Cordes Sur Ciel and a whole Lot of rain

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

This excerpt is from my forthcoming French travel book, the fifth in my Series of French travel memoirs. Please enjoy and the book will be released in the spring. It will take you on a tour of France from Calais to the South and back through Brittany and Normandy.

Arifat Bed and Breakfast in medieval Cordes

It is time to move on, and this time to a new region for us – Lot et Garonne.

Our destination was the town of Cordes Cur Ciel, and our visit coincided with the nearing completion of the astonishing bridge, the Millau Viaduct. The earthworks and operational area for the bridge extended for miles around the site. It forced a slight detour as we came down from the height we had travelled on to wind our way carefully down into the valley below. This incredible feat of engineering, one of the most astonishing in the world, spans nearly 2500 metres above the valley below. As we travelled around the construction area, we felt exceedingly small indeed, sharing the area with some enormous construction vehicles. The road deck is suspended around 250 metres above the ground. I recall watching a documentary on the construction process, marvelling at how they actually pushed the road deck out from the end of the bridge into the void to traverse the viaduct piers. It is amazing engineering and a shared design of the English architect Norman Foster. It would be a few years before we had the opportunity to travel over the viaduct, which we did heading north up to the Loire valley. Niamh does not recall it at all – she had her eyes firmly closed as I drove across. I also barely recall the view as I just kept my eyes on the road, it is a long way down if you manage to crash over the side, but on reflection I think the safety features would have prevented that.

We eventually made our way to Rodez and on to Cordes as the rain started to pour down. Little did we know that it would not stop for the entire length of our three days stay. I was attracted to a beautiful property called Aurifat situated just outside the ancient walls, with a view overlooking the valley below. Standing at a viewpoint below the property you get a real understanding of the multi floored medieval property. It sits well with the old town architecture framing the backdrop behind the house. Cordes, with its ancient narrow streets, is a special challenge for a car driver. Eventually I threaded our way through to Aurifat and carefully took the car down to a parking space. The property has changed hands since our visit and now has Dutch owners who have maintained its fine reputation. Ian Wanklyn and his wife Penelope were the charming owners at the time we visited. They greeted us hospitably and urged us to get out from the driving rain and into our cosy room for the stay.

Ian and Penelope are comfortable hosts, not intrusive, but always available to ease your way into a new area of France. They show us the kitchen that is available for the use of guests. Hopefully we can use this later but just now the torrential rain is intruding into this summer kitchen and a stout pair of wellingtons may be needed to cook my fish supper. At least I can keep the wine above water.

Sadly, the rain will not stop at all for the three days we spend at Aurifat. Our visit to Albi, that beautiful, colourful cathedral town is curtailed by our being soaked, even under a substantial umbrella. Exploring Cordes is done by dashing from shop or restaurant doorways, but you could argue the rain adds to the atmosphere of this ancient town. We manage a couple of visits to wine makers, producers who are getting increasingly concerned with the potential damage being inflicted by this extraordinary, extended downpour. We find one activity that will give pleasure when we get back home. At the end of the drive to Aurifat there is a large, mature walnut tree. Under its spreading bows we can shelter, taking the opportunity to gather as many walnuts as we can. A large boxful is filled and as long as we can dry these, and keep them dry, they will be much appreciated back home in England.

As we peer through our steamed-up car windows the region does seem to be a very interesting area, one that is crying out to be explored. We do have accept defeat on this trip however, one day we will return, and explore this region when it is no longer under water.

A stormy day on Cordes-sur-Ciel

On our final rain-soaked day we endeavour to make a final attempt to take in the fascinating architecture and character of Cordes. As the rain penetrates every part of our skin, through completely sodden clothes, it is obvious we must get inside. At least the rain is warm, hot almost and there is the possibility it will steam dry when indoors. Being after twelve noon it seems the sensible thing to find a place to eat and enjoy a fine bottle of local wine. There must be a final compensation to this somewhat ruined visit to this historical area. We shall not be beaten. Cordes sur Ciel is home to a fine gastronomic restaurant – Le Grand Ecuyer. This is the flagship restaurant of Yves Thuriès, a giant of French cuisine. This restaurant leads the way in the region and regularly entertains celebrities, prime ministers, and even English royalty. Sadly, I do not feel it will be serving us today. I am inclined not to make an inevitably large puddle in such an eminent establishment. Fortunately, Yves Thuriès also owns a bistro in Cordes. Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes – I do feel they may allow us to dry by the fire. The narrow streets, running freely with streams of water, eventually lead to this bistro. We crash through the door seeking shelter and feel very intrusive and inappropriately attired for what is, although a bistro, undoubtedly an upmarket one. Our cagoules do indeed with remarkable rapidity leave a shining expanse of water in the foyer.

