Today’s title comes courtesy of Mirinda who made the comment about me while I stared off at a massive ploughed field quite near the chateau we’re staying in.
Breakfast this morning was something of a giant undertaking. We went to Brantome to the lovely little place we went to yesterday because they advertised that they served petit dejuener. Perfect, we thought. We sat down and asked for breakfast and they brought it. Then, not satisfied with muesli, yoghurt, compote, baguette and jam, they thought we might like two pieces of cake. I also had three cups of coffee to wash it all down though this was my own fault because I inadvertently ordered Mirinda a second coffee which she didn’t want.
Well fed, I stood to pay only to send everyone into a flap. There was more. We hadn’t had the bacon and eggs yet! Really? Like we were totally full and they expected us to shove even more on top? We paid and left with the promise that we’d be back on Thursday to finish our breakfasts properly.
Thus fortified, we set off for the Grottes de Villars only to discover that we’d missed the 11:30 tour of the cave and they were now shut for lunch. No problem, we said, we’d head over to Chateau Puyguilhem first. Unfortunately, the chateau was also closed for lunch. Then Mirinda pulled a wonderful rabbit out of her hat: The ruined Abbeye de Boschaud.
(It was a Cistercian Abbey so it has a link with Farnham and Waverley Abbey which was the first Cistercian Abbey in England way back in the fog of time.)
The word Boschaud comes from the Latin Bosco Cavo which means ‘wooded dell’ and it describes the place where the abbey was built rather than name it after the place or some non-existent saint. And it is perfect. The abbey sits in a lovely little dell, surrounded by green. It’s quite a peaceful place especially on a lovely day when there was no other people there but us.
Returning to the car we then went to Mirinda’s second surprise destination, the beautiful little village of St Jean de Cole. I should add that that’s not just my opinion…it is OFFICIALLY one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The first thing you notice about the village is that it seems to be inhabited by fake flowers. They are everywhere, on bushes, on trees, in hedges…it’s as if the people of the village have given up with the natural way and gone for tissue paper and green wire. We then realised that the village has a floral fair every year and this year it starts on Thursday this week. Basically we saw the decoration dress rehearsal. I reckon it’ll be a bit crowded on Thursday so I’m rather glad we visited when it was almost deserted.
Mirinda asked me where I thought all the inhabitants were. She always wonders this because these places are so small and yet nearly always completely deserted. The funny thing is that I always tell her the same thing: “They’ve all gone to work!”
We sent a lovely hour wandering the street (there’s really only one) and checking out the ‘…Romanesque Byzantine church of St Jean Baptist built in the XIIth century and with a quite unusual rounded shape..’ which is the first church so far this trip. And, wonderfully, there was a painting of Saint Sebastien inside. Unfortunately there was no information about either the painting or the artist (though in typical fashion, lots about the St Seb story).
We then stopped for a drink in the only place open in the village. There’s no way we were wanting any food. Not yet. It had only been four hours since a huge breakfast after all. So we sat with our drinks realising that sitting on the terrace of the local restaurant/bar in the early May sun was as close to heaven as I think it’s possible to get.
But heaven was only for the briefest of stops as we continued on our trip, this time to the Chateau Puyguilhem.
What a wonderful little chateau. And what an equally wonderful guide we had. I say ‘we’ because it was just Mirinda and me…and the guide. And he really loved his subject. His English was excellent and his passion obvious. He took us through the house, showing the various periods and uses. We almost went all over. It was a fantastic hour we had with him and very informative.
The chateau has been lovingly restored (it took 20 years after the state took control in 1939) and even features a few bits that had disappeared. These bits have been reproduced but in such a way as to make it obvious they are new. I really love when they do that. In the case of this place, it was mainly a series of carvings of the Tests of Hercules. Only one of the original carvings remains and it’s a bit destitute as it is. The restorers knew what the other ones were of so they recreated them but in a more modern style. And it looks fantastic.
When quizzed about what happened to the originals, our guide shrugged and said “These days kids burn cars but years ago they didn’t have cars so they broke up stone carvings.”
Eventually we bade farewell and headed over for our final tour of the day, the caves at Villars.
I am so glad we went. Absolutely amazing. Long tapering stalactites dripping onto stalagmites, sheaths of draperies almost translucent and glittering calcite glistening in the limestone. And this goes on for the entire walk of 600 metres way underground. As you walk, you are very close to the incredible formations – you could touch them if you had to though you must not…of course.
Then, to top it all off, there are cave paintings at the end. Amazing representations of horses, bison and a human. Extraordinary artistry so far underground. At one stage our guide turned all the lights off and it is truly black down there. Drawing even a rudimentary figure would be very difficult with only a flickering fat candle but to make it obviously a horse seems impossible.
The paintings are gradually succumbing to the calcite and limestone as it constantly drips over them but that is the wonderful thing about the intransigent nature of humanity – one day we’re here; the next day we’re not. If you’re lucky you’ll see us before we’re gone.
Naturally, the whole tour was in French (though we had handy little laminated sheets in English) but it didn’t matter a jot. We sort of understood some of her talk but the important thing was the amazing formations. It really was enough to make you truly believe in Geology.
Back in the daylight we made our way back to our chateau for a bit of a rest before heading out to a small dinner (we were still digesting breakfast after all) at a lovely little restaurant in the nearby town of Bourdeilles. We sat out on the terrace, enjoying the early evening sights and sounds as well as the very friendly dog.
According to Mirinda’s little friend, today was the worst weather we’re going to have for our week. If that’s the case I’ll be more than happy. Today started overcast and then just grew better until the sky was cloudless by the end of it.