Ewes, Views and Expensive Wines

Crossing in to France from Spain brought us in to the “Pays Basque” with remote villages and hamlets dotted around the hillside and valleys of Basque country.  We stopped for one night in the main town: Saint- Jean-Pied-de-Port but the weather wasn’t being kind to us and we moved on.DSCa-8466

There were animals in the fields but most of them on the farm where we stayed were indoors. These sheep were milked by machine every day and the milk curds were made into cheese and the whey fed to pigs.

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Following the farm tour the French motorhomers next door invited us for a “Small beer”.  We tasted the farm’s cheese and we tasted the farm’s sausage, both were delicious. Then someone brought out a bottle of wine, I served a plate of Cheddar, a Champagne cork was popped, two reds, 1 white, numerous hors d’ oeuvres and five hours later we went back to the van for tea.

We had often stopped in a small town called Marmande before because they have a wonderful “aire” by the River Garonne” and as it was on the way to where our friends Nigel and Lindsay live, we stopped for the night.  The bright spring weather took my camera along the riverside.

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Our friends who have a very good knowledge of the area took us to see some beautiful towns in the area of the Dordogne valley that we might otherwise have overlooked.

For instance the beautiful Chateau d Eymet in Eymet.

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Chateaux on the Promenade de Larmane over the river Dordogne, Saint Foy La Grande.

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Flower festooned ancient boat winch above the river Dordogne.

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My door knocker obsession again.

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Windmill and onlookers, Montpezat

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Beer deliveries French three wheeler fashion, Saint Foy La Grande.

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Most of what we learned from Nigel and Lindsay had to do with food and drink. Whether it happened to be live oysters and chilled white wine for breakfast…

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Or some of the locally produced wines.

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But the highlight of our trip around the region was a visit to Saint Emilion, origin of some of France’s most prestigious wine.  Vines have been cultivated here for thousands of years and the Romans used to pop over the Alps once in a while for a sup of the latest vintage.

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The town is built out of limestone and has seen quite a lot of erosion both from the atmosphere and from visitors.   It was founded by a monk called, coincidentally enough, “Emilion” He lived in a cave that was later transformed into the Monolithic Church that still stands.

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A view over the town from above the Monolithic Church.

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The town is a popular tourist destination and wine is what the townsfolk want to sell to the tourists.

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There is an awful lot of it about and even if your tastes extend to a vintage year similar to your own, the locals can probably cater to your peculiarities. (If you have the ready cash, that is!)

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Much of the symbolism used around Saint Emilion is of course wine related.  A stained glass in a wine shop?

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However, we were with an experienced guide who was willing to show us some of the more unusual aspects of the tow.  The Collegiate church and it’s cloisters were built between 1100 and 1700 (No not 11 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon!) and have some very interesting architectural and decorative features.

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Some interesting photo opportunities if you can run half way round the square in the ten seconds your self-timer on your camera takes.

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But the most unusual aspects were in the stained glass windows.  Here is a longshot of one:

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Look at the right hand panel:

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Definitely a pair from specsavers.  The next scene from the last supper contains this image of Judas looking like a comic book villain complete with sneer and Bag of silver.

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Even the drain covers bear the arms of Saint Emilion. Perhaps the most expensive vintages are stored below.

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Many thanks to Nigel and Lindsay for the tour, wine and accommodation.  Here is a celebratory bottle of Les Cordeliers, named for the knots in the monks habit, being consumed in the gardens of the Collegiate Church. Thanks once again very much to Lindsay and Nigel.

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The Knight of the Rueful Countenance.

There are but two or three towns in Spain where the knight  errant Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza have any adventures.  One of these is Puerto Lapice, just south of Madrid and in the heart of La Mancha where the Don is knighted and the town is also near to the famous “Tilting at Windmills”  site.   Needless to say the inns and shops of Puerto Lapice abound with souvenirs of the Cervantes characters. 

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There are opportunities to have your photo taken with the characters,  with their creator Miguel Cervantes or as the Don himself.

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There are several  inns in the small town each one purporting to be the very same one, “The Venta Inn” in which Don Quixote was knighted.  We tried several of these of course and decided that the one with the best tapas was probably the genuine article.

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On a hill high above the town stand three wonderful examples of the very windmills Cervantes had in mind when he decided that the rather fanciful knight mistook one for a giant and attacked it mounted on his trusty steed Rocinante.  We were there long enough to see the windmills in all lights from early morning to floodlit night time.

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The walk to the top of the hill early one morning was worth the effort just for the wild flowers growing beside the track.

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Travelling further north, we skipped around the very busy city of Madrid, the closest we got was the tiny town of Pinto just off the motorway.  Even here we were close enough to the city to have to take motorways instead of our preferred small roads.  The countryside was still covered by olive trees wherever we looked but the further north we got the greener it appeared until climbing higher in the hills of Northern Spain we found rivers with actual water in them. (Even a few trout but I left them in peace.)

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There is still plenty of evidence of the hot summer months to come, however, as this avenue of budding trees grown for their shade along a city street testify. 

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We had travelled this part of our route several times in the last twenty years so we hurried on to Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees Mountains where we knew of a very good place to stop at the top of the pass leading down in to Saint Jean Pied De Port in France.   

This is a famous stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago De Compostela and has some fine hospitals and churches. 

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It also has some very interesting views and wildlife because of its altitude. 

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An as yet unidentified moth.

 

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A pair of pond skaters.

 

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An enormous leech.

 

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and a hairy spider.  All found along the stream running through the Roncesvalles pass.

 

The beauty of sleeping in a motorhome is that the evening view is still going to be there in the morning when you wake.

 

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France from Spain at bedtime.

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The same valley at breakfast time.

 

France promised from the morning’s view to be a bit cloudy and cold and for some days, unfortunately,  it was.