‘Do you have a table for two?’ I ask, expecting to be shown the door rather than get an answer in the affirmative.

‘Of course, Monsieur’. Follow me.

For a bistro the establishment is very well presented. If this is his bistro, how fine is the main restaurant? Glad we did not risk desecrating that one. The maître d’ shows us to a large, very large, round table, sort of King Arthur style and size. Niamh I can see in the distance, opposite me on the other side of this vast structure. I cannot imagine what we look like, tiny dots at the vast table, still dripping water onto a beautiful carpet and now to cap it all a gathering cloud of steam above our heads. Oh, and my glasses are steamed up – where is the menu?

But, we are slowly starting to dry off. The food of course is cooked to order, giving us more time to disperse the water from our bodies. By the time it arrives we are almost comfortable. The food as you would expect is extraordinary, fine local produce cooked to perfection and presented with immaculate aplomb. At last, it has been worth the long journey and the endurance we have shown in the face if this almost Biblical storm of the last three days. The best though is yet to come – the dessert. Our charming waiter explains that the chocolate fondant with crème anglaise will take around thirty minutes to prepare and cook to a state of complete perfection. Although he didn’t add the last part it does apply to the dish presented to me half an hour later. We have eaten often and well of the produce found all around this wonderful country. Memorable as many dishes have been there is occasionally something that forces its way to the top of the charts as regards the best dishes you have ever eaten. This was one of those and so extraordinary fine was it that I feel on reflection it has never lost the top spot. As we all know chocolate fondant is the easiest way to crash and burn in the kitchen. It takes a special talent to get it to perfection. Now that I was almost dry, I was able to fully appreciate this moment. Cordes – we will come again even if you send another downpour on me.

During our meal the dining room had filled up with a large party of elderly diners. The ‘facilities’ here were down some steep winding stairs that we could see from our vast circular vantage point. They were well used. Still to this day Niamh and I are convinced and still smile about being convinced that we counted one less back up than went down. Will we ever stop people watching? Probably not.

There is a perverse curtain call to our stay in Cordes. As we left the town to journey on, there was an amazing sky stretching out in front of us. From the dry enclosure looking out at the torrential rain crashing onto our windscreen you could see the end of the pitch-black clouds. Beyond the cloud line was a bright blue ribbon of sky on the horizon. We reached the edge of the region and as we crossed into the Langudeoc before heading North the rain stopped. A few miles farther on and the straight edge of the cloud canopy was passed, the sun burst through, and we never saw another cloud for over a week. This bizarre few days display of natural forces gave way as if by magic to the most wonderful summer weather. Just what we expected in the Lot as well, but the visit was still memorable.

It always seems a shame to just head home, that mad dash to Calais and the ferry that so many English tourists seem to take to end their stay in France. Rather let us take our time as travel through Brittany and along the Normandy coast, reaching Calais refreshed and well satisfied with our grand tour of France.  The drive up through France to Brittany is a pleasant one, taking in some high-level pasture and occasional signs of past volcanic activity. In fact, there is a grand stopping point on the Autoroute where you can have a panoramic view of the Auvergne volcanoes. You find this by pulling into the Aire des Volcans d’Auvergne on the A71 just noreth of Clemont-Ferrand. Beats Newport Pagnall anyday. It is an expansive landscape and one to put in the memory bank for a future visit. Driving north on the western side of France the roads are relatively quiet and delays virtually unheard of.

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

All available on Amazon for Kindle and Unlimited and also in Print

Paris Restaurants Cafes and locations

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Restaurant on Rue St Andre des Arts Paris
Rue de Rivoli Paris
La Conciergerie · This former prison, now a museum is on the Ile de la Cité, a short walk from Notre-Dame Cathedral
Le Consulat Restaurant Montmartre Paris
Polidor Restaurant Paris – a favourite haunt of Hemingway and used as a location in Midnight in Paris
Tokens of love left on the Pont des Arts Paris

A few shots taken over the last few years. Paris always draws you back and hopefully we can travel again soon – CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL VIEW

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Come to Paris with my Dream of Paris Memoir

Travels in France – Some film prints for my next book

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Colourful enamel signs on L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market Provence France

My fifth book about our twenty five years of French travel is due out in the spring of 2022. It is mainly new writing and sets out to tour France from Calais to the south and tour back round to the starting point. To accompany the text I have had to delve into some pre- digital photography. Perhaps not as sharp as the newer digital photos but I found them quite atmospheric and pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy them also. I will post more later.

