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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Estaing in the Auvergne

We were completely charmed by Estaing a lovely small town on the banks of the Lot river in the Auvergne. It is a beautiful village in a lovely situation, surrounded by hills and spectacular farming country. Compared with many of the  villages in the Dordogne with the same "Plus Beaux Villages de France" designation, we found Estaing to be far more charming and far less over run with visitors. This is probably because the Auvergne is a less developed destination and this gave it so much of its charm. Perhaps we liked it so much because we hadn't read anything about the town, lowered expectations are after all the best predictor of a good time!
As we rounded the corner into town (above) we had a glimpse of the gothic bridge over the Lot river but didn't see the chateau until we turned the corner (below).
Looking down river from town, below. As you can see it really is a lovely place, particularly when the sun is shining.
Looking back at the town from the other side of the bridge, below. We passed a number of tired hikers here who looked happy to be arriving in Estaing.
We were fascinated to see that the banks of the river were being farmed even in the center of town!

As I mentioned this is designated one of the prettiest villages in France.

Tip: We stayed at a small inn just outside of town Le Manoir  de la Fabregues with lovely views over the Lot river valley, below. Though it is called a Hotel it's more an upscale guesthouse where you can eat in the restaurant if you book in advance. We stayed for a single night on our way between Provence and the Dordogne but this could be a good stop for a couple of days of walking or touring in the region. We enjoyed chatting with the well travelled and cultured owner and would return.
There's even a view from the parking lot!