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To The Perigord Region
July 8 to 11
Written July 11 and 12
Dear Friends and Family,
Our visit to the Perigord region was special for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the chance for Marianne to "re-meet" a friend from high school. Melissa and Marianne had last seen each other decades ago, but the time seemed to disappear. But that was only part of the trip.
This diary ended up being quite long because there is so much we "need" to record for later memories.
Sunday Drive, Lyon to St. Germain des Pres.
We left Lyon early Sunday, to avoid the worst of city and vacation traffic. In large part this worked and we were on the open road in about an hour. In another hour or so, we felt we were clear enough from the risk of traffic that we stopped at a rest area for breakfast. On earlier travels in France, we'd had good luck with toll-road restaurants, but the most memorable feature of this stop was the long walking bridge to get to it. I can't even remember what we ate, except that it was expensive.
After leaving the toll road, we started passing through the Dordogne Valley, and were treated to quaint villages along the way. The place reeks of history and when we saw the sign for the Pompadour Chateau, we decided on a quick stop. The tour was OK, all spoken in French, but we probably were not interested in details anyway. The Chateau grounds were impressive and included a horse race course. We even caught one race!
We did manage to get lost at the end of our six-hour drive. It turns out that Melissa does not have a real address: she lives in the old train station of St. Germain des Pres, outside the village, on an unnamed road. Garmin maps do not understand, but with the help of a couple of international mobile phone calls, we managed the last couple of kilometers.
Sunday through Wednesday, Le Gare
Clearly the highlight of our visit to the Perigord region was the hospitality that Melissa showed us at her train station, Le Anciene Gare des St. Germain des Pres. She treated us like long-lost friends, although I'd never met her and even Marianne had last seen her more years ago than either alumna of Santa Catalina School for Girls would repeat for the record. High school was a long time ago, for sure.
Part of the hospitality was staying in the Gare itself. The building had originally served as train station and fruit warehouse for the small village and had been converted into a wonderful home by the previous owners. Melissa moved in a half-dozen years ago and has filled the space to create a spacious-yet-cozy residence for her and Aristotle and Ballerina, the two small dogs that animate the place. Fortunately for us, there is plenty of space for guests, including both us and Richard, a regular summertime guest who is working on his own old home restoration nearby. (We are suckers for old house stories!)
The nearest town of any size is Excideuil. (Free wine for any non-French person who can correctly pronounce the town name.) In town, our first stop was the Kitsch Kafe tea house, a delightful place on a small street, run by British transplants. After that, we went past "Perfume Alley" to Richard's project. (The perfume referred to aroma from the slaughterhouses that originally were located there.) Richard is several years into a project to restore the oldest building in Excideuil and he still has a ways to go. Better him than us. Across the street was the Hotel Le Rustic, a bed and breakfast run by Melissa's friends and another this-old-house project.
Perigeaux is called the heart of the Perigord and Melissa brought us on a quick tour. There was a bit of shopping, lunch, and a church visit. Nice place, but I'll admit old churches are starting to blend for me.
Tuesday, More tourism
Grotto de Tourtoirac
Our first stop was the cave at Tourtoirac. Photos were not allowed and I am not sure I can properly describe the underground scene. The cave system was discovered in 1995 by Jean-Luc Siriex and has been fitted with an elevator and extensive walkways for visitors. After the 130 meter descent, a guide explained, in French, all the various stalactite and stalagmite formations as we walked for several hundred meters. The caves themselves extend for several kilometers, but only a part is fitted for tourism. In that part is a wide range of dripping formations of calcium carbonate, the deposited mineral that builds the amazing formations. Some of the stalactites were slender needles, as much as a meter or two long. These had grown at a rate of a few millimeters per century. In other places, the deposits formed massive walls or delicate curtains. Throughout it all we could hear the sounds of dripping water and the murmuring of water flowing through the grotto.
Chateau de Hautefort
The next stop on Melissa's tour was the Chateau of Hautefort. The fortress-chateau dominates the local scene. It is a combination of structures from the 14th through 18th centuries, although the location had apparently been fortified for hundreds of years before the oldest of the current walls. Nowadays, Hautefort offers a wonderful place to see elaborate gardens as well as fully-decorated royal interiors. Another worthwhile visit.
Our last stop on the tour was a "gourmet dinner" in the village of Le Change. (The joke is that nothing ever changes in La Change.) The dinner had been organized by local ex-pats, mostly Dutch. It turned out to be a nice meal, filled with good conversation, in English of course. Out thanks to the organizers and our invitation.
I took today off. Just a morning try at pictures (poor) and work on this diary. It was a very fun day for me. I had considered going out for a photo shoot at sunset, but wine at dinner caused me to reconsider. I probably could take pictures after wine, but I certainly could not drive our car on the narrow, twisty roads.
Our stay at Melissa's train station exceeded all expectations for hospitality and variety and comfort. We certainly hope to return someday.
Thursday morning we left early for Bordeaux, via Cognac. But, that's another story.
John and Marianne
ps: Added maps later
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