Friday, 11 April 2014

Les Salles Lavauguyon and surrounding area

There is so much of interest here, that I took 61 photos!!; I whittled these down, with the hope that I have picked the best. The village lies just over Charente's eastern border, in the Haute-Vienne, close to the perimeter of a huge crater created by a meteorite 200 million years ago - of which more another time! The settlement has a fascinating more-recent history, as you will see below.

The smaller sign above is written, I suspect, in either the language of Occitan (Oc) or a dialect (Oïl), which was spoken by the peoples of the region in medieval times. Both these words means "yes" in the respective languages, but the latter is now unfortunately reported as becoming extinct.

The very imposing mairie!

A street scene, with village shop, providing groceries and many other useful services, like gas bottles, Wi-Fi, mail box and photocopying! Few of these local businesses have survived supermarket competition, so the villagers have a rare treasure here!

The sign marks a local tourist route, set up to honour Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I of England from 1189 to his death in 1199), who spent much of his time in the region during the latter part of the 12th century as a ruler and commander, notably in the Third Crusade against Saladin. His mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, and he spoke in the local dialects mentioned above.
The village was also on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so it must have been an important and busy place, with travellers always passing to and fro. 

The church was commenced in 1075 and dedicated to Saint Eutrope, who was a regional bishop, martyred in the 3rd century. It is a striking example of Romanesque architecture, but having unfortunately been sited both on quite a steep slope (as you can see above) and next to a spring, it suffered greatly from damp and a slippery earth floor. This was was only levelled and paved in the 19th century!

Close up of decorative arches and carving over the entrance door

The church underwent major reconstruction in the 12th century when the priory was added. Built to accommodate a chapter of 12 religious men, who were of a status senior to monks, it originally comprised only two rooms, a ground floor communal room (still used today!) and a dormitory above.

The nave and altar

Ancient masonry and stained glass windows

View towards the entrance door.

The following series of photos are of the magnificent 12th century frescoes,  only discovered by accident in 1986, when restoration work required the removal of walling which had been covering them!

The themes, high quality and the richness of their colours make them unique in western Europe.

Panels depict scenes from both the old and new testaments, which include the 'Creation' (Adam and Eve) and the 'Nativity' (Birth of Jesus), as well as illustrations of the vices, greed, violence, vanity and lust, and the brutal death of Saint-Eutrope. Other frescoes on the south and north walls continue the themes with dedications to male and female saints (all of whom where martyrs) and priors.

A side doorway with wall statue

Presumably a font; note how the floor paving has been roughly taken up so as to accommodate the base!

A niche dedicated to Saint Eutrophe, now sadly lacking the effigy

Moving 2 kilometres down the road to the neighbouring hamlet, simply,  but confusingly, called Lavauguyon, where the lavoir, originally providing the village's laundry facility, can be found beside a bridge over this small watercourse.

Lavaugyon is also the site of a 12th century ruined castle, which must have seen action in the times of Richard the Lionheart

It is now slowly being restored by voluntary labour, but I hope they get on with the work before it collapses and disappears for ever!

This looks serious!

The  prominent memorial, sited on a green next to the church, to those of the village who gave their lives in the Great War of 1914-18.

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 30 March)
and my daily blog

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Afrique du Sud pudding recipe in my French kitchen.

South African ‘Melk Tert'.

1 cup plain flour
1 teasp baking powder
¼ cup sugar
2 oz margarine
1 egg

Sieve flour and baking powder; rub in marge until breadcrumb texture. Beat egg and sugar well and add to above. Press into pie dish and prick well. Bake at 200 for 15 minutes.  

N.B. Very important - During cooking, after about 5 mins press the centre down well with spoon. May need pressing down again before finishing.


2 Cups milk
1 tablesp margarine
1 teasp vanilla
2 eggs
1 tablesp plain flour
1 tablesp corn flour
½ cup sugar

Cinnamon sugar (to sprinkle over tart when cool)

Beat eggs and sugar well, add flour and corn flour and beat again. Bring milk, vanilla and margarine to the boil, add the egg mixture and put back on the heat stirring all the time until thick. (It burns very easily!)

