Paris 12e
Paris 6e
Bellegarde-en-Forez, a wee town on a hill
part of Bellegarde-en-Forez
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We left Saoû in such a rage that we foolishly allowed it to affect our mood — at least in the short term: I remember CS being grumpy with me when I didn't navigate properly, and neither activity was the norm for either of us! But I'm happy to report that it didn't take long before we realised that the drive up north along the N86, with the mighty Rhône visible on our right most of the time, was proving to be absolutely delightful: this amazed us both, for looking at it on the #240 Michelin map we had gained the impression that the route was largely industrial. Dunno why we thought so, now; but the fact that it was actually beautiful filled us with amazement and joy. I remember very clearly being astounded by the attractiveness of Tournon-sur-Rhône, and saying to CS that we must stay there, next time...

But oh my! — did we get lost that day, or what?! Perhaps I had been thrown by our unhappy departure (the stay at gîte ‘Le Passiou’ had been the only really bad experience we'd had in four trips through France), or perhaps I have no excuse at all: but the fact remains that for the first time ever we found ourselves in a town the name of which we were unsure of, and were unable to find any local signposts to confirm — or otherwise, it must be admitted — our guesswork! The problem had been using too large a map, and not having sufficient detail in it to comprehend at what point we'd left suburb X and moved into town Y (or whatever): we had not the faintest idea of direction. Quite alarming, it was... My poor French deserted me when I found myself in a newsagency trying to buy a local map but not knowing how to admit we had no idea where we were.

But before too much time had passed we found what we always did in that, our favourite country, a wonderfully kind person who wanted nothing but to help us: this lady, there to buy supplies, was able to soothe me so that some of my French returned, and between us we worked out (a) our location — St Chamond; you can see from the screen-grab of the map just how much detail we would've needed to be able to find our way around, for the D88 is nothing like as wide and as obvious as that Google map shows it to be! — and (b) the help needed, and she walked with us for a long way to show us exactly where we needed to go.

And we found our next stay (location map one and location map two) without too much driving around, even though its owners expected all renters to get lost, so indicated they'd be happy to meet at a more obvious point and guide us. There we were, in a lovely little rural area (having passed the local E.Leclerc on the way and already planning our first visit!) with a hill close by, and a gîte with a swimming pool! Madame was there to greet us, full of praise for our having found them, and in every way a very far cry from our previous landlords. Gîte ‘Le Petit Chenevier’ is simple, bright, open and utterly delightful, and has a bathroom on both floors. Monsieur et Madame Helfre proved as nice as their property, and we were more happy to be in this atmosphere of light and charm and ease than I could ever relate properly.

How well I shall always remember the instance of Monsieur's wanting to show us (well, show CS, to be honest) a special car in his garage, hidden under a tarp. He started to pull the tarp off very slowly, like a magician revealing a trick, but had got no further than revealing a rear tail-light when CS cried out in joy “But that's a TR3!” (at least I think that's what he said): the happiness on Monsieur's face was wonderful to see; he could scarcely believe that an antipodean has so much knowledge. He didn't know CS, that's all I can say about that!   :-)   He took him for a ride in it, and the photo gallery will show you the pair of them about to roar off. CS said it was pretty hairy, but that the motor noise was worth it: I think only car enthusiasts will grasp that!

I could not accept the unravelling of our lives that was happening and so did not realise this at the time, but CS was weakening: he spent a lot of time sitting in the bright, airy, spacious loungeroom, reading and/or listening to a local radio station that played stuff like Poulenc's Sonata for Piano and Flute — simply gorgeous. Our Swiss mate rode his monstrous Goldwing all the way from Lausanne to visit us there and we had a couple of meals with him in the sun. There were a few days when CS was stronger, the most memorable of these being a drive that took us to the beautiful St Priest la Roche and ended with our lunching at Pommiers: that was one of our best lunchtimes ever. I shall never forget it: the way we laughed and enjoyed ourselves during this delicious meal (simple green salad, roast goose with mashed potato and dessert for CS/cheese for me), and drove off into the sunshine after taking some photos of the beautiful abbey building that encapsulates Pommiers. It was like a kind of summing up of our life...

The nearby town of St Galmier is well worth a visit: ours there were made somewhat tricky by the fact that a large proportion of the roads around it had been taken up whilst some kind of civil works were going on: but we persevered, found ways around, and were glad we did. It was in St Galmier that I found the local goats' cheese “La Rigotte” (strangely enough, there is also a version of this that comes from cows' milk).

Our landlords made our week with them all the nicer: I can only urge anyone thinking of spending time in this part of France to make contact with them regarding the rental of their lovely little place. It is the very best of living in a gîte: that's how the Stringers found it, and you may enjoy seeing some more photos of it in the gallery that accompanies this page.