The photos can be view in a lightbox by clicking on them

Paris & France – Travel now

TRAVEL BLOG More NEW Stories Please Enjoy these short memoirs and more

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

My passion is writing about travel and particularly French travel. I have traveled extensively in France and wine and food has always featured on my travels and now in my books. My friends always await our return from France with the latest new finds from the vineyards and I was more than happy to keep sampling. I am from Lancashire in the north of England but have now relocated to Somerset (nearer to France) and able to enjoy devoting my time to writing and new discoveries.
France came late to me as a destination, in fact so conservative was my travel upbringing that it was a long time before I even ventured to Cornwall. My travel plans always ended before the car reached the sea. I have more than made up for the slow start and have enjoyed helping many others with their travel plans to France and especially to Paris and Provence.
I have written a series of four books on France – All are now on Amazon
The experiences are varied and many and please come with me as I retell the stories and my footsteps are there to follow.
I am also writing about ancestry and genealogy and my first book about our incredible family story themed around war and the military is now on Amazon – A BULLET FOR LIFE.
I love the English game of cricket, golf, soccer, photography, walking and cooking. Oh, and travel of course

SEE FULL SELECTION ON BLOG PAGE

Place Contrascarpe Paris France – an interesting spot on the left bank – Hemingway country

In search of Hemingway – Midnight in Paris & Restaurant La Maison de Verlaine

One of the most evocative books about Paris could be considered to be Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’. If ever I need inspiration to write about Paris or to make plans for another visit then that is the book that clinches my mood and motivation. It works every time for me even though you do have to take some of his Paris memoir writing with a large pinch of salt.

Continue reading ……

Springsteen, French Travels, Cricket and Brief Encounters

I note that recently ‘The Boss’ was 71. I have seen Springsteen many times over the years and had the pleasure of meeting him on one occasion. It made me recall the number of times I have met well known people on my travels – right place, right time. Hope you enjoy this recollection centered around my favourite sport, the mysterious English game of Cricket.

Continue Reading…

Rows of crosses give a moving and stark reminder of the events of D-Day at the American Cemetery Omaha Beach

D-Day 6th June 1944 and a poignant visit to Normandy

I confess that I have a love of history and especially in the period of time in France that covers the occupation and the D-Day landings. It is not my intention to go over all that the story encompasses. That has been well told many times by far better historians and been reviewed extensively quite recently with the fascination of the 75th anniversary of the landings. All my writings are done with a desire to inspire you to visit the places we have loved over the years. What I hope to achieve is to convey a sense of the atmosphere to you and the way these sites have an impact on us as visitors. Continue Reading..

Paris & France – Travel now
Hoghton Cricket Club Lancashire
A favorite wine bar in Banon from our French travels

Wine Bar Les Vins au Vert Banon Provence France

Lower down from the market square of Banon village we had previously walked past a small wine bar, Les Vins Au Vert, opposite the tabac. We decided to check it out because it had seemed to hint that there was food to be had for lunch as well as a glass of wine. It turned out that we would be very happy that we had made this choice as the service was warm and friendly and prompt. Continue Reading…

Travels in France – Some film prints for my next book

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Colourful enamel signs on L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market Provence France

My fifth book about our twenty five years of French travel is due out in the spring of 2022. It is mainly new writing and sets out to tour France from Calais to the south and tour back round to the starting point. To accompany the text I have had to delve into some pre- digital photography. Perhaps not as sharp as the newer digital photos but I found them quite atmospheric and pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy them also. I will post more later.

The photos can be view in a lightbox by clicking on them

Paris & France – Travel now

TRAVEL BLOG More NEW Stories Please Enjoy these short memoirs and more

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

My passion is writing about travel and particularly French travel. I have traveled extensively in France and wine and food has always featured on my travels and now in my books. My friends always await our return from France with the latest new finds from the vineyards and I was more than happy to keep sampling. I am from Lancashire in the north of England but have now relocated to Somerset (nearer to France) and able to enjoy devoting my time to writing and new discoveries.
France came late to me as a destination, in fact so conservative was my travel upbringing that it was a long time before I even ventured to Cornwall. My travel plans always ended before the car reached the sea. I have more than made up for the slow start and have enjoyed helping many others with their travel plans to France and especially to Paris and Provence.
I have written a series of four books on France – All are now on Amazon
The experiences are varied and many and please come with me as I retell the stories and my footsteps are there to follow.
I am also writing about ancestry and genealogy and my first book about our incredible family story themed around war and the military is now on Amazon – A BULLET FOR LIFE.
I love the English game of cricket, golf, soccer, photography, walking and cooking. Oh, and travel of course

SEE FULL SELECTION ON BLOG PAGE

Place Contrascarpe Paris France – an interesting spot on the left bank – Hemingway country

In search of Hemingway – Midnight in Paris & Restaurant La Maison de Verlaine

One of the most evocative books about Paris could be considered to be Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’. If ever I need inspiration to write about Paris or to make plans for another visit then that is the book that clinches my mood and motivation. It works every time for me even though you do have to take some of his Paris memoir writing with a large pinch of salt.

