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Visit to Viala-du-Tarn and Saint-Affrique

Is there anything more fun than climbing into the car early on Saturday morning with a full day of exploring the French countryside to look forward to? Even more, lunch in a medieval village?

Expresso, Attenderella, and I headed out to the Aveyron region with two goals in mind. First, we wanted to check out the area for a possible second home. We weren’t sure what we were looking for other than acreage where we could periodically escape the summer heat. If there was a livable house on the land, so much the better.

We also wanted to have lunch with Attenderella’s colleague and his wife in Viala-du-Tarn, where we could see their ongoing efforts to restore a home in a medieval village.

We met in the marketplace in Saint-Affrique shortly before noon. Surely, I thought, everyone and their brother must be in town either to set up a table as a merchant or to shop as a consumer. Produce, cheese, meats, bread, various kinds of honey, and wares of all kinds were spread out on either side of the main street leading to the commune’s picturesque bridge.

A classic French commune

I found a sculpture made of spare metal parts. If I squinted my eyes, I could imagine it was a depiction of me on a bad hair day.

Who thinks up art like this?

In addition to fresh melon, tomatoes, meat, and other locally grown items, Attenderella purchased two large cartons of aligot, a potato-based dish that I have fallen madly in love with since coming to France. Besides mashed potatoes, the recipe calls for butter, cream, and either Comté or Gruyère cheese. The dish is thick and stringy, and it probably has a thousand calories per serving! And like arguments over the best recipe for cassoulet, disagreements among connoisseurs of aligot never get resolved.

Aligot—so good!

During our meandering shopping excursion, a local band started playing with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than musicianship. From what I gleaned, village-based groups have competitions—which translates into a lot of fun for everyone.

The music was infectious

We had little trouble finding Attenderella’s friend’s home near a bell tower that rang on the hour and half-hour. After the couple shared their progress on renovation, they explained that many neighbors from various countries were engaged in a similar task of restoring medieval homes.

One American had restored the tower using artisans to make sure the restoration was authentic. But Belgians, English, Swiss, and other foreigners were also settling in the village, albeit in second homes for most.

Lunch began with several finger foods, one of which was new to me. It was thin, one-inch squares of a fried mixture of sausage, bread, and seasonings. It tasted like bacon. I had to resist eating too much, knowing more courses were coming.

The next courses included pork ribs and pork sausages, two versions of aligot, and a tomato-based salad, all accompanied by locally baked bread. We declined a dessert of fresh melon—we were too full—although I did enjoy a cup of expresso with a lump of sugar.

Lunch with friends in Viala-du-Tarn

While living in the United States, I never drank coffee after breakfast. But here, the French practice of indulging in an expresso after lunch is one I’ve come to enjoy. After a big noon meal with wine, caffeine is essential. Otherwise, I think I’d fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon.
After hour three-hour lunch, we drove to beautiful Pont-de-Salars lake and took a leisurely walk along the lake’s edge. Then we reluctantly headed home.
My expectations for the day’s journey were bright and happy. Even so, they were far exceeded by the lovely landscape, villages, lake and congenial lunch.
Now, on to the next adventure!