by Kathryn Schleich
Kathryn is a published author and volunteer in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also has a blog at www.kathrynschleich.com. Her crime-thriller novel, Salvation Station, will be out this spring from She Writes Press!
This past October, I visited Frayssinet, a small rural community located in Southwestern France. I’ve never done a trip such as this – organizers Nancy and Sue had the itinerary planned, the majority of meals (all fresh and homemade) were included, and accommodations were at a former convent built in the 17th century. All I had to do was pack.
After landing in Paris (where we sampled our first freshly made croissant at a bakery), we took a short flight to the city of Toullouse. From there 1 ½ to Frayssinet. Our hosts, Bill and Corrine, provide Painting Holidays, so our group made up of women I knew from my Pilates classes, were trying their hand at painting, most for the first time. As a writer who’s never held a paintbrush in my life, I was able to write, working on my current novel, while experimenting with actual painting.
Frayssinet is located in the Midi-Pyrénées region, known for its walnut trees. One treat available at every market is chocolate covered walnuts. Several larger communities were within easy driving distance. Just a few of the highlights:
One of our first stops was the town of Cahors to view and walk the Pont Valentre Bridge which dates from the 11th century. This magnificent arched structure with three machicolated towers, is considered the finest medieval fortified bridge in France.
In Sarlat-la-Canéda, we visited one of many magnificent Catholic Churches. This church boasts a fully-functioning pipe organ, also from the 11th century. In one of our group’s few meals out, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a local restaurant. Sarlat-la-Canéda is also notable being a city lit up at night, another French city of lights.
Visiting Souillac, we toured another breathtaking church, and shopped at one of three open-air markets. On market days, the Le Vieux Couvent kitchen let us know of food items they needed. Someone in our group might purchase bread, another person would buy fruits and vegetables, and another cheese. I have never taken so many photos of food! French residents come to the market to buy fresh meats, produce, bakery goods, cheese, wine, and more. We simply do not eat this well in the United States!
We stopped at a bed and breakfast in Creysse for lunch one sunny afternoon, dining outdoors. The stone building houses a completely renovated B&B, surrounded by manicured grounds of flowers, ponds, and trees. For lunch the menu included fresh bread, wine, and the most gorgeous Niçoise salad I’ve ever seen (very tasty too!).
On our last full day, we toured Rocamadour, a vertical city built on the side of a cliff. Rocamadour is also a Catholic pilgrimage site ending at the stunning Basilique St-Sauveur which displays one of only 500 Black Madonna’s worldwide. Nancy and Sue related seeing people crawling on their knees up the 216 stone steps to the church on past visits.
During World War II, Frayssinet was occupied by the Germans. To never forget, the bells of the local Catholic Church (across the street from Le Vieux Couvent) ring every hour as a reminder of freedom.
I was fortunate to spend 11 days in this French paradise. It was a truly authentic experience – we did our own laundry hanging it to dry in the breeze, shared community spaces, and kept our rooms presentable. The weather in October generally was in the 60s during the day, cooling down in the evening to the 40s, with rain two days. There are hotels in the surrounding area if Frayssinet isn’t your style; but if you’re interested in exploring rural France, I definitely recommend touring the region.