Transcript for Episode 419: Lavaur in Occitanie

Categories: Day -Trips from Toulouse, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Guiraude de Lavaur
  • Gaillac Primeur
  • Tips about French healthcare
  • Tips about visiting France in the winter

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 419, quatre cent dix-neuf.

[00:00:23] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and I’m happy to bring a little bit of France to your ears. Today’s episode is an episode with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the town of Lavaur in Occitanie. Elyse and I went in September, and you know what? It’s a cute small city. We had a great time.

[00:00:41] Annie Sargent: It makes for a lovely day trip from Toulouse and we will explain why.

[00:00:46] Podcast supporters

[00:00:46] 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

[00:01:06] Annie Sargent: Because Christmas is approaching, I want to tell you that while Christmas is a happy time for me, and I have a happy-go-lucky type of personality anyway, I know it’s not easy for everyone, and even for folks who are doing great, there can be a lot of irritants this time of year. My husband and I went to a concert last week and there was a casual reception afterwards, and we went to talk to musical friends, right?

[00:01:30] Annie Sargent: I got chatting with a couple that I’ve known for years. They have grown kids and mini grandkids, and they’re going to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. They have each other, of course, but I could tell she was upset by this, you know, and I understand.

[00:01:45] Annie Sargent: And then there was the person who joined the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook, and when he did that, he used the handle Unhappy, Depressed, which I noticed of course. And I wondered about that. Gregorio, one of the moderators, Hello moderators, I love you, remarked on it and the person responded saying, it’s been a very tough year for me, and said his name was Graham. So to you Graham, and to all going through a tough time, I want to say, I see you and I am sorry that you are going through a difficult time.

[00:02:18] Annie Sargent: The one thing I can do as an indie podcaster is keep putting out an episode even on Christmas Day and on New Year’s Day coming up. And I hope that bringing you a tiny slice of France will bring some respite to you. You are not alone, and I am grateful that you listen and thank you donors for making this podcast possible. I cannot tell you the number of times people have told me that this podcast just makes them happy. And especially during the pandemic, there was a lot of people who really clung to this as a hope for a better day.

[00:02:48] Annie Sargent: And it’s wonderful that all of you donors and supporters are making this possible.

[00:02:54] Annie Sargent: For the travel update, after my chat with Elyse, I’ll talk about traveling in France during low season and also I’ll give you important tips about the French healthcare system and what might happen should you need medical assistance while visiting France.


[00:03:19] Annie and Elyse

[00:03:19] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:03:20] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:03:21] Annie Sargent: How are you today?

[00:03:23] Elyse Rivin: I am fine.

[00:03:24] Lavaur, Tarn Department

[00:03:24] Annie Sargent: We’re going to be going on a trip to Lavaur. It’s not very far from home, is it?

[00:03:29] No, it’s 45 kilometers away, which I don’t know if people out there are really used to kilometers or not. If you’re from Australia, I guess you are, but, or England, but in the States, let’s say it’s about 30 miles away and it doesn’t seem that far actually.

[00:03:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and it’s a really lovely little town which has a lot of character and quite a bit of history as well. And you can go on the train, you can either, if you have a car, obviously you can go on in the car, but if you don’t have a car, you can go on the train from Toulouse very, very easily.

[00:04:04] Elyse Rivin: Yes, it’s a stop, I believe on the train line that goes to Castres, a bigger town, also in the Tarn Department, this is basically northeast of Toulouse we’re going.

[00:04:16] Annie Sargent: Okay. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about Lavaur, and we were there recently together, so I’ll jump in as well. But you prepared some things to share with us about the history and about what happened there and why it’s such a significant little town.

[00:04:29] Lavaur today, town or city?

[00:04:29] Elyse Rivin: Yes, well, Lavaur today, interestingly enough, which is a, well, depends on what your definition is of town or city.

[00:04:36] Elyse Rivin: So it’s about 11,000 people and it’s bustling. I discovered by doing some research that it has doubled its population in the last 20 years. It was really a kind of sleepy, agricultural center for a long time, although it had had some industry, I guess in the 1800s and actually in the 1700s as well.

[00:04:58] Elyse Rivin: But what has happened is that, small towns like that have become very popular for young families with children. So it has a very good high school and a middle school or probably has, I think, two middle schools. Interestingly enough, it’s got a huge influx of people who have decided to leave the big cities, you know?

[00:05:17] Elyse Rivin: And that has made it very, very lively and very, very dynamic. Which adds actually I think, to its charm.

[00:05:23] Happy people of Lavaur

[00:05:23] Annie Sargent: Yes, it definitely does. When you walk around in Lavaur, everybody’s smiley and seems very content. They don’t live in a place that’s all that, I don’t know that you wouldn’t call it drop dead gorgeous or whatever, but it’s a pleasant little town and it’s clearly got a lot of joie de vivre I guess, I would call it, you know, just content people.

[00:05:46] Elyse Rivin: Yes. It’s a brick town, so it’s very pretty, the old city center. Now, we’re talking about a small old city center, obviously. You and I spent what, a few hours there and you can really criss-cross it very easily a few times. There were some really lovely things to see. It gives off that kind of glow that all the brick cities like Toulouse and Albi have, and that makes it very pretty. The old city center is pretty much in a circle and the town is built on the river called the Agout.

