Blue Guide – South West France
By Delia Gray-Durant
Somerset/Norton – £15.95
It’s just as much a pleasure to actually read this Blue Guide travel book of South West France, as it is to merely leaf through and investigate its twenty-seven relative chapters. For instance, on page thirteen, Delia Gray-Durant’s rather colourful description of The Cathars, is engagingly interesting (if not perhaps) controversial to say the least: ”It became the refuge of the Cathars (from catharsis, meaning purification), also referred to as Albigensians. A fundamentalist Christian sect, entirely pacifist, the Cathars followed a dualist doctrine based on the opposition of Good and Evil, but believed that the true God created only the invisible, spiritual kingdom, which was permanent, whereas all worldly matter was evil emanating from another Principle, the reverse of God, making man in his own likeness. The logical conclusion was that the humanity of Christ was an illusion.”
With a more than pertinent ten-page Introduction to the region, this handy, hefty in-depth analysis, is bookended with France’s sixth and fourth largest cities respectively, Bordeaux to the north and Toulouse in the south: ”linked by the Garonne, they work like magnets on the region as a whole. Dynamic and prosperous but different in character, they provide a large proportion of the employment and wealth of the two administrative regions, Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees.
They do indeed, although I can only essentially attest to this being the case in relation to Toulouse; where I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last few years, primarily en route St. Girons in the Couserans region of the Ariege. The latter of which is honestly and refreshingly portrayed: ”St.Girons is the largest town in this part of the Ariege and is the sous-prefecture. A small dynamic, commercial centre with a lively market, it is not of any particular architectural interest.” By French standards, this is undoubtedly true, but it’s a very pretty, small town nevertheless.
I felt compelled to quote the immediate above, as it’s not often a travel guide is as succinct and to the point; which accounts for one of the (many) reasons I can’t help but give South West France a positive review.
Aligned with an array of regional as well as city maps, these 620 pages are filled with wonderful colour photographs, floor-plans, architectural diagrams and assorted, easy to find, yellow backdropped segments that depict historical figures as well as notable wines. There’s all the usual Practical Information (such as Getting Around, Tourist Information, River Cruises, Festivals & Events, Market Days and of course, Accommodation & Restaurants, which really is very thorough in that it includes prices, menus, telephone numbers and a brief explanation).
Finally, Gray-Durant has also included enticing descriptions of Biarritz, Lourdes, Bayonne, The Lot, Cahors and The Dordogne. So if you’re planning a trip to the South West of this truly wonderful country, be sure to have a copy of this altogether magnificent Blue Guide by your side.
You won’t regret it, for as depicted in The Daily Telegraph, it’s ”a gold standard for accuracy and depth.”