After leaving Lyon we headed into the countryside to find another vineyard as wine stocks were getting low. We travelled back into the Loire, but instead of staying by the river, we headed into the hills close to a small medieval town called Ambierle. The farmer had 3.5 hectares of vine (2.5 red and 1 between white and rose), in addition to rearing about 60 pigs a year. They produced three different types of red and we opted for the slightly fuller bodied at 6 euros a bottle called ‘Côte Roannaise – Cuvée Tradion 2012’ I am not sure if it is available in the UK, but it definitely got my stamp of approval. Unfortunately the farmer was preparing the pig the following day so we weren’t able to purchase any charcuterie but he did point us in the direction of a local flour mill which he uses to make bread.
After a quick stroll up the side of the vineyard (and a slide back down again…) to see the pigs we set off to have a look at Ambierle which is perched on top of a hill with a huge priory and a church with a beautiful multi-coloured tiled roof. The farmer had mentioned that there was a ’Maison du Pais’ which sold the flour, but they only had a 1kg bag of the cereal flour, so map in hand we set out to find the mill (and the flour) which was just off of our route to Vichy down a very windy road.
We stopped for lunch in Vichy which is an elegant spa town with beautiful buildings and lots of green spaces on the side of the river before heading through Clermont Ferrand (The home to Michelin Tyres) and up into the hills to our campsite (Indigo Royat 16 euros inclusive) looking over Royat (spa town) and Clermont Ferrand (very industrial).
Wanting to get away from the industrial noise we headed back into the countryside on a slight detour to a tiny little village called Fridefront which is right at the bottom of Cantal (part of Massif Central)… although if you have looked at the map of our travels so far it is fairly normal for us to zigzag a little so possibly it was planned …. The area is miles and miles of rolling hills with an enormous lake stretching out across it – ideal walking.
We selected ‘Ferme des deaux vallees’ to try out some local cooking and weren’t disappointed. We went on a short walk when we arrived to help build up an appetite and played some cards whilst taking in the sunset.
Dinner was served for 15 of us around a long table and included a spinach, chestnut and wild mushroom sponge for the entrée, Roast Beef (as rare as it could be and delicious with it) served with a local speciality which is a puree of mash potato and cheese ….. so stringy she had to cut it with scissors when she served it, a large plate of cheese all finished off with a large slice of either pear or plum tart – delicious!
We woke to the sound of cockerels and cow bells and a view that demonstrated how high we were and why it was so cold 🙂
After a lovely walk through the forest and down to a reservoir we set off on our trek through the mountains towards Sarlat, taking in some beautiful scenery including a lunch stop in one of Frances’ most beautiful villages called Estaing for lunch.
We finally stopped for the night at another farm for the night en route in a place called Saint Sulpice. This farm had a mixture of goats, pigs, horses, chickens and ducks amongst other things and we stocked up on the local speciality ‘Rocamadur’ which is a part dry goats cheese – Delicious !
Beautiful area – and did you try Cantal cheese while there? I remember visiting a family who had a cellar full of it maturing, back in my teens.
It is stunning. We had some Cantal cheese at dinner in the mountains after having eaten the local ‘stringy cheesy mash’ 🙂 – It was nice, but we both like strong hard cheeses and it is still milder than a good cheddar!