Travelling in southwest France

unduhan-37Start at the spires of La Ville Rose (The Pink City). A profusion of pink marble and rosy bricks have given Toulouse an unforgettable skyline, and one of its standouts is the Romanesque Basilique St-Sernin.

The octagonal bell-tower of this 11th-century masterpiece became the blueprint for churches built in the surrounding Gers region. Step into the church and stroll around the ambulatory, beneath the watchful gaze of marble cherubs, before descending into the vaulted crypt. Numerous holy relics here cemented the basilica’s importance as a stop on the French Way of St James pilgrimage route.

Swing east along Rue du Périgord for a detour to Les Halles Victor Hugo. This food market brims with dried sausage, cheeses, and ripe-to-bursting tomatoes. The best produce is cooked up at restaurants on its upper level.

Belly full, head south out of the market along Rue du Rempart Villeneuve before walking west along Rue Lafayette. Soon enough you’ll spy Place du Capitole, home to Toulouse’s 18th-century city hall. Continue west and duck south down Rue Lakanal, which leads to the Couvent des Jacobins. This grand complex with peach-coloured cloisters is the heart of the region’s religious life, and celebrated its eighth centenary in 2015.

Sleep
Striking a balance between elegance, centrality and value, rooms at Hotel Albert 1er have crimson drapes, crisp white sheets, and lean-out-and-sigh balconies.

Day 2: step through history in Auch

Leave vibrant Toulouse in your rear-view mirror and drive west towards the placid town of Auch. It’s an easy 80km journey along the N124, passing meadows strewn with hay bales.

The town’s centrepiece is the Cathédrale Ste-Marie. This twin-towered masterpiece took two centuries to build, so its architectural flourishes range from Gothic to Renaissance. Most impressive is its choir. Saints and philosophers are carved in wood and a set of 18 stained-glass windows dating to the 15th century sparkle above. Reward your introspective visit to the cathedral by ambling north to Rue Dessoles, where you can enjoy inventive duck dishes and local cheese at La Table d’Oste.

Just southeast of the cathedral (follow Rue Laborde to Place Salinis) is the Escalier Monumental. A mighty 234 steps flow down this Baroque outdoor staircase, bypassing medieval to modern landmarks along the way. As you walk down, admire the Tour d’Armagnac, a former seat of power for the counts who held sway here in the 14th century. Also note a statue of semi-mythical musketeer D’Artagnan and contemporary sculpture by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa.

Sleep
Auch’s most glamorous place to stay is the Hôtel de France, a 300-year-old hotel mere moments from the cathedral, replete with stained glass windows and wrought-iron railings.

12th-century Abbaye de Flaran at the northern edge of Valence-sur-Baïse © Alain Lauga / Shutterstock

Day 3: steep yourself in medieval history near Valence-sur-Baïse

Take the northbound D390 from Auch for 33 tree-lined kilometres until you reach tiny Valence-sur-Baïse, with Abbaye de Flaran at its northern edge. Built in the 12th century, this stately Cistercian abbey has seen numerous attacks, suffering enormous damage during the bitter Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Now faithfully rebuilt, the cloisters of this sandstone sanctuary enclose a serene courtyard.

Next, drive north out of Valence-sur-Baïse along the D142 before joining the D278 towards Laressingle, France’s smallest fortified town. With its rectangular turrets, Laressingle looks almost like a castle in Lego. March over the stone bridge and through its single archway, and picture yourself firing arrows from the town walls. Alternatively, test your trebuchet skills at the Cité des Machines du Moyen Age, a gaming zone themed around medieval warfare.

Sleep
Barely 500m north of Laressingle, surrounded by acres of rose-draped gardens, Lacassagne has stylish rooms and lounges with fireplaces, within a country manor filled with antiques.

Day 4: see Gothic splendour in Condom

The prosaic origins of Condom’s name – a contraction of ‘Condatomagus’, a market town between two rivers – haven’t stopped visitors taking selfies with the road signs. But despite its name, this town of cobbled lanes and timeworn shopfronts will leave you impressed.

Its centrepiece is the Cathédrale St-Pierre, a flamboyant Gothic edifice with attached cloisters. One of the last buildings to be crafted in Gothic style in the Gers region, this 15th-century building boasts a 40m tower and glittering stained-glass windows. Within, bone-coloured arches and intricate tracery complete the effect.

