Over the last few days, we have done quite a bit of exploring. We have already visited most of the popular places near Sarlat, so over the last two days we have extended our travels a little further to some more distant towns.
The highlight of our day yesterday, was a visit to Rocomadour, which has attracted visitors for its setting in a gorge above a tributary of the River Dordogne for centuries. The town is built below a complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches. This is one of the real ‘wow’ villages of this area in terms of scenery.
It was extremely difficult to find a parking spot anywhere near the village but eventually we found one and I walked into the village to take some photos. We eventually found a cafe at the top near the castle where we had lunch. Because it was early in the day and the weather was so nice, we decided to return through a long detour via Padirac and then north through the castle town of Tutrrene and on to Brive.
Padirac is a cute little village with flower pots decorating most houses. It also has a giant sink hole caused by the roof of a limestone cave collapsing and which is now a major tourist attraction. Brive is a large town to the north of the Perigreux area. It seemed to have a couple of highlights for us. One was the old man on a bicycle who rode blithely down the road ignoring all the traffic that was banked up around and behind him. I guess that few years ago, he might have worn a beret but this has given way to the modern safety device of a bicycle helmet. Every New Zealand town similarly seemed to have an old man in a hat who drove a Hillman. He would spontaneously turn one way turn one way or another without warning or perhaps stop in the middle of the road to go the milk bar. The French version seems to be this man (Francois the Frog) on his bicycle.
On the outskirts of Brive, about thirty customs officers had staked out a roundabout assumedly to search for some sort of contraband. They were not the least interested in us and just waved us through. The French seem to have built roundabouts everywhere. Most are on the edge of towns and they do make the traffic flow easy but we have also spotted them in in the middle of nowhere just where two roads intersect. Some have as many as five roads radiating out from them. We had a very pleasant drive back to Sarlat, enjoying the countryside and scenery along the way.
Today, we travelled further east to see some of the adjoining Lot River Valley. This was a beautiful area of villages set into the cliff tops and fertile fields along the river. The road followed the river – sometimes along the bank and at other times, high on the limestone cliffs that defined the river valley.
We stopped a little village of Bouzie for lunch. To get there, we drove under some houses cut into cliffs over the main road and turned right across the Lot River on a one-lane suspension bridge. The town looked closed but on enquiring with the lady who ran the hotel in the town, we found that the restaurant was open and this became our obvious choice of lunch. Our meal of roast leg of lamb wa quite tasty 9and even tender).
A little further on was the clifftop village of Saint Cirque La Popie. Unlike other villages in the area, many of the houses were closed and it was very nice to be able to walk around and catch something of the flavour of an old village without being inundated with tourist shops as in all the other nearby villages. It was a rather steep climb from the carpark up into the village, but this place literally reeked of history and charm. I was greeted in French by many other people but they were a little under whelmed when I told them ‘Je Australie. Pardon, mon Francais est test petit’. (I am an Australian. Sorry, I speak very little French). I dubbed this site ‘ The village of 1000 photos’. Every building, street, nook and cranny was exceptionally photogenic.
We drove furtyher along the river through little towns of six or seven houses. At one point, we realised that we had taken an incorrect turn and we were on a different road. Our GPS guided us to the correct road by following some narrow roads that were no wider than the width of the car. At first, I thought that they were private driveways and ignored the first two options. But sure enough, these were public roads so we followed them back the correct route that we had intended to follow. The farm houses were positioned right alongside the road and the walls of the barns were actually the road side itself. In the little town of Tour de Faire, the houses were cut into the cliff face and the main road formed the single street of the town. We continued along the river until we reached the town of Figeac. Some roadworks and detours in the middle of the town there confused us in terms of directions for a while but eventuality we sorted out the correct route..
By now it was nearly 5.00 pm and we had a little over 80 kms to drive to return to Sarlat. This took us about 90 minutes on a combination of wide country roads with a speed limit of 90 kms / hour and narrow streets throug towns where the speed limit is usually 50 kms / hour with some stretches through the very centre of towns being as slow as 30 kms / hour. We were back at the hotel well in time for a drink before dinner.
Tomorrow, we have all day to fill in before we need to reach the major city of Bordeaux (250 kms away) where we will drop of our car and catch a 7.30 pm flight to London.