A couple of days after spending a week in the Pyrenees, Camille and I decided to make the most of his two weeks off work and head to the Dordogne region.
It's a really unique area, with a huge amount of prehistoric...history!
The towns in the area are also often built into the tall, white clifs that stand proud from the forested foothills. The houses are built from a rough, creamy stone, with a lighter, smoother stone bordering the windows and doors.
The first day was very hot and humid, almost 40 degrees and there were a ridiculous amount of people from all around Europe walking the little streets, sitting in the park along the Dordogne River, proof of France's questionable virus control over summer... But what was really shocking was the number of people paddling down the river. Looking out over the river, there was a steady stream of between 50-100 people paddling past at any one time, so in a day there would have been thousands!
We decided to get up and away from the crowds a bit, so we walked up into the tiny streets of La roque Gageac, looking around at the views, the perplexing number of banana trees and the tiny rectangular windows cut into the cliff faces. I still haven't found out the story behind those windows.
We came across a bamboo garden, with a tall forest of bamboo, leading into a stunning little garden and a beer cafe next to two enormous old plain trees. We then found a little cafe selling some very overpriced icecream, I chose the lavander honey and pine nut, which was super sweet, but delicious.
We decided to continue driving and stop when we found the tiny town of Vitrac. The town had only two restaurants, houses and a castle that sadly had recently been bought privately. It was extremely calm and quiet, obviously not a popular tourist destination like the bigger towns around it, but I much preferred this little place. After walking up through the bright, picturesque streets and taking way too many photos, we found a little dirt path winding between two houses, into the forest and down to the river. We walked down, not sure where we'd end up, but we found 'the Source de Montfort, Vitrac', with ice cold water streaming out from the spring. We had thought about going swimming in the river, but as I put my feet in, Camille spotted a small snake swimming around the rocks, so I decided it was best to just look for now. I found out later that it was likely a water taipan, that according to one website "you would have to be very unlucky to die from", so that made me a little more confident to get in the water next time!
That night, after swimming at one of the beaches behind a canoe rental, we drove up to our camp-site. The caravan park was lovely, with a limited number of good-sized, hedged sites just past Veyrignac. At that time, the end of the holidays, there was almost no one else there. The owners lived at the park and were more than happy to give restaurant and activity recommendations.
The next day, we got up early to canoe to join the masses and paddle the Dordogne river. We got there early and enjoyed some quiet as the sun started poking through the trees and shining on the water.
We had chosen the 6 hour hire and paddled from Grolegac to Vezac, a 19km route. To be picked up by the company at the other end. We paddled slowly, so we could take in the beauty of the river, with forests all around, white cliffs in places and the occasional castle precariously perched on the edge.
It was a fairly warm and sunny day, so we jumped in for a swim four or five times along the way. We realised about half way along we had been paddling maybe a bit too slowly and had to speed it up a bit, trying to position ourselves between the crowded waves of paddlers setting off at all hours of the day from the endless canoe/kayak companies along the river. After paddling quite hard at the end to make it in time, we were pretty tired and I slept on the bus ride back. We stayed another night at the same caravan park and were suprised by a much stronger than forecast thunder storm!
Our third day was a very busy one, we left early to drive to Sarla, where we bought croissants for second breakfast (necessary), before to the Prehistoric Museum, a really interesting place and definitely worth the visit. It features the ancient layered rock faces from the area, endless stone tools and extinct animal skeletons and fossilized footprints. In the past there were mammoths, cave bears, cave lions and cave hyenas... A much more fierce and gnarly scene than modern-day France, that's for sure!
We then looked around a couple more Prehistoric exhibitions, then headed down to the river where we ate a jar of mojets, or white beans, cooked with herbs, carrots and green beans. Super simple, super cheap, but surprisingly satisfying.
We continued our walk and found a little waterfall and small river-side beach, then grabbed some juice from a little store at the very edge of the town's centre.
The shop itself isn't particularly impressive, but the 4 terraced courtyard out the back makes you work for the view that you are rewarded with if you hike up with your food or drinks.
Camille and I are yet to find a good balance of relaxation and site-seeing, so, although we were still tired from the day before and had already booked a tour for 6:30pm that night, we had a few hours to burn. We decided to drive around 45 minutes to an award-winning garden, Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac. It's a beautiful, formal garden, owned by one family for 500 years. It's an impressive garden, but quite expensive for its size.
Next stop, the walnut farm where we would stay for the night, Les Noyerais du Lander, in Sarlat-la Caneda. This farm was a great place to stay, offering free tours around the farm, sheds and processing area, an apperatif at the end and a chance to buy products from their shop. We learned that until only a few years ago, all of the walnuts were shelled by hand. Up to now, a large quantity was divided between the older members of the community, who shelled the nuts and were paid by the farm to supplement their pensions and strengthen the community, but sadly, that came to an end with the virus. We bought bottles of first press walnut and hazelnut oils and a jar of seeded walnut mustard, which was a flipping great decision and made salads way more exciting!
To continue the day, we made it the Grotte de Lascaux. I'd say this is one of the most important places to visit on a trip to this region. It's no longer possible to visit the original cave, as it endured heavy tourist traffic since its re-descovery in 1940 and suffered from white and green sickness, where white and green fungus grew on many of the paintings in the cave. Consequently, an exact replica was created over an 11 year period, as well as a museum and a travelling exhibition.
We only visited the cave replica on a guided tour. It was my first visit to a cave like this and I was blown away, firstly by how well the paintings and cave were replicated and secondly at just how amazing and skilful the paintings were. It would have been no easy feat to paint the hundreds of horses, bulls, deer, and... unicorns?! along the those tall, uneven walls. In the original cave, there is a deep hole filled with a toxic gas and this also happens to be the only place in the cave where humans are depicted, although they are painted dead. The meaning of the paintings are entirely unknown, which adds to the mystery of the place.
After a long day, we booked in for dinner at a restaurant in Sarla that was recommended to us by the caravan park owner called L'Esprit Sarla. We ordered a cheese platter to share, which never disappoints in this country! Then I chose the confit duck, again, as the region is known for its confit duck and Camille chose Margaret canard, which, very simply put is like a BBQ duck stepped up a few notches.