September 2008, Trip to Midi-Pyrenees, France
Midi-Pyrenees. Tourisme. Les Voyagistes americains decouvrent la region.
Cette semaine, ils vont troquer le hamburger pur un confit et le Grand Canyon pour Rocamadur. Un groupe de 12 agents de voyages americains est actuellement accueilli dans la region par le comite regional de tourisme en partenariat avec l'office de tourisme de Toulouse et les comite duTarn del'Aveyron et du Lot. Visite Airbus, de Cordes , Cahors, Conques ou Millau..
Le but est de seduire ces voyagistes pur qu'a leur tour , il sachent convaincre les touristes Yankees de ne pas se cantonner a Paris mais de venir aussi faire etapes dans le Grand Sud
This week, they are going to trade in hamburger for duck and the Grand Canyon for Rocomadour. A group of 12 American travel agents are currently being welcomed in the region by the regional committee of tourism in partnership with the office of tourism of Toulouse and the committees from the Tarn, the Aveyron and the Lot departments. Visiting Airbus, Cordes sur Ciel, Cahors, Conques and Millau…
The goal is to seduce these travel professionals so that they in turn will know how to convince Yankee tourists to not confine themselves to just Paris but to come to make some stops in the Great South.
So that was the goal of the trip. On this whirlwind tour we visited a lot and learned about this beautiful region.
September 6. I flew one day earlier to spend time with my friend in Ft. Lauderdale so I will e will not risk my connection for Air France flight to Miami. I decided to take my entire luggage with me for check in. My small Kipling suitcase fits carryon size so it was just it plus my small backpack. Laptop went to backpack. I would rather leave my clothes behind but not my laptop. At Air France counter I found out that besides size, there are limitations 12kg per bag however I took a jacket out and put it on and changed my shoes – lighter sandals went into bag. It went through. It is a bit hard to lift bag to put on overhead however the flights attendants always help. At least I had my entire luggage with me and did not have to wait for picking it up and worry if it makes it or not.
Air France economy food is still OK. You have choice of wine or champagne. They give you the menu however you only choose beef or chicken. The red wine I had was 2007 Merlot LaBaume – kind of light. http://www.labaume.com/
Salad was couscous (in menu it was translated tabbouleh though – it was wrong). It was flavored with some spices, had pieces of pepper , dried currants and small shrimp. Tasty. I had chicken tarragon with baby potatoes and vegetables. Small size crispy baguette – not warm but still not soggy. Later on they offered more bread and water. Bread was perfect for soaping the sauce. A german couple next to me had beef and it looked fine. They did not speak English so I did not ask. They had some chocolate ganache which tasted like American chocolate cake – not my favorite. They also for some reason had rice pudding – not sure what for – second desert? Cheese was from Wisconsin. They could do better than that. Overall, a step above American and British airlines which I usually fly. Before arrival they served continental breakfast as well.
The flight was full so no space to spread out. The plane 747 is huge. 3+4+3 on 2 sides plus second floor another business section. Many children. Cute European toddlers and very well behaved, slept all night.
The flight came on time and I went through customs. I have a new passport so CDG was a new stamp on time to collect new countries! Connecting flight was in 2f terminal which is new and futuristic looking. You can also have massage and some spa treatment between flights. Why we do not have it in USA??? I realized that I forgot to pack European converter (my husband George always took care of that). So I walked to the closest store and bought French one (British is different but I have at home). I did not have to change currency since we had it from last year. Again George thought euro will go up so he stashed on euro cash for next time. And it did come up! My 300 euro from last year came in handy and I probably saved $150 or so.
On the plane I sat to one French gentleman who did not speak English and I did not speak french except isolated words I knew and we communicated a bit. I managed to tell him that I came on business and he lived in Toulouse. He vacationed in Mexico and then USA and got excited that some people live in Florida! He brought with him huge sombrero.
This trip was organized by Maison de France (French government tourist board). They selected 12 French destination specialists to see this part of the country – Midi – Pyrenees. We will spend 8 days in this region. I’ve seen almost all others regions of France but not this one. Should be interesting. Besides I am working on one client on itinerary in this area so new contacts will come up handy.
Our first night is in Sofitel Toulouse.
