After spending the night on the outskirts of Montauban we continued on our way across France’s Midi-Pyrénées region, heading towards Aquitaine. It was a perfect Autumn day; crisp and cool, with clear blue skies and only a light breeze. We elected to make several detours on what should have been a three hour journey from Montauban to Mont-de-Marsan.
Our first detour was a spur of the moment trip up the hill to Villemade. This isn’t an especially historic or exciting town, but did offer good views and some curious looks from inhabitants as we explored.
Back in the car we made good time to Moissac, where we stopped for coffee and checked out the Duex Mers canal at close quarters. The canal runs from Bordeaux to Toulouse, linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
We drove up into the hills in search of Boudou because we liked the name. We found a lovely village, with a market square, a few shops, and a string of new houses built to take advantage of the view. We took advantage of the view too, noticing in the distance two plumes of smoke on the horizon. Later in the morning we discovered the sources were nuclear reactor chimneys at Golfech. We stayed in the car with the windows wound up and drove quickly past.
In Agen we took a longer break and had a formule du jour lunch at a Thai restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and afterwards we visited the Cathedral which – again – was shrouded in scaffolding. Perhaps restoration work starts when the tourist season is deemed to have ended.
A few kilometres further on, the sign on our left said “Pouy Roquelaure”. It was such a wonderful name we couldn’t resist a further detour, this time into the heart of farming country, with fields ploughed right up to the edges of the narrow road. Pouy Roquelaure turned out to be a private walled estate with attached houses and a community church. We drove right around the estate, marvelling at the excellent condition of the several kilometres of stone wall. Near the end of our circumnavigation we discovered the reason for the wall’s condition: we passed the stonemason repairing a section. This entire detour was delightful; not just Pouy Roquelaure, but the road leading to it and the roads that put us back en route.
Our penultimate stop for the day was at Condom. No, it’s an entirely different word in French and doesn’t mean the same thing. It’s a lovely town which was once a city, but lost its bishop to nearby Auch in 1822. We visited the former cathedral and found that, unlike many others, it was plainly and tastefully decorated. We even thought it was far more attractive for an absence of gold leaf and frescoes. Alongside the church are some attractive sixteenth century cloisters which have been adopted for secular use.
If you’ve read Alexandre Dumas you’ll know that D’Artagnan is said to hail from Condom and, sure enough, there are statues of him and the three musketeers in front of the cathedral. Bidding them a good afternoon we wandered the town, had a coffee at a local cafe and continued on our way to the day’s final destination.
We reached Mont-de-Marsan in Aquitaine more than nine hours after we left Montauban. This was entirely due to the detours we elected to take along the way. It was a long and ultimately tiring day, but we enjoyed almost every minute of the experience.