[00:06:17] Elyse Rivin: That it’s very interesting, the name of the river is AGOUT. I don’t really know if in Occitania you would pronounce the T, to be honest, I have no idea. Do you have any idea?

[00:06:28] Annie Sargent: Not really, but with a T at the end in Occitania, I would say Agout, I think so, but I might be completely wrong.

[00:06:35] Elyse Rivin: All right, so let’s call it the Agout. The town of Lavaur, besides being known for its historic monuments, and there are two or three that are really quite amazing to see, is now quite gourmet. I believe you were going to mention something about some very fine epicerie there.

[00:06:52] O Temps des Saveurs, Epicerie Fine

[00:06:52] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so they have a epicerie fine, which I mean, you see those all over France, but this one seems to be very interesting. It’s called “O Temps des Saveurs”, so the times of flavors, and they do a lot of things that are in common with a lot of epicerie fine.They will have foie gras, they will have truffles, they will have local wines. They do all sorts of locally produced cookies andit just looks like a cool store.

[00:07:22] Annie Sargent: And this sort of store is a very good place to get gifts to take home. If you want a specialty oil or a beautiful olive oil or something, that’s a good place to get it because it’s going to look great, and usually they are very selective as to what they purchase, so it’ll probably also be very good. So you could spend a perfectly, and it’s right in the downtown area, so you could just spend, you know, 20 minutes in there shopping around and enjoying the local products.

[00:07:52] Excellent Organic Food Market

[00:07:52] My husband has a niece who lives in Lavaur, and I know from visiting her and actually eating at her house, that they have an excellent organic food market. They have a huge, huge outdoor market on Saturdays that’s on the big alley or boulevard, that’s basically where the huge moat was when the walls surrounded the ancient Lavaur. And they have all these producers of cheese and different meats and vegetables that seem to be local. There’s a huge market and demand for this kind of thing.

[00:08:24] Elyse Rivin: So if ever you decide to go visit Lavaur, which is really something you can do in conjunction with visiting other towns around, or even going to Gaillac or Toulouse or whatever, think that if you really are interested in seeing a very, very interesting real farmer’s market, you might want to go on a Saturday.

[00:08:43] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and the funny thing about thisfine epicerie is that like a lot of other places in France, they also sell sardines. Because tuna fish and sardines have become quite the thing that everybody enjoys and they’re in this beautiful little cans, and they also do fancy teas and coffees, which everybody likes a good tea and coffee, right?

[00:09:05] St Alain Cathedral

[00:09:05] Elyse Rivin: Everybody! Well, you’re talking to the right person there. Okay.

[00:09:09] Elyse Rivin: Well, okay, so let’s get away from the food.

[00:09:11] Elyse Rivin: And let’s see, when you and I went, one of the first things we did was visit one of the major sites to see in Lavaur and that is their cathedral, which is The Cathedral of St. Alain, like Alan in English, which is actually a fabulously interesting cathedral.

[00:09:28] Elyse Rivin: It was built starting in the early 13th century and it is entirely made of brick except for a little bit of decoration around one of the doorways, which of course, was redone in kind of gothic style. But it’s a really interesting cathedral, it’s very famous actually, it’s famous for its structure because like the cathedral in Albi, which is really much, much bigger, it is entirely made out of brick. And also because it’s quite old, it was really started in the 1200s.

[00:09:59] Lavaur is famous for its Jacquemart (bellstriker)

[00:09:59] Elyse Rivin: But also it has, I know you were frustrated Annie, oh, well you need to go back so that you can watch this move again. Okay. It has up on top of the steeple, something that’s called in French a Jacquemart. And a Jacquemart is a figurine I, to be honest, do you remember what it was made out of? I don’t remember.

[00:10:17] Annie Sargent: I don’t know that we know what it was made of, it looked like a statue, so probably it was made of cloth and some, I mean, probably some light materials, wood probably. Yeah. And it’s dressed.

[00:10:30] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, it’s dressed, it’s colorful and a Jacquemart is actually a figurine.

[00:10:34] We don’t really know how big it is because we were looking at it from down below, obviously. But what it does is, it hits the bell on the hour and on the half hour and it turns around andapparently, it’s the only one in the southwest of France. There’s a very famous one up in Strasbourg on the cathedral there, but it’s kind of fun to see.

[00:10:53] Elyse Rivin: And if you sit there long enough, well you can sit there forever actually, but if you sit there long enough, you can watch it, it moves and it goes bang, bang on the bell and then it turns around again. And it was restored recently in the 20th century because it is one of the attractions of the cathedral.

[00:11:11] Elyse Rivin: And the cathedral has been really beautifully restored on the inside. Personally, I love stained glass windows and most of the famous cathedrals that have beautiful stained glass windows, of course, they’re very, very old. But interestingly, in St Alain they were redone in the 19th century and they are really gorgeous.

[00:11:31] Elyse Rivin: And we were talking about how they really did a good job of making them look very ancient, but they were in fact done not that long ago, and they were, it’s really beautiful. And so with refreshing the painting on the inside and everything, it’s really a very impressive cathedral to visit.

