Chapter Six: Drivin’ The Dordogne
Day Seven – Wow What A View, Wrong Way Maitai, How Many Stairs Is That Again, A River Runs Through It, The View Was Better, Our Most Beautiful Village, (No Offense) Our Most Overrated Village, Carennac The Magnificent, Seeing Red and Are You Sure That’s Not The Place You Wanted To Eat
I heard grumbling from the troops as my iPhone sounded the 6:45 a.m. Duck Quacks (to wake everyone up). “Why do we have to have the alarm set when we are on vacation?” Tracy groused (as you can see, she was in a fowl mood).
Not thinking it a big deal, I said, “Well, we get up at this time at home.” Tracy quickly (without the aid of caffeine) replied, “That’s the point. We’re on vacation.” In any event, we were all up très early, and a little after 8, we were on the way to our longest journey so far on this trip. Caffeine seemed to have everybody back on track.
Villa des Consuls also provides café au laits (to go) at a very inexpensive price (did I mention we REALLY liked this place). They also have a cute breakfast room that we didn’t take advantage of during our stay.
We all enjoyed the scenic drive on this Monday morning, made a little more scenic by Madame Bleu’s occasional hiccups. I think she might have had a hangover (probably got into my Liqueur de Noix while we were sleeping).
We had 11 o’clock reservations at Gouffre de Padirac, so the goal of this early drive was to first see Rocamadour from afar to enjoy the wonderful view we had read about.
Stupidly (my middle name on vacation…along with Idiot), I had forgotten to take the Fodor’s post explaining which road was the correct one for that amazing view, but as luck would have it we drove to L’Hospitalet. When Kim saw that town sign he said, “With all your medical problems, L’Hospitalet sounds like the town for you.” Having not had a medical episode for nearly 19 hours, the multiple-bandaged Sir-Bleed-A-Lot let the comment slide.Besides being my new hometown, L’Hospitalet is where you are able to get a stunning look across the valley to Rocamadour. After admiring the view, we decided we would have lunch in Rocamadour after our Gouffre de Padirac visit.
Madame Bleu had taken us on some dubious routes for the past few days, but since everything was so close, we gave our French GPS mistress a pass. We plugged in Gouffre de Padirac as our next stop, and she seemed rather confused asking us to make some weird u-turns and turns that led to nowhere.
With my car window open (fortunately), I followed Madame Bleu’s direction to go up a hill. About 50 yards into the climb I heard screaming (for once it was not from any of my passengers), and looking down to my left I saw a few guys wildly gesticulating. Most of them were yelling in French, but one guy must have known that only stupid Americans would go the wrong way on a one-way road. “Turn around,” he yelled in perfect English.
This near calamity must have shocked Madame Bleu because she got back on her game and finally we were headed in the right direction. We stopped in a town that had numerous beautiful homes along the way to get a pastry or two, but I guess Monday is not a big day to have pastries, since nothing was open. The sign up ahead did not bode well for ducks in the area either.
We arrived at Gouffre de Padirac at about 10:20 and after a ten-minute walk from the parking lot, I showed the woman at the ticket window our timed 11 a.m. tickets. She said I was early. I told her I knew we were early.
She said (not so pleasantly), “Well you can go with the 10:30 group, but don’t do this again, and you know you cannot go on the 11 a.m. tour.” Not planning to be in this neck of the woods for the next 15-20 years and since we wouldn’t be back up from this tour until noon, I said, “No problem.” The cost was 8€ (plus berating).
The descent into Gouffre de Padirac, discovered by the famous speleologist (aka cave guy) Édouard Alfred Martel in 1889, takes you down 450 or so steps. As much as we love steps, we figured this day would have enough, so once we hit the three different lifts that eventually get you to the bottom we took them.
A short walk took us to where we would catch a 2,100-foot boat ride through limestone formations. We only had to wait about five minutes for the boat (they hold 11 people plus the boatman), and soon we were gliding on the turquoise water with our guide standing and steering the boat like a gondolier (well, he stood in the back like one anyway). No photos allowed here.
He obviously had just returned from a comedy club gig, because he joked with the passengers in both English and French and pretended to try and put us in the drink a few times. After safely reaching the other side, another guide took us on a ½ hour journey of the caves where we walked past stunning caverns, stalactites, stalagmites and waterfalls. The tour was quite informative, our guide was fluent in French and English, and he was also very funny. He made a joke about the French in English and added, “What do I care, I’m from Belgium.” Boom!
He also told us that the cave had formed about 10,000 – 20,000 years ago when it “caved in,” but he assured us that since it was not Friday the 13th we should be fine. He did warn about not coming here on the day the world is going to end in December. That Mayan Calendar story gets around.
Then we hopped on the boat back to the other side, bought an overpriced picture (above) they took of us (what the hell, we’re tourists) on the boat ride and headed back up (via the lift). From start to finish, the tour of Gouffre de Padirac is 90 minutes, and it was a fascinating experience.
Not quite as fascinating was our next stop. We drove back to Rocamadour and parked above the town. We took the 4€ lift (Ascenseur Incline) down to town and started walking through this incredibly touristic town.