In the evening we had wine tasting and dinner on the barge at the restaurant La Belle Chaurienne , located on Canal de Brienne - http://www.la-belle-chaurienne.com/
Regional food (cassoulet) , salad with pate foes gras and ice cream with Armagnac and pieces of plum was excellent.
Monday, September 8.
This morning we are leaving at 8am for a long day tour . We will arrive Rocamadour fo overnight. First we are going to the airport to reach the Jean-Luc Lagardère 'cathedral' in which the A380 is assembled. From the viewpoint, we saw the 'General Testing' and the 'External Testing' stations, as well as a general overview of the site.
Then we boarded the first Concorde of the production series. The performance of this legendary aircraft remains unique in the history of aviation. From 1973 to 1985, Concorde N°1 played a key role in the development program, accomplishing tests and demonstration flights around the world. She was also assigned as the official plane of the French President.
Afterwards we had lunch - red wine, lamb chops, cheese, and desert.
After lunch, we continued to Cahors.
Our group has 14 people , 12 experienced travel agents, well traveled. Half of the group speaks fluent French. So it helped with local people, always someone available to explain and translate.
We had one tour leader from French government office and we had our driver Pascale who s with us most of the time. Locally we've met tourist board reps and their guide who loaded us with brochures, showed us their region and had lunch and dinner with us.
Cahors, city of art and history. Known for it’s secret gardens, the Saint-Etienne cathedrale, and it’s Mediveal bridge “Velentré ”. A UNESCO member.
We had wine tasting in Chateaux Mercues, it is an exquisite hotel, Relais andChateaux member. I have a client booked in October and it was just on time to see it. It is exquisite.
It is a former castle with it's own vineyards. We tasted wine there, they had Malbec and it was very good.
We continued to Rocamadour and checked into our next hotel overnight, Hotel Chateaux. It is not really chateaux just 3* hotel. Very basic, more like motel. We refreshed and walked few minutes to the restaurant next door. The restaurant looked simple but food and service was excellent. Duck was served - specialty of the region. Appetiser was foie gras with sweet wine matching it. Cheese course was rocamadur cheese and desert was very good.
Walked back for hotel and overnight
Next morning after breakfast we departed to Rocamadour.
Tuesday September 9
Rocamadour is constructed on the side of a cliff, it is located on a route of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella. It has impressive castles, chapels on the to of the hill. We walked down to middle town and lower town.
After strolling Rocamadour we departed for Padirac Caves . It is a natural, 75 metre chasm that shows on the limestone plateau of the "Causse de Gramat" in the Lot, below which, at 103 metres underground flows a river. We took elevator underground and then took a boat ride with a guide in each boat (like gondola ride) on the undeground river. Interesting formations, stalactites, and then we disembarked boat and walk 150 steps up to see some formations . Interesting. In some places there is perpetual rain. Afterwards you board boats again to get to the exit. At exit take elevator again to go back - exit. I personally am not interested in caves but this one was an interesting experience. There were a many people.
We got on the bus and continued to small village Saint-Sere where we had lovely lunch in 2* Michelin star restaurant Les Trois de Montal.http://www.lestroissoleils.fr.st/
Excellent food, wine and service.
We had delicious appetizer – mushroom tart , duck for main course. Our vegetarians got the vegetables instead of duck. Desert was excellent chocolate layered napoleons with chocolate mousse in between. And red wine of course.
They also showed us their rooms. It is 3* hotel with nice reasonably priced rooms.
We walked to the chateaux de Montal which is nearby. It is a renaissance castle, just recently donated to the government of France by owner and it still need to be restored.
After the visit, we departed for our next destination- Figeac where we will be staying for a night.
On arrival, local guide met us and we took a quick tour of the town aboard small sightseeing train. Town is labeled “Ville d’Art D’histoire” it is known for it’s reproduction of the Rosetta stone. We also visited 4* very nice hotel Chateu du Viguier du Roy with lovely courtyard. The manager showed us the rooms and facilities. It is right in the center but very quiet.
Then we walked to the museum of Champollion – the man who deciphered hyerogliphs.
Unfortunately we were already tired after touring all day and wine makes you sleepy and I could not appreciate it to the fullest. The guide was very enthusiastic and he made interesting connections between different languages and alphabets.
