Day Eight – So Easy A Caveman Could Do It, Please Don’t Write On The Bison, A Beautiful Drive, Down By The Lazy River, Cave Dwellers, Where Is That Damned Restaurant, Finding Pasta In The Land Of Foie Gras And A Final Walk Through Sarlat
Hard as it was to believe, this was going to be our last day in the Dordogne. It only seemed like yesterday I was bleeding all over the Limoges train station.
We left for Font-de-Gaume about 9:30 on this very sunny, brisk morning. Since our reservations were not until 11 a.m., and I did not feel like another beat down from a ticket taker, we stopped in the town of Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac for a bite to eat. The town was settled more than 400,000 years ago, so we hoped that the big cliff above the building didn’t decide it had had enough.
Although the pâtisserie felt like a sauna, we all sat down for our morning caffeine fix and obligatory pastry gorging. My caramel éclair was especially delicious, but I kept looking up at the big rocks hanging above the town praying they would not fall and kill us in mid-coffee.
Next, it was on to the nearby Font-de-Gaume on the Sarlat Road, but not before we missed the entrance (a couple of times). For such a famous place, it has a pretty small sign, or maybe it was just the sweat in my eyes from sitting in that hot pâtisserie, because the sign looks pretty large in my photo.
It’s about a 400-meter walk with some lovely views from the ticket office to the cave entrance.
Some people were hanging out at what looked like the entrance, so Mary and I went down to set them straight and tell them where they should gather. About 15 minutes into the tour, I wished we hadn’t.
At our appointed hour, the guide showed up, told us to watch our heads and inside the cave we went. Our guide also warned us, for the first of 50 times, not to touch anything.
To help preserve the caves, Font-de-Gaume only allows 150 visitors a day (even less now), and early reservations are a must. We had met an American woman in Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac who had attempted to secure reservations at both Font-de-Gaume and Lascoux II upon her arrival in the Dordogne, and there were no tours available while she was there. I had made our reservations months previous to our departing for France. I have heard it is even harder to get reservations now, if you even can.
I hesitate to write the following, but they say “the truth shall set you free.” Font-de-Gaume seemingly never receives any negative reviews. From many of the writings I have read, it seems that visiting here is almost a religious or mystical experience for many, so my following thoughts will not be received well, I fear.
Inside the cave our guide took our small group of ten to various stops along the way to show us the 15,000-year old cave art. I think he spent as much time positioning our small group by height at each stop as he did explaining what we were seeing. I thought at one point we were posing for our second grade picture.
And what were we seeing exactly? Well, with his “magical” laser pointer, our guide outlined what could have been surmised as cave drawings, however for many (well, most) of them, you really had to use your imagination to make out the bison, horses, reindeer, rhinoceros and mammoths. There are no photos in the cave, of course. If it had actually looked like the sign out front (more on that later), I might have been more excited, but in the cave you could hardly make these creatures out.
I have a pretty vivid imagination (hey, it got me through high school), but some of the animal outlines were nebulous at best and some were, in my opinion, virtually non-existent. In fact, some of the more hazy animal outlines he “showed” us reminded me of stories about people who see the Virgin Mary in a waffle. I did really like being inside the cave (I’m a sucker for caves), and the tour was mildly interesting, but it certainly does not rank anywhere near one of my most memorable travel moments.
Tracy was also not overly enthralled with the tour either, although she was kind of mesmerized by our guide’s lantern that he deftly wiggled around to help highlight the outline of the hard-to-find animals.
Mary thought the Font-de-Gaume experience to be more worthwhile than Tracy and myself, but believed they could do a much better job in its presentation. She said that she felt a little more history regarding the cave would have made the tour better. I realize they don’t know very much about its origins and who painted these things, but our guide could have done a better job.
Our resident mammal aficionado, Kim, was the only one of us to give Font-de-Gaume two, big wooly mammoth thumbs up. He thought the presentation was interesting and said he could see more clearly the outlines of the animals. Maybe I should have skipped the Liqueur de Noix the night before.
