Our second week starts with us saying goodbye to our friends in Vannes and heading out of our tour of the cloisters and abbayes! The theme of this trip.

Cloisters at Nieul-sur-l'AustiseWe head off towards Fontenay-le-Comte to see the impressive cathedral and the Royal Abbaye at Nieul-sur-l'Autise. The church dates from the 11th Century with various parts rebuilt in the 12th and 13th Century. The Cloisters are from the 12th Century. The abbaye is sometimes called Eleanor's Abbaye as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in Nieul in 1122 and her mother's tomb is in the Chapterhouse. More information in the Cloister's Site.

La CloseraieWhen in this area, known as the "Venise Vert" (Green Venice), it is interesting to see the vast network of canals that cover the farmland. You can ride in flat bottom boats, using a pole to move along the canal, and experience that of the farmers who transported their goods along the canals.



La Closeraie

Around Luçon we could not find a hotel in the town, but we pushed on and lucked out founding a good chambre d'hôte - La Closeraie in the small town of Champagne-les-Marais. We rank this as a great place to stay because the rooms were appropriately decorated, there was a nice friendly atmosphere to the place (although a little on the bohemian side) and it even a swimming pool.


grapesWe rise the next day and head towards Saint Émilion and the wonderful wine area that surrounds this hill-top town. We have our hearts set to stay a a specific hotel. No rooms were available so we opted to look for another good Chambre d'hôte and plan to return in a few days to see Saint Émilion.

Chateau FourquocThe Château Fonroque, also with a bohemian flair provides well decorated rooms in a real old chateau with an every-day-style of living by the owners who live on site. Château Fonroque produces the Grand Crus classes of wines in this region.

Chateau ForguocHere we met the mysterious bees that fly at night, spotting any bedroom light or glow from a TV and then invade that bedroom. They were simply the biggest bees we have ever seen and ended our belief that bees slept at night.

In the rankings of the Grand Crus St Émilion they flow from: Premier Grand Crus class A, Premier Grand Crus Class B and the Grand Crus Classes. The St. Émilion wine region is Saint Emilion and the eight villages around it. The region produces only red wine from the Merlot and Cabernet FGranc grapes, and the total production is about 36 million bottles a year. The wines are known for the aromas of truffles, toasted break and cooked red fruits. Saint Émilion wines are good with mushrooms, bird game, salmon, spare ribs and roast lamb.

bridge at Bergerac

Chateau MonbazilacThis is an area where you can drive along small roads, cross wonderful bridges and tour interesting sights. Located not far from Bergerac is the Château Monbazilac - impressive and surrounded with vineyards - but we are no longer in the Saint Émilion Region. Walk around as the grounds offer great views.

La Sauve-MajeareOne of the most enjoyable mornings we had was our visit to La Sauve-Majeare to see the ruins of the Abbaye de la Sauvre Majeare.

La Sauve-MajeareWork on the monastery commenced in 1079 and once established, it had its good and bad times. In 1179 the abbaye was sacked and then rebuilt in the early 1200's. The abbaye operated then until the 16th century when financial problems set in The abbaye fell into ruin. A fire later finished it off. More information in the Cloisters Site. Being in the ruins was very peaceful and the architecture is stunning.

This area, about a half an hour south east of Bordeaux has a nice look. Along our drive we found ourselves in the small town of St. Germain du Puch where we came across a small restaurant and enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip.

L' Atmosphere, (a Great Place in France) Located on the D20, in the town of St. Germain du Puch is just south-west of Bordeaux and it is one of those places you would never drive to, but one of the treasures you can just happen to come across in France.

St Germain du Puch

Great scenery in the area.

St Germain du Puch

Restaurant of yellows and blues.

St Germain du Puch

Food was outstanding.

St-EmillionSo now we return to St-Émillion, which is located 35 km east of Bordeaux. It is either a day-trip event from Bordeaux or used as a base to tour the vineyards - plenty to choose from. Because of its historical significant the UNESCOO has recognized it and placed it on the World Heritage List. The wines of Saint-Émillion are from the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux Region and are considered the most robust of the Bordeaux varieties. our return we were able to book into the Palais Cardinal Hotel - this is a Great Place in France.

A fortified medieval town, located on the slope of a hill, surrounded by some of the most outstanding vineyards of France -- this is wine country. What is most interesting is the history of the town with a subterranean church built in the lower parts and an impressive cathedral built in the upper part of the town. No when reading that you may thing of a town on a steep hill. Not so.

Saint-Émilion was named for the Benedictine monk, Emilian, who arrived there in the 8th century. He lived as a hermit. He became the leader of a group of Benedictines. The town was a center of religious life in those days.

In what is referred to as the lower town, over a period of 300 years, the monks carved an entire church from a single huge piece of limestone. Work began in the 9th century. Today what remains is the greatest monolith church in Europe.

Cloiseters in St-EmillionThe August ian cannons established a Collegiate church with cloisters in the upper section of the town. These date to the 12th and 15th centuries. The bell tower has holes for the ropes that went down to the massive church below.

