Sunday, June 08, 2008

Massif Central, France

The truly incredible Millau Viaduct on the A75 Motorway, Massif Central. We braved pouring rain, fog & hazardous driving conditions to get this shot!

Gimel-les-Cascades, in the Limousin region of Central France.

Massif Central

flickr photo link: <Massif Central, May-Jun 08>
31 May 08 FR202 DUB/STN 0630/0745
31 May 08 FR8776 STN/LIG 1035/1305
02 Jun 08 EI553 LYS/DUB 1615/1725 (Joe)
06 Jun 08 EI553 LYS/DUB 1615/1725 (Clare)
So we're sitting in the Qantas Club at London Heathrow on 13 June (well, the British Airways Lounge to be exact). It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to sit in a Qantas Club – possibly Madrid. Having membership helped us drop off our luggage at T4 around 6 hrs before the flight. Extremely useful, but what we hadn’t realised was that the Club now has real meals available in addition to the alcohol, magazines, newspapers & Wi-Fi, etc. So we really shouldn’t have spent the money buying lunch downstairs! At Belfast Airport (where we left this morning) Clare picked up (yet another) travel magazine called ‘Travel’. Reading it inspired her to get cracking about our short trip to the French countryside on the recent long weekend. The notes were left behind in Ireland, so here goes…
While Ireland generally gets the rain in winter (joke!), the Massif Central, France, gets the rain in summer... so the forecast for our little weekend trip didn't look too good. Admittedly it was only as we made a dash down the A75 Motorway to the Millau Viaduct on the Sunday afternoon that we were immersed into total liquidity - with cloud & fog. But it was worth it. If you want to drive along one of the most amazing motorways in the world, and see the French obsession with bridges and viaducts, this is definitely the place!
We started the weekend at Dublin airport, as is usually the case for us now. Only this weekend another 349,998 people were passing through the airport with us, as it was the first long weekend of ‘summer’. Given that Ireland only has around 4 million people, that’s almost 10% of the total population or around 25% of Dublin’s population. So we got up around 3am to get to the airport by 4.30am to join the herd. We only made it to the same flight the week before with minutes to spare, by sneaking into the front of the security queue, so NO sleeping in this morning. Clare ended up with 2 hrs sleep after a fairly arduous audit in Dublin that meant she got home around 10.30pm then had to pack and prepare, not just for the weekend trip but also for a work project meeting after the long weekend in Clermont-Ferrand.
This was a 2 airline trip. We took a connection out with Ryanair, firstly to London Stansted, and then checked in again for the flight to Limoges. We flew home directly from Lyon (on different dates) with Aer Lingus. That allowed us to cross the Massif Central by car, from west to east. Occupying a hilltop in the heart of the Limousin countryside, Limoges Airport was small, attractive and well organised (unusual for some Ryanair destinations!) And the weather was wonderful – warm and sunny! The lady at the Europcar counter was being harassed by Brits who refused to sign forms or turned up without credit cards, but we were eventually issued with a nice Hyundai i30 (and we did over 1000 km's in 48 hours).
We had some lunch and headed off down the A20 to Brive and into the Limousin countryside proper. Yes there were Limousin cattle everywhere and only Limousin cattle. Overall the countryside seemed empty of cultivation and livestock – no sheep, just Limousin cattle! Clare had done research for the trip while Joe had done the bookings so off we drove to find our destination for the night – we called it Aubergine. It was a B&B up in the mountains above the town, surrounded by forest. On the way, with the Garmin lady telling us where to go, we stopped to check the map at a dead end and found a flooded river with Kayakers racing up and down trying to master the white water. The B&B was wonderful, exactly as described and even with a black cat on the front sofa as a welcoming committee. Clare’s type of place! By this time we were quite wrecked as it was around 5pm. We were booked into the restaurant for dinner at 7.30pm, so instead of doing the sensible thing and resting for a bit, we sped away in the car to a couple of very interesting places Clare had researched from the Lonely Planet – Gimel-Les-Cascades. After seeing the local rivers in flood, we knew the cascades would be impressive. Following the Garmin lady again, we certainly took the long and scenic way to the cascades (why do we keep trusting her!?) We went deeper into the mountains, up hills, down dales and through some very lush countryside, past shimmering lakes and onto ever smaller lanes. The village was almost deserted with a few shops open and no other tourists at all. It was June - wasn’t this summer? Even the B&B’s appeared closed. Just out of the carpark we found a local cat who wanted a chat and came running. Then off to the ruined castle and could see and hear the cascades but couldn’t work out how to get to them. The views over the village were postcard perfect. We just followed some other people down the lanes and lo & behold, the cascades. Yes you were meant to pay to walk down to the bottom of them but the gate was closed and we could see the best from the top. We looked around and found some interesting signs in English. The sun was setting, so we wondered back to the car and found that people had come out and the B&B was indeed open and full. Looked like a party of Germans who’d been fishing, had filled the place. What with the lakes and streams around here, the fishing would be good!
To be completed...


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