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Dordogne Valley After Sarlat and Beynac
April 8, 2004
Dear Friends and Families,
We've shown you our stays in Sarlat and Beynac, but there was more to see than just that during our visit to the Dordogne Valley. Here are a few of the other highlights.
This area is home to the famous pre-historic cave paintings. The most famous, Lascaux, is now closed to the public although a reproduction has been installed nearby. We chose to visit the caves at Font-de-Gaume, however, less extensive and less famous, but the only caves with polychrome paintings still open to the public. About 200 people per day are allowed to visit in strictly controlled groups. Our afternoon session had about a dozen people, including one American student of French who helped us understand the guide. Postcards did a more dramatic job of showing the art as it may have originally been, but there is nothing that matches the in-person experience of standing inches from these reminders from 14,000 years ago.
Chateaux and Castles
Montfort -- This is a private (!) castle squeezed between the road and the river. We saw it first from the distance and it seemed like a mirage on the edge of orchards and fields. When we walked up to it, the side facing the road was nothing too special but climbing around to the back side gave a spectacular view up to the tower and gate passage.
Castlenaud -- Castlenaud, across from French Beynac, was an English bastion during the 100 Years War. It was variously destroyed, rebuilt, abandoned, rebuilt etc. Finally, in 1966 it was purchased and has since undergone an almost complete reconstruction. We found that, while the place somehow lacked the musty old sense of Beynac, its display of medieval armament was fascinating.
Marquessac -- The Chateaux at Marquessac was completely unlike the fortresses of Beynac, Montfort, and Castlenaud. This country house was built on a hilltop and a huge garden was built in the 19th Century covering the whole hilltop with paths, parks, and vistas. From its vistas, we could see almost all the towns and fortresses this part of the Dordogne offers and it has served as a resort for 150 years.
Chateau de Milandes -- I think this is the name of the very picturesque chateau across the river from Beynac. It is private and was always described as being owned by a Texan. Sometimes I had the feeling that this was only slightly different from the days of the 100 Years War, when many of the valley's castles were in the hands of the English, that other foreign invader.
Les Eyzies -- We paid a quick lunch visit to Les Eyzies. Earlier, we had gotten picnic ingredients at the Sarlat street market. Our reservations for Font-de-Gaume was 3pm so we figured neighboring Les Eyzies might offer an appropriate location, and it did. We ended up sitting at a "downtown" park bench, in the middle of the main parking lot, looking up at the houses and businesses carved into the surrounding cliffs. Who'd have thought a parking lot could be so special?
La Roque (the rock)-Gageac -- This was yet another of the picture-perfect villages squeezed between cliffs and the Dordogne river. Like most other such villages, it had been restored with great attention to detail and allowed visitors to wander the narrow streets and imagine life hundreds of years ago.
Domme -- Our guide book calls Domme "over-boutiqued" and "soulless". Maybe, but we enjoyed our stop at the cliff-edge park in the city center and our lunch at the nearby Belvedere Cafe. We sat next to the tiny kitchen and were amazed at how a space smaller than an apartment kitchen could produce a full menu for a 30-table restaurant.
Other -- It was impossible to keep track of all the "oooh villages". Quaint and picturesque was everywhere. As it was, I suppose we saw less than a quarter of all the towns and villages in this neighborhood. We'll have to go back.
As with all vacations and breaks, this one had to end. On our final Saturday, we left the Residence Versailles and drove over to the freeway and headed north. An hour or so later, we stopped in Limoges, the home of fine French china. I knew we would not be able to leave without some sort of addition to our kitchen and serving ware. Sure enough, we found a set of a tray and small hors d'oeuvre plates. We seem to travel to find things for cooking and dining at home. But the travel keeps us away from home. Go figure.
From Limoges, we headed north and then east, through the part of France that is NOT in the tour books. Who would have thought that so much of France could make Kansas look good? Logically, all the good French food must be grown somewhere but, still, we were surprised at driving for hours past fields as plain as any in America. We spent our road night in Chalon, well east of Paris. The place and location were so plain and ordinary we took a picture of the hotel sign to try to form a memory.
That's it for our 2004 Spring Break. Another place we did not know but now can't wait to revisit. There just isn't enough time.
John and Marianne
A few pictures -- but don't miss the Picture Gallery too.
This is the private castle of Montfort, from the river side.
Our lunch spot in Les Eyzies. So it's a parking lot!
The postcards may give prettier pictures but the visit inside the cave gave the real sense of reaching out to touch pre-history.
As early as the mid 1880s, Marquessac had offered a zoo. These local wildlife dioramas, built about 1860, were part of the display.
Marquessac Castle and Gardens: http://www.marqueyssac.com/
La Roque and others (French but good pictures): http://www.cc-perigord-noir.fr/
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