Tourist France - Lot Valley
The Lot valley is a stunning area, with some great scenery, in La France Profonde, or deepest France. Conques is a very small medieval village based on a pilgrim route, and retains a lot of its original charm. There is a small museum containing holy relics, various bits of saints, arms, legs, fingers etc, which were then encased in jewels and metalwork - sort of interesting, up to a point! - but, it must be said, a bit disturbing.
The stone carving on the abbey porch is 11th century, and anyone interested in architecture or history would find a lot of great buildings. If you are at all into medievalism, or even just the plain weird, Conques has the "wow" factor. It's probably much the same as it was two hundred years ago.
There are many deserted mountain roads which are great for driving, or you can just follow the river - probably ideal for cyclists too.
There are several good hotels in the area of the Vallee Du Lot - we stayed at one right by the riverside - see pictures below. It's easy to do your own online booking and you can get some great rates that way.
Lot Valley - near Entraygues Sur Truyere
Abbey at Conques
Further north is Figeac, a great little town, where Champollion lived. M.Champollion is celebrated for deciphering hieroglyphics. His old house is now a museum of Writing and it's an enthralling place to visit. Somehow the French have a gift for museums and classy presentation, and this is a good example. It's really artistic, educational and interesting, and there are many ancient Egyptian artefacts on display, plus interactive hi-tech applications.Outside is a replica of the Rosetta stone. When I found it a poodle was converting it into a doggie toilet. No respect for hieroglyphics or erudition.
We flew to Rodez on Ryanair - it's a small airport with no hassle. Just the perfect travel experience, except for the airport staff, who are French.
Many enquiries can be answered with a shrug and the immortal words "C'est pas mon problem"!!
You really need a car to explore this area. Rodez is really a nice town, with lots of character, but there's not much to do. It's surrounded by beautiful, well-fortified, medieval towns and lovely countryside. As with most of France, vegetarians can be fairly disappointed with the choices on offer, and sometimes this is just an invitation to ridicule.
What this region does well is peace and quiet. It's great for picnics, wonderful scenery and architecture.
A little further afield is the historic town Albi, which again is well worth a visit. It is home to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, one of the best art galleries you'll find anywhere, and full of fantastic paintings and poster designs. Although his pictures are well known many of them are on a massive scale, and you can't really appreciate their brilliance from reproductions. This is really a must-see attraction, and largely unknown it seems.
In fact, I'd go further, and say it's probably one of the best art museums in France, or even Europe, without the hassle of crowds and a very special atmosphere.
Toulouse-Lautrec was from a wealthy aristocratic family in this area, before achieving fame as an artist in Paris. He overcame tremendous physical disability to become one of the most influential artists of his age, and turned the poster into a form of art.