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Smallville: Vive La Résistance

How could anyone resist the opportunity to buy an earthenware salad bowl with a built-in garlic crusher? Peter B Farrell continues his mouth-wateringly appetising account of a holiday in France.

It doesn’t fold up and it’s breakable,” - two good reasons for not buying the earthenware salad bowl. Too late. My wife,mesmerised by the goods on offer in the local market , had broken the first law of the long distance traveller.

“Couldn’t resist it and look at the colour, also the built-in garlic crusher, Just what we need.” Reasons enough then.

Travelling with my brother Kev and his wife Diana, we had left the Loire valley and had arrived at the lovely old town of Loches on the river Indre. Staying in a small hotel in the centre we were struck by the cleanliness, and the well-preserved architecture dating back to the 10th century, though a splendid statue of a local hero in the town centre was incongruously adorned with a Manchester United scarf.

The hour we spent walking in the old streets hardly did justice to this historic site; although dining later at the hotel we certainly did justice to the local wines.

The following morning, after the now customary croissants, bread and black coffee outside on the pavement, we discovered the local market and were amazed by the variety of goods; fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, cheese and wine among a variety clothing and hardware. My wife succumbed easily to the bargains on display and a joint effort produced enough variety for a sumptuous picnic lunch later in the day.

I had bought some postcards to send home, politically incorrect by UK standards, and I wondered what Mr Blair’s Thought-police would make of them.

“Local councils will have a dedicated hot-line operating around the clock to take calls.” This was a recent statement from a crazed Home Office Minister, encouraging the UK citizenry to report on their neighbours.

I was becoming more endeared to the French way of life, their independence and seeming indifference to the insane laws perpetrated from Brussels which we British slavishly follow.

With the salad bowl carefully wrapped in anoraks and relegated to a place next to the portable gas stove and kettle we headed off in the late morning towards our next stage of the journey, soon joining the fast Autoroute that would take us to the Dordogne.

We had our picnic at a rest stop where Diana made contact by telephone with her son in Montpelier, our final destination in a few days time.“Looking forward to seeing us all, however…”
Apparently our accommodation wasn’t built yet; the project to renovate an old house in the village of Gignac had fallen behind schedule.

“He said to circle around for a bit longer, give him a chance to get the toilet/electrics/fridge/shower working.”

No matter, France had seduced us, with its daily diet of culture, spectacular scenery, glorious weather, fine food and wine. Our destination, Sarlat , proved to be crowded, a magnet for tourists like ourselves. The narrow cobbled streets with their high buildings offered some shade from the sweltering heat of the sun. Speciality ices brought on an attack of freezing-forehead and we repaired to a small café for black coffee.

The first rule of long distance travellers was broken again when we bought jars of pate de foie gras. Further purchases included walnuts , a local speciality , and more postcards.

With time now on our side we headed for Cahors well known for it’s local wines, heady, black and prolific with over 200 producers in the area. It also housed the Museum of the Résistance and I pondered on the opportunity to acquire some expert advice should Mr Blair continue for another term in office.

We found a small hotel within walking distance of the centre and after dining and sampling the dark red wine, spent the evening walking around the medieval streets. The many well-preserved buildings were still in use, and this working City was not an obvious tourist trap. An underpass at the station took us to the finest medieval bridge in France, the Pont Valentre. The underpass was completely covered in graffiti, best place for it. I had no doubt the graffiti had a certain élan when translated.

“M’sieur, quatre café, s’il vous plé.” This well worn phrase now rolled off my tongue at every opportunity. Time to learn how to order something else if I was to remain on reasonable terms with my companions during lunch times. My brother and his wife held sway in the evenings.

Time to move on at a leisurely pace to St Antonin-Noble-Val, once the home of the Cathars.

A few minutes in this lovely old town was enough for a mutual decision to sell up and move at the earliest opportunity. Was this France’s best kept secret? A couple of humble workmen unloading building materials from a van were in the process of restoring an old house. Vente, explained the notice board. For sale. Should we make a few enquiries?

Diana had the phraseology ready, then we were close enough to overhear the conversation. English builders here? Yes, further reference to the guidebook showed that the area was also known as Kensing-tarn. We were a few years too late.

After being immersed in medieval history for the past three days it was time for something different. Ahead lay the town of Albi, the home of the Toulouse–Lautrec Museum, of particular interest to my wife, a long time admirer of Henri and his work.

(To be continued)

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