When we were in the Toulouse area, our new (Quaker) friend Rebecca gave us an amazing gift: an itinerary to follow to visit the Lot Valley and Toulouse area. She grew up in New York State and married Bernard, a Toulousian. (Is that a word?) After 15 years of living in the area, she is an expert on where to go and what to see. She told us the best places to visit prehistoric cave paintings, and the best castles that are not on the tourist circuit.
Les Grottes du Pech Merle: A wonderful place to see cave paintings. They are so artful, with rocks chosen to match the contours of the animals represented. Little blue spots over the animal’s backs, definitely done for artistic reasons. The love of art is truly there, 40,000 years ago. At Pech Merle you can see the real thing, not a mockup.
Chateau de Cenevière: a castle privately owned but open to the general public. How would a castle look if it had history going back to Charlemagne, and no one had ever really cleaned house? Commodes dating back to 14th century, letters from the king signed “S**t to the people! Your friend, Henry”. An entire frieze on the walls of the living room portraying the glorious sites in the East, visions brought back from the Crusades. Istanbul, the Haggia Sophia, etc.
Saint Cirq La Poppie: a precious little village on the very top of a rocky precipice, with tiny gardens, artist studios and restaurants. It is lovely. Did I say precious?
On Rebecca’s suggestion, we also visited with her Quaker friends Karina and Gen Spencer-Knight who live in a small village in the Lot Valley. Their only neighbors in the village were the local winery (vendange, the grape harvest, was going on while we were there: grapes are dumped into the masher in the neighbor’s barn), an academic recluse from Paris who lived in an impregnable castle behind Karina’s back garden, and the church. A lazy river nearby, and fields of grapes on all sides. We had a beautiful few days visiting with Karina and hiking around the area, visiting dolmens (think miniature Stonehenge, on the hillsides) and stone villages. What an exquisite area.