[00:11:48] Annie Sargent: Yeah. I thought it was very nice too. You know, I was in Avignon recently and we noticed a guy by the bell tower and I think in Avignon the bell tower has to do with the City Hall. I’m going to have to do some research on that, but I think it was a church long ago that’s been turned into the City Hall and they have a bell tower, and they have thisfigure on top, but it doesn’t move. Well, at least not that we could tell, we kept missing it.

[00:12:16] Elyse Rivin: Does it, it doesn’t bang a bell, it’s just this figure sitting up on top?

[00:12:20] Annie Sargent: Yes. So is that a Jacquemart or not? No, the Jacquemart, as far as I understand, it has to turn around and hit the bell. And if I’m not mistaken, because the few that exist to this day are up in the North. I would venture to guess, although I really am just guessing now that it’s actually a northern, almost germanic kind of thing.

[00:12:42] Elyse Rivin: And the reason there’s one in St. Alain is because the archbishop who ordered the building of the church was from the North. And so this happens a lot when the bishops or archbishops are designated for an area, if they come from another part of the country, they bring that style with them. And since they can basically order changes to the church, I suppose that is how come there’s one on St Alain.

[00:13:10] Elyse Rivin: You know what? I don’t really know. It’s interesting.

[00:13:12] Elyse Rivin: It makes sense, huh?

[00:13:13] St François Church

[00:13:13] Elyse Rivin: And the other church which we visited, and actually that was also a nice surprise, was a church that’s called St. Francis, which is basically because it was the church of a huge Franciscan monastery, which had, the monastic buildings were actually, I guess, torn down during the revolution, which was really typical. But the church is enormous as well. And it was a nice surprise because we were in the process of leaving town. And it’s on the main street in the middle of a bunch of shops. The tourist office is almost just on opposite on the same street and it’s a huge, vast space on the inside that was also recently refurbished with very beautiful painting and that beautiful blue that you have on the ceiling in a lot of the churches from early gothic, in the South. And it was really a very beautiful church. So in this very small town, there are two enormous churches, and both of them are really well taken care of on the inside.

[00:14:10] Taking care of their churches and houses

[00:14:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And that’s not a given everywhere in France. There are lots of places in France where they just gave up on the old church. So it is remarkable that a town not very big, how many people did you say? 11,000. Yeah. So it’s not tiny, teeny, but it’s, you know, it’s hardly a big metropolis.

[00:14:26] Annie Sargent: And they do take good care of their church, which is really nice.

[00:14:30] Elyse Rivin: Yes, it really is nice. And it seems to be that everybody’s very proud of both of them. They’re both tourist attractions, although I guess that St Alain is a little bit more of a tourist attraction, and it has this very lovely esplanade in front where you have benches where you can sit.

[00:14:44] Elyse Rivin: And so the old city center is not very big at all, but it has a few things that are really interesting to see, and all of this basically in the same consistent medieval style. So you have two or three little squares with some old houses on them. The oldest houses in the old city center, really date to the early 1400s which is fairly old, let’s say that, you know, some half-timbered houses. There are a couple of houses we noticed that there was a plaque on a wall on one of these little streets that goes down towards the river, that indicatedthat there had been a major event there during the war with the Cathars, but there are actually two houses there that are very beautiful.

[00:15:23] Elyse Rivin: And one of the things I really noticed in Lavaur, is that they seem to have a budget for taking care of the old houses. They either are all fixed up or they’re being fixed up. So they clearly want to make sure that the old heritage in terms of architecture is an added value to coming to Lavaur, which is not the case of a lot of these small towns.

[00:15:43] A lot of events and cultural activities

[00:15:43] They were also setting up for a concert when we went, so they have cultural events. And the lady at the tourist office was very friendly, very happy to chat about all sorts of things. So I’m sure she would’ve given us a list of all the upcoming events in Lavaur, you know, because they clearly, they have a ton of them.

[00:16:06] Elyse Rivin: Oh, I’m sure that they do. And they also have, maybe it’s connected in fact, one of the specialties of their high school iseverything connected to audio visual. It’s an option at that high school and actually brings in students from other areas as well. So maybe there’s some kind of cultural connection there, who knows?

[00:16:23] Elyse Rivin: You know, they do bring in concerts and they have all kinds of activities. There’s an expression, I don’t know if you’ve ever talked about it, I don’t think we ever have together, but in French, there’s this expression called ‘to be a bobo’ which is kind of to be a bohemian and to be bourgeois at the same time, which means basically that you’re middle or upper-middle class and fairly well educated, but you’re really into the arts and things like that. And Lavaur is kind of becoming a kind of bobo town, I’d say, you know, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I think it is. And they probably also get a lot of people from Toulouse moving to Lavaur like you mentioned at the beginning.

[00:17:01] Municipal Museum and Mediatheque

[00:17:01] Elyse Rivin: Right, right, you know, so among the other things, we stopped in what was the mediatheque which is also the local museum. But we really did not have time to see. There was a temporary exhibit of a painter. It looked actually kind of interesting. And the mediatheque and museum are in a building that was a convent that was built in the late 1700s, early 1800s. And you go into the reception area, and in the back, there was this lovely garden with benches and tables and it overlooks the river.

