Monday, July 16, 2012

France Day 8 - Lautrec - the village & the painter

Our last day and we got up to a damp grey morning, which, if nothing else acclimatised us for the return to England. After giving the gite a spruce up and getting our deposit back we sailed forth in search of that elusive Canal du Midi shot. Since the tarte au pomme quest had been satisfied, Sarah’s new mission was to get a picture of this stretch of water before we left, so it was with this zealous enthusiasm that we zoomed around various lanes and highways always within site of the canal, but never really reaching anything that might be called a view. In the end I got fed up of the whole exercise and we wished the Canal du Midi a resigned bonne journée before heading north.

We stopped in Fanjeaux which was a lovely old town, you know the score, medieval streets, half timbered buildings and suchlike, unfortunately the weather was turning decidedly unpleasant so we had a bit of a walk around and soon decided to move on. It was almost coffee o’clock so we pulled into Revel which is a bastide, or fortified town and, unlike most bastide towns, has kept its original layout intact. The centre of town is home to a central square which is still partially covered with a 14th century roof, topped with a distinctive bell tower from those medieval times.

It is also home to a few cafes, which were our main draw, but all of them were shut apart from one, luckily they had a table inside, it was far too cold and wet to sit outside, so we joined the throng of locals tucking into their midday meal. They sure do love their lunch over here, and we felt slightly out of place with only a coffee in front of us, while all those around were sat behind huge platters of food washing them down with ample amounts of wine. But as much as we would have liked to join them, we had limited time and a very limited budget to last us for the rest of the day, so after gulping down the below average coffee we left behind the warm, delicious smells and amiable chatter and stepped into the grimy half light to continue our journey. I believe somewhere, in the hazy back streets, a violin was playing, just for us.

View of Lautrec and surrounding countryside

But our day got brighter, even if the weather didn’t, as we arrived at Lautrec as it certainly lived up to its classification as one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’. This medieval village (which was the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec’s family) has many buildings from the 13th – 16th centuries, along with a 17th century windmill and is also known for its pink garlic which is produced in the surrounding region, in fact the first Friday of every August is the annual fete to celebrate this pungent bulb. With the drizzle still spluttering down we decided to go and get some lunch, and to that end stumbled upon a lovely place called Café Plum, which was part café, part bookshop and part arts venue, where we had a superb lunch finished with a thoroughly decent coffee.

Feeling much refreshed we decided that it was looking a lot better out so we marched to the car to retrieve the camera gear, once laden we climbed to the top of the town to look at the both the windmill and the picturesque views of the surrounding Tarn department. But as is often the way, we had misjudged the atmospheric conditions and as we climbed higher we also became soggier, so when we reached the top, instead of capturing that lovely moulin with our cameras we ended up sheltering under it, at least until we got fed up with that and headed back down into the village.

Lautrec really is a charming place, in many of the streets it has photos of how the village looked at the turn of the century, showing parades, social gatherings and general life as it was at that time. Needless to say, if you took away the cars, the views we saw before us were not very different from the pictures on display, even the shutters on the windows looked to be the same.

Lautrec village square looking rather damp
A well maintained frontage
Houses around the village square with shops below
Another cracking door
One of the many winding lanes
This film poster caught my eye, looks like a French Indiana Jones but with
the added goodness of an animated cheetah/monkey type creature that
goes by the name of marsupilami! What is not to love?
After that we continued north towards Albi, primarily because it was the birth place of Toulouse Lautrec, of whom Sarah is somewhat of a fan, so we wanted to visit the Toulouse Lautrec Museum and its comprehensive display of his works, although as it turned out, slightly too comprehensive for someone’s taste. After parking we took a wander through town to the museum where we immersed ourselves in Lautrec goodness.

I’m sure they don’t time how long people take to visit to the museum, but if they did, I’d wager that we could claim, if not the shortest visit, but definitely a top ten position. You see while Sarah is a bit of fan of the LT man, it is only certain periods of his work that she admires, namely the Moulin Rouge era (I’m not sure that is the accurate description for this period, but it will do as I’m sure you know what I mean), which of course only made up a portion of the work on display, and even these seemed to underwhelm her. As for the rest of the collection, it may as well have been an assemblage of soiled nappies for all the enthusiasm and rapture it mustered. They say that to be thought of as á la mode you should feign fashionable indifference, let me tell you there was no feigning to be found here, fashionable or otherwise. But she did enjoy the gardens, which were very well maintained.

So not long after paying our entrance fee we strode out towards possibly the largest brick building in the world, Albi Cathedral, a spectacularly immense religious pile whose size, when stood next to it, is almost difficult to fully comprehend. There is no trouble in understanding that this structure was originally built as a fortress rather than a cathedral. We went inside and gawped at the astonishing decoration within, I was tempted to make a ludicrous remark about the size of the humongous organ it housed but decided against it as there was a service going on. Although due to the vast dimensions of the place no one would have heard me, apart from Sarah, and that would only have prompted her to dispatch some ungodly language in my direction. So I was probably wise to keep quiet.

When we were finished there we got back in the car for our final journey, towards Toulouse airport. Fortunately for us we had allowed plenty of time, well to be totally accurate, we thought we had allowed far too much time and we would get there far too early, which actually meant we got there bang on time, which was a nice change. Last time we drove to Toulouse airport we got there less than 30 minutes before take off. So after checking in and wandering through the almost deserted airport (it was about 10pm), we were helpfully called through to the gate so we would have the pleasure of sitting on some uncomfortable chairs while they told us the plane was delayed. Well done to them.

Anyway, the flight back was fine, picked up the luggage, reacquainted myself with my mean green machine, and occasionally remembering what side of the road we were supposed to be driving on, we barrelled home in the torrential rain, thanking our lucky stars that we’d had that important day of acclimatisation to the ever dependable British weather prior to our arrival back in blighty.

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