St-EmillionThe religious wars ended the prosperity of the town and by the 16th century much of the population had dispersed, many of the monuments and buildings destroyed. In 1789, at the time of the French Revolution everyone left town and the town sat unoccupied for 100 years. It was in the 1800's with the increased activity of the wine industry that people moved back and started to reconstruct the town.

buying wine in St EmillionSo I have mentioned wine many times, and you can not be in St-Émillion and not become overtaken with wine. There are plenty of shops to visit. But, as pictured to the left, Glenn found the Vignobles & Chateaux shop tasting and buying way too much wine to be shipped home. Patrick was very helpful in getting me to a full case of wine to ship in no time! Thanks Patrick! It did arrive fine. All I had to do is mortgage my house to pay the duty.

Chateau de BironChâteuu de Biron is our next stop and is located about 8 km south of Monpazier. The Barony of Biron was established in 1598. Their members were high profile -- Charles de Gontaut was the first Admiral of France and Châteuu de Biron has been in the Gontaut-Biron family for over 800 years. Charles plotted twice against the King of France. Caught each time, the second time was deadly and he was beheaded at the Bastille in Paris in 1602.


Chateau de BironThe castle has lasted over 24 generations. In the 13th Century, Simmon de Maufort, in the siege against the Cathors, sacked the castle. Later in the 15th and 16th century the castle was rebuilt so that it would look more that those of the Loire Valley.


Monpazier is the one of the best preserved of the bastide towns.

Bastide town of MonpazierThese are a series of fortified market towns that were built to hold command over the roads from the Agenais Region leading to the banks of the Dordogne River. Monpazier was established in 1284 by Edwards I of England and the Duke of Aquitaine. They established the town as a means of building an alliance with the powerful Lord Biron.We were just at his house!

Edward 1er in MonpazierIn Monpazier we stay at the Hotel Edward 1st - and this ranks as a Great Place In France . The hotel is beautifully appointed, the owners provide you excellent individual service. Make sure you book a dinner at the hotel as the food is outstanding.


Cloisters of MoissacA tour of cloisters and abbayes in this area could not be done without visiting those at Moissac. The cloisters, are impressive. The capitals are the most complete set of Romanesque capitals that exist. More information in the cloisters site.

The fact the church and the cloisters have survived the years is amazing. Moissac was subject to the 1212 siege of Simon de Monfort in his battles of the Cathors.Then in 1930 a major floor wiped out much of the town of Moissac. Later 1856 parts of Refectory that was attached to the church was actually demolished to make way for the construction of the Bordeaux-Set rail line.

Cloisters of Moissac Doors of the Abbaye Church in Moissac

As we move along we found yet another impressive abbaye and cloisters. The Abbaye de Cadouin had in fact some of the best cloisters we saw on the trip. Dating back to the 12th century, pilgrims regularly came here as the main attraction was to view a piece of the cloth, said by Simon de Montford, to be part of Christ's Shroud. This kept life in Cadouin very prosperous. But later in 1935 this was proved to be an arabic cloth and so the pilgrimages stopped. These cloisters are stunning and Karen has produced a series of art cards (Marcus Moments - Cards) in black and white.

Sarlat dates from the 8th century and it rose in importance as a city of commerce in 1317 thanks to the restructuring of the region by Pop John XII. The Hundred Years War left the town a wreck. Later, Charles VII gave the town special privileges in terms of revenues and taxes and this start the town on its upward climb again. Most of the hotels or homes in the cities were rebuilt between 1450 and 1500 and this total rebuild in a relatively short period of time gives the town a unified appearance. In 1962 more good news occurred for the town. Sarlat was chosen to be one of the towns slotted for funding of major restoration by the French Government.

We drive through the Tarn Gorges. The gorges cut through limestone plateaux ( the Causse de Sauveterre and the Causse Méjean). The gorges form a trench that is about 400-500 meters deep and 1,000 to 1,500 meters wide. The drive is great with woods, limestone cliffs and the river.

Tarn Gorges Chateau de la Caze in the Tarn Gorges Villages hang onto cliffs and the entire area appears to be lost in time -- unless you make the mistake of driving it in July and August when it is plugged with campers.

Our next location of note is the town of Vaison-le-Romaine, located approximately 27 km north-east of Orange. We stay in the old upper town which involves a little nerve to drive up through the narrow gate - of course while tourists are walking through the gate, maneuver a tight corners and come to a stop on the narrow street before the Hostellerie le Beffroi - A Great Place in France .

Vaison la Romaine

The gate entrance to the old town

Vaison la Romaine

Great pool

Vaison la Romaine  
Elegant insides of the old hotels.  

In the Vaison-la-Romaine there is the excavation site of a roman theatre that is still used for summer concerts.


Cathedral at Fontenay-le-Comte

Cathedral at Fontenay-le-Comte

Cloisters of Royal Abbaye Nieul-sur-l'Austise

Impressive cloisters of Niel-sur-l'Austise


Grapes in St. Emilion Region

Saint Émilion is one of the noted wine areas in France.

La Sauve-Majeare

La Sauve-Majeare