Pour into shell when slightly cooled. Put in fridge until ready to serve and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. 

The shell mixture is quite sticky and I spread it with a spoon pushing it up at the edges.

Prick well - it rises almost too easily!

Cooked - note flat bottom, the result of pushing down in the centre!

Stirring the filling on a low heat.

All finished, except for the sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.

We love this pudding. Enjoy!!

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 30 March)
and my daily blog

Sunday, 23 March 2014

St Cirq-Lapopie in the Lot Valley.

St Cirq-Lapopie was voted  by the French in a 2012 TV poll to be their favourite village in the country! It obtained its hyphenated name in the 9th century, from the Catholic Saint Cyr of Tarsus, (at 3 years old, the youngest Christian martyr) and from "Popia", an Occitan word meaning a mound constructed for defensive purposes.

Replete from a big lunch on the river boat (see last blog), we were put ashore on the left bank of the river, at the foot of the precipitous 100 metre high cliff below the village. Thankfully, our coach (which had followed us by road from Cahors) was on the spot to transport us up the steep and winding access road, but unfortunately we only had a short while to look around, as our day tour schedule was running behind time!

This cliff-top vantage point was probably occupied from Gallo-roman times, but in the middle ages, St Cirq-Lapopie was the seat of one of the four ruling groups that made up the Quercy, the name of a former province, but which has now been absorbed into adjoining lands. The 4 dominant families  (Lapopie, Gourdon, Castelnau and Cardaillac) of St Cirq-Lapopie  controlled the busy river traffic from this lofty perch, whilst building weirs, dams, locks, towpaths and watermills! They had also built their own grand fortified houses throughout the village.

The medieval village is spread out beneath the castles and towers, perched on one of the highest cliffs in the Lot valley. Boasting a population of 1090 in 1793, when records began, only 218 reside in the village today.

The towering presence of the church of Saint Cirq, dedicated to St Cyr and his mother St Julitte

Looking westwards back from whence we had come.....

Water mill opposite the village landing stage, slowly being overtaken by ivy! The outer wall of the building on the right seemed mainly to be supported by one or two slender posts! Scary!

Climbing the path up to the château walls, with the church beyond

Medieval fortifications of the chateau

The church of Saint Cirq looking over the village into the Lot valley

The Gothic church was built from 1522 onwards, incorporating sections of the earlier Romanesque parish church. It retains vestiges of  the 12th century acanthus leaf decoration, as well as fragments of 13th century wall painting!

. The simple but beautiful interior. One of the side chapels of the church is dedicated to St. Catherine, patroness of wood turners - see later for the importance of this craft in early village life.

Stunning and peaceful view from the village streets, looking down upon the river Lot and its steep sided valley

The village cemetery

These two narrow  townhouses were built in the 13th and 14th centuries and must have been amongst the first in the town's development, which went on until the 16th century; very higgledy-piggeldy!

More substantial half-timbered structures, doubtless more recent than the two above!  Note the characteristic flat tiled, steeply-pitched roofs.

Above and below - Below the fortress, the village streets were closed off for security by fortified gates. The narrow thoroughfares, with open arcades of shops, preserve the memory of the crafts that made the wealth of Saint-Cirq. Skinners, boilermakers, and especially wood turners or "roubinetaïres", whose workshops produced all manner of household products including moulds, buttons, bowls, cups, barrels, taps and valves.  

Now a tourist haven......

Tranquil cobbled alley...........

The village's war memorial

One of the few slightly more open areas - a tourist shop and coach drop-off. Hardly anywhere to park! Our coach had to go off and park somewhere else!

In more recent times, André Breton, a founder of the surrealist movement, bought a house here in the 1950's, attracting poets and painters from Paris. Their activities helped to embellish the village's reputation and restore its buildings, revealing St Cirq-Lapopie to be one of the finest sights in the Lot and one of France's "most beautiful villages".