[00:17:32] Elyse Rivin: And one of the things about the town of Lavaur is that three sides, the town was really built up on top of a kind of hill and was pretty abrupt. And the walls that surrounded it were built so that it was really defendable.

[00:17:47] Elyse Rivin: The land kind of goes down fairly abruptly down to where the river is, although the walls are not there anymore. But there are two, three parts of the town where they have built these very nice parks with some benches, and there’s a walk you can do that takes you around a good section of the river down below.

[00:18:05] Elyse Rivin: And we stopped for coffee right next to the only tower that is left from the walls. And that is called, Tour des Rondes. And apparently, after the walls were torn down, which is part of the dramatic history of Lavaur, it was used as a prison, which, you know what, it’s the same thing as one of the towers here in Toulouse.

[00:18:24] Elyse Rivin: I guess towers were convenient to use as prisons.

[00:18:28] Annie Sargent: Yeah, they did that in Aigues-Mortes as well, the tower. And over there, the walls are ginormous. The thickness of the walls is amazing.

[00:18:37] Elyse Rivin: Right. Do you remember we were doing the episode about Aigues-Mortes and Louis obviously, it was very defensive, of course they were flat on the ground, you know, I mean, they didn’t have anything. The thing about Lavaur is that it was very, very, well defended for a very long time. And then of course, it had what became the major tragic event in its history that sort of changed everything for Lavaur.

[00:18:59] Elyse Rivin: But do you remember other things that we visited besides just walking around seeing all these charming old little streets and the churches and the mediatheque? I think there was one convent that had a cloister but it was not open when we were there, so I don’t really know what it looked like on the inside.

[00:19:16] There’s a bunch of little houses that were really charming. I just found the place very small, but very, very charming, and certainly a place that has, you have a sense of history when you walk around in the town of Lavaur. Oh, yes. And remember, there was that beautiful brick building that was actually now still used as a hospital, really on the part that was kind of the moat going around it.

[00:19:38] Silk production in Lavaur

[00:19:38] Elyse Rivin: Well, it turns out that in the 1700s it was a silk factory. And in the 1600s and 1700s, probably up through into the early 1800s, one of the major industries in and around Lavaur was silk.

[00:19:54] Annie Sargent: Hm. That’s interesting.

[00:19:55] Elyse Rivin: Which means that they had to have lots of mulberry trees obviously, because as far as I understand, that’s the only thing a silk worm wants to eat, which makes them fussy now.

[00:20:05] But that is actually where they did a lot of the production of silk in the Southwest of France. And it was a major industry for a very long time. The Tarn Department, which of course, was like all the departments created by Napoleon, but it was an area that had towns that were designated as producing a specific thing.

[00:20:26] Elyse Rivin: So sometimes it was working on leather, sometimes it was working with wool, sometimes it was working with ceramics. And in the case of Lavaur, one of the two things that it produced a lot turned out to be silk. Which would be nice if there was a bit of a museum about it, but as far as I know, I didn’t see anything like that.

[00:20:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And mulberry trees, FYI, they kind of grow wild around here. I mean, it’s very easy to have a mulberry tree, they are not fussy, they grow extensively in just one year and they’re beautiful trees, so I can see them having a ton of them just to have their silk production.

[00:21:03] A step back in history

[00:21:03] Elyse Rivin: Right. Right. So let’s just take a minute to step back in history because the town of Lavaur, which is really surprising at first, is a place that had a major event in the war that we’ve talked about before and talked about a lot, which is this war that existed a long time ago in the 1200s between the Cathar, the people who had moved to this new religion, and the podcast we did on it where Annie so carefully and clearly explained all of the beliefs of the Cathar.

[00:21:35] Elyse Rivin: But that war that lasted well over 20 years, which was devastating actually for the Southwest of what is now France, it had a turning in a battle that took place in Lavaur.

[00:21:46] Elyse Rivin: And I was doing a lot of research this week on it because I knew a little bit about it, but I went back and found out all these kinds of details. So there’s a plaque in the park that is right behind the cathedral, St Alain, which runs along the river, although the river is down below.

[00:22:04] Guiraude, the Lady of Lavaur

[00:22:04] Elyse Rivin: But there is a plaque there in the garden in honor of the woman who was the Lady of Lavaur. She was a widower, her name was Guiraude de Montreal, and she was a member of this new religion, the Cathar religion. Dame Guiraude as she was known, she was from this very, very illustrious noble family. She had three sisters and two brothers, and all of them were part of the elite, if there was such a thing, if you can call it that, of the Cathar.

[00:22:36] Elyse Rivin: In fact, one of her sisters, who was one of her older sisters, actually became a Parfaite, which meant that she was the equivalent of like a bishop and she was someone who could pronounce the ceremonies and do all these things.

[00:22:49] Elyse Rivin: So this was a family with great conviction in terms of this new religion that was moving across the Southwest of France and because they were Cathar, most of the people in the town of Lavaur, which was really an important town in the Middle Ages, also converted. And so it was known as a stronghold of catharism.

