One beautiful sunny Sunday, at the beginning of Autumn 2005, we drove out to Figeac to visit Michel, a friend from the re-entry organisation (EMC) where I teach English. He lives out there with his wife and youngest daughter and they had invited us for lunch.
From Toulouse, we drove the two hours north into what Yves tells me is known as 'France profound'. This strange expression refers to a place in France which is removed from modern civilisation because it's so isolated. I find it hard to believe that a country as small as France could have a place like that — I guess it's all relative though.
Michel actually lives about 3kms out of Figeac, in Planioles. To get to his house you have to drive through a very old street lined with milky gold stone walls, which was barely wide enough for our tiny car to squeeze through. We got lost and were half an hour late in arriving because the street we were meant to go down didn't look big enough to be a street and we dismissed it as a pedestrian alley.
When we finally arrived, we stepped out of the car and took in the surroundings. The old stone house was surrounded by cherry, fig and walnut trees and the driveway was lined with rose bushes in full bloom. Michel and his wife showed us out to the circular stone patio at the back of their house for the aperitif. We snacked on olives and cashew nuts, sipping our drinks and admiring the scenery. There were no visible signs of neighbours, just a small forest, although Michel assured us that you could see the neighbours in winter when the trees have lost their leaves.
In the forest surrounding the back of their house, there is an abundance of wildlife and apparently they have problems with deer eating their plants. It was hunting season when we were there and the deer were hiding, so we didn't see any unfortunately.
After the aperitif we moved inside to the dining room which had large windows offering views of the forest on one side and views of the hills on the other. For lunch we ate pan-fried fois gras and diced potatoes with stewed apples and grapes, followed by Roquefort and Cantal cheese, which are all specialities of the region. For dessert we ate homemade fig tart with fresh figs from Michel's garden which he had picked that morning. Heavenly!
During lunch, Yves and I considered (albeit briefly) purchasing a farm out there. What a relaxing life that would be — we could work by telecomuting and never have to worry about traffic jams at 9am again.
After lunch we walked around the centre of Figeac. The village dates back to the middle ages and used to be fortified. There are lots of little streets (okay, all of the streets are tiny), and you can stroll through every street in the village within two hours, following the 'keys to the old city' signs. The town is alongside a river and was apparently quite important in the middle ages, although on the Sunday when we were there you could have fired a shotgun through the main street and not hit anyone. I'm guessing it would have been more lively if we'd have gotten there in time for the Sunday markets, although it's probably just as well for our bank account and our "diet" that we didn't.
Before heading back to Toulouse, we stopped at Le Hotel Pont D'Or for a drink on the terrace overlooking the river. It was the perfect end to a great day, sipping a kir in the late afternoon sunshine and gazing at the trees lining the river which were starting to turn gold and red for Autumn.