Cesar, our guide, does not like driving on the national highways (the European equivalent of American Interstates). “They’re boring, because there’s nothing to see,” he says, and he’s right. So most of the time we make our way from site to site (and sight to sight) along the byways of northern Spain and southern France. Today, as we drove the winding side roads to Cahors, I realized how much I’ve been appreciating the view out my window.
A dry depiction of the countryside in southern France would be: fields, rivers, hills, and trees (though not necessarily in that order). But this misses the detail and beauty of the landscape that we’ve been rolling through these past few days.
The farmer’s fields are small and neat, often separated by low fences of stone or narrow, rambling rivers. It’s spring, so I can’t tell what’s growing in the fields unless the ‘produce’ happens to take the obvious form of cows or the occasional sheep, goat, or pig. I sometimes spot a decrepit stone shed or rusting farm implement littering a field. Every now and then a farmer’s house — also made completely of stone and at times boasting a turret — pops into view. (I wonder if these turreted homes were once fortified houses.)
The fields blend, one into another, as a small rise fades into a small dip. Larger hills lurk in the background, often engulfed by deciduous trees. In places these trees have advanced to the edge of the road, their branches reaching out as if attempting to impede the bus. Suddenly we slow and creep through a tiny village, where the “main street” or the local bridge is often barely wider than our bus. Then we pick up speed and keep on rolling through these green, rolling fields.
Our total driving distance since arriving in Bordeaux a few days ago has been short — less than 250 kilometers/150 miles excluding side trips. Yet my view out our bus window has certainly changed. Bordeaux (in the southeast near the Atlantic Ocean) is wine country — the fields are relatively flat and their contents obvious. Hills emerged as we drove east into what was an ice-age refuge for Cro-Magnon man, and sharply rising rock faces, dotted with cave openings, interrupt the landscape. Those bluffs gave way to rolling hills as we approached Cahors in south-central France. I suspect the countryside will change once again when we head southwest toward our final destination, Barcelona.
Written by: Paul Deans – TQ Editor