Continue reading ……

Springsteen, French Travels, Cricket and Brief Encounters

I note that recently ‘The Boss’ was 71. I have seen Springsteen many times over the years and had the pleasure of meeting him on one occasion. It made me recall the number of times I have met well known people on my travels – right place, right time. Hope you enjoy this recollection centered around my favourite sport, the mysterious English game of Cricket.

Continue Reading…

Rows of crosses give a moving and stark reminder of the events of D-Day at the American Cemetery Omaha Beach

D-Day 6th June 1944 and a poignant visit to Normandy

I confess that I have a love of history and especially in the period of time in France that covers the occupation and the D-Day landings. It is not my intention to go over all that the story encompasses. That has been well told many times by far better historians and been reviewed extensively quite recently with the fascination of the 75th anniversary of the landings. All my writings are done with a desire to inspire you to visit the places we have loved over the years. What I hope to achieve is to convey a sense of the atmosphere to you and the way these sites have an impact on us as visitors. Continue Reading..

Paris & France – Travel now
Hoghton Cricket Club Lancashire
A favorite wine bar in Banon from our French travels

Wine Bar Les Vins au Vert Banon Provence France

Lower down from the market square of Banon village we had previously walked past a small wine bar, Les Vins Au Vert, opposite the tabac. We decided to check it out because it had seemed to hint that there was food to be had for lunch as well as a glass of wine. It turned out that we would be very happy that we had made this choice as the service was warm and friendly and prompt. Continue Reading…

Claude Monet and his House at Giverny

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Monets house and garden at Giverny France. A view of the main path to Monets House.

The story goes that Monet in his search for a house to accommodate his growing family set out one day by train from Paris and spotted what was then the tiny hamlet of Giverny. Standing out amongst the cluster of properties along Giverny’s long main street he saw from his carriage a long but low house set in surrounding scrubland. The railway line is no longer there, although there was no halt in any case at Giverny, so Monet walked back through the fields from Vernon to find this property. What made this building stand out was that unusually it faced away from the road towards the river. For a modern-day visitor there is no inkling of the beauty behind the stark long wall on the main street.  He found to his delight that this property was available for rent and the rest is history. Monet eventually purchased the house and garden. You could say it is bequeathed now to all the visitors that can experience this most magical of places.

One of the haunts of Claude Monet in Giverny – Hotel Baudy

Monet was at this time a widow after the death of his first wife and mother to his children – Camille Doncieux. Before her death however he had begun a relationship with a woman of a higher social standing than himself. Alice Hoschedé became his lady-friend as they would have been discretely known and with Camille and their children they lived as a menage for some time up until Camille’s death. At Giverny Monet and Alice set up home with his two sons and her six children although they could not marry until 1892 after the death of Alice’s husband Ernest. The house would be Monet’s delightful home for the rest of his life, and he was completely devoted to the property and gardens, all becoming synonymous with his name. In front of the house lies the Clos Normand, full of flowers. The other side of the road he developed into what we see today by having the waterlily pond constructed. To achieve his aim, he was decisive and didn’t hesitate to change the landscape by diverting a branch of the Epte River. We shall visit the house and gardens more than once on our stay but first we must find our accommodation for the final leg of this trip.

La Pluie de Roses is located some way past Monet’s house as you come towards the end of the village. We are welcomed after our rather fraught day collecting and driving our hire car by Philippe and Elisabeth. This couple have recently sold this gorgeous property, but the current owner appears from the excellent reviews to have more than maintained their high standards. Giverny is blessed with some fine Bed and Breakfast accommodation with this property exceeding our expectations. The rooms are beautifully decorated in a style that could only be encountered in France. There are some quirky touches especially in the downstairs bathroom that is adorned with theatre posters and related photos. It could be a place to linger and read the walls. Our bedroom is sumptuous and in sympathy with the period of the house. It also has a quirky feature in that the fabulous shower has to one side a full-length plain window. You get a great view out over the village and presumably someone in the right place at the right time will get more of a view than they bargained for. The odds are in your favour due to the position of the bathroom – but you just never know.

The house has a wraparound garden that is lovingly tended. The grand stone steps that lead to the French doors at the rear of the house are a very typical feature in a house of this style. It has an intimate grandeur.

