After a few busy weeks, I was happy to hit the road for a surprise destination. My companion, Pierre, took the wheel without giving me any indication, and it was only at the motorway toll booth that he revealed to me our destination, which had been kept secret until then. Les Gorges de l'Aveyron....
On the road, I already imagine myself, between two cliffs... A river, the mist, the winter silence... a universe of calm that contrasts with our metropolitan daily life. I start surfing the net to find ideas for a programme. But Pierre has obviously planned everything. After an hour and a half's drive, we reach our goal. It is early, the light bathes the plateaus of the Causse, and the clouds invade the gorges. After a few minutes, we reach, under the clouds, the small village of Saint Antonin Noble Val.
We stop at the café de la halle, on the square of the same name, to sip a hot coffee in front of the Romanesque house, the oldest civil building in France.
Then we decide to take an early morning tour of the narrow streets of this charming city. After picking up a town map from the outdoor display racks at the Tourist Office, we stroll through the narrow streets, looking at the remarkable facades... Along the 23 stages of the tour, we discover the history of Saint Antonin, we look at the remarkable details of the historic facades of the town. There are a host of details scattered around these ancient walls, which contribute to a singular atmosphere... The arches of the geminated windows, the mouldings and medieval sculptures.
You have to cross the bridge to enjoy the view of Saint Antonin and the Aveyron... the silhouettes along the river are reflected on its calm waters in this late winter morning.
We are going to enjoy a tasty lunch at the Festin de Babette, a restaurant affiliated to the French association of Master Restaurateurs. In the bright room, overlooking the banks of Saint Antonin, we enjoy a menu of the day specially designed for the reopening of the restaurant: Roasted pumpkin with spices, butternut mousse and cocoa crumble as a starter, followed by a delicious market fish for me, accompanied by lentils in coconut milk and a curry emulsion... For dessert, caramelised apples, citrus salad and strussel.
When we left, the room was full... fortunately Pierre had taken care to reserve.
Back to the car park at the Place des Tilleuls, from where we drive towards the hamlet of Vivens. We have an appointment with our host, Pascale, who has arranged a drawing workshop for two. The little hamlet seems to be a haven of peace, and Pascale's house, an old farmhouse typical of the Quercy region, opens its doors to us in the middle of nature. It is three o'clock in the afternoon and Pascale guides us to our "Atelier" for the day. It is a small cosy space of 25m², where the Quercy stone blocks all the wifi waves for a disconnected stay (finally!).
After dropping off our things, we go to the farmhouse for our watercolour workshop... Between Pierre and me, there is really a lot of room for improvement. Pascale starts by showing us some of her work, and then we concentrate our efforts on the light and the paper.
At the end of the afternoon, we go to our workshop in the garden for a quiet moment. Pierre on the little sofa bed, me in the rocking chair for a moment of reading.
Then it was time for the meal that Pascale, who is a great cook and loves homemade dishes, concocted for us: local vegetable soup, gratin dauphinois and herbed omelette, apple cake, before ending with a herbal tea from the garden. A delightful treat.
Back to our little nest for the night.
The next morning, Pascale has already prepared everything: small fruit jams from the garden, pancakes, coffee or tea, fresh orange juice. In the course of the conversation, Pierre mentions the hike we are planning before going back to our urban train... There are many hikes in the Causses, all of them magnificent. But Pascale advises us to take another route, her favourite. Change of plans and scenery, we decide to follow her enlightened advice. The weather of the last few weeks seems to have left the path dry, which will allow us to follow the whole length of the path (in rainy periods, some parts can be inaccessible, but this is not the case today).
Direction PR1 of the Chemin de l'Eau in Mouillac.
We leave the car in front of the town hall and after putting on our walking shoes, we take a path down to the village. We pass an old mill near a church and a presbytery where the view is particularly clear on the surroundings. A little further on, at the bottom of a valley, we discover three distant wells, each belonging to a different commune: Caylus, Puylaroque, and Mouillac. As we walk along, we come across several fountains, formerly used to water animals or people. One of them is called Fon (for fountain) Malnette, because of the colour of the water... We walk several times along the Mouillagol stream, which, after last season's drought, has not yet been recharged with water.
After a breath of fresh air, we get back in our car and head for Caylus, where we have a lunch reservation.
After parking the car on the Place des Halles, you can take the opportunity to wander through the narrow streets of the old medieval town. On the way down from the town hall, you will come across mysterious passages whose names arouse the imagination, such as the "Obscure Portal" which leads up to the new castle near the old tower of the castrum, or the "House of Wolves", before discovering the immense Christ by the famous sculptor Zadkine, preserved in the church of Saint John the Baptist.
We go back down to the restaurant Le Renaissance, located on the avenue du Père Evariste Huc. The room is very pleasant and our table is waiting for us. For Pierre, it will be a homemade duck terrine with onion jam, and for me a soft-boiled egg with mushrooms, followed by snacked scallops before a good apple crumble.
Satisfied, we decide to go down to the lake of Labarthe, below the village, for a digestive walk. We leave behind us this village full of character and history, with its two castles. From the bottom of the village, you can see the shape of the village, perched on its rocky hill and dominated by its old medieval tower. On the side, buildings under construction will soon house the Centre Permanent d'Initiatives pour l'Environnement. We will definitely have to come back for more adventures, the area is obviously full of treasures to discover, such as Beaulieu Abbey, which we will visit during a rejuvenating weekend!
Hike from PR1 le Chemin de l'Eau to Mouillac: about 7 km, 2h. Elevation gain: 287m; loss of elevation: 222m.
Topo-guides on sale in the Tourist Office information offices.
The Abbaye de Beaulieu, in Ginals! This former Cistercian abbey and its church, located in a unique natural setting, house a superb collection of contemporary art.
From 8 February to 31 May, open from Wednesday to Sunday: from 10am to 12.30pm and from 2pm to 5pm.
Open only by reservation for groups on Tuesdays.
Closed on Monday 01/05.
Access to the monument 45min before closing time.
Individual price: 6€.
The Centre Permanent d'Initiatives pour l'Environnement offers many workshops and outings for the general public and also for schoolchildren: to find out more https://www.cpiequercygaronne.fr/
More hiking ideas in our topo-guides (on sale in our tourist information offices)