Day Fifty Seven

Now that we’re safely through the Pyrenees, it’s time to dust off the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France book to guide us on a picturesque path homeward.  Not that that deadline is coming anytime soon, thank goodness.  I’m not quite (read: nowhere near) ready to go home.  And with this glorious mild sunny weather, I may never be. 

We’ve chosen Lautrec as our first stop, ostensibly as it has a traditional market in the main square on Friday mornings, so our timing is on point. 

Lautrec is pretty mediaval village in the heart of Tarn’s Pays de Cocagne region, famous for its production of pink garlic and a pastel blue dye which gave the region its name. 

 The locals used (and still do) balls of dried woad called coques or cocagnes, which were ground to produce dye to colour everything from clothing to the ceiling of the local church, Saint-Remy built in the 14th century.    Bowls of plaited pink garlic adorn most stores and there are a few shops still selling traditionly dyed clothing.

 The pink garlic comes with a story: legend has it that it was brought to Lautrec by an itinerant merchant who when unable to pay his bill, settled his account instead with pretty pink cloves.  The hotelier planted them and the rest is history.

By the time we hike up hill (there must be an ancient rule book somewhere, I’m sure, stating that all pretty French villages must be atop the steepest hill possible) the market is in full swing under the beams of the main square.  On offer is a good selection of seafood, cheeses, locally made butter and charcuterie as well as fruit and vegetables straight off the farm.  No need to worry about food miles here: it’s a very clean, green way of living.  It’s all somewhat hard to resist and we’re soon laden with produce.  One of the most useful things I travel with is a roll-up shopping bag that can be slung over shoulder – a work Kris Kringle gift that has been incredibly useful.  It rolls up to nothing and fits in even the tiniest handbag. There’s barely a day out exploring where I haven’t had need to whip it out.  I’m very grateful for it today, heavy with market goodies, as we explore the rest of Lautrec, its fortifications, ancient corbeled and half timbered houses and the beautifully painted ceilings of the Saint-Remy church.  

Several laps of the village later, it’s time to head home,

 or at least so I thought, until we spot the ancient, still working, La Salette windmill on top on, of course, yet another steep hill.  *Sigh* I’m powerless to resist, lest I miss out on a fabulous, over Lautrec view, so up we go, Chris, me, many kilograms of shopping…..  

Now that I think of it, I suspect this horse and buggy in the main square was the appropriate antidote to hills.  Wish I’d thought of it earlier! 

The climb is well worth it.  Not only do we get an up close view of the windmill turning cloth sails in the breeze, but as hoped there’s a perfect view over the village and 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.  

This is a very pretty part of France.  If we spoke French, the path down offers a commentary on the plants and trees that line it, some of which I suspect are associated with the blue dye the region is famous for. 

 Really must do something about our embarassing lack of languages.  As far as my bit German and Chris’ bits of Spanish and French get us, it would be very useful to have some level of fluency. 

The afternoon passes en route to our next stop, settling for the evening in a sunflower farm.  A sweet girl comes by to take our morning order for croissants and baugettes and all that’s left to do is enjoy a platter from our market purchases and watch the incredible light show that the setting sun and distant storm clouds offer. Where are Turner’s painting skills, his genius for capturing light, when you need them? 

I spend my evening amongst scenery that inspired the greats: Turner in front, Van Gogh to my side. Hard to take really.