The hosts do not provide an evening meal but there are some good options for dining in Giverny. We contented ourselves on this first evening with a light snack before sleeping very well, only waking with the birdsong, ready for the main event of our visit – Monet’s house and garden.

Our hosts at La Pluie de Roses have an especially useful scheme whereby they can sell you tickets to enter Monet’s house and gardens. It is only when you gain a sight off the house that you realize just how much of a life saver this is. Strolling to the front of a queue that stretches way back down the main street and gaining instant admission to the accompanying despair and groans of the waiting throngs was a great relief. Actually, we did not go straight into the gardens. Just by the entrance a young newly married couple were emerging after having had some wedding photographs taken in Monet’s Garden. It would be difficult to beat that for a location for your photographs. They kindly obliged while I took a couple of photographs of my own and they added a touch of glamour to the scene on this hot sunny morning.

Monet House and Garden – a quiet spot with the Japanese Bridge. A French travel tour

As you pass through the entrance the gardens are on first impression slightly underwhelming. I think it is because you feel that an iconic Japanese bridge should be right there in front of you. There is no question that expectations are extremely high. Initially however, you must make your way around a grassy section complete with discarded garden tools and a wheelbarrow before you come round to your first view of the long low house that Monet so loved. Now you are completely engrossed and drawn into this magical place that Monet created and has been lovingly maintained as an incredibly special place in France. The house is gently shaded from view by the lush growth of the trees and plants as Monet skilfully teases you to explore and find the perfect view of his house. That perhaps is to be found when you reach the main pathway leading up to the house, a view that Monet captured so well. Today that pathway is flanked by a gorgeous array of flowers in the lush borders either side of the path. One of the tricks he used, one which shows his skill not just as a painter but as a gardener, is how he leads you around the pathways to continue giving you different glimpses of the house. It is stunningly beautiful. If you have done your homework and have a love of his Giverny paintings, you will also be able to imagine and indeed expect one of his children to stroll out from behind a tree or shrub or emerge from the house into the garden. The setting for painting his young ones would have been magical and inspiring for him and you can clearly understand why he painted so many canvases of a personal nature here at Giverny. Monet also liked to take himself away and be alone in the garden. He would not have lacked for any number of beautiful subjects in the garden in front of the house. Then he could go across the railway into the Japanese garden and be quite peacefully secluded to paint the images that he is most famous for. Today the Japanese garden is reached by a short subway that takes you under the road where you are transported back in time to an atmospheric setting that is beautifully tended and familiar to anyone with the slightest knowledge of Monet’s work.

The Japanese section of Monet’s Garden is a delight and very sympathetically maintained. Although the lily ponds and the ubiquitous bridges are of course the highlights you have come to see it is the secluded, tucked away parts of the garden that really delight. The area shaded by the trees with a small river of water, a rowing boat tied up by the bank waiting for Monet to step in with his easel and paints. These atmospheric tableaux really transport your imagination back in time, giving a genuine sense of how Monet must have delighted in the construction of this gorgeous garden and then to enjoy using it to paint some of his most enduring landscapes. They are also a welcome quiet section to enjoy before embarking on the path around the Japanese garden, a path that will need a little patience to negotiate. Being one of the world’s most famous gardens you will find it busy at most times. Waiting for a loving couple to finally finish their photography on one of the famous bridges does need some tolerance on your part but it is worth the wait. The views from the bridges over the lily ponds are spectacular and do not be put off or intimidated – take your time and get the shots you want. You will be glad you endured when you get home.

Claude Monet Haystacks in the French village of Giverny France

The lives of Claude Monet and Alice Hoschedé were complicated. They were a couple and their families were living together but Alice always had some dependence and contact with her husband Ernest. Alice tried to resolve the situation with her husband over the next ten years after moving in with Monet at Giverny but without success. The ambiguity of their relationship remained until Ernest Hoschedé died from a prolonged affliction with gout in 1891. Monet had bought the house and land in Giverny the year before, having rented the property until then. Alice and Monet finally regularised their relationship on 16th July 1892 when they married in Giverny. Four days later Alice’s daughter Suzanne married the American painter Theodore Butler.

