Take it away, Wikipedia.
I didn’t plan on going there because of that (extremely appealing) description. That the opening paragraph contained “Cantalians”, “cheese”, “most sparsely populated and geographically isolated”, and “farthest removed from a major motorway” was sweet icing on the cake; that is, if the cake is a 6 hour drive from Paris next to grumpy Parisian on the eve of New Year’s Eve.
Cantal and its neighbouring departments certainly lived up to my expectations. The isolation got more excitingly apparent once we turned off the main roads and into a network of meandering hairpin tracks, blundering into nearly-deserted villages and towns along the way.
The air felt different too – frostier, thicker, mistier. I had a lot of open-mouthed “WHAT IS THIS PLACE” moments.
I love the little village bars we stopped at periodically. My French holidays are usually spent in a more-or-less permanent state of inebriation.
I’m sure I annoyed many French people by repeatedly (and to my mind, drolly) declaring, “Pain or Chocolate? I choose Chocolate!” despite having had it patiently explained to me many times.
The “big view” of our time in Lot was Rocamadour, a little clifftop village that had a chapel with a rare Black Virgin, said to be dated to the 9th century. The place was an important pilgrimage site in medieval Christendom; these days it sees over a million tourists a year.
Access was via the frightening Le Grand Escalier, which is basically a StairMaster to end all StairMasters.
Kittens helped us on our way, though.
Upon arrival: ancient skeletons battled amidst the remnants of bedraggled Christmas tinsel outside the Notre-Dame chapel. It felt very appropriate.
What I missed taking a photo of was the entirely bizarre collection of framed sports jerseys (football? rugby) that covered the wall next to this window.
(It was too dark for my phone camera; plus, there was a solemnly silent cluster of men carefully looking at each jersey with reverence.)
Most of the village was shuttered for the holidays, which was quite nice in a way – although some hot wine would not have gone amiss.
Passing Saint-Céré, we seized the rapidly-dwindling light to drive up to what looked like a castle. (Or, a “thing”, which was how I pointed out potentially arresting buildings or sites we drove past. “That! Over there! Is that a thing?”)
In any case, this turned out to be the Chateau de Saint-Laurent-les-Tours, where a clandestine radio post for the French resistance apparently operated during WWII .
On the way back to our little village digs, we came upon the saddest looking market in France. Although it had to be said, in its defense, that dusk was falling, and this was actually New Year’s Eve. It was a miracle people were working.
Still, the market yielded enough for a New Year’s Dinner.
And from there, it was bad reality TV, too much carbs and wine, and as blissful a segue into 2017 as can be.