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 9 March)
and my daily blog

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A boat trip from Cahors to Saint-Cirq Lapopie on the Lot river.

I'm sorry that I have not quite yet returned to blogging about the Charente, but this one is set, at least, in a much closer location than recent posts!  

It was a trip we did with our local leisure club on 26 June last year. We had a very early start from home, leaving long before the sun came up(!), to drive south by coach to the department of Lot and its capital town of Cahors.  The town was established long ago, for defensive purposes, in a loop in the Lot river. We were unable to get a glimpse of the town (except from the boat), as the coach whisked us directly to the riverboat that was waiting for us, as you can see below.

 In the background, you can see the Pont Valentré, which is a 14th-century six-span fortified stone arch bridge crossing the river just to the west of the town.

The Lot river is 485 km (300 miles) long in total, but it is very meandering so the length as the crow flies is much less! It rises in the high ground of southern France and flows westwards until it joins the Garonne, which eventually flows into the Atlantic, on the way cutting deeply into the landscape, creating striking gorge scenery. The Lot is only partly navigable and a lack of maintenance over many years meant that its use for river traffic diminished. About 40 years ago, a repair scheme was started on the river and its catchment area, including rebuilding of the many locks to allow a resumption of boating activities. Our trip was on the upper Lot, all at a leisurely pace as it takes time to get the 120 seater boat through the many locks. I tended to lose count, but I think there are 10 on the 6 hour trip, which included a stop for lunch!

A closer look at the bridge as the boat carries us upstream.  Note the ducks following behind us, no doubt hoping to benefit from scraps thrown overboard!

 This was (I think) the first lock, at Ecluse de Coty (ecluse being French for lock) which was probably the prettiest of all.

Still in the Lot river 'loop' we could see the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne while travelling down the East side of the town. The church was built by bishop Gerard de Cardaillac in the 11th century, on the site of a church erected in the 7th century by St. Didier of Cahors

A little further on was the Château du Roi. This was thought to have been built in the first half of the fourteenth century by Pierre Via, the brother of Pope John XXII. The house had two towers and two buildings. Today only the  powerful tower called the "King's Castle" remains....

together with the Tour St Jean (above). The Hundred Years War, mainly between England and France, which affected this part of France between 1337 and 1453, and about which I have written before, forced residents of Cahors to build a new wall to the north of the town, across the loop of the river to enclose the city on its fourth side, for protection of the inhabitants and monasteries against raiding parties of English and allied forces!  The tower Saint-Jean and the wall were built between 1345 and 1347.

Leaving Cahors, we first passed the small village of Laroque-des-Arcs  with its  500 inhabitants.

Not an easy walk to church, but a stunning feat of building and engineering!

Before travelling on to Bouzies and Lapopie, we pulled alongside the bank to have an excellent 4 course lunch, with no shortage of wine! The catering was very slickly managed in such a confined space, but the crew had it down to a fine art!

This cave dwelling dates back to the 14th century and it was used as a shelter and a watch post by the English during the aforementioned war! It comprises a maze of caverns and also a stairway, which leads to the top of the cliffs, thus offering the English occupants a safe and secret way to escape from the area.

 Along this part of the river, a tow-path was carved by hand (!) in the mid 1800s to allow a means for horses to tow barges along this section of river.

After the tow-path was constructed, a local artist carved intricate seashell patterns and other designs into the walls of the pathway.

A  bridge formerly carrying a railway across the river, but now just a pedestrian footbridge and cycleway.

Yet another of the many bridges we saw along the way - this one rail. Note the overhead power lines for trains, a very common means of train propulsion in France.

A heron fishing at one of the locks.

A suspension bridge across the river.

Finally approaching Saint-Cirq Lapopie ( yet another of the most beautiful villages in France!) ....

Heading into disembark at the landing stage for the village.  I hope you enjoyed this boat trip with us.  As St Cirq-Lapopie is one of France's most beautiful villages, I think it deserves a post of its own.  Watch this space for the next part of this wonderful day out.

and my daily blog