Out and About in le Sud de la France
Two or three days a week (sunny or cloudy) Murray and I head out in the car to explore another part of le sud de la France. We can travel south towards the beaches of the Mediterranean; or north into the Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park; east to Minerve or Carcassonne in search of Cathar history; or west to the bigger city of Montpellier for shopping. Within 30 minutes we can be in a totally different environment and a totally different history.
The roads are great – freeways and toll motorways – with a speed of 130 km/hr (110 in the rain). Country roads are restricted to 90km/hr or 70 km/hr, sometimes depending on whether they have a white line down the middle. 50km/hr through the small towns along the way and you are greeted by a happy face if you are going 49 or less – red flashing numbers of your current speed if over.
Murray really likes heading into the hills to various unknown locations and we end up on roads like this one shown on our GPS screen.
You can get the idea from these road views:
Along the way we see many signs, some familiar, some local, and some questionable. I will explain. These on the curvy roads are obvious and sometimes they come in combination that doubly require our attention:
There are lots of exclamation marks!
They supposedly do not get a lot of rain here but when they do it RAINS. The water roars off the nearby hills into rivers that turn into raging torrents fairly quickly and inundates the roads in low lying places. Then it all disappears fairly quickly, leaving behind red sand where the road has been flooded.
The geology is mostly limestone and, apparently, the red layers were developed during the Jurassic period. It is obvious from the rock formations that there was a lot of molten movement here in times gone by. Along the roadsides we travel by layers that have moved this way, then that way. Some are straight up and down.
The roads are cut around and through. Then one tunnel after another! Very dramatic coming out of one and seeing the next right ahead. Murray actually had to back up so that I could take this photo.
Lots of villages along the way. Sometimes we can see up to ten villages in a 360 degree vista. We see them far off, wind up and down and around and then there they are, right up close.
The names are always interesting. The signs are bilingual: French and Occitan. Occitan is the local language, spreading from Spain (where it is known as Catalan), through the south of France (known as Provencal in Provence), into northern Italy. It is noted by Dante in the 13th century but probably was in existence earlier. The dialect here is Occitan-related. And then there are signs noting the country of the Cathars – that’s a whole other story.
And then there are bridges. Some famous, some not so well-known. Who would have thought that Gustave Eiffel would have designed a bridge in the middle of nowhere the same year as the Eiffel Tour was completed? Well, he did not but someone did build this one in his style. There are also little stone bridges strongly supporting the road over little rivers, again in the middle of nowhere. Who built these? The Romans? The Visigoths? And then, what looks like a structural bridge that is only one lane at a time. Beware of what is going on at the other side. Actually, everyone is very well behaved, patient, and cooperative. Less than 2 hours north of here, there is the mighty Viaduc de Millau spanning the river Tam opened in 2004 – the 12th highest span in the world (although I think there is a new bridge in China that beats all).
Famous Viaduct Millau
There are many roundabouts but every now and then entering drivers do not have priority. I wonder why they have to be reminded? Is that not the rule?
We love getting out and about. We never run out of new things to see, or places we do not get enough of. The scenery, whether it is hills or vales is always beautiful. Something we have noticed is that the air is so clear – we can see for miles and miles. Layer of hills in perfect perspective.
And so we drive into the sunset. A great way to end another happy day en le sud de la France.
À bientôt Deidre and Murray