"Big Yellow Taxi":
"Don't it always seem to go
that you don't know
what you've got 'til it's gone..."
Truer words have not been spoken.
In these frenzied, often absurd times it's the simple times,
the quiet, peaceful and innocent days that we miss the most.
Traveling though France, many of my favorite not-so-secret places are
villages and out-of-the-way spots that have nearly evaporated,
their legacy slowly turning to dust in bits and pieces.
Often achingly beautiful, these locales may first appear to be deserted
or unloved but don't be lulled into passing them by.
There's something warm and familiar in these discoveries, endowed
with an ability to bridge the gap between our selfish lust for more
and our deepest craving to get back to the basics.
Don't get me wrong -- I personally don't want to go back to the
"good old days"-- which I don't really think were all that good -- but I do
believe there is something magical about taking a step back in time where
you feel as if the world has stopped -- even if it's just for half a day.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."
Robert Frost, American poet
places these days were once hotbeds of uncertainty and controversy.
Alone and exposed, La Couvertoirade is one of those lost places,
its population now shriveled to fewer than 200 souls.
Situated on the spectacular Larzac Plateau in the stunning
Aveyron department of lovely Languedoc, the fortified village is a
lasting legacy of the Knights Templar, the dogmatic religious order
that once ruled the roost in these parts.
Surviving long past its former occupiers, La Couvertoirade's hefty stone walls
are capped by natural stone roofs made to throw off winter's snowfall.
Peeking into the life of centuries old France is always a pleasure,
particularly when it's as intimate a look as this one.
Walking the nearly empty streets of La Couvertoirade,
it was easy to imagine life centuries ago, when crusades,
warrior monks and papal charters were part of every day life.
Situated not far from Millau -- don't miss its spectacular
bridge -- A Tale of Two Bridges -- La Couvertoirade is a perfect stopover
that will leave you feeling as if you've crossed into the Twilight Zone.
In the churchyard, odd gravestones add to the mystery,
contributing to the engaging and legendary Templar enigma.
has inspired countless novels and debate over the years.
These crusading cavaliers had oodles of money, their
rich reward for supporting and protecting the lords and ladies
of France through many dark and dangerous years.
Flush with cash until their luck with the king ran dry, their assets are
revealed in the beautiful manor houses that dot the town's center.
Take some time to visit the craft shops whose proprietors & artists brandish
centuries old skills such as pottery making and the art of weaving textiles.
The well preserved town center enjoys a bit of whimsy, too,
its official emblem attached to many ancient doorways.
The cardabelle, a flower that's sometimes called a shepherd's barometer,
is not just an enchanting bit of floral decoration.
Local shepherds claim it can predict the weather, opening wide for
sunny skies and closing tight before the weather turns ugly.
This being France, you can eat part of it too, though I'd recommend you
don't attempt that with any of the dried variety you see on the doors!
Resembling a cross between a sunflower, a dandelion and an artichoke,
it suits the untamed atmosphere of this historic neighborhood.
We got to roam the village practically tourist free.
It added to the mystery of the place, reminding us
of a deserted ghost-town in those old tv westerns.
That's one of the best things about slow travel, the chance to truly get away
from it all and get back to nature and a world long gone by.
It reminds us that one day, our civilization, too, will be considered archaic
and odd, a fun chance to look back to the past while thinking about the future.
"Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees."
is a great spot for anyone seeking a soothing hideaway.
Just inland, the Marais Poitevin, known as the Green Venice of France,
is not well known to many overseas travelers, secluded between
more well known destinations such as Les Sables-d'Olonne and Poitiers.
On our way from La Rochelle to Brittany, we made a quick stopover
in pretty Coulon, one of the treasured villages of the peaceful province.
Lunch and a boat ride sounded like a good way to break up a long road trip.
There is something special about looking at water, particularly when you're comfortably ensconced on a flower bedecked auberge terrace,
sipping local wine and considering the menu du jour.
Aaah, this is what travel is all about -- and the fact that they offer the locally
famous mojette bean (much more exciting than it sounds) made it that much better.
Freshwater eels are a popular menu item, too, if you aren't too squeamish to try.
Dubbed one of the "prettiest villages in France", Coulon is a waterside retreat
swimming in restaurants, shops and whitewashed homes that will make you
wonder why you've never heard of this watery green riviera in western France.
This town is a great place to begin your journey,
a launch pad for a sensational aquatic discovery filled with
croaking frogs, dragonflies, ducks and egrets.
ready-made for a guided excursion on the traditional boats of the area.
Called barques, these flat bottomed vessels ease you into the murky water --
softly, slowly, while a guide winds his way through the green duckweed of the canal.
The welcome silence and filtered light is an experience you won't soon forget.
Located in the Deux Sevres department, the Marais Poitevin is
an area renowned for its rivers, mild climate and specialty
herb -- angelica -- rock star of the flowering plant world.
Held in high regard in ancient folklore as well as modern herbalists,
angelica seems to be the antidote to just about everything.
The aromatic herb is used to combat a variety of ailments from typhus to dog
bites and is particularly valued for its woodsy aroma in liquers and hops.
Ancient wisdom claims it cured the plague, heartburn and insomnia --
besting my own 5 o'clock cure for all that aches and aggravates....
feels good -- and don't you deserve it?
You'll feel a marked sense of improvement in your frame of mind,
renewing an almost forgotten sense of pleasure, well-being and delight.
Some folks choose a beach, others choose the mountains or a national park.
You may look for luxury or just the opposite -- it doesn't really matter.
But whatever you do, please consider the astonishing choices in
fantastic France, where little miracles are in abundance every day of the year.
"Contentment is the only real wealth."
Alfred Nobel, Swedish scientist & inventor
I could offer a list of getaways a mile long;
there are so many wonderful choices.
What's your favorite?
I, too, have miles to go before I sleep.
Sometimes we have to put our dreams on hold but don't let that stop you.
It can be as simple as running to T.J. Maxx and getting the t-shirt.