Friends Reunited – Lagrasse, Occitanie, France

Today was the day we had coordinated to meet up with our friends Pete and Cheryl in France. They happened to be holidaying in Lagrasse in the gîtes of their previous neighbours in the village where we live in Cornwall. We realised we maybe in the region at the same time back in March and made a rough plan to meet up. We have used the date as a bit of a milestone to make sure we got to south of France in time to see the parts we did not get to see on our previous trip last year. So sadly having received yet more great recommendations for north east Spain from another friend yesterday, we had to drive by to meet our schedule. However, these are all logged for future trips to come back and visit.

As we had 250km to cover and had hoped to meet Pete and Cheryl for lunch, we were on the road quite early and headed onto the main roads to get there. The countryside was lovely lush fields and we were soon following signs for France. As we approached the border we could see the Pyrenees shrouded in cloud ahead. We climbed a steep 5% hill then, as with all borders now in Europe, a simple sign and some closed checkpoints were all that remained. Almost immediately we were then descending the 5% hill on the other side. That was when the wind started.

The Pyrenees start to peek through as you approach France

We are fairly high sided in Bert’s, our motorhome, and with gusty winds it feels quite lightweight, especially with passing lorries. In our Mercedes Sprinter base truck we have adaptive cruise control and wind assist. Adaptive cruise control uses forward facing radar to maintain not only speed but also distance from the car in front, very clever. The Wind Assist detects when the vehicle is being blown off course and it engages the brakes on one or more wheels to counteract the gust. Again, very clever and undoubtably preferable to drifting across a lane, nonetheless it scares us both silly everytime you hear the brakes engage on their own! I guess it helped today with the really strong winds coming down from the mountains but it made a very stressful drive.

We have been invited to a barbecue at Pete and Cheryl’s gîte tonight, hosted by Guy and Claire the owners, bring along some food. So we stopped off near Narbonne for supplies before heading off again north into the hills to the pretty little village of Lagrasse complete with abbey and medieval bridges and buildings.

We managed to make it in time for a delicious three course menu of the day at a restaurant described as hit and miss by our French hosts. We concluded that miss in France still rates as a very big hit for those of us that do not get to enjoy French cuisine as often, as we really enjoyed our meal.

Lunch in Lagrasse

After wine and coffee, Pete and Cheryl showed us one of the walking routes down the river that they had been shown by Claire and Guy. Finally, the dogs could get off lead for a run away from the stifling heat it being a pleasant 22 degrees C here. The dogs both dove in the river for a dip. We then all crossed the old bridge and took the route of the old canal used to transport blocks to build the abbey.

We came back up through the village and stopped for a beer along the banks of the river. Although the strong winds from the Pyrenees seemed to have followed us here and we were holding our glasses at the end to steady them from the gusts down the valley.

Finally in the evening we were invited along to a barbecue at the gîtes, something that Guy and Claire host on a weekly basis for their guests. We were expecting the gîtes to be a little out of town, however, Pete and Cheryl collected us from the motorhome aire and we were literally a 5 min walk to the main street in the town, where the gîtes were located. We stepped through a gateway which hid a beautiful stone courtyard of I think 4 gîtes. I understand from the book that they had printed of the restoration, that they date from the 12th century and were originally owned by the local judge for the area. Claire and Guy found historically important paintings from the ceilings during the renovations which had been hidden over the eras, that now hang in a local museum. They have done an amazing job of the renovations and have regular repeat visitors which atest to the draw of both the accommodation and the draw of this largely undiscovered corner of France. It is an amazingly peaceful spot, hidden but in the centre of a village more than amply served by the 10 local restaurants.

Guy did an fantastic job of cooking the various food presented to him. We sat in the warm evening air of the courtyard and shared stories of our mutual acquaintances and life in Cornwall, plus all of our future travel plans. We also got to meet Guy’s mum and their other visitors for this week. A lovely evening was had by all. A truly great life experience of the lifestyle here in France with Guy and Claire. We would highly recommend a stay at their gîtes –

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