[00:23:11] Elyse Rivin: And the war, which really was a war for power and control, I mean, it was a war of religion, but it was because the Pope in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, really was losing so many people and so therefore was losing influence and losing money. And he created an army, and I won’t go into too many details, but the war started in the year 1209 and really started at the Mediterranean. And after the papal and royal army, which was a combination, an army that was a mix of the two, They started going across, they conquered all kinds of towns. They went to Carcassonne and they took Carcassonne.

[00:23:53] Elyse Rivin: And it turns out that the Lord that was really the ruler of Lavaur, was the Viscount Trencavel whose headquarters, in fact, his head chateau was in Carcassonne. And he was the head of not only Lavaur in terms of being the lord or the ruler, but he was in charge of Albi and his territory basically bumped up against the territory of the counts of Toulouse.

[00:24:20] It didn’t really overlap. So he was in charge of Albi and Castre and as far as Nîmes. And Lavaur was included in his territory. So he was their ruler, their lord.

[00:24:32] Elyse Rivin: And what happened was that in 1209, at the beginning of this horrendous, really horrendous war, he got captured. He gave himself up to save all of the thousands of people who were hiding inside the walls of the old city of Carcassonne. And this royal papal army, which is what I’m going to call it from now on, they just kept marching west. And they decided, two years later in the year 1211, that one of the things they had to do was get rid of Lavaur.

[00:25:01] Elyse Rivin: And you would think, why? It’s just this small town. Well, the problem was that it was a place where all of the Cathar leaders would get together to meet, and there were hundreds and hundreds of knights who had sworn their allegiance to the new religion and who were ready to defend whatever towns these people were living in.

[00:25:20] Elyse Rivin: And so this royal army said, well, our ultimate goal is Toulouse, and we need to get the territory of around Toulouse. And of course, the counts of Toulouse who were like kings, they were unfortunately, apparently rather wishy-washy about all of this. They were okay, they were with the royal army, they were not with the royal army. There were some Cathar people living in Toulouse, but not as many as in small towns. And so, the general, who was in charge of this papal royal army, he said, Okay, if we can take Lavaur, it means that we’re close enough to Toulouse and it will demoralize everybody. I mean, this is really amazing when you think about it, this is 800 years ago. So what happened was, this army came to Lavaur and surrounded it. And Dame Guiraude, she had received word from her brother who was a knight, who was also a member of the Cathar religion and other knights. And she sent word to the count of Toulouse, who was her ruler and her lord, because they had sort of switched allegiances. And he was the closest one, and Trencavel was now in prison, and that was the end of that.

[00:26:31] Elyse Rivin: And she asked for help and she asked for soldiers to be sent, knights and then foot soldiers, which were the fantassin, to be sent to help them defend the town of Lavaur, which in the early 1200s was a really well walled, defended city. It had towers, it had really thick walls. It was high up.

[00:26:52] Elyse Rivin: And guess what happened? The Count of Toulouse went, well, I might get into trouble. I might get into trouble with the Pope, I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. So what did he do? Well, he only sent them a few knights and a few foot soldiers. And even though there were several hundred knights that were inside the walls of Lavaur to defend it, along with the entire population, they withstood the forces of the papal army for an entire month.

[00:27:24] They pushed them back. And then the papal army brought in, and this somehow has echoes of things going on today. When I was reading this, I was thinking, you know, we haven’t really changed and war hasn’t really changed very much. Believe it or not, the papal army brought in mercenaries. They brought in 6,000 mercenaries from Germany.

[00:27:46] Elyse Rivin: And with this army, after one month of withstanding this enormous army, they were finallyconquered. Lavaur was taken by the papal royal army. And it would’ve been different if the count of Toulouse had been willing to defend them. And it’s really uncertain why he didn’t, because in the end of course, what happened was, toulouse was taken as well.

[00:28:09] Elyse Rivin: So this could have been a turning point that would’ve changed history in totally the other direction if he had wanted to really help defend them. And the tragic results of this battle of Lavaur is that all of the knights were hung. Every last one of them, there were almost a hundred of them. Every one of the townspeople was sent to the stake as heretics, and there were over 400. And the Dame, the Lady, Lady Guiraude because she was the theoretical Lady of Lavaur, the ruler as widower, and had been a really, really a Cathar believer in catharism, she was punished publicly by being thrown into a deep well and being stoned to death.

[00:28:59] Annie Sargent: Yikes.

[00:29:00] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. So if you go back and look at some of these history books, and it was really fascinating to me, rereading and going into detail about all this.

[00:29:09] Elyse Rivin: I mean, I had known that there was this story about Dame Guiraude and the Cathar of Lavaur, but they really all say that if the Count of Toulouse had been willing to help them, maybe the whole Southwest of France would never have become a part of France, or it would’ve been at least 100 or 200 years later.

[00:29:28] Elyse Rivin: But because Lavaur was taken, from there they were able to surround all the local territories and move on, and just a few years later, take Toulouse. It’s known as the Massacre of Lavaur and Dame Guiraude is considered to be a great heroin for standing up and being brave and fighting with her fellow citizens and knights on the ramparts of Lavaur.

