5 Things to do in SW France in 2018

flute de champagne
None for us this Jan. 😦

Meilleurs vœux pour l’an 2018 à tous mes lecteurs. I will still be writing 2017 on cheques until the end of February. Have you made New Year’s Resolutions? I find those lofty aspirations are all too easily broken. However, the SF and I are having a dry January, as we did last year. We feel better, sleep better, but Mon Dieu! is it miserable. So, to distract myself, I will tell you some of the top things I plan to do this year. Look out for them on the blog later on.

Even after 20 years here, there are places we haven’t seen. However, I always maintain that if you live in a place for long enough, daily life takes over and you are no longer the starry-eyed tourist you were on arrival. Still, imagine how dull life would be if you felt you had done it all.

Truffle Market at Lalbenque 

Limogne - truffles
‘Black diamonds’

This has been on the bucket list forever. I have visited the tiny truffle market at Limogne, but not the biggest one in the region, which is held at Lalbenque every Tuesday, December to mid-March.

The Black Diamond of Quercy has become even rarer in recent years, owing to a number of factors, including drought at critical times. This year may buck the trend, as it’s been wet but not very cold. The Boxing Day market saw a total of 144 kg of truffles sold, many of them destined for sought-after Parisian tables.

Cookery Course

Restaurant Les Sens

This brings me neatly to the next item. I would love to do a cookery course, but have never had the opportunity. The Restaurant Les Sens in Puylaroque, a few km south of Lalbenque runs cookery courses during and outside the truffle season. They used to run them at l’Oustal del Barry in Najac, but I think they have stopped. Something to look into further once the January régime is just a memory.  

Montpezat de Quercy tapestries

One of the tapestries © Mossot, Wikimedia Commons. I hope to take my own photos when we go.

People keep telling us we must visit the restored tapestries at Montpezat. This medieval village sits atop a hill between Caussade and Cahors. In the early 13th century, its inhabitants converted to Catharism. Presumably, this didn’t last long, since the large collégiale was built in the 14th century by a Cardinal closely linked to the Avignon Popes.

The church contains a set of Flemish tapestries commemorating the life of Saint-Martin. These have recently been restored to their former glory. It’s time we visited Montpezat again.


The préfecture of Aveyron is only a 90-minute drive away, but we have not visited properly for more than 20 years. It’s around 600 m above sea level and is swept by icy winds in winter, so this is one for more clement weather.

Belcastel dominated by its château
Belcastel, not far from Rodez. A place to revisit at the same time.

In medieval times, Rodez was divided between the Counts of Armagnac and the Bishops of Rodez, with a wall separating the two sectors. A Fool and His Money by Ann Wroe is a fascinating account of 14th-century Rodez, seen through the eyes of its inhabitants.

The 13th-century cathedral of Notre-Dame fell down at one point and had to be rebuilt, so it’s now quite a mish-mash of architectural styles. The bell-tower is the highest “flat” bell-tower (i.e. without a spire) in France. And I can’t wait to see the vulgar figures carved underneath the pews, as mentioned by Thirza Vallois in her book Aveyron: A Bridge to Arcadia.

There’s also the Musée Fenaille, an archaeological museum with a collection of menhirs and the Musée Soulages, dedicated to the abstract artist Pierre Soulages, who was born in Rodez.

Musee Zadkine in Les Arques

Caylus - Zadkine Christ 1
Zadkine’s Christ on the Cross

The Russian-born sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) lived in Caylus, our local village, for a while. He sculpted the extraordinary Christ on the Cross in the church from a single piece of wood. From Caylus, he and his wife moved to Les Arques in the Lot, where he continued his work, although he had to escape to the U.S. in 1940 for the duration of WWII, being of Jewish origins. Les Arques now has a museum dedicated to him.

Let’s see how much of this I actually achieve.

You might also like:

5 Curiosities in Caylus
5 Hidden Gems in SW France
5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. A list that pleases all the senses …. that is what a list should be! I used to make sure that the children’s stockings (please don’t tell them that Father Christmas didn’t do it himself … I’m sure they still believe 😉) had each of the fives senses represented. I imagine you will have the treat of a wonderful meal in Belcastel …. my daughter is still talking about ours and it was nearly 3 years ago. Enjoy making your way through these resolves. You will be an even more culturally rounded lady at the end of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely idea to represent the five senses in your children’s stockings. As writers, we are always told to use the five senses, although it’s easy to forget and just use sight and sound.

      Yes, I hope we will go back to Belcastel. Three out of four visits have been delightful. On one occasion, alas, they were having an off-day, it seems, when nothing was right.

      These items will gradually appear on the blog as, hopefully, I get through them. I hope I shall only be rounded culturally and not in other ways!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I shall do nothing but look forward to the posts as and when they appear. The stockings were re-visited the Christmas before last when we all spent it together in a little cottage in Oxfordshire. All grown up, they still appreciated though I fear they didn’t believe Father Christmas had delivered them in the night!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I brought the booklet about the tapestries last time we were together and forgot to give it to you. I’ll try again in March if we don’t see each other before.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many thanks, Vanessa, and the most lovely new year to you, including January and February, behind the kitchen piano or not. As I am banned out of truffles because of an allergy, I can certainly have champagne … being from Champagne ! I confirm that the Fenaille and Soulages museums are really worth the visit !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci. I remember you saying previously that you are allergic to truffles. I’d rather have the champagne, anyway. Truffles are very over-rated unless they are absolutely fresh.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An interesting list, two of which I’ve done. Years ago I went with our artist son on an arty tour of the lot and we included Les Arques. The crucifix in the church is stunning. Rodez we have visited twice for the photofolies exhibition in the autumn but I didn’t know about vulgar things under the pews! The church is a hulking monster in my view but must have been a good refuge during any seige of the town. Montpezat tapestries are new to me so will go on my list.:)
    Re truffles, we went to Martel many years ago and loved the theatrical nature of it all, the costumes and traditions of buying and selling. We went to sarlat for its russian marche de Noel in 2016 and caught the truffle market. It was heavily guarded by gendarmes and over in ten minutes. We were amused by the buyer who rushed across to the products of the terroire shop to weigh his purchases! I look forward to seeing you achieve any of your five, bon courage

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Christ in Caylus church is pretty impressive, but I understand the one at Les Arques is even bigger.

      Actually, I’ve just checked Thirza Vallois’ book and the vulgar carvings are under the misericordes, i.e. the tip-up seats in the choir. They depict people mooning, gurning and all sorts of other lewd activities. These I must see!

      The truffle trade is beset with sharp practice, apparently. An extra coating of mud or a piece of metal inserted in the truffle will, of course, add to its weight and thus its value. This may be why the buyer you saw was so keen to verify the weight of his purchases.


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