The Extraordinary Ordinary

August is the cruelest month. Our new home in the south of France is as hot as the blazes, but vacation season is in full swing, making most escape destinations flat-out unattractive, even if they’re somewhat cooler. Our current status is full hunker-down mode in a nondescript Airbnb, waiting out the last few weeks before moving into our new and rather marvelous digs. While I was twiddling my thumbs, our friend Paula (who hates the heat even more than I do) came up with a get-away plan: Would we like to go to the Cantal region? All I knew about the Cantal could be summed up in 2 short sentences: It would be cool. There would be cheese. We said count us in.

There are all kinds of designations for towns and attractions in France: Most Beautiful Villages, 1-3 Michelin star rankings, Destinations Worth a Detour, Village of Flowers, Art and Culture Towns. We had a few of these plotted on our trajectory. But instead of following the map, we wound up rubbernecking towns and castles from the autoroute and taking the detour tour. Now, I’ve been to some Most Beautiful Villages that have left me wondering who that town slept with to get categorized as such? Not that they weren’t pretty, they just weren’t worth the effort. This time we struck gold. We hit a string of towns on our way to the Cantal region that are on no one’s official list; extraordinarily attractive towns just going about their day to day, thank you very much.

La Canourgue

The town is shot through with canals, with signs telling you the about the habitats of the fish living there.

This wading passage was to allow animal-drawn carts to pass the canal on the way to the mill, now it has obviously been repurposed for fun.

Just down the road is Saint Saturnin, quiet and lovely.

In Saint-Flour (a legit 2-star destination), we stumbled on an antique market where I bought my first obscure object of desire for the new place. That’s what we call those somethings for which you have no need, but that call to you from amongst the piles of indifference and insist on going home with you. This is an umbrella handle carved in bone.

After a month of relentless sunny weather in Montpellier, clouds were most welcome.

I voted this the ugliest cathedral in France. Paula disagreed, but had no uglier one to offer as an alternative. Presenting: the 15th century cinder block industrial tower cathedral of Saint-Flour. I rest my case.

It redeemed itself with this purgatory mural.

This rather plain looking pastry shop had the most extraordinary treats. We had a blueberry flan that all declared the best ever, as well as a traditional St. Flour tourte. I never miss a chance to have regional pastries and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

I love truth walls…

…and vestiges

But the best was yet to come. Stay tuned!