Since my last blog update we have been ambling at a very slow pace. We moved on from Brantome on Thursday 14th July 2016 after having spent three nights there. We had a mooch around the very pretty St. Jean de Cole, 20km north east of Brantome. It is ranked as one of the prettiest villages in the Dordogne and it didn’t disappoint.
Beyond the central square, medieval houses cluster together cheek by jowl down narrow alleyways.
As always in France, the flowers and pastel painted shutters create an air of relaxed calm and tranquillity.
Despite it being the middle of July the village was extremely peaceful with a free aire a two minute walk away.
Even though the aire was free at St. Jean de Cole we opted to retrace our steps through Brantome and continue further on to Bordeilles which we had inadvertently stumbled across on our walk the previous day.
The aire at Bordeilles sits on the banks of the river Dronne and covers two large fields with plenty of shade and space to spread out. The weather had heated up again to the top twenties which was why, we discovered later, we had the second field to ourselves as all the intelligent people were parked up under the shade of the trees.
Still, we don’t get weather like this very often in the UK so we thought we’d best make the most of it. We spent a very pleasant evening slowing cooking in the sun playing scrabble in French! Needless to say, that game didn’t last very long.
As part of the Bastille Day celebrations we did make the effort, this time, to go and see the fireworks.
I found a very quiet spot on the river, a few minutes from the aire, to go for a swim but was quite shocked at how cold the water was.
The water in the River Charente a few days before had been cold but not cold cold but the water at Bordeilles was cold cold cold cold cold! However, swimming ‘au natural’ (by that I mean in nature not sans costume!) in such a beautiful river, with views of the chateau, and an occasional passing canoe was another big tick on my bucket list. That’s two ticked off already – only another 200 odd to go!
In the spirit of living a more active lifestyle we rode our bikes the 11km to Aldi in Brantome. Now we have the time to spend two or three hours on the weekly shop it makes sense to go on the bikes when we can as long as it all fits in two panniers each.
In truth, the 22km round trip was more or less flat. I don’t think it would go down too well with Tim if a soiree to the supermarket on the bikes involved too much altitude.
At Bordeilles, we were really getting into a routine of breakfasting al fresco, learning French al fresco, biking alfresco, swimming al fresco and cooking on the Cobb al fresco whilst watching the sun set, naturally, al fresco! I have dreamt of days such as these!
Having spent four nights at Bordeilles, though, we felt ready to move on. We were going to stop at Perigueux, capital of the Dordogne, but it was sooooo hot we decided a very busy town was not where we wanted to be at that moment. So after refuelling with diesel and LPG, followed by a cheeky trip to Lidl, we made our way to Montsignac.
The aire had been recommended to us by a Welsh chap we met in Cognac. It’s €5 per night which includes electric hook up and water and is a few minutes stroll into the town and down to the river. Montignac is in the valley of the River Vezère.
The town, most of which is medieval, is set on both sides of the Vezère river. It is famous for the Grotte de Lascaux, a deep cavern covered with paintings of animals, discovered in 1940 by four boys who stumbled across it.
The paintings were created by the Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago and are among the finest example of prehistoric art in existence. The original cavern was opened to the public in 1948 but, due to the deterioration of the paintings from the breath of over a million visitors, it was closed in 1963. So the saying ‘he could strip paint with his breath’ is true!
A replica, Lascaux II, was painstakingly created by twenty artists and sculptors, using the same techniques and materials as the Cro-Magnon people, 200m away and opened in 1983. That too has now been superseded by Lacaux IV.
We spent our time in Montsignac moseying around all the back streets seeking out interesting buildings and I rounded off the day with a swim, at dusk, in the river. The river flows pretty fast which meant swimming against the flow was nigh on impossible without considerable effort. Therefore, the best policy was for me to drift down the river a mile or so, past all the evening diners eating foie gras, hoping no-one would notice me (unlikely) and for Tim to meet me just beyond the bridge. Excellent.
We only stayed the one night in Montignac before moving on down the valley to the delightful village of St. Léon sur Vezère.
The weather was in the mid thirties by this time and, once again, all the intelligent people parked their vans under the trees facing away from the direct heat of the sun. We, on the other hand, parked where there was the least amount of shade with our side door facing directly into the evening sun. We’ll maybe learn at some point in the future, once we’ve crisped up a bit more, but we appear to be very slow learners!
For all our swimming exploits we have loosely been following Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, France book to give us ideas on where might be accessible, safe and interesting for a swim. St. Léon sur Vezère was listed in the book and we found a nice spot away from all the crowds a further mile or so up the river.
It had cooled down with some cloud cover by Wednesday 20th July 2016 so we cycled along the southern side of the river towards Tursac which afforded some fabulous views over the valley and the surrounding countryside.
We stopped at La Roque St. Christophe not knowing what to expect. It takes a lot to impress me but even I have to admit my jaw dropped at the sight of this enormous troglodytic city. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. Humans settled here, in the natural caves created in the limestone cliff face, over 55,000 years ago. Multi storey dwellings sat in the rock face 80 metres above the Vezère river.
The ‘city’ is over 1km long. Although we don’t tend to ‘do’ tourist attractions per se I have to admit this was worth the €8.50 each we paid to go in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Hopefully they give a sense of the vastness of it.
We cycled on the road running underneath the city giving us a view of the little people above.
We crossed the bridge to take a picture from the north side of the river whilst enjoying the sunflowers swaying in the breeze.
We continued on and found an interesting spot for a swim under the limestone cliff. This was a step too far for Tim as the water was murky, deep and was a likely home, in his mind, for flesh eating aquatic things!
In all, the cycle was only about 16km but with all our stops, detours and the many sights to take in it felt longer.
We have now moved on a whopping 15km further down the valley to Les-Eysies-de-Tayac at another aire on the riverside. The welcome en France to motorhomers continues to inspire!
Happy Friday everyone:)
Je m’en vais!