France’s favorite monument

Arc

Monuments, do we have monuments! According to the Ministry of Culture there were 45,684 structures in 2020 that had protected status because of their “historical, artistic or architectural interest.” Television channel France 3 annually asks residents to vote on their favorite and this year’s winner was announced on Wednesday night. (If you scroll through the photos below to the bottom, you’ll see who won.) While visitor numbers might be an indication of popularity, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being chosen as number one. Crowds flock to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, and even to our own medieval walled city of Carcassonne which is the fifth most visited place in France. The Favorite Monument winner last year, however, was the Citadel and Lion of Belfort, about 55 km/35 miles from the border with Switzerland and in 2015 it was the Belfry of Arras, two hours north of Paris. Who were the candidates this year?

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Figeac in 1 day

When a travel website says that in one town you can see examples of the oldest writing known to humans plus perhaps the oldest house in France, in fact a collection of them, it sounds like a place you want to visit. Figeac is only 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Carcassonne as the crow flies but since we like to ride the rails, and this journey was going to take 2 trains plus a bus, we’d put it off. Now that any Covid travel restrictions had been lifted, and we were already going to be in that general area (Thiers in 1 day), it was time to see where, in the year 838, an abbey was constructed that resulted in the founding of Figeac.

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Thiers in 1 day

Since we travel long distances by train, our decisions of where to go next are often tied to a rail map of Europe. The one we use highlights scenic routes in green and although we’d already been to Clermont-Ferrand we returned there via the rails that traverse the Cévennes national park near some of the same pathways that author Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey followed over 140 years ago. It’s convenient to find a base city from which to make day trips as we did a month ago for both Montauban and Rodez and now we wanted to do the same with today’s post about Thiers and next time for Figeac and its connection to the Rosetta Stone.

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Boxed in

Last year during the lockdowns when we were supposed to stay home or at least not venture far away, it was easy to get that “boxed in” feeling. Luckily our house has a courtyard where we could be outdoors whenever we wanted and right in our own neighborhood there are shops of all kinds so getting in supplies wasn’t much of a problem. One of our favorite wine stores, however, is more than the 1 kilometer distance that we were asked to stay within and while we could go further for any “essential” purchases (yes, this is France so wine fell into that category) we didn’t want to push our luck. An email from that very store changed everything. While at the time they were unable to have tastings they could offer free delivery so that you could enjoy tastings at home, and that’s exactly what we did. It not only enticed us to try a variety of different wines from the 700 winegrowers in their cooperative, but also their range of everyday wines in boxes.

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There’s a geyser in France?

While it might not have the magnificence of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, those same kinds of underground boiling waters that put on a regular spectacle several times daily in Wyoming do so here as well. In the town of Vals-les-Bains, south of Lyon, La Source Intermittente erupts every 6 hours and might qualify for a must-see list, according to a survey commissioned by airline company Icelandair. They had the survey company OnePoll compile a Top 20 list of places that people wanted to visit on a vacation once it was safe to travel after Covid. While the 2000 participants had a wide range of destinations, there was definitely some agreement. Most felt that they were ready for adventure after spending more than a year doing nothing and were only now realizing the importance of getting away. They wanted to take spectacular photos, visit another country, and number 14 on the list, see a geyser. That made me curious about how many of the other 19 desires could be met in France.

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Limoges in 1 day

Before Bill and I visit a city we have never been to we try to discover as much about it as possible. What is its cultural heritage, what historic sites are there to see, where will it be convenient to stay and what restaurants offer something that we can’t find in Carcassonne, what makes it interesting and/or famous? That’s how we found out that today’s featured city was the birthplace in 1841 of French Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. The Romans knew it in 10 BC as Augustoritum in honor of the emperor Augustus, it has a French and European-winning championship basketball team, and is headquarters for the electrical supply giant Legrand. There’s even a US connection since its sister city is Charlotte, North Carolina. While all of those are notable, they aren’t the first words that spring to mind when you say “Limoges”; however, we think that “porcelain” certainly is. 

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Rodez in 1 day

Bill and I go to the open air market each Saturday not just to get the week’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables but because it’s a lively social event and one that’s observed in thousands of towns all over France. We’ve even picked up supplies at neighborhood markets in Paris when we’ve been there on vacation and rented apartments with kitchens. It’s such a popular event that it was on our list of must-haves when we were searching for a place to live and there’s a website (link below) devoted to market days and locations. It was there that we looked for the information to decide on which day to make a visit to Rodez while we were staying in Toulouse and could make easy one-train day trips from there.

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