Monets great canvases in Musée de l’Orangerie Paris France

With his marriage to Alice and the purchase of the house and land Monet could now settle into developing the house and gardens. He extended the gardens and embarked on creating the water gardens and the gorgeous expanse of lily ponds that people associate with Monet and Giverny. His collection of Japanese art was built up and the overall effect of his enthusiasm is the extravagant colour of the planting and the breath-taking beauty of the house and gardens that we see today. Much of the credit for the survival of the house and gardens to endure to the condition they are in today is down to the care that was given to them by Alice’s daughter Blanche. She married Monet’s son Jean Monet. Jean died in 1914 aged just 47 after a long illness. This was just three years after the death of Monet’s wife Alice and the two events consumed Monet with grief. Blanche returned to Giverny as a widow to care for Monet and help him through the remaining years of his life. Monet died in 1926 at Giverny. Blanche also was a painter and her haystack paintings clearly owe a debt to the tutelage of her Monet. Blanche took on the responsibility of the house and gardens and as she was so in tune with her father she enabled its survival to be as we see it today. It is quite a legacy. I can confidently state that if you have never been to Giverny then if you possibly can you must go – you will never forget it.

There is one final place to visit relating to Monet and his family – The village Church.

Monet family resting place in Giverny churchyard

The Monet family have a plot in this church of Saint-Redegonde located about a kilometre along the one main road in Giverny from Monet’s house. The plot, although not extravagant, certainly conveys the status of the great painter and his family in the local community. You will no doubt want to stop by the graves and pay your respects and there is an exercise to be done in working out all the family relationships of the complex Monets. The church repays a visit inside, but you have to remember that Monet was no great supporter of the church during his lifetime. It is entertaining however to try to picture the scenes played out here by the family. This little church played its part in many important family events of the Monet – Hoschedé family.

The Monet connection is not the only fascination that comes from a visit to this church. It was only by accident on our visit here that we discovered the graves of a crew of airmen that crashed nearby shortly after D-Day. I have because of my interest in family history developed a passion for touring churchyards and could not resist a wander through this one after paying my respects at the Monet family tomb. You cannot miss the unusual sight of a propeller turned into a monument. The inscription indicates that the propeller is from the Lancaster that crashed but from most accounts it appears to be from another aircraft. Here in the churchyard are buried the crew of the Lancaster, a plane that crashed on an operation near to Giverny on the night of June 7/8, 1944, less than 48 hours after the D-Day landings.

Resting place of Lancaster crew in Giverny Churchyard

The Lancaster plane was from 115 Squadron I LL864 piloted by Ronald Maude who was only 21 years of age. You cannot help but reflect what you personally may have been doing at that age. It most certainly would not have been flying such an iconic plane over dangerous enemy territory. Pilot Maude and his crew were based at RAF Witchford in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Early morning at around 2:20 am the plane was shot down by an enemy aircraft flying close to the Giverny – Vernon road. Incredibly they seem to know who the German pilot was that shot the plane down. He was a Major Walter Borchers who had a very successful strike rate as regards destroying RAF aircraft. He however also did not survive the war but continued in the air well into 1945 before being shot down.

The grave dramatically indicated by British flags stands out prominently in the churchyard.

The inscription on the memorial reads: “These seven air men fell and were buried together”.

Seven plaques with a personal dedication remembers each individual airman. There is also a poignant photo on the grave that was taken shortly before they died showing them as a happy close-knit crew. Soon tragedy would befall them. They are still remembered here by visitors who leave flowers and other tributes on this site.

I feel it is right that I list the names of these young men and please visit this grave when you have paused by the Monet grave.

They are:

P/O  Ronald Maude

Sgt Alan Anderson

F/O Ronald Tovey

P/O Harold Forster

Sgt Jack Fyfe

Sgt Robert Sutherland

Sgt Kenneth Penton

Normandy has no shortage of sites such as this one in Giverny Churchyard. You cannot help but be transported back in time to those days of conflict but it is still extremely difficult to visualize such horrors in this beautiful and peaceful landscape that we travel in today. Even though we are over 70 years on from those dark days of World War II the landscape is still bearing the scars and reminders of that time. In many ways we tend to think purely of the allied landings as being the defining moment of the fighting in Normandy. However, when you travel through the countryside and towns it becomes apparent that the beach landings where only the beginning. The towns, villages and people of Normandy and of course the soldiers and airmen that headed inland towards Germany paid a terrible price for the liberation. Even in such a sleepy and peaceful place as Giverny the impact was felt and in many of the smallest remote villages you will find that is the case.

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

All available on Amazon for Kindle and Unlimited and also in Print

Cordes Sur Ciel and a whole Lot of rain

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

This excerpt is from my forthcoming French travel book, the fifth in my Series of French travel memoirs. Please enjoy and the book will be released in the spring. It will take you on a tour of France from Calais to the South and back through Brittany and Normandy.

Arifat Bed and Breakfast in medieval Cordes

It is time to move on, and this time to a new region for us – Lot et Garonne.

