Wooden floored and paper-thin walled, every step in the noisy and expensive hotel at Le Veurdre could be heard as well as my neighbours partying last night. I admit, though, to my insomnia as the main problem. Fortunately, at least, the morning has begun fantastic, splendid, barely a few clouds on the horizon.
My indefatigable Rosaura of the winged feet carries me today along a road stretch that, between Montluçon and Aubusson, reminds me of my native Extremadura: a narrow and winding way, paved on that kind of hard-bearing asphalt that, despite being much beaten down, endures the pass of decades like a champion. For a better likeness with my homeland, this region is covered by a vegetation very much alike our pastures over there, except that these trees are not my dear quercus ilex, the holm oaks.
Aubusson, in the centric Aquitaine region, is a small town renowned (since the late middle ages) for its tapestry and carpets, though such industry declined much about one century ago, when the wallpaper started getting popular.
Just arrived, I park Rosaura at a circus called Espagne (‘Spain’ in French) alongside a bar and a pharmacy by the same name, that fills me with amazement. What?! A circus and two shops dedicated to Spain, despite the French age-old spite and contempt towards us? I’ll be damned. No matter how much I personally admire them, I can’t conceive a single corner here to my country’s honour. In order to clear it up, I step into the bar and question the tender, who hastens to explain that this place doesn’t have anything to do with Spain, but with a French general by that surname: Espagne; which falls into place a lot better.
When rambling all over the place – that at a first glance has impressed me positively – I discover one of the most lovely towns I’ve ever visited. Wonderfully preserved, all and every street has an impeccable eighteen-century look and there isn’t a single corner devoid of charm or some pleasant-looking sight. Such a fine taste for making a modern life fit into an old setting! Once again I take off my hat: France has made an art of preserving their rural patrimony.
By one of the bridges over La Creuse river, I sit at the sunny little terrace of Café des Artes for a kir, a popular aperitif mixing white wine with blackcurrant liquor. This people are very fond of aperitifs and there is choice of them, though my reasons for drinking kir are quite mundane, I confess: it’s easy to pronounce and is served everywhere.
Peeping over the bridge’s parapet I realize with curiosity that the river has that very same dark turf colour as the fluvial waters in Finland or Scotland. I suppose the land contains a lot of peat here as well.
The waiter and other two customers at the bar turn out to be – who would be surprised by now? – quite friendly and we soon engage in a pleasant chat about the trite theme: differences between our two countries. This time, though, when I set forth that appraisal of mine – which so much besets me when I tour France – about the Spaniards not being able, nor even wanting, to preserve the beauty of our towns and villages, I am delighted and comforted to find an echo in their voices. Indeed they think the same; a toast for our agreeance! More yet: it’s quite noteworthy – they say – that both France and Portugal take it very seriously to retain the look and authenticity of their places whereas the Spanish are unhealthily obsessed for tearing down and building up anew, as if modern things were more valuable per se. And I’ve said “am delighted” because, thus far, I thought I was the only person in this planet who noticed such details; I hadn’t found anyone else yet – not who thought like myself – but who even cared about this at all.
A few more kilometres on the road take me to Peyrat-le-Château. I’d have willed to make some more progress in order to sleep tomorrow close to the Spanish border, but upon double checking the distances I realise I’d need to slog away on the bike both this afternoon and tomorrow, thus not enjoying neither. Therfore, I call it a day here.
Among the several accommodation options, I choose L’hirondelle du Lac, chambres d’hôtes – and I hit it squarely. The owner, a very kind man of very soft mien, offers four rooms decorated with refined taste, all different (all vacant, today) and each more appealing than the next: lovely old furniture, towels and sheets matching the paint and the motives on walls and doors, every detail well taken care of. Two face the road (apparently very quiet) and two the lake, these having the best views -normal- but the others’ not being bad either: a pretty house in front, moss on the tiled roof, a bit of landscape… But I pick the lake side -slightly more expensive- to make sure I’ll get the most silence, also because the wifi signal is better and – extremely important – for the windows have shutters, so the sunrise won’t wake me up. To ice the kindness, the owner takes his car out of his private garage so I can park Rosaura in. A very appreciated courtesy.
All this region is of great beauty, and if Aubusson was amazing the more rural Peyrat-le-Château doesn’t lag behind: located by an idyllic lake, all houses made of stone, wood and tile, an ancient mill with rusty lock-gates in its channel, the ivy climbing up its walls, by a thicket of aged oaks, on a steep ravine where the brook hastens down in little cascades; the goats and sheep, romping and gracing about the green slopes, complete this romantic setting, remindful of a Christmas card or of a bucolic watercolour from the XIXth century…
As I still have a couple of hours before sunset, with Rosaura I drop by a lovely recreation area around lake La Maulde, only six kilometres away, for a ramble along any of the several hiking routes available. Inside the lake there is a small island of rare beauty called Vassivière, reachable on foot via an artificial isthmus. The afternoon is ending like the morning begun: fine, mild, the cumulus that grew at noon clearing away without rain, give way to a few photogenic cirrus and to a superb afternoon, ideal for enjoying the stroll among these astonishing landscapes. I’m not exaggerating if I say that Peyrat-le-Château seems to be, really, a piece of paradise.