Out on the terraces a thousand thermometers boil, cicadas scream from the trees and the oleanders have shaken off their reticence and burst into a riot of bloom. It’s high summer and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of windsurfing. This can be a fortunate circumstance for me, because the resident man’s favourite puddle for this sort of daredevil activity is the huge lake caused by the confluence of the rivers Tarn and Garonne. It’s just south of the historic city of Moissac, and that happens to be a very convenient spot for me to meet a friend from the Gers, it was time for a highly indulgent lunch. This is one of the perks of the laid-back lifestyle in southern France. When the going gets hot, drop everything and cool off, which is just what we did, in our varying ways, last Thursday.
The drive from the river Lot to the Garonne is a delightful, undulating route, which largely follows the ancient pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostella. It passes at the feet of the medieval hilltop villages of Montcuq and Lauzerte and snakes through vineyards, cornfields and cherry orchards. It marches on past long lines of stately plane trees, reputed to have been planted by Napoleon to shade his advancing armies, and now providing welcome relief to the numerous walkers who still attempt this famous hike. Every now and then monastic shelters are sign-posted and elaborate drinking fountains appear beside more modern edifices. The route goes right through Moissac, allowing pilgrims to visit the renowned Église Abbatiale de St Pierre and its peaceful cloisters, cross the river Tarn and then go on to cross the mighty Garonne at St Nicholas de la Grave.
Legend bestows the foundation of the abbey on Clovis, first Christian King of the Franks. He was busy throwing his javelin around and beating off the Visigoths round here in 506AD. But actually, and less romantically, it was more likely to have been that vigorous little bishop, St Didier of Cahors, more than a hundred and thirty years later. He’s an old friend of mine – figuratively not literally, I’m not that old – since he was responsible for much of the architectural heritage in Cahors and the surrounding district. Abbeys and convents were his speciality.
We passed several over-heated modern pilgrims on the road, no doubt looking forward to the cool and quiet of this blessed halt. The abbey was my destination too, or rather a particularly lovely little auberge that lies enticingly close to it. I rounded the magnificent porch on the southern side and walked up into the shady little place to the west of the cloisters. Tables, spread with white cloths and laid for lunch, spilled out onto the cobbles. Diners lounged in the shade of a spreading magnolia, and sipped iced rosé. My friend folded her newspaper and we gave ourselves up to the pleasures of the menu. I began with an elegantly presented warm goat’s cheese salad, laced with local honey. We ate a little, sipped our wine, chatted a little and watched the antics of tourists. A delectable aroma heralded the arrival of a pavé d’agneau, perched artistically on a little potato rosti and flanked with a delicate trio of steamed vegetables. I don’t normally eat a dessert, but it was part of the menu and I was hot. I ordered a mandarin and raspberry sorbet, one scoop of each, and it was simply outstanding. This was just an ordinary €12.95 menu du jour. How ever do they do it? I pondered for the millionth time. Coffees arrived at a leisurely pace, and we wondered idly whether the man of the hour had finished his adrenaline spiked lunch-break and would be cruising the car park looking for me. ‘Plus de café Mesdames?’ The waitress enquired. But sadly I knew that two hours was probably enough, and I needed to be on my way. We thanked her for a delicious lunch and made tentative plans for another.
Meanwhile I’m watching the wind forecasts carefully.

© Amanda Lawrence 2009

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A Delightful Lunch in Moissac from French Vie

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