Whether you are a tourist on holiday in Southern France or embarking on a walking journey via the Way of St. James, you will return home having had a spiritual experience -- not necessarily in the religious sense, but in the "joie de vive" way of life.
From fine art to fabulous food, wine and architecture, the French have created a lifestyle that begs to be indulged.
The LaGrand family, formerly of Lafayette, lived near Toulouse, France from 1999 into 2000 for a work opportunity.
"One of the biggest differences between Lafayette and France was Sundays," remembers Kathleen LaGrand. Our local store was not open on Sundays, as most people go to church and then have family meals. On many occasions we had Sunday dinners with friends followed by walking along the Garonne River. It allowed us to slow down and think about what was important."
This was my first time visiting the Midi-Pyrenees region. After a direct overnight from SFO to Paris, I hopped a flight to Toulouse and left the rain for sunshine and foie gras. Toulouse is a bustling university city. When in Toulouse, visit St. Sernin Bascillica, a stop for pilgrims on the way of St. James.
Located on the Point View River, the Palace de la Berbie was built in the 10th century. Visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, home to the artist's famous Cancan Moulin Rouge posters and a formal garden. Have
Officially listed on "The most Beautiful Villages of France," Conques abbey church captured my heart and camera lens with its picturesque setting and Pierre Sovlages' stained glass windows. Sleep in a former windmill at Domaine de Cambelong and dine by the river Dourdou at Restaurant Herve Busset.
Other French locales
For an authentic French country experience, stay at Le Terrasse in Meyronne and canoe down the River La Dordogne. Continue onto Rocamadour to explore this village perched on cliffs. Drive to Cahors and discover a city bordered by the 14th century Valente bridge over the Lot River. Stay in a former caste at Chateua de Mercues with a California winemaker connection in Sonoma's Paul Hobbs.
Then stop for lunch at Le Florentine in the charming town of Moissac and feast on forbidden-in-California foie gras, as well as Iberica ham, local greens and macaroons. Here you may visit the oldest cloister in the world. With 8,000 inhabitants, there are more ducks than people in Condom, France. This land of musketeers is known for its Armagnac.
Moving cattle in Colorado
Contrary to what you see in the media, all of Colorado is not in flames. I recently connected with my inner cowgirl at the High Lonesome Ranch outside Grand Junction. This family-friendly dude ranch, located on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies, is ideal for multiple generations as well as reluctant wranglers.
Those looking to bond with their horses will have the opportunity during this five-day luxury boot camp. You'll go geocaching on horseback, do wild Mustang sightseeing, take a wagon ride and roast marshmallows around the campfire. My favorite experience at the ranch, besides not having to cook for an entire week, was the cattle drive. The horses are so well trained that I was simply along for the scenic trail ride.
The ranch is Orvis-endorsed for fly-fishing and wing shooting, and will arrange white-water rafting or golf for the nonequestrians in the group. My insider tip: Schedule an in-house massage treatment toward the end of your week.
To read more about Nancy Brown's travels, visit her blog at www.nancydbrown.com.