The other three couples on our tour, however, were ecstatic about the tour…nauseatingly ecstatic. After every laser outline by our guide of these barely visible creatures, they would gush like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. “I just want to get down on my knees,” one cried out. I almost got down on my knees, however that’s because I tripped in the darkness. Where’s that lantern when you need it?
Kim had some thoughts on our over-enthusiastic tour partners and my disdain for them: “Perhaps a contributing factor to your reaction could be the insipid gushing student-pet response of the other folks on the tour. I found it humorous that they gleefully tried to outdo the tour guide, and each other, by insisting that the drawings constituted great art possessing sophisticated three-dimensional, shaded interpretive features depicting Mans struggle against nature. It is unclear to me how they could distinguish between great art and Barney Rubble inspired graffiti in the midst of a dimly lit cave. My natural contrarian instincts compelled me to want to smack them and disagree with whatever they had to say.” Damn, maybe Kim should be writing these reports.
I know that my thoughts about Font-de-Gaume do not jive with 99% of the people who visit it, and I would never dissuade anyone from going. It just didn’t “wow” me, but that’s ok. For the record, I thought Citizen Kane was overrated, too.
After exiting the cave, we passed by a large sign in front of Font-de-Gaume that had a picture of a bison on it (one you could actually discern). Kim gave me a pen and said for me to give him a devious glance and pretend to write something on the bison picture. He then took a photo. At the time, I had no idea why, but I knew Kim had something up his bison-loving sleeve.
Upon returning home, Kim sent me a photo-shopped picture with the letters SDS and a partial U to make it look like I was writing the initials to San Diego State University on the bison located inside the cave. We could then send it to friends and tell people we defaced 15,000 year-old cave art.
Note: I first met Kim when we were freshmen at San Diego State in 1970. It was good to know that after 42 years our maturity level occasionally stoops to that level.
We hopped back in the car for a beautiful drive to a quaint, picturesque village (there seems to be a theme here), a place where Kim’s description of these types of towns certainly fit.
“This place is another felony cute contender,” he said. The town is Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère.
Walking through Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. As the name indicates, it is located on the Vézère River, and we went in search of a restaurant, three in a row which were closed. No wonder the French stay skinny, there’s never a restaurant open to eat. Then a thought occurred to me (hey, it happens). I remembered someone writing about a Dordogne town that would be a great place to picnic, and I thought I recalled that this was the place. I guess the Liqueur de Noix doesn’t kill as many brain cells as I thought.
Kim and Mary stepped inside Église Saint Léonce, which is situated on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa. It’s one of the oldest Roman-style churches in the Dordogne area, dating back to the 12th century. There is a a legend that a servant shot an arrow at the cross in front of the church and fell dead, with his head turned the wrong way. Supposedly, a grave was opened in 1890 by members of an archaeology society, and they found a body with a head which was positioned back to front. Cue Rod Serling.
Meanwhile, Tracy and I walked down to the river and found a spot where picnic benches were lined up.
There was also a little store to purchase picnic provisions. Although I am a tough trip taskmaster, even I realized it was time to stop and smell the fromage. Sitting nearby the riverbank was a picnic table complete with beautiful tablecloth (Sarlat Market Day flashback), plates, silverware, wine glasses along with a British gentleman who was setting it all up.
I asked the British chap (I think when you talk about Brits, chap must be used), what was up, he said that this is a place he takes his small tours for a wonderful Dordogne experience. It was quite a spread.
It was now time to get provisions. Le déjeuner sur l’herbe was the one-stop shop for our makeshift picnic.
Since we had stopped to smell the fromage, we decided to eat some, as well. We ordered a plate of various cheeses, charcuterie, bread and a large bowl of Vichyssoise, along with a bottle of vin Rouge to top it off.
We basked in the glorious sunshine (ok, that sounds way too romance novel-like) and had a great picnic.
If you are looking for a bucolic spot in the Dordogne, Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère is where you want to spend some quality, relaxing Dordogne moments. We even found a friend hoping for some table scraps (the dog…not the dude in the canoe).
Of course, our group can only relax for so long, so we paid the bill and off we went for our next stop of the day, passing by some cute houses as we walked back to the car.
