Walking in Tarn & Aveyron with Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier
Sherpa Expeditions travellers Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier share their experience on our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron holiday.
What is your travelling/walking history?
We love to both bike and hike and most of our travelling adventures involve one of these activities, plus some amount of time spent visiting museums or historical sites. We like to combine physical activities with learning experiences of other countries and cultures when we are on holiday and we have travelled in most of Asia, Africa, South America, Western and Eastern Europe. We have been on many wonderful Sherpa Expeditions trips before so we knew that the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip would be great.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
We decided to go on the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip because we have never been to that area of France with beautiful Medieval villages, fields, forests and farms, and we are very interested in the history of the region concerning the Cathars and the bastide villages. We also wanted to improve our speaking and understanding French. The descriptions of the villages and the accommodations really appealed to us, as did the variety of walks and terrain. Walking through very old villages with homes made of stone and shopping at the local ‘alimentation generale’ for our pain, fromage and saucisson for our picnic lunches was great fun and so delicious. We were definitely not disappointed and actually loved every minute of the trip.
How did you prepare for this trip?
In preparation for this trip, we increased our walking distance and made sure that we walked up and down hills as steep as we could find. We also made sure that we walked 7 miles at least once or twice a week. The most important thing was to make sure that our hiking shoes were in good shape and very comfortable. Socks are very important too, especially wool socks, as they keep feet dry and cushioned. Other than these things, we followed our usual walking and biking routines. We usually do not walk with a backpack, but for a couple of days we added weight to our backpacks and walked with them on to make sure they fit well and were comfortable.
Which was your favourite destination?
So many experiences and places stand out in our mind… I think all of the villages and areas of the Tarn were so amazing and interesting that we really don't have a favourite.
Where did you have the best food and drink on your trip?
Most of the food that we had was delicious and some meals were outstanding and quite different from our usual fare. The food in Vaour was all homemade and wonderful (bread baked in their own oven, duck confit, lasagne, boudin noir, pork rillette, apple tart) and the dinner in Bruniquel was outstanding. The owner prepared ‘loup de mer’ (Mediterranean seabass) in a mild curry sauce with shallots, oranges and cream. Delicious! We also had very interesting local wines with the home dinners.
What was the biggest surprise on your trip?
The biggest and most wonderful surprise was that instead of just serving us dinner at these two places (Vaour and Bruniquel) the family actually sat and ate with us. Of course they only spoke limited English – so we could practice our French! – but they were so helpful and we learned so much. Plus they were truly interesting people and we so enjoyed being with them and learning about them and their lives.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
This was quite a challenging trip for us because it was exactly one year ago that I had fractured my femur and broke my collarbone on a bicycle accident – but after a year of physical therapy, daily exercises and a regimen of walking to build up miles, we were very excited to take this trip! The first day of 13 miles was a challenge just because of the distance (I was still having some difficulty walking) and on two days we did shorten the distance by hiring a taxi with a very nice man who accommodated our schedule. There were rocks, stones and tree trunks to negotiate going from Bruniquel to Puycelci but it was a beautiful walk and I am glad that we walked the entire length. I do think the hikes are not difficult. On one day, we walked on a very small local road as the regular walk was too steep and muddy (it had rained the night before) but we were fortunate not to have any rainy days.
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about booking this trip?
I would also add that an extension to Albi for two days was really a great thing to do. Katia from Sherpa Expeditions helped us with the arrangements and her recommendation of the small 2-star hotel in the centre of Albi was just perfect. We also added a rest day in Puycelci, which was a wonderful village to wander around. We went inside the beautiful church across from our hotel, visited a local potter, walked around the fortifications and shopped in a local ‘epicerie-boulangerie’. I would definitely recommend this trip. It was truly exceptional and will always be remembered.