Located 13 kilometers from the Gouffre de Padirac, Rocamadour is one of the most-visited tourist spots in France. It’s located on a cliff 1,500 feet above the Alzou River gorge. From a historic website: “The town got its name after the discovery in 1166 of the 1,000-year-old body of St. Amadour. The body was moved to the cathedral, where it began to work miracles. Legend has it that the saint was a publican named Zacheus, who, after the honor of entertaining Jesus in his home, came to Gaul after the crucifixion and, under the name of Amadour, established a private chapel in the cliff here. Pilgrims have long flocked to the site, climbing the 216 steps to the church on their knees.”
Before we did anything, we all needed to get something to eat (sounds like a broken record). Kim and Mary wanted salad and crepes, while Tracy and I were fancying something more substantial (turned out that would be chicken and more delicious pommes frites) and dined under a patio awning.
Before you could say, “fresh air,” he awning opened it up as I was finishing my beer (I virtually never drink beer at home, but European beer on tap cannot be beat), and we could look up to the buildings above. It seems the views of Rocamadour are better than the actual town.
Meeting back up with Kim and Mary, Mary said, “Let’s go see the Black Madonna.” I thought about singing Like A Virgin, but it would have been wrong.
We walked up the steps where many religious people make the pilgrimage to Rocamadour to climb those 216 stone steps (Grand Escalier) on their knees to get to the Chapelle de-Notre Dame. We were not part of that group as our knees were already swollen, although Mary gave it a shot.
Inside is the Black Madonna statue (photo from internet) that some say aided in numerous miracles centuries ago, however until the Chargers win a Super Bowl, I am withholding judgment.
However, Tracy was able to get a cool shot of a giant bug of some sort, so perhaps that was our miracle.
On the whole, we were a little underwhelmed by Rocamadour due to the crowds. I guess I would vote with those that say take a look at it from afar and move on, but once again, it’s a personal choice. However, they do have a cool phone to call people when you’re there.
First stop on Les Plus Beaux Villages de France Tour was Loubressac, and it’s a beautiful little town with medieval homes made out of stone (ochre), many with pointed roofs. “Maybe we’ll see a condo made of stone-a,” I said, which as usual was met by rolling eyes.
We also walked through the cemetery, and the four of us gave the town high marks. Tracy called the town “breathtaking,” and the views were also stupendous.
Positioned throughout town, there were numerous artists with their easels painting the many lovely homes and flowers. “This will be a tough town to beat,” we all said.
We could have stayed longer, but the town tour had just begun, so we had to reluctantly say farewell to Loubressac.
Next, we took the short drive to Autoire. Although it is a cute enough town (once again, the photos look better than what I remember Autoire looked like when we were there), Autoire did not grab us the way Loubressac had.
It didn’t have that quaint a feel to it or perhaps it just had the bad luck to follow Loubressac in our beautiful town quest.
We drove down a small street, got out of the car and attempted to search for a waterfall just outside of town, and although it was a lovely walk through the forest, we decided to stop our quest after about 15 minutes remembering our windmill adventure from the day before.
Another rather short drive took us to Carennac, located on the bank of the Dordogne River. We went inside the Église St-Pierre that had been built in the 11th century.
Similar to Loubressac, there were a lot of colorful flowers and quaint stone houses. You could take dozens of photos from the small bridge in town. Carennac impressed us all. Johnny Carson might have called it Carennac…The Magnificent. The river Dordogne runs through the village.
The streets that surround Carennac’s Court du Prieure are full of charming 15th and 16th century stone houses. We wandered through the streets of Carennac for quite a while, but looking at our watches (well, phones), we realized it was getting late and we had one more town to explore.
So we saw one last house, and we were on our way again.Last on the Beautiful Villages Tour was the town of Collonges-la-Rouge. CLR has been around since the 8th century, and it would be the best of these four towns to stay, in my opinion.
Collonges-la-Rouge is constructed entirely with red sandstone, which makes it pretty striking. The town has been around since the 7th-century. This makes it is one of the most visited sites in the Limousin. I thought perhaps the Limousin could take us home, but I found out that the Limousin is actually just one of the 27 regions in France. I still had to drive back at some point. I need to study spelling more.
We were all pretty exhausted by now, but we walked through a good part of Collonges-la-Rouge.
Our final rankings were: (1) Loubressac, (2) Collonges-la-Rouge (upon further review, my favorite, (3) Carennac, and we put Autoire in fourth.
We listened to some excellent euro-music (love that “driving” beat) on the way back to Sarlat, and Madame Bleu deposited us there in just over an hour from CLR. As usual, we had wine on the terrace before heading out to dinner. Many of Sarlat’s restaurants were closed on Monday, too. Bistro l’Octroi was full, so Kim and Mary decided to have a pizza and headed back to the room.
Tracy and I saw a restaurant that was open, L’Instant Delice, and she said, “Isn’t that the place you wanted to try?” I said, “No, I’m sure that’s not it.” She said, “I’m pretty sure it is (foreshadowing),” so we trudged onward. We finally decided to eat outside at Restaurant du Commerce, a restaurant that gets pretty bad reviews on TripAdvisor, but I, for one, do not think TripAdvisor reviews are always that reliable, plus we were pretty hungry by now.
Incredibly, tomorrow would be our last day in the Dordogne. Time flies when you’re eating foie gras. I had pre-booked tickets to see some very old bison and reindeer in the morning. We would also enjoy a relaxing picnic along the river. And, much to my traveling partners delight, there would be no early morning duck sounds to awaken them.
Next: 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