Then we walked to our hotel by the river – 3* Best Western Le Pont D’or. We had 30 minites until dinner. Dinner was at hotel’s restaurant and it was very good. The wine today was red house wine in unlabeled bottles however it was very good. It was duck again! Everyone is trying to show us prepared specialty of the region.
Our guide Corrinne who was with us 2 days is leaving tomorrow and we thanked her at the dinner .
Wednesday, September 10.
In the morning we said goodbye to Corinne and departed for Aveyron region. Our first stop was
Conques in Aveyron where we were met by by Eric MAURY from the Aveyron Tourist Board.
Description from the tourist board:
From 10th century, Conques is a classic example of Romanesque art, and was a major staging post on the Saint Jacques pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella, in Spain. Its importance was largely due to the remains of Sainte Foy, brought here from Agen in 866, is a classic example of Romanesque art. The Abbey, with its famous tympanum of the final judgement, and its cloisters, boasts two of the most beautiful masterpieces of medieval, ornamental sculpture .
The village is is classified as one of the 12 the most beautiful villages of France. It is indeed, unspoiled. Like life stayed still there since 12th C. The local guide showed us the village, cathedral and treasury.
Afterwards we continued to Rodez. We had dinner there in nice local restaurant .
After lunch, we visited museum Fenaille de Rodes which tells the story from the first man dated 300,000 days ago. It was not that interesting to me personally but the tour was very short so it was OK. We continued to see cathedral. Aftewards we went to Millau ot check in hotel Mercure in the center of town.
We continued to see cathedral. Aftewards we went to Millau ot check in hotel Mercure in the center of town. As always we had only few minutes to drop off our luggage in then rooms and we departed for local glove factory to see how haute couture gloves are made.
It was very interesting. They only manufacture gloves to famous designers including Chanel. There were gloves for sale but we did not have time to shop.
Then we continued to see local bridge – the marvel of engineering. The guide was German. Kind of entertaining in the beginning but afterwards we had too much of him.. We walked to the viewpoint about ½ mile, and it was vigorous but nice walk. The vehicle was a sightseeing cabriolet bus (without roof).
From tourist info brochure: Designed by the English architect, Lord Norman Foster, the Millau Viaduct cost some 310 million Euros (2.03 Billion French Francs), and is financed and constructed by the Eiffage group as part of a 75-year chartered concession.
An exceptional piece of civil engineering
This bridge sets world records for height, with masts reaching 340 meters (higher than the Eiffel Tower). The Millau Viaduct is multi-span, cablestayed, 2,460 meters long, and provides 2 driving lanes in each direction, skipping over the Tarn Valley touching down at only 9 points. It fits very nicely into the surrounding countryside, thus meeting the requirements of the architect and the local communities. To meet these requirements, however, highly advanced technologies were employed, including a streamlined steel bridge-deck supported by cable-stays and resting upon 7 very slim piers constructed with high-grade concrete. It climbs a gentle slope of 3% from north to south, and has a slight curve on-plan.
I can only remember that guide said the bridge cut the travel towards South of France from 8 hrs to 3.
After tour, we walked to the local restaurant and had a delicious meal.
Thursday ,September 11
We departed Millau for Rouqefort sue Soulzon to visit caves (cellars) where Roquefort cheese is made. It is the same cheese which is sold in US stores and called “Societe”. I am a cheese lover so this was was very interesting. It is aging in caves. At the end of the tour in the gift shop we tasted cheese.
Is exclusively Aveyronnais. Like Champagne, the only Roquefort cheese is made here, in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. It is something similar to Grueyers cheese factory in Switzerland, only here the cave cellars make this process unique.
We departed for Albi
From tourist board description:
"Crucible of brick", "fortress of faith", "Italian city", Albi has stimulated the imagination of those seeking to describe its appeal. With the trilogy of the Sainte Cécile cathedral, the Palais Berbie (which houses the Toulouse-Lautrec museum) and the “pont vieux”, not forgetting the charm of the old streets. Bright red in the morning sunlight, sombre red at dusk, deserted in the heat of the afternoon. Half-timbered corbelled houses, narrow passages, cobbled streets... medieval buildings with the colours of the south. Stroll around, follow your instincts; the slightest opening may reveal hidden treasures: the Hotel Reynes with its extraordinary loggia, built by a rich pastel merchant in 1530, the cloisters of Saint Salvy (13th century) with their triangular lawn and twinned columns... Beyond the obvious and the well known, Albi likes to surprise its visitors, particularly rewarding for those who are not in a hurry. From the 'pont vieux' (one of the oldest in France), watch the sun go down: night descending as it casts its shadow over the belfry - from the dungeon to the nave, from the nave to the ramparts and finally down to the water's edge.