Streets flowing from the cathedral square feature hôtels particuliers(stately townhouses) from the 18th century. They’re easy to spot by their decorative balustrades, ornamental windows and the occasional family crest carved in stone; find several privately-owned homes along main drag Avenue de Gaulle.

Not all the historic buildings are off-limits to visitors. On Rue Jules Ferry, behind the cathedral, stands the Musée de l’Armagnac, within a 17th-century former outbuilding of Condom’s Episcopal Palace. The museum is a temple to the region’s beloved brandy, which continues to be lovingly distilled from wine in oaken barrels at countless chateaux in the countryside. Armagnac tastings are offered at the museum, and you might want to pick up a bottle or three.

Sleep
Le Continental’s rooms are tastefully furnished in faux-vintage style, plus there’s a spa and sauna. Crucially, the restaurant serves excellent local fare, including duck flambéed in Armagnac brandy.

First timers for Edinburgh

A 12th-century fortress perched atop an extinct volcano with the elegant sprawl of Princes St Gardens in its shadow, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline and is Scotland’s most popular attraction. Inside you’ll find the Royal Apartments, the Stone of Destiny, prison vaults and a chapel that’s the oldest building in Edinburgh. Even if you don’t do the tour you’ll catch glimpses of this towering icon wherever you are in the city, and can hear it every day (except Sunday) when the one o’clock gun is fired in a tradition dating back to 1861.

The Royal Mile

Here is the Edinburgh of your imagination: cobbled streets, higgledy-piggledy houses, dark wynds, dank closes, and more shops selling the holy trinity of tartan, cashmere and whisky than you can possibly imagine (or need). There’s a medieval castle at one end, Europe’s oldest inhabited palace at the other, and countless historic buildings stuffed in between. ‘Daunder’ from top to bottom, dipping into closes and secret gardens, and eavesdropping on the ubiquitous guided tours.

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland’s Grand Gallery lives up to its name © Future Light / Getty Images

Fresh from an ambitious £47m development and the recent addition of ten new galleries, the National Museum of Scotland is cherished by locals as much as tourists. There are more than 20,000 artefacts, from medieval Lewis Chessmen to Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal to be created from an adult cell. For many the greatest draw remains the museum itself: an outstanding example of Victorian architecture, its Grand Gallery rising the full height of the building.

Eat out in Leith

A ten-minute bus ride from the city centre, Leith’s historic port has served Edinburgh for centuries. The area around the Shore has undergone a major renaissance and is now the stomping ground of hipsters and creatives, boasting river walks along the Water of Leith and some of the best food and drink in the city. Pick from two Michelin starred restaurants – The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart – or the latest addition to the fine dining scene, Nordic-inspired Norn (nornrestaurant.com). For more relaxed scran, go for seafood and Scottish classics at the Shore, curry at Vdeep (vdeep.co.uk), steak and cocktails at Chop House or craft ales at Nobles (noblesbarleith.co.uk).

Royal Yacht Britannia

While you’re berthed in Leith, head for Britannia, rated Scotland’s best visitor attraction for ten years running. Launched in 1953, this glamorous vessel was the Royal Family’s floating residence for 44 years, travelling over one million miles to become the most famous ship in the world. Explore all five decks, the royal apartments, crew’s quarters and engine room, finishing up in the Royal Deck Tea Room for scones.

 The New Town

The joke is that only in Edinburgh would a masterpiece of Georgian architecture constructed in the 18th century be referred to as ‘new’. The harmonious grid of neoclassical houses and communal private gardens has to be the world’s most elegant response to overcrowding. Walk the cobbled streets and admire the pillars, high ceilings and decorative friezes of the residences. Then go for a craft ale or whisky at the traditional Victorian Cumberland Bar or Kay’s (kaysbar.co.uk) and pretend you live there too.

Arthur’s Seat

Not many cities can boast a walk like this: an ancient volcano rising from the roughly hewn expanse of Holyrood Park with stupendous views across Edinburgh, Fife, and beyond. Described by Robert Louis Stevenson as ‘a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design’, it’s all just a moment’s walk from the Royal Mile, yet even on a warm day you are guaranteed a spot of your own.

