Monthly Archives: February 2018

France – Penne d’Agenais and around

With very few good weather days over the past few weeks, we have had to be ready to jump when the mists lift or the clouds depart enough to allow a little sun through.  One morning we rushed out to cycle to the nearby village of Castelmoron-sur-Lot, taking advantage of a bright, clear start to the day.  We first cut across tiny country roads with absolutely no traffic to join a dedicated voie verte in the settlement of Temple-sur-Lot, stopping briefly to take in the church and the eponymous castle, now seemingly made into residential apartments with shops and restaurants on the ground floor.  From here we rolled on into Castelmoron, crossing the iron bridge and circling the central sights.

Cazeneuve - spring approaches

We left the town hugging the north bank of the river, following the voie verte back towards Sainte-Liverade.  The sun was bouncing off the still water, creating beautiful reflections of the opposite bank. We stopped off in the centre of Fongrave, where we found a small cantilevered viewpoint behind the church, looking out over the river and beyond.  We paused a while to soak up the view, feeling so pleased we’d made the effort to get out and see this stretch of the cycle-path.  We watched a van with a trailer awkwardly launch a small rib-boat into the river via a concrete slip, before continuing happily along the sunny, tree-lined banks.  We closed out our loop just before Sainte-Liverade and returned over the steep hill to Cazeneuve, contented with our morning activity.

Fongrave - viewpoint

Fongrave - riverside view

One later morning we awoke to similar bright skies, yet with a deep cold in the air.  The air temperature was stable around 3degs C, but could feel much colder when the wind blew strong, or very much hotter when the radiant sun directly reached your skin.  We headed off in the opposite direction to our previous cycle, over to the next valley hills to join the voie verte near to Villeneuve-sur-Lot, heading east. We lost the path on the outskirts of town, so made our own way along quiet country roads in the general direction, bending round woodland and up some steep, forested inclines to catch our first glimpse of the hilltop town of Penne d’Agenais, standing proudly on the far horizon.  The cycle and final climb was reminiscent of a long cycle back in Portugal, heading to Monsanto, where we could see our target from miles away.

Penne dAagenais - (our destination awaits)

We made our way onwards and upwards, ever upwards, snaking around the sides of the hill as we climbed to the town. We slowly closed the distance to nudge ourselves to the very top, with the expectation of the upcoming view acting as a welcome reward.  Penne d’Agenais, a fortified medieval village set high on a steep hill with outstanding panoramic views, was topped off in grand style by the metal-domed Notre-Dame de Peyraguade.  This was a huge basilica that had been positioned on the site of a 13th century castle built by Richard the Lionheart, itself on the site of an original 11th century chapel.  The sanctuary forms, as many similar places do, another key stopping point on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela.  The myriad routes leading to northern Spain dominate the European landscape and the historic built environment, shaping so much of what we have seen on our travels.

Penne dAagenais - (nearing the top)

Penne dAagenais - (town square)

After a brief look around the town, we scrambled up the cobblestones to the plaza around the front of the sanctuary building.  It was worth the sweat.  The expansive view over the shining, silver domes of the basilica and the nearby river was exceptional, and made all the better by us being the only people who had chosen to visit the village, and the sanctuary, this glorious day.  We soaked up the view as we wandered around the grounds, before heading off to fully enjoy a super-fast descent down to the nearby town of Saint-Sylvestre-Sur-Lot where we stopped on a park bench to top up on snacks as we watched over the glistening river and the shining dome of the recently left basilica. Then it was back onto the voie verte, north of the river and eventually into Villeneuve, before heading home again.

Penne dAagenais - (the view out)

Penne dAagenais - (at the top)

Penne dAagenais - (cycling streets)

We’ve been busy on other fronts too.  Alongside our daily French language practise and training runs, we have been improving our table tennis, archery and pétanque, and more importantly, planning out the months ahead.  We have secured another French house-sit in May near to Riberac, a little closer to the area where we hope to settle.  We have a few upcoming house viewings to try to get a feel for what we ultimately want to buy.  We have entered our first Swim-Run event in Lake Vassivière near Limoges, in June.  We have organised to walk the Tour de Mont Blanc circuit in early July, eleven days and 109 miles of glorious hiking in the high Alps, through France, Italy and Switzerland.

Penne dAagenais - (panorama)

Afterwards, we have vague plans for a quick scoot around northern Italy before returning to France to, hopefully, finalise the purchase of our chosen house.  We have lots to look forward to, and surprisingly, this year will be our very first summer spent in France, so we will see it lit up in the full glory of summer sun for the very first time; we’re excited.

A&N x

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France – Agen, Pujols & around

An update on our activities over the past few weeks during our house-sit in Cazeneuve.

It’s been around three weeks since our last blog post, and we’ve been keeping busy, but not in adventurous ways that we feel are worth sharing more regularly.  Our days are full with learning, activity and exercise, with the odd venture out to visit a local town.

