It’s Anny who’s picked our route, and it’s designed to wind us up the hillside to the castle along chunks of country road, craggy uphill scrambles, dry-leaved woodland just thinking about exchanging green summer leaves for the ochre and russet tints of autumn, and the occasional tiny village – no more than a couple of streets encircling an ancient church.
Most of the time there are views upwards, towards the castle itself, or the cable-wagons serving the talc mines of nearby Luzenac, or across to the more distant mountains covered for the first time this season with bluish-white powdering of snow. Or down, past thickly forested almost vertical slopes to craggy rust-stained rocky outcrops with occasional hamlets and villages scattered through the countryside. Near villages and farms, we pass walnut trees, and feel obliged to gather the recently ripened and fallen nuts – this is France after all. We exchange recipe ideas.
Suddenly, we’re there. Lordat. In high season, the village must be a tourist trap, but now we’re happy to saunter along the sunny empty streets, with their pastel-painted cottages and tubs of geraniums. A final yomp and we’re at the castle walls. It’s ruined and closed to the public at the moment, but the views in all directions make the climb worthwhile.
A meandering trek through the woods, trying hard not to kick over the delicately-stemmed autumn crocus, brings us to our lunch spot in Axiat, sitting outside its Romanesque church. Mal and I are particularly taken by a notice on the door in French, English and Spanish. The English version reads: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen the visitors, we thank you for closing the door by going out’.
Afterwards, more craggy descents, sometimes through woods, at other times with more of those impressive views, along an ancient man-made winding path. And back to the village we started from. It’s a wonderful walk. If you come to stay, make us take you.