October driving from Mayenne; 5-day round trip
At the end of September, we received a wonderful invitation to stay with friends in the Rhone-Alps, delighted we gratefully accepted a rare opportunity to get away this year. We love exploring France and the many highlights that can be experienced in just a single day. Our 5-day trip was no different. First stop was Tours, stopping for coffee and to walk the old city to see the soaring late medieval timber Merchants houses. Coffee in the vibrant city centre is like a taste of Paris. Then we headed to the Loire river to drive along the riverbank. Our destination a lunchtime picnic on a famous island, where, in 504AD, Clovis met Alaric; leader of the Visigoths to divide up the lands of France. We picnicked on the very spot looking up at the Chateau Amboise.
Then on to our Chateau B&B for the evening, CHATEAU DE VILLARS.A perfectly delightful stay was full of all the highlights and stories of an ancestral family home. The original family still owns the chateau, and at breakfast, Madame shared with us wonderful stories and anecdotes.
Day two began with visit short and enjoyable visit to the Musée National du Costume, then a long drive to mountains. By the afternoon, we were circling up a narrow mountain road to the Plateau de Gergovie. This was jaw-dropping history, the site where the Gauls have their first victory against Julius Cesar. This has to be one of the highlights of the trip, and we would love to return, to explore the site more on foot.
We spent the night in the old city of Clermont Ferrand and trialled staying in a budget self-catering hotel room, clean easy and did the trick, allowing us to isolate while we were travelling. The next morning was damp and chilly we knew we had reached the mountains winter was not far away. We walked the up the steep roads up to high old town centre visiting the 13th c black Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption in the marking the ancient town centre historic, of the capital of Auvergne. Built on top of a mound, marking the medieval crossroads on the route of the walled city from the 3rd century. On the southern side Victory Square is the statue of Pope Urban II who launched the first crusade at the Council of 1095. Which I studied at University so it was amazing for me to be there.
We headed out in the car to the countryside to travel to find the mountain high home. We choose a sunny picnic lunch by a clear river jumping with fish, and set below sheer mountain cliffs covered in forest. It felt more German than French. We wove through curving mountain roads past medieval towns clustered around quiet ancient town centres (Olliergues led feature photo) were time literally has stood still. The architecture and tiled roofs look nothing like any part of France we have travelled through.
A warm welcome awaited us from our hosts Paul and Stella. Knowing we love Medieval History on one day of our stay they took us to the perfect place a Medieval monastery, La Chaise Dieu. I'm still absorbing it all now I have read up on the wonderful history, how in such isolation such a huge community grew. I would go back in a flash. Our stay in the high mountains completely surrounded but deep valleys covered in pine forest was tranquil and beautiful, and the simple pleasure of spending time with friends after so long in isolation was wonderful.