Saint Jean de Bruel, that is, not Patrick the singer. We came across another delightful location this weekend thanks to the book of walks we bought on our last trip. Not only did we open it, but we chose an itinerary to walk! We drove up to Causse Bégon
which is a tiny spot in the middle of nowhere that has a 5km walk on the causse. Causses
are limestone plateaux which have a particular arid terrain made up of stubby trees, dolomite outcrops and cropped grass. You see one when you take the A75 from Lodève to Millau which crosses the plateau de Larzac.
Our walk was pleasant enough. It was cool up there when the wind blew and had some nice views although nothing spectacular. One bit must have been eroded by water at some point in its past. It had lots of holes in the rock which I couldn't resist poking with my finger. My DB hoped the one I poked wouldn't be inhabited by snakes. As it was less than 5 cm deep, I thought I'd probably see them coming.
|Water erosion and no snakes 800m up on walk around Causse Bégon|
At some point, we had to climb steeply for what the signpost said was 80metres but felt like more, to see the dolmen called the Giant's Tomb.
|Dolmen tomb for a small-sized giant|
|Just big enough for me lengthwise|
Proof that my DB is not a country bumpkin happened when we were walking back towards the car from the dolmen on a different path to the original one, having decided not to slide back down the steep track. We suddenly found ourselves on the wrong side of a fence. On observing this, he asked me how we would get back to the right side. I spied some string bits floating in the breeze some way off and said that it was probably some sort of gate. He was doubtful. Then he wondered if the fence was electric. No, I said, they don't look like that. He was doubtful. It has barbed wire, he said. No, I said, it doesn't. Hmmm... We got to the fence and, as it was low, I could just lift me leg over it. No barbed wire, no electricity, AND the gate was a gate. I'm not that much of a country bumpkin, but it's easy to appear informed and clued up in the countryside compared to my DB!
We got back to the car and drove down to St Jean de Bruel where we hoped to find somewhere to sleep. We had not booked and discovered, of course, that both hotels were full. Our only option was a chambre d'hote. We are not keen on chambre d'hote (as you may remember), but the alternative was an hour's drive to cover 35km to Meyreuis (up and down and up and down), similar to get to Montpellier or stay in a scabby place half an hour away. The woman in the tourist office assured us that the chambre d'hote, Les Cardabelles
, was quite like a hotel, so we decided to give it a try.
Good thing we did too as it was LOVELY and pretty much like a hotel only better because it had AIR CONDITIONING which 2-star hotels do not.
|Unassuming exterior to Les Cardabelles chambres d'hote|
|Bathroom, shower on right|
|View from room|
There are three rooms at the top of the building and they have a separate staircase from the rest of the house. You could really believe yourself to be in a hotel. Our room had two extra beds so you could really get value for money from the cost of the room including breakfast (€66). We were the only guests, surprisingly, so had the breakfast table to ourselves the next morning, with delicious coffee (a rarity), and excellent home-made jams and bread as well as croissants, etc. It was a bijoux place! M Vidal, who owns it, also makes potted pâtés. His little factory is next door and I suppose he supplements his income with the chambres d'hote. We found him warm and friendly, and he didn't hang around or try to impose himself. Really, the perfect place.
That evening we were fortunate with dinner too! Recommended by M Vidal, we booked at l'Oustal
just down the road and chose the €14.50 menu. We sat outside on the terrace and started with a mixed salad which was followed by one of the most delicious rascasse rouge I've ever had. It seemed to have been just fried, in butter but it was so tasty I could have eaten it all night. It came with quinoa and courgette, and the whole meal was simply delicious. We had cheese for dessert, and pichets of rosé to wash it down.
After breakfast, we mooched into the village to visit the little market. There we saw a local organic veg producer who, coincidentally, sells his produce with a small number of others in their shop in the next village to me! They take it in turns to keep shop, so costs are kept reasonable because they employ no extra staff. I am definitely going to take a look this week because I like the idea of these farmers getting together and doing some sensible, and the veggies looked excellent. What an amazing coincidence finding him there in the middle of nowhere!
We had a leaflet from the tourist office on a nice walk up to the village sentinelle. It was 5km so we decided we could cope with that if it meant admiring 360° views from the top. The walk was delightful. It took us through shady sweet chestnut tree woods up a gentle incline for much of it.
|Shady path through the chataigners|
|Part of the view from the top, with sentinelle. The village is St Jean de Bruel.|
The view from the top was definitely worth it, enhanced by the fact that my DB's Free mobile phone found a network whilst there was none in the valley, so he could listen to his messages!