Our destination was the town of Cordes Cur Ciel, and our visit coincided with the nearing completion of the astonishing bridge, the Millau Viaduct. The earthworks and operational area for the bridge extended for miles around the site. It forced a slight detour as we came down from the height we had travelled on to wind our way carefully down into the valley below. This incredible feat of engineering, one of the most astonishing in the world, spans nearly 2500 metres above the valley below. As we travelled around the construction area, we felt exceedingly small indeed, sharing the area with some enormous construction vehicles. The road deck is suspended around 250 metres above the ground. I recall watching a documentary on the construction process, marvelling at how they actually pushed the road deck out from the end of the bridge into the void to traverse the viaduct piers. It is amazing engineering and a shared design of the English architect Norman Foster. It would be a few years before we had the opportunity to travel over the viaduct, which we did heading north up to the Loire valley. Niamh does not recall it at all – she had her eyes firmly closed as I drove across. I also barely recall the view as I just kept my eyes on the road, it is a long way down if you manage to crash over the side, but on reflection I think the safety features would have prevented that.

We eventually made our way to Rodez and on to Cordes as the rain started to pour down. Little did we know that it would not stop for the entire length of our three days stay. I was attracted to a beautiful property called Aurifat situated just outside the ancient walls, with a view overlooking the valley below. Standing at a viewpoint below the property you get a real understanding of the multi floored medieval property. It sits well with the old town architecture framing the backdrop behind the house. Cordes, with its ancient narrow streets, is a special challenge for a car driver. Eventually I threaded our way through to Aurifat and carefully took the car down to a parking space. The property has changed hands since our visit and now has Dutch owners who have maintained its fine reputation. Ian Wanklyn and his wife Penelope were the charming owners at the time we visited. They greeted us hospitably and urged us to get out from the driving rain and into our cosy room for the stay.

Ian and Penelope are comfortable hosts, not intrusive, but always available to ease your way into a new area of France. They show us the kitchen that is available for the use of guests. Hopefully we can use this later but just now the torrential rain is intruding into this summer kitchen and a stout pair of wellingtons may be needed to cook my fish supper. At least I can keep the wine above water.

Sadly, the rain will not stop at all for the three days we spend at Aurifat. Our visit to Albi, that beautiful, colourful cathedral town is curtailed by our being soaked, even under a substantial umbrella. Exploring Cordes is done by dashing from shop or restaurant doorways, but you could argue the rain adds to the atmosphere of this ancient town. We manage a couple of visits to wine makers, producers who are getting increasingly concerned with the potential damage being inflicted by this extraordinary, extended downpour. We find one activity that will give pleasure when we get back home. At the end of the drive to Aurifat there is a large, mature walnut tree. Under its spreading bows we can shelter, taking the opportunity to gather as many walnuts as we can. A large boxful is filled and as long as we can dry these, and keep them dry, they will be much appreciated back home in England.

As we peer through our steamed-up car windows the region does seem to be a very interesting area, one that is crying out to be explored. We do have accept defeat on this trip however, one day we will return, and explore this region when it is no longer under water.

A stormy day on Cordes-sur-Ciel

On our final rain-soaked day we endeavour to make a final attempt to take in the fascinating architecture and character of Cordes. As the rain penetrates every part of our skin, through completely sodden clothes, it is obvious we must get inside. At least the rain is warm, hot almost and there is the possibility it will steam dry when indoors. Being after twelve noon it seems the sensible thing to find a place to eat and enjoy a fine bottle of local wine. There must be a final compensation to this somewhat ruined visit to this historical area. We shall not be beaten. Cordes sur Ciel is home to a fine gastronomic restaurant – Le Grand Ecuyer. This is the flagship restaurant of Yves Thuriès, a giant of French cuisine. This restaurant leads the way in the region and regularly entertains celebrities, prime ministers, and even English royalty. Sadly, I do not feel it will be serving us today. I am inclined not to make an inevitably large puddle in such an eminent establishment. Fortunately, Yves Thuriès also owns a bistro in Cordes. Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes – I do feel they may allow us to dry by the fire. The narrow streets, running freely with streams of water, eventually lead to this bistro. We crash through the door seeking shelter and feel very intrusive and inappropriately attired for what is, although a bistro, undoubtedly an upmarket one. Our cagoules do indeed with remarkable rapidity leave a shining expanse of water in the foyer.

‘Do you have a table for two?’ I ask, expecting to be shown the door rather than get an answer in the affirmative.

‘Of course, Monsieur’. Follow me.

For a bistro the establishment is very well presented. If this is his bistro, how fine is the main restaurant? Glad we did not risk desecrating that one. The maître d’ shows us to a large, very large, round table, sort of King Arthur style and size. Niamh I can see in the distance, opposite me on the other side of this vast structure. I cannot imagine what we look like, tiny dots at the vast table, still dripping water onto a beautiful carpet and now to cap it all a gathering cloud of steam above our heads. Oh, and my glasses are steamed up – where is the menu?

