination is Castres, but get off one stop ahead at Vielmur and then we pick them up there.
[00:30:51] Meredith Wheeler: So that works pretty well. But you know, one of the great things about Lautrec is it’s equidistance between Toulouse Blagnac, which is a major hub airport for France and Carcassone, which back in the day anyway, we used to use a lot because it flies to London.So it was very good to be between two useful airports. And now there’s an airport in just outside of Lautrec between Lautrec and Mazamet, which is the next town south, and it’s a little Bijou airport that flies back and forth to Paris mainly.
[00:31:27] Castres is a great place too
[00:31:27] Meredith Wheeler: But because Castres is quite a wealthy town, because it has a major French pharmaceutical company called Pierre Fabre in it, which is huge for Castres, it makes it a prosperous pretty town. We really enjoy it. Their people are going back and forth to Paris, and so that has kept thislittle airport alive and flourishing, and that’s been really useful.
[00:31:52] Annie Sargent: What airline flies to Castres then?
[00:31:55] Meredith Wheeler: Well, it varies. It was Hop for a period of time. They seem to vary the names, but they’re very branches of Air France, really,
[00:32:04] Okay. Interesting. Because by train, to get between your area and Paris by train, it would take quite an effort. It can be done, but…There’s a TGV from Paris to Toulouse, and we have friends that have come down from London. The Eurostar to Paris, and then switched to the TGV to Toulouse. And then the train to Vielmur, so it’s doable.
[00:32:28] Annie Sargent: Very interesting. All right.
[00:32:30] Favorite local wines: Gaillac has gotten really good!
[00:32:30] Annie Sargent: So do you have any favorite wine vendors in that area? Because I found one that’s got Vignes des Garbasses, because they do events around the Vin Nouveau, but I wonder if you have any favorites you want to tell us about.
[00:32:45] Meredith Wheeler: We used to go up to the Gaillac region, which is about 20 minutes north of us. That’s really the main wine growing area around us. And visit the various Chateau. But then we found our favorite wine, we could buy it cheaper at a little wine shop in Castres than they gave us at the Chateau. So we stopped doing that.
[00:33:08] Annie Sargent: And it’s Clement Termes. Clement Termes. And they do a lovely white and a red, and that is our house wine, and we buy cases of it every year. Nice. I’m going to have to try it Clement Termes.
[00:33:21] Meredith Wheeler: Yes.
[00:33:23] Annie Sargent: Hmm. I don’t think I’ve tried that one. And it’s a Gaillac?
[00:33:27] Meredith Wheeler: It’s a Gaillac, and to our amazement, we once saw it on a menu in London, so I’ll never forget talking to a wine specialist in London at an event given by a very fancy caterer. And he said, what region of France do you live in? What’s the wine? And I said, Gaillac. And he looked at me, pityingly, because it didn’t use to have a very good reputation, although it’s one of the, the Romans started wine here, so it goes, it’s got a long history.
[00:33:56] Meredith Wheeler: But southwest wines weren’t viewed as particularly good. But that’s changed, really. They’ve replanted and it’s a very serious business here. And I think some of the Gaillacs are delicious. I mean, we’d always go Côtes du Rhône given the chance. But meanwhile, the Gaillacs are very affordable and delicious.
[00:34:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I enjoy Gaillac wines. I mean our choices in the region is Fronton, which I really don’t like that much, Gaillac which I do like. And then you have Cahors, which is, you know, it’s good, but it’s like really hearty wines. What else do we have around here? I think that’s it.
[00:34:36] Meredith Wheeler:There’s Madiran
[00:34:39] Annie Sargent: Yeah.
[00:34:40] There are some others, but we do tend to, we like to buy local.
[00:34:44] Annie Sargent: So you just get your local stuff.
[00:34:47] Retire to Lautrec
[00:34:47] Annie Sargent: So to end on, is there any, I mean, I’m assuming that there are going to be lots of people listening to this who are thinking, Oh, it would be so nice to retire in that area. And they would be right. Can you give some advice to people who are thinking of doing this? What should they consider? What are some tips that you have for them?
[00:35:07] Gee, that’s hard. I know some people get a compass, put it on something like Toulouse and figure out what the communities are from a distance from a big city. I think if you’re retiring, you know, one thing you have to consider is medical care. So you want to be somewhere where there’s a good hospital, access to medical care.
