We didn’t intend to visit this area other than simply driving through. Our 10 or so days at Sarran, near Égletons – although far from planned – has passed in a most pleasurable and laid back way, tempered by a few anxieties when delivery of the ordered van parts was delayed by the bank holiday. The beautiful gentle hills, forests and farmlands of this department of the Limousin region have really grown on us. Lush green fields decorated by brown Limousin cattle, pretty grey stone villages, quiet sleepy places in scorching weather and John and Steve, our hosts and rescuers who’ve made us so welcome and at home here.
So what have we done? We’ve caught up with a huge pile of laundry and other chores, helped drink lots of beer and wine, and cooked and eaten some fine meals, as well as enjoying constant access to the internet. We’ve also visited some local beauty spots.
Gimel Les Cascades is a pretty village above a steep valley, which, as its name suggests, has created a magnificent series of waterfalls, the tallest one at 60 metres. You climb down the wooded valley on precarious paths and it is very impressive.
The village itself is very pretty and has narrowly escaped being too touristy. There is a newly opened craft shop – “Au fil des création” – selling pieces by local artists and run by a very enthusiastic funky young woman – we offered encouragement by buying (some of?) my birthday presents there. Lunch was a cepes tortou (local word for galette or savoury crêpe made with black sarrasin flour), followed by a myrtilles crêpe and washed down with Correze cider.
After lunch we visited Château de Sedières, a delightful place on a more human scale than some, and hosting an enjoyable exhibition of portraits on tour from the Louvre with insights on the history of portrait painting.
We’ve visited the busy Sunday market in Égletons and eaten giant buttery croissants from the local boulangerie, and had a stroll around the nearby small town of Correze itself – with its pretty church and 16th century houses clustered above the Correze river. Above Sarran sits the hill – Puy de Sarran – with its calvary of three crosses. As it was so hot we cheated and drove most of the way to the top. The views were splendid in all directions.
Sarran boasts the new Jacques Chirac Museum. JC is from this area and lives at a secret chateau near here. The smart purpose-built museum on land bought from the village, displays the gifts he amassed as head of state – items from all over the world. It’s a motley but fascinating collection. Introduced by an incredibly enthusiastic chap, the main floor shows just some of the best of the collection from original antique Japanese prints to huge Moroccan urns, via hand crafted artifacts from French Polynesia, a beaded chair with JC’s name and some funny plastic sumo wrestlers. Memorial medals from summit meetings, carved leather cowboy boots from Bill Clinton and gaudy golden palm trees from Saudi Arabia with mother of pearl nativity scene given by Yasser Arafat’s wife.
Downstairs is the Aladdin’s cave – a huge basement darkly lit with miles of glass cases filled with more of the gifts. A huge wrapped Dodo, carpets galore, No.10 stationery case and John Major’s autobiography (signed). Lots of models, busts and caricatures of JC himself. There was a temporary exhibition of Chinese metal artifacts not connected to the gifts, which was mediocre compared to the gifts collection. We would never have visited if we weren’t trying to kill time – but this turned out to be time well spent.
Giselle’s cafe and shop is an institution in the centre of Sarran. Step back fifty years or more as you walk up the steps of one of the prettiest stone houses in the village. The room to your left is the shop, to the right is Giselle’s living room with giant TV screen. The back room is the cafe/bar where you can stop a while and take an unhurried aperitif or two – perhaps of Salers, the local gentian drink – brown vinyl floors, simple bar and walls with old photos and new posters. Life slows right down and you are greeted warmly by Giselle, still going strong at around 80 years old. It’s open if she’s there and as she doesn’t go far, it almost always is.
And so, by the end of the week our van parts finally appeared, and the tires came in to LEHM, the tire fitters in Égletons so Adrian and I set to on severing arms and legs to pay for tires, fitting, balancing, tracking, environmental disposal of the old ones (ok that part was only 84 cents), and VAT. We fitted new brake pads and a new speedo cable (the old one has only worked intermittently since Portugal) in the heat of the afternoon sun.
On Saturday morning, Steve and Adrian took the van to Franck’s farm near Tulle to use the wonderful facility of a variable height pit and full range of tools. With an audience of cows in the lower part of the barn, and a helpful kitten, Steve fixed three new CV joints out of the four on the two driveshafts. The fourth one was new, we had been told by the vendor of the van, but it turned out only the outer gaiter was new and the CV joint was not. We did some swapping around and one of the other joints was used for this one instead. The joint we had replaced by the garage in Salbris was the wrong one – and the fitter had also butchered many of the bolts when he fitted it. Steve has become an expert in fixing these joints as this seems to be the reason for many a T25 breakdown.
Meanwhile Adrian changed oil and filter, and did a few other odds & sods – the gearbox oil change will have to wait a while, as poor access meant that without butchering tools we just couldn’t get enough welly on the drain or fill plug – which don’t appear to have been touched for years. By the end of the day we had a van running properly again and all went out for a celebratory Turkish meal in Égletons to thank Steve and John for our rescue, their hospitality and huge amounts of help with the van they’ve given us.
And now it’s all about doing the last few bits of laundry and van fettling and then we’re ready to pack up the van again. It seems ages since we’ve been on the move and we can’t wait to get going to find wherever the road goes next.