[00:29:53] I would almost like to see a kind of illustration of this. Obviously, there’s no pictures left to have an idea of what this was like, but it’s interesting to know that there were women that were this brave and courageous, and stood up for their convictions even that long ago.

[00:30:09] And it seems to me that, if we think about, if Lavaur had gotten enough support from the Count of Toulouse and had been able to push back the royal army, yeah, and perhaps we’d still have cathars around, which we really don’t. The religion was successfully squished by the Pope and the French King. But perhaps, you know, it’s a fun thought that it could have turned out so differently. Yeah.

[00:30:37] It really is. It’s kind of strange to imagine that things can be based on the decisive battle in one specific little place like that, and all of the reasons why people did what they did, you know. Being in Toulouse and of course, you know, spending so much time with the history of Toulouse, I’ve never really had an opinion one way or the other about the Counts of Toulouse, but I’m starting to not like them very much to be honest, you know. They were really not very noble, let’s put it that way, you know?

[00:31:05] The Food and Wines of Lavaur

[00:31:05] Annie Sargent: So let’s talk about the food, the specialties around Lavaur. It’s not that different from Toulouse really, because it’s pretty close, but you do have Gaillac wines, which are really prevalent in that area. And I personally love them. They do a Gaillac Primeur every year.

[00:31:26] Annie Sargent: Gaillac Primeur comes out at the same time as the Beaujolais Nouveau, and I much prefer Gaillac Primeur to Beaujolais Nouveau.

[00:31:35] Annie Sargent: I don’t think you can buy Gaillac Primeur in the US because the production is probably not big enough to be exported. But when you’re in France, especially if you visit in October, November, December, those are the months where you find the Gaillac Primeur anywhere and it’s pretty inexpensive.

[00:31:54] Annie Sargent: You know, 5 bucks will get you a nice bottle of Gaillac Primeur, and it’s a red. I’ve never seen Gaillac Primeur that was not a red.

[00:32:01] Elyse Rivin: I was going to say,aren’t all Primeurs like Beaujolais? Aren’t they all red? I’m not sure. That’s something, I don’t know. I think they are all red.

[00:32:09] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Perhaps. Perhaps.

[00:32:10] Garlic Soup

[00:32:10] Annie Sargent: The other food that is very prevalent around here is of course, foie gras, is a biggie. And this being in the Tarn, garlic specialties are also huge. I’m sure you can find garlic soup.

[00:32:24] Elyse Rivin: Everywhere.

[00:32:24] Annie Sargent: It’s very good. I should try and make it really, because when we were at the tourist office, she gave me a recipe. Do you remember?

[00:32:33] Elyse Rivin: Yes, I do remember. It was very surprising because I don’t remember exactly the order of things, but at some point after cooking up the broth with the garlic, she said, you added a little mayonnaise to it.

[00:32:46] Annie Sargent: Yes, mayo goes into garlic soup, yes. That’s what makes it delicious.

[00:32:51] Elyse Rivin: Okay. I’ll have to, you make it and I’ll try it, Annie.

[00:32:53] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I should really make a batch and see if it turns out. Because I’ve had it at a restaurant in Lautrec and I thought it was delicious. But I mean, how can it not be good? It’s garlic like, come on!

[00:33:04] Elyse Rivin: Well, I suppose out there, there are those who don’t like garlic, but we are really in Garlic Country here, so, you know, just be warned.

[00:33:13] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s probably lots of duck specialties. We did not try any of the restaurants in Lavaur because we didn’t stay that long, but it did look like it had several very nice restaurants with nice terraces where you can just sit in the sun and have a nice meal. That would’ve been nice, just, but we’re going to have to go back anyway and try some, because we’re probably going to take the French Bootcamp people. We’re going to take them to Lavaur probably, and so we’ll go try the restaurants first, won’t we?

[00:33:42] Elyse Rivin: That sounds like a good idea. Can we go today? I’m getting hungry.

[00:33:45] Annie Sargent: No, we’re not going today.

[00:33:47] Lavaur is great for people who want to get away from massive tourism

[00:33:47] Annie Sargent: Too many things going on today, Elyse, but soon, you know, it’s really not far from Toulouse. I mean, honestly, it’s like next door to us.

[00:33:56] Annie Sargent: All right. Thank you so much for telling us about Lavaur, a surprising little town just around the corner from Toulouse. You can so easily do this as a day trip from Toulouse. I mean, when I do itinerary reviews, people are always asking me for, you know, they want to see the real France, they want to see stuff that’s not touristy.

[00:34:16] Annie Sargent: Well, Lavaur would be it. It’s not real touristy. I’m not saying that there are zero tourists. Of course there are some, but it’s not the sort of place, it’s not like Carcassonne that has throngs of tourists that come by the busload. In Lavaur, it’s a trickle of visitors who are interested in all of this interesting history and pretty town but not massive tourism. And so it’s a great place to go, stay for the day, look around, visit the museums, visit the shops, and just have a lovely day in South of France.

[00:34:47] And you can actually combine it with a visit to Gaillac or something like that if you want, because they’re so close to each other, you know?

