Well, I’ve been utterly enchanted by this medieval village… despite the fact that I never saw one monk. Last night saw a simple dinner of sausage, salad and aligot (basically the best mashed potatoes with cheese you will ever eat) at the Hotel Saint Foy in the center village. It was a warm, balmy evening, begging for a chilled rose and a large bottle of bubbly water. We had a selection from Marcillac, which again had a remarkable resemblance to Cabernet Franc– lifted herbal aromatics, tomato leaf and fresh raspberries. It was an ideal duo with spread.
We wandered over to the cathedral to listen to an organist. As we drew near, I swore ‘House of the Rising Sun’ was seeping through the stone walls. Jonathan was quick to roll his eyes with amusement at my excitement, doubting I was correct. Upon entering the grand establishment, there was no doubt these Middle Age pipes were paying homage to the Animals. Disconcerting as it was, I couldn’t help but exact some small pleasure from this paradox. I could have stayed to listen all evening (I love me some organ), but our travel partner was rather creeped out by cathedrals. I didn’t ask too many questions… Alas, we headed down the hill.
The evening dwindled down by the river, listening to the frogs poke at one another–ebbing and flowing, vying with volume as they competed to see who could out-ribbit one another every few minutes or so.
In the morning, I ventured back up the hill to further explore the village of Conques. Though I am only here a couple days, I think I have a few good tips for those planning a trip down the road. And if you decided to backpack this area, there are so many who travel though on the pilgrim route. It is well mapped out and a fantastic way to see southwest france. More details here: http://www.mostlywalking.com/FrancePage/LongWalks/Pelerin_website/index.html.
Mind the suggestions that follow if you want to get the most out of two or three days in this town.
Where to Stay:
Moulin de Cambelong: If you are looking to stay just a ten minute walk outside the town, where you can hear the sounds of river frogs at night, this might be for you. I very much enjoyed it–quirks and all. Still, there were moments a night in the centre ville was appealing, especially if you want to do the night tours of the cathedral and listen to the organ.
Hotel Saint Foy: A really nice, simple, historic hotel in the very center of it all.
Gites: There are several! This one looked especially appealing, run by Alice & Charles, for a mere 60-70 euro per night.
Where to Eat:
Herve Busset: This Michelin-rated restaurant at the Moulin de Cambelong is an unexpected treat. Their creative interpretations of Southwest cuisine manages to perfectly balance tradition with innovation. Some of the best bites I have had all year. And the wine list is quite extensive– not only of this area but all of France (though I highly recommend you take advantage to discover this area’s gems). Pricey but worth it.
Hotel Saint Foy Brasserie: At the hotel, this terraced, casual brasserie is the perfect place to enjoy a warm summer evening in Conques. Food is simple, fresh and reflective of local taste. Don’t miss the small crocks of Aligot (mashed potatoes and Cantal cheese) and a refreshing bottle of something a few miles up the road. The foie is unsurprisingly delicious. Not too expensive here either!
Auberge du Peyral: Hankering massive fresh salads atop a village with sensational panoramic views of the Valle du Lot? Drive just 15k away from Conques and come to find a gorgeous terraced local restaurant that gives you the option of just about anything you could possibly desire atop a bed of fresh picked greens. Delicious pommes frites aren’t a bad side either.
What to do?
Sport: If you are adventurous and are here on a hot summer day like today (100 degrees), we wished we had thought to canoe/kayak down the river. More details can be found at: http://www.asvolt.com/en/.
This is where some of the world’s best hiking exists. If you are not up for a multi-day trek as the Pilgrim’s did it, don’t fret. There are remarkable day trips within 25 minutes from here. A few sites to consider:
Art: Of course, if you are into architecture, you can’t help but admire the well preserved Romanesque structures of this time, not to mention the phenomenal, unique stained glass art that make up 104 of the pieces that pepper the abbey in town. There is even a little shop where you can purchase fantastic pieces from this artist.
There are also several small handcrafted artisan shops throughout this small village–perhaps more of these than an other kind.
As for your own art, numerous photographers, sketchers, writers and painters have been drawn to this region. The light, history and character of this region inspires the imaginations of those who seek to capture its effect on the senses.
Shop: This is truly a place where you purchase handmade goods and small souvenirs. If you aren’t up for a day trip to Laguiole (about an hour away), you can purchase some of these classic knives here.
Wine: Here, you are surrounded by some of the oldest vineyards in the world, arguably thanks to monks from Burgundy who came down this way over 1000 years ago. Take a day to explore areas like Gaillac, Marcillac, Buzet… Even Cahors and Fronton if you’ve time. A really great guide with terrific winery suggestions can be foun dhere: http://www.guildsomm.com/TC/stay_current/features/b/charles_neal/archive/2014/11/21/where-the-ocean-meets-the-sea-wines-of-fronton-gaillac-marcillac-and-cahors.
Bonne Journee! I swear, next time a selfie with a monk will happen. Maybe we will even be drinking Chartreuse (#bucketlist).