But, we are slowly starting to dry off. The food of course is cooked to order, giving us more time to disperse the water from our bodies. By the time it arrives we are almost comfortable. The food as you would expect is extraordinary, fine local produce cooked to perfection and presented with immaculate aplomb. At last, it has been worth the long journey and the endurance we have shown in the face if this almost Biblical storm of the last three days. The best though is yet to come – the dessert. Our charming waiter explains that the chocolate fondant with crème anglaise will take around thirty minutes to prepare and cook to a state of complete perfection. Although he didn’t add the last part it does apply to the dish presented to me half an hour later. We have eaten often and well of the produce found all around this wonderful country. Memorable as many dishes have been there is occasionally something that forces its way to the top of the charts as regards the best dishes you have ever eaten. This was one of those and so extraordinary fine was it that I feel on reflection it has never lost the top spot. As we all know chocolate fondant is the easiest way to crash and burn in the kitchen. It takes a special talent to get it to perfection. Now that I was almost dry, I was able to fully appreciate this moment. Cordes – we will come again even if you send another downpour on me.

During our meal the dining room had filled up with a large party of elderly diners. The ‘facilities’ here were down some steep winding stairs that we could see from our vast circular vantage point. They were well used. Still to this day Niamh and I are convinced and still smile about being convinced that we counted one less back up than went down. Will we ever stop people watching? Probably not.

There is a perverse curtain call to our stay in Cordes. As we left the town to journey on, there was an amazing sky stretching out in front of us. From the dry enclosure looking out at the torrential rain crashing onto our windscreen you could see the end of the pitch-black clouds. Beyond the cloud line was a bright blue ribbon of sky on the horizon. We reached the edge of the region and as we crossed into the Langudeoc before heading North the rain stopped. A few miles farther on and the straight edge of the cloud canopy was passed, the sun burst through, and we never saw another cloud for over a week. This bizarre few days display of natural forces gave way as if by magic to the most wonderful summer weather. Just what we expected in the Lot as well, but the visit was still memorable.

It always seems a shame to just head home, that mad dash to Calais and the ferry that so many English tourists seem to take to end their stay in France. Rather let us take our time as travel through Brittany and along the Normandy coast, reaching Calais refreshed and well satisfied with our grand tour of France.  The drive up through France to Brittany is a pleasant one, taking in some high-level pasture and occasional signs of past volcanic activity. In fact, there is a grand stopping point on the Autoroute where you can have a panoramic view of the Auvergne volcanoes. You find this by pulling into the Aire des Volcans d’Auvergne on the A71 just noreth of Clemont-Ferrand. Beats Newport Pagnall anyday. It is an expansive landscape and one to put in the memory bank for a future visit. Driving north on the western side of France the roads are relatively quiet and delays virtually unheard of.

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Uphill Estuary Weston Bay Somerset – A beautiful special place

A perfect winters afternoon as we look over the Axe Estuary from Uphill Nature Reserve. The path leads around to the boatyard from her at the Axe Estuary at the end of the beach at Weston Super Mare Somerset England. The land that gets the tidal flow over it is rich in wild flowers in spring and summer, especially sea lavender and teems with birds and wildlife. We have spotted over 50 different birds on the estuary and reserve. A very beautiful place and especially so on such a remarkable winters day.

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Panorama of Brean Down and Weston Bay to the Axe Estuary
Heading out from the Estuary at Uphill on a glorious January day
Uphill tower with trees reflecting in the water January 2022
Low tide at Axe Estuary near Uphill Somerset
Tranquillity on the estuary at Uphill Somerset January 2022
Brean Down Somerset from the beach at Weston Super Mare Somerset
Axe Estuary at Uphill Somerset in winter light
Uphill Church in winter light – spot the moom, aircraft and climber
And one from last Summer – something to look forward to

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Paris & France – Travel now

Paris Restaurants Cafes and locations

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Restaurant on Rue St Andre des Arts Paris
Rue de Rivoli Paris
La Conciergerie · This former prison, now a museum is on the Ile de la Cité, a short walk from Notre-Dame Cathedral
Le Consulat Restaurant Montmartre Paris
Polidor Restaurant Paris – a favourite haunt of Hemingway and used as a location in Midnight in Paris
Tokens of love left on the Pont des Arts Paris

A few shots taken over the last few years. Paris always draws you back and hopefully we can travel again soon – CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL VIEW

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Come to Paris with my Dream of Paris Memoir
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