[00:34:55] Annie Sargent: Right, and you told me this morning that you wanted to also do an episode about a place that’s really close, like 10 kilometers away, called Giroussens, because it’s a little village with a lot of history and some good wineries and things like that. So we’ll probably do that in the next few weeks, I would think.

[00:35:14] Elyse Rivin: That sounds good to me.

[00:35:17] Annie Sargent: Merci Elyse.

[00:35:20] Elyse Rivin: Merci Annie.


[00:35:27] Outro

[00:35:27] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting this show and giving back. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that, you can see them at Thank you all for supporting this show, some of you have been doing it for a long time, you are wonderful.

[00:35:44] New patrons

[00:35:44] And a shout out this week to one new patron, Celeste Williams. Thank you so much for becoming a patron and making this podcast possible.

[00:35:53] Annie Sargent: I did not get any feedback about my garlic soup recipe from last week. I wonder why! I guess perhaps people don’t want to have garlic breath or something? French bumpkins like me are fearless, we’ll have garlic soup and we’ll still go out in public.

[00:36:11] Annie Sargent: And oh, thank you Estelle Bain for sending me a fudge recipe that works. I’ve received several after admitting on episode 416 that my fudge did not set. And this is the first one I tried, it’s excellent. Merci. I will try the other ones as soon as I run out, which is probably a week or something. I love the stuff.

[00:36:34] Annie Sargent: Okay, my thanks also to Sabatino Pulgini for sending in a one time donation by using the green button on any page on JoinUsinFrance.Com that says, Tip your guide.

[00:36:47] Annie Sargent: Sam wrote: “Annie, thanks for the continued great work in everything you do. I was in Paris in November and downloaded all five of your walking tours and they were all outstanding and informative. Joyeux Noel! Regards, Sam”. Thank you so much, Sam and Joyeux Noel to you as well.

[00:37:05] Preparing a trip to France?

[00:37:05] Annie Sargent: If you are preparing a trip to France and listening to as many episodes as you can to get ready, keep listening to the podcast because that’s a great way to do it. Search the website as well, because there’s a lot of episodes. You’ll be surprised.

[00:37:18] Itinerary consults

[00:37:18] Annie Sargent: You can also hire me to be your itinerary consultant. It works like this. You purchase the service on Then you fill out a document to tell me what you have in mind. We make a phone appointment and we chat for about an hour, and then I send you the document with the plan that we discussed.

[00:37:36] Annie Sargent: Now, my time is always booked up several weeks in advance, you’ll see the date for my next appointment availability on the only page where you can buy the service, and that’s

[00:37:50] Self-guided tours

[00:37:50] Annie Sargent: If you cannot talk to me because I’m all booked up, you can still take me in your pocket by getting my GPS self-guided tour of Paris on the VoiceMap app. I produce five tours of Paris and they are designed to show you around different iconic neighborhoods of Paris. Give them a try, you will like them.

[00:38:09] Visiting France in winter months

[00:38:09] Annie Sargent: Someone on Facebook asked about visiting the Loire Valley in February and whether it might be a bad time of the year to do that. My response is that she should expect a lot of seasonal closures.

[00:38:23] Annie Sargent: Only major chateaus stay open year round, even in the Loire Valley. Minor chateaus might open on some weekends in February, but some won’t even do that. Lots of places in France close during low season. Between November and the end of March, lots and lots of venues close. Some of them reopen during French school holidays, but some don’t even do that.

[00:38:50] Annie Sargent: So if you are visiting France in low season, I recommend that you go to a big city. Paris is ideal because there are so many things to do all the time, year round. Even cities like Bordeaux and Toulouse, we don’t have that much going on in the winter. I mean, a few things like Christmas markets, which is getting bigger and bigger in Toulouse, but it’s not enough to keep you busy for a week.

[00:39:14] And February is the true doldrums of activity. So go to Paris, lots to do there.

[00:39:21] And it always surprises me how in England where I lived for a couple of years, a few decades ago, they don’t let the weather dictate what they’re going to do because perhaps the weather isn’t that great, you know, any time of the year.

[00:39:32] Whereas in the south of France, we retreat indoors as soon as there’s a bit of rain or a bit of wind, a light dusting of snow and life comes to a complete stop. So, you know, those pretty villages that we often talk about, the most beautiful villages? They are dead, dead, dead in the winter months. Sometimes also in the summer months, but for sure in the winter months. All the stores will be closed and you might not see another soul. Okay? You might see a cat, a friendly cat, but that’s about it. But even Loire Valley chateaus, or chateaus anywhere in France, you know, don’t count on them being open in low season, always check the websites and their hours on Google.

[00:40:14] French Health System

[00:40:14] Another thing that came up on the Facebook group is something that you need to understand because it’s so different in France than in the US. This group member ran into a health problem while visiting France. Her husband actually had to be hospitalized. He got better. He went home. Fantastic. Now her health insurance company in the US is asking for paperwork to justify what was done and she’s having a hard time finding it.

