Maddening months at work, trying to migrate a very large Web site to a different technology, and no end in sight. It's time to take a break and, as luck would have it, Kristin's coming for a visit.
We'll go to France for a while.
may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a
good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught
up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
We're headed for Salers just now, early June 2009, still (technically) the off season. We had a great time in Sarlat last autumn, and Salers sort of sounds like Sarlat, so that's where we're going. We're pausing for a moment to stretch our legs and gaze down upon that creek beneath the bridge.
That's not just any creek, mind you. It's the river Loire.
Way upstream from Nantes, Tours, and Orléans, of course. Here it's just a little babble of river-drool.
Our first stop, in the trackless countryside south of Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne region, is the camping/hotel "Le Marconnès" . . .
. . . with its caravan camping facilities and comfy rooms, and its . . .
. . . excellent pension restaurant with the signs all in Dutch.
The very kind proprietress, who has fixed up the place so tastefully, is Dutch and has a word-of-mouth clientele throughout The Netherlands (there's even a swimming pool for the caravaners). In the June lull, though, we had the place to ourselves. Even the bill was in Dutch: "totaal overnachtingen"!
Westward the next day, and passing through St Alban-sur-Limagnole for a spiritual top-up.
All topped-up now, spiritually anyway, we're mad-keen to get back on the road and head up into the Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne, or the Volcano Park.
The Volcano Park, and the road up to Puy Mary (1787m) at the Pas de Peyrol (1589m). A "puy" (a ubiquitous word in these parts) is an ancient volcano. They're strewn all over the landscape here.
That's Puy Mary from the Col de Peyrol. We yearned to just run up there quickly for a view of the entire region, but it was a little too late in the day (and twenty years too late in life). We're expected in Salers (not actually, but we thought we were).
That's not our road, that one's headed south to Aurillac. We're bound westward.
Snacks, knick-knacks and souvenirs, and lots of crêpes. The nature centre behind me here has excellent displays, though, illustrating the volcanic heritage and lots of the local fauna.
The road south towards Aurillac. We're just peeking over - now we're going back towards Salers.
We're in Salers now, decompressing from all that excitement, and that's the lovely road up on the ridgeline that we've come down.
We were reserved into the Hôtel Saluces, a fine old building in the centre of Salers, but we ran into some very bad ethical vibes there and went back onto the accommodations market. Here's Kristin peeking into the Maison de la Ronade (the 18th-century add-on, not the 14th-century original just to the left) to see if there's any room in the inn.
And there is, so here we'll stay, looking out over the Place Tyssandier d'Escous in the very heart of downtown Salers. The Maison de la Ronade, with its tearoom and two guest rooms, has been in the same family since Neolithic times (with a brief hiatus during the French Revolution, following which the family bought it back). Charming hosts they are (and half the price of the ethically squinty Hôtel Saluces).
Now for a preprandial walk about the town, scoping out the restaurants and regaining our faith in humanity after the Hôtel Saluces. The town dates from the Pre-Yonks period, but most of the architecture originated in the 15th century, with the grand maisons du village dating from the 16th. All perfectly restored, as nearly everywhere in France, I suppose, but without a lot of the purely touristic boutiquiness of some of the other gem-like old towns.
Mr P. Garrigue of the Maison de la Ronade, who with his sister and her husband still resides in the family digs, points out that that corner tower is an add-on, not integral to the building. Unlike the tower in the Maison de la Ronade.
That tower, too, across the square, is also (architecturally speaking) an add-on. In fact, a bourgeois affectation.
The Maisonveille, or Really Old House, has studios and rooms, and also a "Gîte équestre", which apparently means that you need not be parted from your horse overnight.
Lovely Salers. We're conducting a late-afternoon restaurant census, ambling about at leisure.
And it's never too early in the day to start memorizing the dinner menus.
The village church. 16th century. It's not bad. By the way, though, the local cows here, the Salers cows, are famous everywhere, and in the USA the American Salers Association promotes their cause, as does the Salers Cattle Society of the UK, and even the "Suisse Salers" here in Switzerland.
Not only that! - you may not have known this - "Salers" is also an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) cheese of the regional Cantal sort, and the chefs will put it on everything for you without your even having to ask.
So this is not only a gem-like formerly-medieval once-thriving burg still thriving once again on the pocketbooks of us history buffs. It's also a cynosure of the cheese world -- a Cheese Mecca almost.
Whilst reflecting pretty deeply about cheeses, we've just about got the lay of the land in terms of restaurants.
So we're back in the main square. We've canvassed the entire town now, except for the little street where the Hôtel Saluces resides, because there's a sort of unpleasant ethical association to that quarter of the village.
The centre of the town -- the corner tower on the left is a mere add-on, we're told, whilst the tower on the Maison de la Ronade on the right is the real goods.
That's the Maison de la Ronade there -- visits to the museum-like front rooms right up to the attic can be booked, purely nominal fee, with Mr Garrigue's enthusiastic explanations of the house and its family and historical heritage. Staying for three or four days at the Maison de la Ronade is a heartwarming treat, even if there is no WiFi there.
But no worries, there's a WiFi connection down at the Hôtel des Remparts, so we didn't miss anything much.