Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Le Pays Lauragais - A Part of France Not to Be Missed

The photograph was taken from the viewpoint at Saint-Felix-Lauragais which is about 20 minutes from our gite.

Le Pays Lauragais is the region that encompasses the Haute Garronne(31), Tarn (81) and Aude (11) departments in the South of France. I would imagine that most people are aware of Tarn, with it's capital Albi, as an area of outstanding beauty but may be less familiar with the Aude and Haute Garronne departments, until of course the fabulous cities of Carcassonne and Toulouse are mentioned.
Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude department and home to 2 world heritage sites, and Toulouse known either as the 'Ville Rose' or the 'Cite d'Espace' is of course the capital of Haute Garrone and is the principle city in the South of France. It is also home of France's aerospace industry and the headquarters of Airbus.
All three departments are named after the primary rivers that run through them and two of them also play host to the famous Canal du Midi which was championed into existence by Pierre-Paul Riquet, France's answer to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The main feed reservoir for the Canal du Midi is a gorgeous lake that sits above the market town of Revel famous for its food market and furniture industry. To form the lake, a large dam that is 30m high, 10m thick and stretches some 871m in length was constructed in the 17th century.
Today the lake is used as a recreational area providing a beach from where you can swim, sailing, fishing and walking facilities in a very pleasant and attractive part of France, it has also been made more interesting through the provision of an arboretum around it's shores that has over a 150 different varieties of trees including one which is circa 400 year old . It has been classified as a Worldwide Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.
The lake has become a natural attraction for leisure facilities and there are a number of restaurants, shops, a large hotel, an equestrian center, camping site and cafes with views over the lake. The most recent addition being a museum dedicated to Monsieur Riquet (opened in 2008 overlooking a large fountain) which provides a detailed insight into his life and works, you can also get a nice lunch in it's new restaurant if you want to make a day or half day of it.
Castelnaudary of cassoulet fame, is a little further south from Revel and actually sits on the Canal du Midi, it also has a very good food market which takes place on a Monday morning. There are boat trips along the canal from the port in the summer months and some fine examples of the locks of the Canal du Midi can be found here.
Going towards Toulouse from Castelnaudary you will find Villefrance de Lauragais and opportunities for hiring bikes to cycle the paths of the canal and explore the small villages, restaurants and a little bit of wildlife on route.
Circling back towards Revel you can find the towns of Durfort and Soreze, Durfort is well known for it's copper based products that are hand crafted and sold in the local shops, a good place to visit on a Sunday morning, especially since the portfolio of hand crafted products has now extended to include leather, pottery basketry and cabinetwork.
Soreze is best known for its 'Parc de l'Abbaye-Ecole' which, in it's hey day around 1776, was one of 12 military academies created by Louis XVI. Later it was managed by Father Lacordaire, who revived the Dominican Order in France, but after educating a number of famous people, including officers, writers, philosophers and politicians it ultimately closed it's doors as a school in 1991. Since then (starting in 1993) the whole site has been under a program of restoration and has been listed as a historic monument.
The town itself is full of old world charm with half timbered village houses from the 16th and 17th centuries and its famous building is the 'bell tower of St Martin' which is believed to have been completed around 1512.
Soreze is located at the foot of the 'Montagne Noire' and has become a favorite tourist destination for the region, it provides a gateway to the Parc natural regional du Haut-Languedoc, where you will find caves, grottos and streams plus plenty of places to cycle or walk.
Find out more about Le Pays Lauragais here and the larger region of Languedoc Rousillon here.
Lots of things to do and places to see in the South of France
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Saturday, 13 June 2009

Art classes an idea for the future

The problem with having a talented artist to stay is that if you try and take the mickey a little bit (only a little bit), before you can say Jack Robinson you end up as a caricature of a slightly overweight bloke with mad hair sitting on a PC blogging.

Now before you say that's not a caricature it's a still life and what do you mean slightly, just remember I am moderating my comments and nothing gets in my blog without my approval.

Well the truth is we had a great week here at Le Moulin and thoroughly enjoyed the company.

We also had a few discussions about how nice it would be to run an art course here using the facilities and natural beauty of the region as a backdrop and it turns out that Billy, the orchestrator of the caricature and the water colour sketch below, is very interested in running a few art courses here at Le Moulin.

As a result we are now seriously looking into setting aside a few weeks a year where we will let 4 rooms in the gite for up to 8 people that may like to benefit from some close up instruction from a very talented artist.

The intention is that Billy will provide some tuition on basic sketching and painting with water colours. The course would run over 5 days from Monday to Friday, arriving and departing on Saturday and leaving Sunday for you to find your feet and have a look around the area a little.

The details of the course, costs hours per day and perhaps a day out excursion are yet to be finalized, but if you are interested in attending a course of this type and would like to be considered then please leave a comment or get in touch to discuss.

You can of course contact me through the main website French Holidays Aude using the contact us page.

So if you like the idea of learning how you can put together a few sketches like the one shown here then just drop me a note.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Rennes le Chateau - South of France

Rennes le Chateau - South of France

Popped up to Rennes Le Chateau the other day and had a really nice day out.

Lunch on the side of the hill, took in some of the amazing views and had a look at the famous Mary Magdelene church and a few of the tunnels that were dug trying to get to the buried treasure.

Very nice place to spend a morning or afternoon. Read all about it on HubPages.

Interesting People

I think everyone has a secret desire to have some sort of talent that they can use, might be drawing, musical ability, writing or perhaps photography.

For me I aspire to be a good photographer or at least to be able to spot a good photograph and try to capture it. Living in the South of France has certainly helped me in that direction because there seems to be no shortage of photographic opportunities available.

So armed with a good camera and plenty of places to visit, evening walks, sunsets and full moons hiding amongst the trees, I take lots of photographs and hope that in amongst them I get a really good shot now and then.

It does work and I have to say that some of the photographs I have got since living here in France have actually turned out to be pretty good, probably more as a result of the opportunities presented that I mentioned earlier and a good camera than my technical skills, but a few good shots all the same.

So how impressed am I then when I come across someone who can capture those same opportunities by simply putting pen, pencil or paint to paper. Well I can assure you I am actually very impressed because I consider that to be a real talent.

My sister in law did the sketch of the house above which she reckons is rubbish but I think is pretty good. She is with us this week with some of her friends from Yorkshire where they all live. Billy Barden is amongst the group and I have to say there is a bit of a double wammy going on because Billy is also a very good artist and has done some great sketches and drawings some of which you can look at on his website and if you are in to unique and original art I would seriously encourage you to have a look, they really are good.

Carol, my sister in law on the other hand has her first love in Textile Art, so her and her partner have a website that illustrates the work they do, which again is all unique and original work and can be found at Textile, the name is a bit tongue in cheek but the work isn't, for anyone who knows about textile art I think you will find that they have done some seriously good work.

For me there is no chance of me being able to draw or produce artwork like either of them so I am going to stick with my trusty camera and settle for getting those few good shots now and then. Well at least I am getting a little artistic satisfaction from my efforts.

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