Agen (back on the Garonne)

Recently we had one such day-trip out to visit Agen, our closest city.  First we swam a steady 2km in their wonderful 50m competition pool, before finding a spot to park on the riverside and walking into the centre.  We passed under vast rows of pollarded plane trees set in the riverside park, their gnarled white branches contrasted heavily against the uniform blue sky, like arthritic knuckles reaching into the void.  We wandered through tight medieval streets and the modern, wide pedestrianised centre, enjoying the sights and the buildings of Agen in bright sunshine.  The cafés were bustling with people and we were immediately impressed with what the busy town had to offer.

Agen (pollarded trees)

One morning we decided on a leisurely cycle, a wide triangle on a voie verte taking in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Casseneuil and Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot.  The air was a cold 4 degrees, and we wrapped up well before we headed up over the hill, a steady 2km long climb that led into a flat ridge cycle before being followed by a fantastic flowing descent of 5km.  We picked up the voie verte heading north and arrived in the medieval centre of Casseneuil a few easy kilometres later.  After a short explore, we headed south along the banks of the river to Liverade and through, back over the hill again to home.  We later discovered on our return that we had lost our camera somewhere on the cycle, it having jostled its way out of a side pocket, unknown to us.  After a thorough search of the house we concluded it was definitely missing, but outside had turned from borderline sunny to a grey, sodden deluge in that time, so we didn’t venture out to look.

The next morning we visited the Mairie in Allez-et-Cazeneuve and the Hôtel-de-Ville in Liverade to report our missing camera in the hope some kind citizen may hand it in.  We also left a note at the central police station, but they had very little interest in our petite drama.  After we reported the camera, we then ran the last 11km of the track we had cycled home the day before, in two portions, checking along the verge, ditches and hedges for any sign of it, but to no avail.  We can only hope it was swept up by someone walking along the path before the previous night’s deluge and that they will hand it in next time they are in town (perhaps next Friday, on market day), but we’re not holding our breath for it to reappear.  It’s always disappointing to lose photos of a good day, along with our well-used and loved compact camera.

Cazeneuve (enjoying a window of sun)

Cazeneuve (veg patch weeding)

We are passing our days in generally similar ways, with a welcome routine of reading, exercise and rest.  We have a few hours of French most mornings.  We watched the opening weekend of the Six Nations snuggled up with a few beers, content that both our teams got off to a winning start even if Ireland left it very late to nick it from the French. We had a not entirely awful go at archery in the garden.  We played a few games of table-tennis and pétanque, had a few pool swims, a couple of cycles and runs, and have pottered in the garden, between rain storms.  We’ve been visited by both le chien noir and la chienne rouge.  Below is my (corrected) French homework story that tells a little more of how we spent our week, should you be interested.  The dreaded green pen wielded by our tutor Rebecca did not get its fullest workout this week, so something must be improving in my French-feeble mind.  Peut-être.

Cazeneuve - French homework

This week, rather than our usual Tuesday morning swim, we awoke to a bright, clear sky and decided to postpone for a day and undertake a long local walk instead.  We drove a short distance to Lacépède and followed the marked trail out of the completely dead village, through sleeping plum trees and empty, ploughed fields.  The path was thick with leaves and mud after the recent rains, and was difficult to progress on.  Being so muddy underfoot made the hilly portions tricky and sliding, but we squished around 11km of lovely rolling countryside with no sign of anyone else.  We reached a small reservoir with bird-watching huts and some interesting, colourful sign-boards describing the lives of local bees that we photographed to fully translate later in our next ‘French hour’.  We arrived back in the village just as the rains began to fall, followed closely by a wandering dog who seemingly wanted to be our very best friend.

Lacepede (church on route)

Lacepede (forest rrails)

After one pool swim, we finally drove up and visited the medieval centre of the nearby village of Pujols.  We had often looked at it from the comfort of the large Jacuzzi bath post-swim, but had as yet not ventured up the hill.  We had left it long enough since our last beaux village visit to regain the excitement and interest of a new place, and were pleasantly surprised by its neatness and beauty.  The sun appeared for a few moments, lighting up Villeneuve-sur-Lot below and the white stone façades of the ancient streets, giving it a wonderful glow.  We saw the church, the covered marketplace, the detailed model of the town in the tourist office, the truncated once-circular well-stone now cut back to a semi-circle to allow vehicles to pass, the remains of the original ramparts and finally la porte des Anglais, the English Gate, named for the route the English soldiers fled along from a lost battle during the Hundred Years’ War.  We passed through it too before making our escape from the frigid, icy air back to the car and home.

Pugols (viewpoint)

Pugols (a in main square)

Recently, the days had been sharper, fresher, colder than before, with a deeper mud grey blanket of cloud spread across the sky.  Twice we have had a light falling of tiny flakes of snow, forced out of the chilled clouds with obvious reluctance, not at all like the proper snow we have been reading about back in the UK.  For a few quiet moments it was beautifully still and tiny white flakes swayed gently in the air, glistening with reflected light and looking quite magical.  Then as quickly as they appeared they have gone, but the chilly, biting air remains.  Several times we have stood outside for a few long moments reflecting on the changing moods of the days and weather, taking in deep red, moody sunsets, before scampering back into the comforting warmth of the awaiting boulangerie for some warming tea.

A&N x