[00:40:41] Annie Sargent: So here’s how it works, here’s what you need to know about how the French healthcare system works, just in case it happens to you. Our health system has low administrative costs, and doctors cannot get away with charging as much money as they do in the US. As a result, they rarely hire staff to run their office. It takes six doctors on average to hire one staff in France. And I’m pretty sure in America there’s one or two non-medical staff per doctor. I mean, maybe, maybe I’ve got the number wrong, but there’s nowhere in America where you have one staff for six Doctors. Okay?

[00:41:24] Annie Sargent: Family doctors in France went on strike last week and actually closed their offices for the first time in decades. I’ve been to the doctor’s office when the doctor was wearing an arm band that said, I’m on strike because I’m protesting, blah, blah, blah, but they would still see patients, okay? They were still working while telling you that they were on strike. And doctors, they’re not a striking bunch, they were asking for more money from the National Health Insurance Company because they are not paid enough.

[00:41:54] Annie Sargent: One of their arguments was that if they had more money, they could hire staff and that would be a good thing, but we’re not there yet. Hopefully, they’ll get what they want.

[00:42:03] In France patients are in charge of their records

[00:42:03] Annie Sargent: As it stands, and this is what you need to understand about the French healthcare system, to cut administrative costs in France, the patient is in charge of his or her records.

[00:42:16] Annie Sargent: When you leave a doctor’s office in France, they give you everything you need. Your prescription for medications, which is, they do that in America as well, but also your prescription for any tests that you need to do. And if they recommend that you see a specialist or go to a hospital, they will also give you a letter for the next doctor who will take care of you.

[00:42:38] Annie Sargent: That letter has a recap of your medical history in medical terms. I’ve tried to read it and it’s like, well, I don’t know, and the reason why this family doctor is sending you to a specialist or hospital. If you do blood tests, they’ll send you an email when the results are ready.

[00:42:54] Annie Sargent: And when you get your results, you print them and you take them to the doctor’s office. Usually doctors also get that email and most doctors will take a quick look to see if anything was seriously wrong and call you if that’s the case, but that’s never happened to me.

[00:43:09] Annie Sargent: For the most part, they wait until you see them again to discuss your results. If you do a mammogram or any imagery, they give you the images and a letter summarizing the radiologist’s finding. I have a whole stack of medical images at my home, and some of them are like the oversized X-rays. When I did my knee exam, they sent me a link you know, a few hours later with a file with the results that I downloaded to my computer, and then I was asked to put that on a USB key to take to the specialist.

[00:43:42] Annie Sargent: I don’t have the software to read that file on my computer, but the rheumatologist did and there was a letter to go with it anyway. But the point is, the patient carries his or her records. That is not always ideal because patients forget things and parents are in charge of their kids’ records and sometimes parents lose things, forget things, whatever. Elderly people get confused, people with disabilities need help, you know.

[00:44:10] Annie Sargent: But overall, the system works and it’s much, much, much cheaper than having an army of medical staff to handle all of these records.

[00:44:17] Annie Sargent: So, if you get sick in France, hang on to the paperwork that they’re going to give you. When the doctor takes the letter to read it, ask to get it back, this is normal, the doctor will make a copy if she deems it necessary. You will need it to justify your treatment in France. Do not count on hospital administrators to send you a neat package with all the right codes that American Health Insurance are used to. That’s not how it works here, okay?

[00:44:47] If you see a doctor in France, keep your records. Keep whatever the doctor gives you, even if you don’t understand what it is, you’ll need it to get reimbursed at home.

[00:44:58] ChatGPT

[00:44:58] Annie Sargent: And the last little bit, I’m going to mention because it’s funny. This week, several French newspapers tested ChatGPT. It’s the artificial intelligence that can answer your questions and hold a conversation. Yes, AI is getting better, AI, Artificial Intelligence, it’s getting better, it’s getting even really good in French, but I wonder if French people will ever trust it. Because the service is called ChatGPT. I will not explain the joke.

[00:45:33] This week in French news

[00:45:33] Annie Sargent: This week in French news, well, lots and lots of soccer, Soccer World Cup. France is playing England on Saturday, by the time you hear this will be done. I haven’t watched a single game, I’m just not a soccer fan really. I could have basketball on all day at my house, I don’t, but soccer just doesn’t do anything for me.

[00:45:53] I am in the minority for a French person, soccer is huge in France, in many, many countries, as a matter of fact.

[00:46:01] Show notes and transcript

[00:46:01] Annie Sargent: Show notes and a full transcript for this episode are on JoinUsinFrance.Com/419.

[00:46:08] Annie Sargent: Transcripts make the website really easy to search, use them. And you can help your favorite Francophile friends plan their visit to France. Go to JoinUsinFrance.Com, click on the share buttons on the side and tag your friend.

[00:46:24] Next week on the podcast

[00:46:24] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode about a Jewish perspective on Paris with Shmuel Perl. I learned some things talking to him and I think you will too.

[00:46:37] Annie Sargent: Send questions or feedback to annie@JoinUsinFrance.Com.

[00:46:41] Annie Sargent: Thank you so much for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together. Au revoir.

[00:46:48] 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.

Elyse waving hello in Lavaur in Occitanie
Elyse waving hello in front of Saint Alain Cathedral
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Categories: Day -Trips from Toulouse, Toulouse Area