Tour: I am out the door at 0900. We all manage to get underway on foot, even the Belgian with the sore knee. There is a steep climb up out of Senergues to the ridge top, then along the road shoulder and undulating between pastures, with nice views on either side: a very pleasant walk. I make the morning stop at 1100 at Saint Marcel. The descent to the edge of Conques was steep and a bit stoney, but not as bad as Rochgude several days ago. However, the descent within the town was stunning (and unexpected): 1500 ft from top of town to bottom. And my lodging is at the bottom, of course. It is an old, dingey guest house but nicely situated by the river and the old bridge. I decided an afternoon of enforced rest (and laundry of course) was in order. This town feels a bit like Gatlinburg – touristy in the middle of peace and quiet. Guess it’s been like that for 1200 years.
Lodging: Auberge du Pont Romain
Cuisine: Madame offered honey at breakfast, along with the usual assortment of preserves. With all the fruit trees needing pollination, the honey is a serendipitous by-product. Just at the top of Conques is a tiny (2 m by 2 m) grocery, the only one in town and closing for the season this week. I stopped for lunch at a well-advertised terrace restaurant, Le Charlemagne, and had my first bad meal in France. The “andouilette” was a grilled sausage-like affair, assembled from tripe. Imagine boiled rubber bands in a sausage casing: absolutely inedible. The frites and cidre were ok though. I thought my lodging was demi-pension, but Madame thought otherwise when I came down to dinner. So I had to hike back up the hill to the center of town. The first eatery I found was a 3-star hotel-restaurant, Hostellerie de l’Abbye. I was seated solo on a garden overlook, and well-served by a grandmere in her late 70’s (the chef’s mother perhaps), and with her fractured English and my fractured French we had an enjoyable evening. The French are good at letting you know you are doing the wrong thing, even if they’re less clear to indicate what the right thing might be. I was not ordering an appropriate wine, so I let her recommend one (half-bottle selections are always more limited). First course was a huge bed of red oakleaf lettuce vinagrette with thinly sliced cured duck breast and sweet onions. It was a meal in itself and I could have stopped right there. The main course was a piping hot plate of tripou, which looked like chicken breast portions, but was tripe, along with au jus and boiled potatoes. Very tasty! (I followed my when-in-Japan strategy: eat first and ask questions later). Dessert was Tart Tatin, served piping hot, crisp and juicy, with whipped cream on the side. This set me back 50 euros all told but it was a memorable meal!