Some of the best village ramparts in France
What a change again. We woke to a lovely sunny day although quite windy. I seemed to have got fixated on the weather lately. I guess this whole trip was about trying to escape winter at home. Having never done this before we do not know what to expect and I think I now know why everyone else heads south much faster and does not hang around in France at this time of the year. It seems that the first autumn storm (Storm Amelie) has been declared and right now she is hammering the south west and may even reach as far inland as Puy-de-Dome where we are right now! It has been very windy today and when we set off this morning it was quite hard to keep Bertie pointing straight ahead and he was certainly leaning over in the bigger gusts.
We filled up with diesel at Lezoux this morning and I was really pleased to work out that our average mpg since our last fill up at Montmirail was 32mpg and previously it was 29.8mpg. This suggests that our change of tempo after Laon has had a significant effect on fuel consumption. We are certainly driving on larger roads at steady speeds for longer periods. Let’s hope we can sustain that improvement.
When we went to the museum yesterday they gave us details of several other attractions run by the Centre des Monuments Historique (sort of like Historic Scotland but for France). Last night we had a look at these and found that one of them was in the direction we planned to go so we programmed that in to Lucy (aka the satnav) and off we went. Lucy turned us off the main road as expected and then took us along very narrow and very steep roads up into the hills just west of the Allier valley. You need to be aware that this is a volcanic area and the hills here pop up with little rhyme or reason and all around us are these pointy steep hills often with a castle or other monument on the top and a little village clinging precariously to the slopes just below. To our delight Lucy took us up just such a hill. At first we thought the village and castle looking above us was our destination and we pulled on to the village square at the top of the hill to have a look around. This was the village of Chalus and it has a little castle right at the top and steep little village reaching up to it. It was quite a short walk up to the castle that was not open to the public as it is private house! So we walked back down again. Most of the house walls featured the black volcanic rock often full of bubbles like pumice stone.
Our destination was just a few miles further and through some rather tight streets that were only just big enough for Bertie. We arrived just after the castle had closed for lunch but that gave us time to cook and eat our own lunch and we were ready to go at 2pm when the castle reopened. Entry was free to our surprise. I had forgotten that all state run places like this have a free day on the first Sunday i.e. today!
Entry was by guided tour only and only in French. The guide was the lady from reception and she closed up the office in order to take us all on our tour at 2:30pm. There were at least 20 people in our group and I think we were the only non-french. We had a basic leaflet in English and between that and listening very carefully to guide we got the gist of most of it. Dating from the C16 century but modified in the C17 and C18 the castle was a transition between secure fortress and grand palace. It was built in fortress style but was really a smart house in a castle shape. Sadly we could not take photos indoors which was a real shame as the main rooms were elaborately painted and reminded us very much of places like Falkland Palace but on a grander scale. The family that built this place were important and influential at court and were closely connected with several French kings including Francoise 1 who stayed here. It is hard to believe that this tiny village so far from the beaten track was once the seat of such important folk.
From here it was quite a short drive to Brioude our final destination today. This town was strongly recommended in one of the travel sites I read and I had high hopes. So far I am not sure it is quite as good as I had hoped. The aire is just a large car park which also has a service point. That is OK but we have had much nicer ones. The old town is close by but was not looking its best on a gloomy Sunday evening. Finally the Tourist Office does not open until 2pm tomorrow so I am not sure we will have the two days here that I had planned. We will see how we feel in the morning. It is raining again this evening and the forecast for tomorrow is wet too.