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April 7, 2004
Dear Friends and Families,
For our last couple days in the Dordogne Valley, we chose to leave the town of Sarlat and stay in the village of Beynac. Our tourist guidebook had recommended Beynac, an ancient place on the banks of the Dordogne river. The book also recommended a bed and breakfast, Chambre d' Hotel in French, and a restaurant or two. That's all we needed.
Our Chambre, grandly named the Residence Versailles, was a half-mile out of Beynac, up a narrow one-lane road. Once again we had to wonder what happens when a car comes the other way but, in our 48-hour stay, none did. The Residence was run by Jean-Claude and Francoise Floury, a charming couple who run the five-room hotel as their own home and treat customers as family guests. The old stone house has been restored and tastefully decorated by the Flourys. This was as good as it gets for us travelers.
After settling in, we got directions for a walk to the Beynac Castle. It was up the driveway, left, left, and then right onto the "old path". We missed the last turn but Monsieur Floury had been watching out for us and jumped in his car and drove off to rescue us and put us on the right way. We have never had such service!
Twenty minutes later, we found the upper part of Beynac, with it's graveyard, church, castle, and old narrow streets. We took obligatory pictures (see slide show) and payed the six euro entrance fee to the Beynac Chateau. In France, it seems each castle, fortress, and stone country house is called "chateau", but this one was clearly a strong redoubt looming over a bend in the Dordogne river. The details of the Chateau were a perfect movie set, so perfect that many films had been filmed here, including a scene or two from the most recent Joan of Arc film. Wandering around inside we could feel centuries lurking within the walls, stairs, and passages. We would see a number of "chateaux" in our Spring Break trip, but this was our favorite.
We left the castle and stopped for a quick lunch - of coffee and pastries. This may not be exactly as recommended by our South Beach diet, but we were on vacation after all. Properly fortified, we descended through the narrow streets, peering in perfectly-restored old village homes and shops. Beynac architectural rules forbid modern intrusions such as tv antennas, satellite dishes, and external wiring. The effect is perfect for us strollers. We finally reached the lower part of town, along the river. This had also been a famous movie setting. Do you remember the scene in "Chocolat" where the hero sails in off the river? That was Beynac. In person, it's as idyllic as in the movie.
From the port, we took a short tour in a (fiberglass) replica of the boats that starred in the movie. Up through the 19th Century, boats (called "Gabarres")and barges would be built along the Dordogne and sailed down river to Bordeaux during the Spring and Fall floods. Otherwise, the towns and villages were isolated in their rugged ridges and valleys. The isolation ended with the coming of railroads and now the even newer roads and highways bring in floods of summer tourists.
Our boat ride took us past Beynac and gave us views of neighboring castles. The old fortress named Castelnaud, which we later toured, guarded the river bend upstream from Beynac, less than a mile away. In the 100 Years War of the 13th and 14th centuries, Beynac stayed in French hands while Castelnaud fell to the English at least a couple times. It was fascinating to imagine this peaceful valley as the border between empires in the generations-long war.
The final part of our Beynac stay was, of course, meals. We had our first dinner at La Petite Tonnelle, a Rick Steve's recommendation. The salmon and fire-hot wasabe was a welcome relief from duck and goose parts. We relaxed by the fireplace, feeling we had "discovered" a perfect retreat. I'm sure the impression would change in summer, when we would not have the restaurant largely to ourselves, but a spring visit was proving perfect.
Our last meal was at Le Cafe de la Riviere, which, despite the very French name, was operated by a most hospitable British couple, Hamish and Xanthe Eadie. A few years earlier, Hamish had been made "redundant" as a London foreign currency trader, with the advent of the Euro and the demise of eight or nine european currencies. Despite having no hotel or restaurant experience, they bought the Cafe and, with their two young boys, settled into this corner of France. The brave move seems to be working and the friendliness and warmth of the place was completely enveloping.
Of course, the food, prepared by their world-class chef from Texas, was as good as the atmosphere. Who would have thought that one of our best French meals ever would come from a British-American kitchen team?
So, that was it. Everyone in Beynac, French, British or American, was wonderful. Every building and vista was straight from movie sets. And we were treated to yet another personal lesson in European history.
Take care and go rent a couple videos: Chocolat and Joan of Arc.
John and Marianne
Francoise and Jean-Clade Floury at our breakfast table.
what is this? Just point.
These British kids enjoyed the boat ride and brightened the cloudy trip for all of us.
The American-British kitchen team that gave us a wonderful meal at Le Cafe de la Riviere.
Beynac tourist office: http://www.cc-perigord-noir.fr
Boats - "Gabarres" (French but good pictures) : http://www.gabarre-beynac.com
Cafe de la Riviere: http://www.frenchconnections.co.uk/accom/1729.html
Our most-trusted guide: http://www.ricksteves.com/
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