We drove through a wide limestone gorge from Carennac to reach the large aire set just outside Autoire village. A steep descent took us to the bottom tier, where we parked up with a view across rolling hills and an autumnal valley. It cost €4 for 24 hours. With all our recent exploring we decided not to visit this beau village until the morning, so we spent a lazy night in aire, with only a barking dog and a distant baying donkey for company, with the exception of some very late arriving vans who then noisily flapped around under the midnight starlight, deciding where to park.
Waking up we found ourselves not far below the hanging cloud that had descended through the valley. Visibility was still sufficient for walking, so with walking boots on we set off with a plan to take us through the clouds. We had a quick look around the small village, again a lovely setting although there was little to see today. We followed a local walk along the river bank to see the cascades; a tall, wispy waterfall with deep pools below in the river. With the high valley sides lined with tall trees and the light spray catching the sunlight through the leaves our setting took on a wild jungle feel, and for a brief moment our imagination took us to Venezuela’s Roraima, not south-west France.
We crossed the low river on a small timber bridge and headed up the side of the valley. It was a sharp, steep climb, warming us very quickly with the effort, even in the cold, misty air. Once near the top of the valley side, the path levelled out and we spurred off a short way to visit the 11th century Château les Anglais – a fanciful and gravity-defying stone-built castle, keep and turret set under the over-hanging cliff face. It was originally built from the same limestone as the cliff, so was well camouflaged from below. There were holes in the walls noting where timber beams for higher floors would have been, and the tell-tale remains of a spiral stair providing access to the other levels was evident at the entrance. An interesting ruin now, but it must have once been an impressive fortress or prison.
Ascending some handy metal stairs we reached the top of the limestone cliff, and shortly after arrived at a built viewpoint. We had poor visibility through the flaccid sheet of still, cold mist stubbornly remaining in the valley below, but the top of the cascades were just visible across from us. We walked on along ancient paths for the last few kilometres, imagining horse-drawn carts squeaking along these cobbled lanes in past centuries, to arrive at the outskirts of Loubressac, yet another celebrated Beau Village de la France. We arrived into the village green with its white-barked plane trees lining the square, and a stone plaza offering panoramic views out to the valley behind.
The seigniory of Loubressac was a going concern from at least 900 CE. After the drama and destruction dealt by the Hundred Years War, the oppressive English yoke was finally thrown off and the following 15th– 16th centuries brought a complete revival of fortune, with many buildings rebuilt and repopulated. In 1789 the French Revolution swiftly removed the head of the last Feudal Lord and garnered in a more democratic future with a newly-elected Mayor to oversee the village. Today the village seemed quaint, sleepy and quiet, but oozed history from its worn stones. We walked around the centre, passing the high gate into the unseen château behind. We later found an eye-opening aerial photo of the village and were astonished by the extents of this crowning property; stables, swimming pool and manicured lawns all squeezed in within the otherwise tightly compacted spaces and concentric walls of the village.
We returned to the large open square and sat for a while, to eat and think. As we ate our snacks we watched a very old guy, wearing an obligatory beret and a long impressionist painter’s beard, shuffling very slowly home from the store. He had probably lived in Loubressac all his long life, we decided, making a daily pilgrimage for provisions. After eating, we walked another circuit of the village, taking in a few other key sites. About ten minutes later we saw the same ancient, bent-double gent shuffling again, slowly opening his front door as he finally made it back home, no more than 100m from where we first watched him in the central square. We bought ourselves a baguette in the only shop in town then walked out of Loubressac via a different, more direct route for our return journey back to Autoire.
We passed the village cemetery as we departed, with more expansive valley views to our left. Ancient dry-stone walls lined the route, each thick with bright green, hairy moss that covered all surfaces so completely that it looked sprayed on. We descended swiftly on a steep, leaf-strewn path under the canopies of old, rickety trees with twisted, overhanging yellow-leafed branches. Here we met the only other person we saw outside the village on our walk, a lady impressively running up the punishing hill with her energetic cocker spaniel in tow. This path proved to be shorter and more direct and we soon arrived back into Autoire. We popped out behind a stand-alone square tower and walked the last few hundred metres on the road, crossing over a small bridge to return to the aire, and Benny.
We made it back with only moments to spare before the sky suddenly turned into a giant power shower, drenching everything in the valley. Safe and dry inside, we were very happy to have made something of such an enclosed, grey day. We passed another, this time entirely undisturbed, night in the aire, as we casually planned our next moves.