We came back down and it was only just gone midday. Despite our delicious and copious breakfast, we went to the village picnic spot that I had noticed just down the road from where we stayed, and next to Noria
, the water museum.
The canal was built to secure access to running water for the mill even when the river on the other side of the picnic spot was low.
|Old mill, now Water Museum, Noria.|
After lunch, we went to visit the museum. We walked round the balcony to get to the entrance and admired the old thirteenth century bridge across the river Dourbie. I also admired the vegetable plot and gazed longingly at its lusciously fertile soil. For information, a one-bedroom flat in this village (in the middle of nowhere) is a measly €20,000!
|View of XIII century bridge from museum|
The mill has been put to different uses in its history. One of the main ones was cleaning woollen cloth. The cloth was wrapped around a type of bobbin and fixed to a box. Water came down via a channel to wash it and protect it from damage, and the bobbin turned every so often to work the whole cloth. It was a very clever system. Although the mill was closed for business 1985, it was restored and open to the public as a functioning piece of history.
|Huge hammers that bash the woollen cloth|
|Woollen cloth on the right getting a bashing|
The museum also contains a functioning hydro-electric station (mini), a large model of a river modified to produce hydro-electricity where if you press a button, you get a commentary and demonstration of water management. There are several rooms
containing interesting information about water - how to manage and treat it, and its place in the cosmos. There is even a "Bistr'eau" of four different waters to show you how water tastes different depending on how mineralised it is. Low mineralised water tastes 'hard' while a high mineral count gives a 'soft' taste. Did you know that?
Finally, there's a spot for kids to let off steam in a playroom shooting water and other games, a little bar and a shop. We greatly enjoyed our visit and learned a lot from the excellent displays. The shop was lacking in books in my opinion. They had loads of useless mini figures of dogs, owls, cows all dressed up. Someone needs to take the shop in hand and get in some more appropriate, interesting products.
A lovely weekend, and just an hour from Montpellier. It felt so different, and so did us so much good. I didn't want to come home!
Sounds like a great weekend, and makes a very interesting post. The Chambre d'h looks gorgeous. Your DB is certainly a fully-fledged townie, isn't he. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks Susie, it really was a great weekend, and so interesting. We actually do more visiting when we're in the car than on the motorbike so that's a plus for taking the car. :)Delete
What a wonderful weekend you had, Sarah. The village looks so lovely in its amazing setting and the chambres d'hotes was a real find. I can foresee a return visit, even if you don't splash out on a 20K euro flat! We have a rather similar eco museum in a former water mill not far from us and it too is fascinating.ReplyDelete
It really was like a breath of fresh air there away from home and ongoing stuff, and so pretty. We would definitely return to the chambre d'hote as we haven't seen everything there is to see there and it makes a great base.Delete
I love these eco museums. I have a feeling that one day they come back into their own. :)
What a treasure trove of a week-end! So many delights and discoveries for all the senses. I always get a sense of calm and real insight to your travels and enjoy them muchly :)ReplyDelete
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy reading about my travels. I certainly enjoy doing them. :) What I love about where I live is that you don't even have to go far to find yourself in a totally different environment. :)Delete
Gosh that view of the bridge is just mind blowingly gorgeous! How amazing that you can pretty much step out of your house and do walks like that. We think we are lucky to be able to get out into the hills here in the East Bays and the hills are lovely but nothing as varied and filled with history with fascinating stone villages like that. Looks like in that photo they have a really extensive herb or vege garden tooReplyDelete
Yes, it's good to explore what's so close. No need to go miles and miles for a complete change of scene. :)Delete
I was so jealous of that garden plot. :)
What a super weekend break....that chambre d'hote looks just the thing and what with the walks, that wonderful mill exhibition and the restaurant I can see you returning for more exploration...especially if your DB can get a signal for his 'phone...ReplyDelete
Actually it was quite peaceful not having a signal if you know what I mean. :) We will definitely go back as there are more walks to do around there in our little book (if I remember correctly).Delete
Hoorah, everything went so well for your weekend - gorgeous location, a gem of a chambre d'hote, great views, super dinner...and somewhere to poke your fingers (I see you and my husband have a similar enthusiasm for that pastime!)ReplyDelete
I couldn't resist, they were just so tempting those little holes. I'm not saying anything about your husband's penchant... ;)Delete
Recommended: A return visit in mushroom season, for wonderful gastro-creations.ReplyDelete
Good thinking, expat. I hadn't thought of that!Delete
Is it your pictures or is everything empty? Where is everybody ?ReplyDelete
Great, isn't it?! I hate crowds. :)Delete