Since 1922, over a thousand works, paintings, lithographs, drawings and all posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec have been kept and shown at the Museum in Albi. This exceptional collection is on display at the Palais de la Berbie, or Berbia Palace, a powerful fortress built in the 13th century, which has thus become the largest museum in the world to show the works of Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in the town in 1864.
This most prestigious collection was given to the Museum by the artist's relatives, the Count and Countess of Toulouse-Lautrec, advised by Maurice Joyant, a friend of the artist, and by Joyant's cousin, Doctor Tapié de Céleyran. The museum's paintings exhibited are considered among the painter's most famous works.
This unique Cathedral built in the 13th century offers an astonishing contrast between the outer defensive style and the inner riches of its sumptuous decoration.
Indoor decoration is both rich and refined, including 16th century wall paintings, a rood screen, without mentioning the lace of stones enhancing the «last judgement day» paintings, all of these being rare examples of church indoor ornaments.
Next to the cathedral is the former Bishop’s Palace built during the 13th century, the ancient fortress is the unexpected site for the artistic work of Henri the Toulouse-Lautrec.
Unfortunately we were in hurry! But next time I will make sure to linger there longer. We visited cathedral which was beautiful in pastel colors. We visitied Tolouse-Latrec museum. From museum opens beautiful view of the river and gardens.
We had few hours of free time to buy some souvenirs, rest and in the evening walked to local one Michelin star restaurant L’Esprit du Vin.
Our group consisted of foodies who appreciated food and wine. We took notes and compared meals and wine. Two members of the group took all pictures of meal presentation. So we had lenghty discussion what we liked and what we did not like. On this particular restaurant, we had about majority people agreed that we were not impressed. I personally think young chef tried too hard to be trendy so the combination of flavors and textures jut did not click. We all were looking forward to have a change in the menu from local specialties (duck, lamb, foie gras). The main course was salmon in form of sushi but cooked and it was too salty and too dry for me. The appetizer pumpkin soup was very good however with small foie gras balls and port wine inside. The complimentary first appetizer was some mousse with shrimp and foam. The other part of salmon course was lentil in creamy sauce served in a cup. The desert was sour marshmallow (not impressed), strawberry coulis (good!) and we believed it was rhubarb which had strange taste and also sorbet. Of course presentation was beautiful.
Anyway it was interesting experience.
We had dinner with local tourist representatives and journalist who wrote later on article above.
Overnight was in 3* hotel Du Vigan. Excellent location. Basic 3* hotel, only 3 towels per person in the bath. The tourist rep was apologizing and said other hotels were booked. But I think it was fine hotel for 3*. Very clean and comfortable.
September 12, Friday
After breakfast, we departed for the medieval village of Cordes-sur-Ciel.
From tourist board brochure:
Cordes-sur-Ciel, imposing on its promontory, defensive behind its ramparts. A bastide town, with its charter dating back to 1222, a difficult birth during a century of intermittent warfare. The first impression of Cordes is formed by its military role during the Middle Ages; thickset and austere, where the stones are piled high for protection. One has to break through the first line of defence (there are five in all!), the gateways 'les portes de l'Horloge, de la Jane or des Ormeaux' to discover the hanging gardens, the fig trees, the almond trees. Secrets like oriental gardens. Higher still, the central market square and the covered market, the Middle Ages give way to the Renaissance: elegant facades - the magnificent houses of the Grand Fauconnier, Grand Ecuyer, Grand Veneur- the large mullioned windows, genre sculpture, hewed out of stone. Here the wealth of Cordes, its taste for life is there for all to see. At the end of the summer, under 'les Halles', the villagers gather to celebrate the good life.
It was indeed another one of the most beautiful villages in France.
We enjoyed it very much.