[00:35:30] Meredith Wheeler: We have that here, of course, Toulouse has got wonderful hospitals. Albi does, and Castres has a hospital. I wonder in places further South in the Ariege if that’s the case, I don’t really know. But for people thinking of retiring here, that’s something I would consider.
[00:35:48] Meredith Wheeler: I don’t know what other advice I can give, really.
[00:35:51] Go talk to a Notaire if you’re looking for property to buy
[00:35:51] Meredith Wheeler: One thing that’s worth knowing, that Americans wouldn’t normally think about is, if you go to the notaire in a village like Lautrec, they often know about places that are for sale, and that aren’t showing up in the estate agents.
[00:36:10] Lautrec welcomes new residents and young families
[00:36:10] Meredith Wheeler: So that’s worth investigating if you find a town that you like. You know, I wanted to say a little bit more about the positive side of Lautrec, is that they built a new school a few years ago and they had a little lotissement, where they made some affordable housing.
[00:36:28] Meredith Wheeler: And what’s good about that is, unlike a lot of French villages which are sort of old people, it’s got a lot of youthful energy about Lautrec. Things are happening. And the best part about Lautrec, I think the best thing that happened to Lautrec since we’ve lived here, is the establishment of Cafe Plum, which is a library and a cafe. And in the summer, they have live music every evening, and they have this beautiful courtyard and it’s a very enjoyable, relaxed, slightly bohemian place. And that has brought a lot of life and energy to the village, which revigorates it so you feel you’re in a living, prosperous village.
[00:37:14] Meredith Wheeler: Not like some villages that I’ve driven through around here, which feel dead.
[00:37:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. No, Lautrec does give an impression of being lively and comfortable place, you know, I mean, when you walk around, which is all I’ve been able to do because I don’t live there, so I don’t really, I didn’t know about a lot of the details that you added to this, you know, it feels like a nice place to be, a welcoming place, and I can see how younger families, if they can afford a house there, would be very happy. It’s a really sweet place.
[00:37:51] Internet access can attract younger people
[00:37:51] Annie Sargent: And I think a lot of villages are making efforts as far as getting good internet access. Do you have fiber optics at your house yet? Because I think that makes a big difference in as far as attracting younger people.
[00:38:04] Meredith Wheeler: Fiber optic connection for internet does make a big difference. They have it in Lautrec. I think they’re having a few hiccups. We’re out in the countryside and so we don’t have it. We have forge, so, I’m longing to get it and I’m wondering there, oh, I just received an invitation to get a satellite and get internet by satellite.
[00:38:26] And they’ll give you the whole setup for free, then you have to pay a monthly fee. But that really changed our life here. I think once you are able to use the internet, it makes all the difference. And there were plenty of people around us during the pandemic working from home and doing tele-travail.Well, Meredith, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been a lovely conversation. And Lautrec is one place that I really recommend people visit and spend, how long would you spend at least? I mean, I would think you, you go for a walk around the town, you have a meal there, perhaps you spend a pleasant evening and that’s it. Right? I mean, if you go at the time of the festival, obviously that’s different. Yeah. There’s a big difference between going in the summer and not in the summer, right? It changes drastically doesn’t it?
[00:39:17] Meredith Wheeler: It changes, yes. There is a good B&B in the village, so you can stay there, and it’s quite reasonable. I think it’s about sixty euros a night.
[00:39:25] For people who like to walk, there’s a wonderful walk that even people like me, not huge walkers can do, it’s called the crête, the ridge walk, that takes you around back behind Lautrec and down this wonderful ridge, which gives a fantastic, very beautiful, that’s well worth it for people who like to walk. That would be something to do.
[00:39:49] Annie Sargent: I will have to look it up and recommend it in the episode page.
[00:39:54] Annie Sargent: All right. Thank you very much, Meredith. And I look forward to seeing you again probably at some Dems Abroad event. Although I have been so busy, I must admit, I used to be much more involved than I am now. You know the hours are too short.
[00:40:08] Meredith Wheeler: I know, not enough hours in a day.
[00:40:10] Annie Sargent: Exactly. beaucoup Meredith.
[00:40:13] Meredith Wheeler: Avec plaisir. Merci a toi.
[00:40:16] Annie Sargent: revoir.
[00:40:17] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2022 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.