La Roque Saint-Christophe is a large prehistoric settlement that lies in between Les Eyzies and Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. Carved out of a limestone cliff, La Roque Saint-Christophe gives you a glimpse of what life was like about 1,200 years ago.
I could just see myself (in 812 AD) kicking back with a martini watching a flat screen with those terrific views behind me. Perhaps I had imbibed too much wine on our picnic.
People started living here about 15,000 years ago, and in the Middle Ages it became more of a fortress. Before we climbed the steep stairs to where the cave dwellers lived and had their settlement, we looked up to find not only a fake caveman ready to conk us on the head with a rock, but also a fake knight.
It immediately reminded me of one of the French knights in Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Fortunately he didn’t say, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” nor did he taunt me a second time.
After climbing the stairs we visited all the cavities that contained, among other things, a slaughterhouse, a smokehouse, a church (where Tracy read the Sermon On The Mount), a kitchen. a caveman and numerous other interesting “rooms.”
We enjoyed our visit to La Roque Saint-Christophe very much. The cost is 7.50€.
The views were stupendous, as were so many views we had encountered over the past five days.
We also paid our respects to the fake knight.
We thought about driving next to the Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac, but I could see the troops were not up to another adventure today, plus we have to leave a few things for our next journey to the Dordogne. There would also be a very long drive ahead of us tomorrow, so instead we headed back to the Villa des Consuls, and while the others rested, I went to find our restaurant where we would dine tonight.
I thought I knew where L’Instant Delice was located (for those not following along, yes it was the place Tracy saw last night, but I didn’t remember that).
I went to where I thought the restaurant was located off the main Sarlat drag, but alas, it wasn’t the place, of course. Can you see how I could confuse Les Delices De Lauralice with L’Instant Delice (yeah, neither could anyone else)?
Back up at my room (unfortunately Tracy was napping or my following wild goose chase would not have occurred), I searched for the correct address. I quickly found the address for L’Instant Delice (5 Rue des Consuls) and proceeded to try and find it. I walked to the far edge of town, where I thought the street it was located would be found. Wrong!
I searched high and low (literally) for this restaurant, and it could not be found. Demoralized, I once again glanced at the town map. I then realized why I couldn’t find it. I was reading the map BACKWARDS. If I could have given myself “the look,” I would have done it. As it turned out, the restaurant was located only about 100 yards from our hotel, and yes, it was the place we had visited last night where Tracy had asked, “Isn’t that the place you wanted to try?” You know, maybe I am an idiot.
In any event, I made 7:30 reservations outside on what turned out to be a spectacular autumn evening. This dinner at L’Instant Delice was to vault to #1 on the trip up to this point. We had one last bottle of wine on the Villa des Consuls patio, and off we went for our final Sarlat dinner. I had the 13.90€ dinner that started with a walnut salad. What made this place so special was the next dish, a selection of fresh raviolis (smoked salmon, gorgonzola, mushroom, truffle, goat cheese along with tomato and basil). They were scrumptious, and so was the chocolate cake for dessert.
Tracy went for the Walnut salad, Eggplant Parmesan and ice cream.
Kim was our “big spender” on this evening, opting for the 15.90€ dinner that included Confit de canard, while Mary had a delicious Cassoulet, which Kim had fun trying to photograph.
We walked off our dinner with one last spin through the town of Sarlat. We all agreed this was the perfect place to have our base in this neck of the Dordogne. Then it was back to the hotel. La Villa des Consuls had been a great home. Terrific bathroom, nice kitchen and comfy beds…
…and, of course, that great patio. It has our highest recommendation. It was now time to pack our bags for the long journey to Amboise in the Loire tomorrow, where it would take some extra footwork (and a little stroke of luck) to eventually find our next fantastic spot where we would spend the next three nights. We would also have the opportunity to visit a famed chateau along the way.
Next: Day Nine – Kim Takes The Wheel, Talley-Ho Talleyrand, The A-MAZE-ing Race, Taking The Scenic Route, Scouting Mission, Paving The Way, An Oasis In Amboise, Horsing Around and The “Ten-Minute” Walk