On the way to and from a holiday, we never want to spend to long driving in any one day, so we look for somewhere to stop, roughly half way. This last journey home was no exception and map examining combined with hotel availability led us to a place called Moissac.
I had a vague inkling I might have heard of the place, but so vague that I had no idea why that could be. The only thing I could say for certain was that it must be old because place names in France ending in "ac" date back to pre-Roman times, so I've been told. Apparently it denotes possession as in Aurillac meaning Aurelius' place.
We arrived over the bridge, le Pont Napoléon, built in the early 19th century, and could immediately see there would be no problem finding the hotel, the Moulin de Moissac. I don't know about anyone else, but I always imagine a mill to be rather romantic and attractive.
This looked a little industrial for my taste, almost straight out of a Lowry painting. Exploring further didn't improve things. The town looked unloved and uncared for.
These building must have been striking at one time, though I don't suppose having the traffic of a main national road going past continuously would help with appearances. Several buildings appeared to be owned by religious organisations.
But then, looking down a side-street, something more interesting.
Something worth investigation, especially as there was a convenient café/bar right outside. As I approached I could see that the abbey (I discovered it was Saint Pierre Abbey later) had a beautifully carved portal, not entirely unlike the ones at Bourges.
Inside it was less magnificent but it did remind me somehow of St Savin which I visited a few weeks ago.
I read an article that described the interior as something left over from a wallpaper suppliers' convention. Harsh.
So, satisfied that I had found something of worth in Moissac, it was time to return to the hotel for what turned out to be an excellent meal, and to look up more information on the abbey. And I found out two things: one, that I'd missed one of the more outstanding features of the abbey, and two, that we weren't the only people to use Moissac as a place to stop.
I'd missed the cloister dating from 1100 AD, one of the best preserved examples of its kind.
There are 76 of these alternating single and double pillars, and each has a different carving on the capital (the top part), most of them illustrating a bible story.
There is one flaw, though, in this beautiful abbey. In the enthusiasm to have a railway from Bordeaux to Sète , it was proposed that the line should go through the cloister. A compromise was reached and "only" the refectory was demolished. A large portion of the abbey complex was cut off from the rest by the railway and remains separate to this day. It seems incredible now.
We aren't the only people to ever to have found Moissac a good stopping off point, because it lies on one of the great pilgrim routes, the route of Santiago de Compostela, also called the Way of St James. The pilgrimage has been in existence for over 1000 years, and the main routes and stopping points declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.