Calton Hill

Edinburgh is a city of grand outlooks, and one of the best perspectives can be gained from the top of Calton Hill. It’s a short, steep climb to the summit, rewarding you with views down the length of Princes St, the Castle and Arthur’s Seat. It’s also home to a contemporary art gallery and a hotchpotch of historic monuments, the most iconic of which is an incomplete acropolis started in 1822 by famed Edinburgh architect William Playfair. When funds ran out only the facade was completed and today its giant steps have become the neoclassical playground of children and tourists.

Ice cream makers on travel

“I don’t recommend the onion,” wisecracks one of the assistants at Terre Adélice, as he gestures a silver scoop across two freezers worth of multi-coloured ice cream.

That’s because at this cult ice cream shop, burrowed among the wrought-iron balconies, ornate streetlamps and medieval cobblestones of Rue Saint-Jean, the onion parfum (perfume) really does taste like onion. Its kick is as pungent and tear provoking as any soil-covered organic bulb you can pick up from the local farmers’ market.

And in a city of a thousand restaurants, of starched white tablecloths and Michelin stars, and of hot bouchon (small bistro) lunches served among cold wood-panelled walls, it is gastronomic quality that counts. That’s why Terre Adélice’s ice creams have parfums instead of flavours: they don’t just rouse the taste buds, but awaken the senses too.

A spoonful of silky lavender parfum ice cream melts in the mouth, scattering a floral breeze of Provence’s famous purple fields across the tongue, as a cluster of backpack-carting tourists line up outside the petite double arches of Terre Adélice. Many stand spellbound in the sticky September afternoon sun, hypnotised by the vast menu propped up against the wall.

They ponder the delights of dill ice cream with salmon and leeks, and dare one another to try Szechuan pepper with salad or the strawberry soup. But just why does Terre Adélice sell so many strange flavours?

The art of ice cream making

The shop’s story begins with brothers Bertrand and Xavier Rousselle selling just a few scoops of sorbet in the heart of Ardèche back in 1996. After spending a year studying the technical aspects of ice cream production, they began to create their own using artisanal processes.

This meant waiting for fruit to ripen rather than cooking it, and sourcing produce locally from Ardèche and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Each batch of ice cream also included up to 70% of real fruit, far more than the 25% required by French lawmakers. It’s a fruit-squishing figure they continue to fulfill today.

Their reputation soon spread and their Lyon store, which opened in 2010, now stays open until 1am during the summer, transforming the ice cream outlet into something of a foodie pilgrimage site.

Melting people’s hearts

“During July and August, we serve between 5 and 7000 people a day, seven days a week,” says Guillaume Rousselle, son of founder Bertrand Rousselle and manager of Terre Adélice. “That includes ice cream converts, people that don’t generally buy it,” he adds.

A merry hubbub of smartly-dressed waitresses and smartphone flashes merge outside as hungry pilgrims enter the small shop and glance across the multi-coloured mosaic of creamy sorbets, each served in a single, white china spoon.

For those lucky enough to nab a seat, there’s a terrace outside, ring-fenced with ropes like a VIP area. It chimes with a cacophony of chatter and clinking cutlery as friends share ice cream selections and giggle over the results.

Each ice cream scoop is served in a single, white china spoon at Terre Adélice © Monica Suma / Lonely Planet

It’s a far cry from the business’ original blueprint. Initially, the objective was to offer a fine line of ice cream to boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries and stylish restaurants.

But an increase in demand from local chefs meant new parfums were soon being whisked up in the kitchen and everything from truffle and Roquefort to fennel and parsley was taste tested. The success led the Rousselle brothers to open their own store.

Now more than 100 establishments across France carry the coveted glacier brand, while 93 of Terre Adélice’s 150 flavours have been awarded an Agriculture Biologique (bio) certification.

That’s why you’ll find smoked bacon ice cream at elite Parisian restaurants, like the recently reopened Café de l’Homme, and strange, savoury flavours selling well at a number of gourmet golden boys in Lyon.

Outside in the autumnal sun, a brown-haired woman is straightening up her smartphone, attempting to capture the perfect, pre-melt photo of her chestnut ice cream. Despite the mad flavour concoctions and weirder scoops, Guillaume says that the smooth Madagascan vanilla and sweet caramel parfums remain the favourites among tourists. Still, like the assistant said, it’s best to leave the onion to the professionals.