Travelogue – Chilling in the Dordogne

It took me a while to construct my notes into something semi-coherent, but here are some thoughts about a great trip to Southwest France last Summer.

My wife (and fellow-traveller) and I headed to the Dordogne in France, and more specifically to the doorstep of the famous caves at Lascaux where prehistoric man created some pretty memorable drawings and murals on the walls. The last time we were here – briefly – was about 20 years ago, and I was preoccupied with frisking my young children for crayons before I let them into the cave with me. This time around was a bit less hectic, but the drawings were still deeply impressive, and the guided tour in English was very helpful. Of course you are not allowed into the actual cave itself, to avoid damage to the drawings from human-generated CO2, but the cm-perfect reproduction is still a must see in my humble opinion. They were about to open a huge interpretative centre on the edge of the hill, and when it’s finished it will definitely take the whole experience to a new level.

On the night of July 14th as we trooped back to our rented house from the banks of the Vezere river in Montignac after the obligatory fireworks display, we started to hear about the tragic events in Nice. There, more than 80 people were mowed down by a man in a lorry in the wake of their celebration of Bastille day. Happily in the Dordogne it was a lower key and incident-free affair. Next day we hired a canoe and paddled slowly and serenely down the river to the overhanging cave dwellings at La Roque St Christophe. It was a thrill to see a kingfisher, the other wildlife on constant show being hundreds of dancing, dazzling dragonflies.

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Our kayak trip took us through St Leon sur Vezere, designated (with that mania for labeling that the French have in bucket-loads) as ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’. Well for once ‘they’ got it right. It’s a dozy, sandstone coloured village straddling the river, packed with drowsy lanes, a beautiful church, a number of wonderful restaurants and an idyllic haunt by the river. We came back on another occasion, and spent a lazy afternoon at the aptly named ‘Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ café on the river, where canoes pull in, people drink café crème in the shade of the willows, and teenagers swing out over the river on ropes before plopping into the warm and slow moving water. The day we went there things took a surreal twist when a woman riding a horse (white, obviously, yes – the horse) walked down the bank and waded into the river to the deeper bits to cool both herself and the horse down. I had to convince myself that I had not been drinking (that much, anyway) and it was really happening – if the mount had been a unicorn I’d probably have only been mildly more surprised.

We ate twice in the little town, both times at the same restaurant (Restaurant de la Poste, since you ask). The first time was merely great, the second time (why did you think we went back?) was divine. I had Salad Perigourdienne, Magret de Canard accompanied by Pommes Sarlardalise reeking with garlic, lardons and sautéed onions, and finished with a Tarte Tatin oozing with juice and crispy bottomed. All this perfection for – I kid you not – 22 euro. I did complement this with a large quantity of chilled Rose, it must be said. End to end it was glorious, and a meal I think I’ll remember for a long, long time. I couldn’t and wouldn’t eat it every day, but once in a while it’s ok to ‘break out’, or so I convinced myself. I reviewed this and the Dejeuner restaurant set-up on Trip Advisor, if you want to see what I thought in more detail.

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What else stands out? Sarlat-le-Caneda and it’s huge Saturday market. The valley of the Dordogne itself, the town of Domme and the elaborate hanging gardens of Marqueyssac, which tower over the village of Le Roque-Gageac and afford amazing views of the river below. I had my bike with me (since sadly stolen, but replaced – and at least I have the memories). So I did a number of looped cycles from our base at Montignac to see small villages and get the sights and smells of the countryside – something you really only get on a bike. It’s a lush, green, relatively compact area of France, and there are slow flowing rivers and stone-age-man caves and dwellings everywhere you turn. The food is great, the wine is chilled, and the people are friendly. What’s not to like? Great memories of this corner of France.

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