We arrive to stay with friends in Caplongue, a tiny village near the slightly larger village of Arvieu, both in the lovely Aveyron département of France, as the heat rises. It’s in the middle of farming country, not on the large scale we saw nearer Paris, but greener with tree lined fields and animals, especially the sheep whose milk is used to make the local Roquefort cheese.
Aveyron manages to avoid the 40º+ that Paris ‘enjoys’, but 37º in the shade is too hot to do much, even for the French let alone the Kiwi-Brits, who are finding the heat a little difficult to deal with. In Conques, a lovely (I know, they all are!) old town in the north of the region, the heat soaks into the stone of the roads, the houses, the cathedral, and reflects back at us.
It’s like walking in an oven and we are soon driven to the car and air conditioning. At the stunning Canyon de Bozouls, where a church teeters on the rock as the gorge winds around it, we settle for a quick look over the edge and a promise to return when the weather isn’t so hot.
We take to hiding from the worst of the heat behind the closed doors and shuttered windows of Sophie and Raphael’s lovely home, then venturing out for a swim in the local lake. It seems to be a common habit, the beach full of families even at 8pm, the water a refreshing cool on our bodies. It becomes a daily ritual, any other outdoor activity done early, including a quick trip into Rodez. One evening we try stand up paddleboarding for the first time, figuring the water, should we fall in, will be warmer than Wellington harbour – it’s more a kneel up version for the first half hour and challenging with a stiff breeze making it paddle-on-the-spot almost. Then we get the hang of it, me shrieking as small waves generated by boats and jetskis threaten to send me for an early swim.
Despite the curtailing of any sightseeing it’s a lovely end to our time in France and an evening swim in the lake is one thing I will miss. I’ll also miss the dinners that followed, sitting on the deck around the table eating the tastiest food, generally a small portion of meat (which suits me), a salad or some simply prepared veg, and bread. Being in France, this is of course is followed by cheese, a lot of cheese, and more bread. Then dessert.
I wonder if the reason the French are not all obese is because of their healthy attitude towards food, not worrying or stressing about how much fat or carbohydrates they are eating. It’s usual to use local, seasonal ingredients – simple seems to be the byword here, and that doesn’t lessen the taste one bit. Sophie claims her ability to make the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten, with tomatoes and a light dressing, is because of the quality and freshness of the vegetables. She may be modest, or she and Catherine may just be great cooks. Either way, we had some delicious meals at their tables.
We owe our friends a huge thanks: for hosting us, for feeding us, for providing local knowledge and help and, most of all, for speaking to us in English whilst we butchered their native language, which they had abandoned in favour of ours. We know how hard it is to have to constantly think in another language and we say merci beaucoup and, sadly, au revoir.