We continued to go to Gaillac which is the center of Wine Route.
There are many "domains" - wineries on the way. We've met there with directrice of the tourist office.
We had a good degustation lunch at restaurant La Table du Sommelier.
They compete with Bordeaux – of course nobody can compete with Bordeaux in France but people of Galliac claim the Bordeaux people in middle ages blocked ships so only their wine will be exported. :-)
Anyway that what people of Galliac say. We had a good degustation lunch wat La Table du Sommelier.
The wines were excellent. We had 3 different wines with different meal courses and the sommelier expained each wine.
After lunch, we departed back to Toulouse. We had about 1 hr to sleep on the bus, and compare notes and gastronomic experiences, and laugh. Our group bonded very well!
In Tolouse we had last half a day left and a very busy program. On arrival, we met our tourist reps from first day in Tolouse, Sandra and Miriam. They introduce us to local guide and we spent 2 hrs walking in Tolouse. What a beautiful town! We visited The Capitole , town hall had beautiful ceilings and paintings by post-impressionists.
From Tourist board description:
The Capitole, now the home of the Town Hall and the Théâtre National du Capitole, this building is remarkable for its façade with its eight pink marble columns, its Cour Henri IV (which saw the assassination of the Duc de Montmorency) and the "Salle des Illustres" (inspired by the Galleria Farnese in Rome), where the gilt mouldings vie with the painted cartouches. Also on your tour are the Jean-Paul Laurens, Henri Martin and Paul Gervais Rooms.
Saint-Sernin Basilica, a splendid Roman church. This is an important stop on the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage trail. This beautiful building dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
The Jacobins Convent, the Mother House of the Order of Preaching Friars, an order that was founded in 1216 by Saint Dominique. Famous for its “Palm Tree”, this huge church has 2 naves, built between 1230-1340, divided by 7 columns supporting its starry vaults.
Hôtel d’Assézat, magnificent XVIIth century town mansion built by Nicolas Bachelier for Pierre d'Assézat who made his fortune from woad, a plant used in dyeing. The building houses the Fondation Bemberg, a private museum with a very interesting permanent collection of paintings, bronzes and objets d'art.
After tour of the city, we walked to tourist office in the center where we had 2 hour presentation of the region, reception with Tolouse tourist office an mini-tradeshow fro different suppliers of Midi-Pyrenees. A treat for me! I bought extra suitcase in Albi day before to carry all these brochures. Great contacts for creating dream trips for my clients.
After that we were expected to be in Tolouse casino for dinner, show and tour of the casino. We were told we have to be dressed nice but by the time we were dropped at Sofitel for change, Myriam gave us only 20 minutes to get luggage in, change and make us respectable. We practically run to the rooms, refreshed and managed to look well in the best clothes! We rested a bit on the bus. The show thankfully has been cancelled.
So we only had dinner and then tour of the casino.
Description of casino from tourist office
The Barrière Casino Theatre in Toulouse opened in october 2007. Covering a total of 14,000 square metres on 3 levels, the casino is established on the Ile du Ramier. It can accommodate up to 600 fruit machines and 20 gaming tables, a 1200-seater theatre, rooms and lounges, three bars and three restaurants, including a 250-seat replica of the legendary Fouquet’s restaurant.
Yes, the restaurant surprisingly was famous Fouquet. The food was delicious and finally it was not duck but some poultry which looked like chicken, but was more tender. The salad was good and dessert was good as well.
Then we looked at casino, theater, few mins to gamble. I do not like to play but did leave 5 euro there quickly! We left for hotel. It was the longest day and next morning some of us including myself were leaving at 5am for airport.
We said goodbye to each other and hoped that we will see each other again. It was a good group.
Next morning, we departed for airport. The flights were on time. I connected Tolouse-CDG - Miami and finally arrived home to Tampa.
Great trip - but please do not copy this itinerary! It is not for regular travelers! It is a brief introduction to the region to get local contacts, sample region specialties, which help us to create other trips for our clients. I would do leasurely trip visiting few cities, using a rented car or utilizing prvate driver. It is not that expensive as Paris and food is great and even 3* hotels we've seen are delightful and have great restaurants .
Contact me for your dream trip and stay tuned for my next adventures!