Around Dordogne

December 23, 2018 France

In (much the same) exactly the same way I started the first post recalling our 2015 trip to the Dordogne region, I start this one while thinking about booking 2019 holidays. In the spirit of eventually finishing what I began, here we go.

So here we are in the Dordogne, in a sleepy but rather large town called Issigeac. A very French country town. Men sitting around outside bars smoking and having a laugh, people riding around on bikes with baguettes in their baskets, a distant yet piercing sound of English people talking loudly about the glory days of “The Empire”. Standard French summer holiday stuff.

We were close to quite a decent range of interesting stuff to see/do/eat. The first of which was a ride over to Monbazilliac winery and house. I say house, but…

Yeah. It was a lovely scenic affair outside, although face meltingly hot. I was happy to mooch around inside the house for a while, learning a bit about the history of the place and the wine they make. The wonderfully sweet, tasty wine.

Lots of old bottles on display. Lots and lots of old bottles. Worth nothing I assume, as is usually the case with very old wine.

The grounds were impressive and of course littered with varieties of grapevines. Not pictured (because I failed miserably to get a decent shot of it) is the panoramic view over the countryside below. Instead, grapes.

As is customary with these kind of things, exit is through the gift shop. It was no great hardship and we picked up the first bottles of the trip, neatly packed into a bike luggage friendly box.

With a taste for wine ehh, tasting, we headed over to another nearby winery. This time one that wasn’t just for show. We got a brief tour of the vineyard and some information about the terroir (yes, I’m pure swanky now) before retreating indoors from the disgustingly hot August afternoon. We received an education in the range of wines produced as well as a taste of each. Being the connoisseur that I am, I could immediately distinguish absolutely no differences between the five or so wines we sampled. Looking around the room, it appeared that the majority of our party was in the same boat. The air was thick with “make it look like you know what she’s talking about”. After the tasting of course came the buying. We had our story straight and offered apologies for not being able to buy several cases by pointing to the bike and explaining the limited luggage situation. Oh but no problem, they ship internationally! Oh frabjous day, our problems are resolved. Left without an excuse to stand on, we bought a case of our favorite, while everyone else was buying multiples of each. Had we been doing tastings in Sauternes, it would have been a different story. I’d have been hauling a trailer behind the bike.

We had been advised by the owner of the property we were renting that on a particular day of the week, the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Caneda hosts a particularly impressive market. What she failed to tell us was that getting into Sarlat on that day was a shit show of such magnitude that it was worth seeing all by itself. We did eventually get into the town, after much waiting around in traffic. The bike overheated, I overheated. The bike started complaining loudly, I continued complaining loudly. It was a fun time for all I assure you.

The market itself, or I should say the very large town that transformed into one gigantic outdoor market, was probably a paradise for street photographers. One of which I am not. Hence the sole photo above from that excursion. Too crowded, too loud, not my thing. I’m more a ‘fifty miles from any other human being’ kinda person. Very interesting market though. You could buy almost anything imaginable there. From mystery meats, cheese and vegetables to knives, toys, sports equipment, fancy dress and so much more that we didn’t even see.

From one market town to another, although a much quieter one. I can’t actually remember the name of the town, which is rather annoying, but this was more of a farmers market in the center of the town under an old, wooden construction. Lots of weathered looking old people spiritedly negotiating mushroom pricing. That kind of thing.

Also, lots of beautiful light in alleyways and narrow streets.

Not pictured is said old people and their mushrooms. Because as I’ve said above, I fail miserably as a street photographer. I choose to remember it as it was rather than do a very poor job of capturing it in a photo.

We fell back on our ‘list of lovely stuff to look at’ several times throughout our stay. Another one that was decided upon over the customary breakfast of huge amounts of coffee and fresh bread from the boulangerie 200 meters away was the Marqueyssac Gardens. Worth a google, if just to see the thing they do in the evenings with the candles lining the paths.

An interesting spot and one worth returning to, for reasons I’ll detail shortly. It’s perched high up on a hill, with views of winding rivers, fields of grapevines and castles off in the distance in almost every direction you care to look. Pretty spectacular stuff.

I’m cheating here a bit, the above was taken from the nearby Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. We’ll go into that a bit later. Same awesome view though.

So we get to one of the reasons to come back to this place, the food. First, a little back story to set the scene. Riding around the area for the last few days, it was impossible not to notice the large amount of rather well fed geese in the area. Some might say forcefully overfed, and you’d be right. But that’s another topic. Tasty looking buggers who’s destiny it seemed, was to end up being fed to me with a little side salad and toast points. Up to now, I’d never tried foie gras and it never really crossed my mind to do so. With that in mind, I jumped into this new experience with both feet and ordered the most foie gras possible. The largest amount of it on the menu. The ‘if you finish this, you get your photo on the wall’ foie gras option. Turns out, as anyone that has had the experience will tell you, it’s amazing beyond all reason. After finishing the huge amount served up to me, I became agitated and almost itchy, wondering where my next hit was going to come from. Like the spoiled child of some marquis, throwing opening the kitchen cabinets to find more of these beautifully prepared goose entrails. That was three years ago now, but don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t step over your mangled corpse to get another wedge of heaven. As long as it was served with toast points of course. I’m not a complete brute.

Although we were very close to another location we were going to visit, we didn’t want to spread ourselves too thinly. Especially as I was now on a foie gras high that would last much of the rest of the day. So we left the nearby Castelnaud-la-Chapelle until the following day, or maybe the day after that. It doesn’t really matter what the order was.

The castle was full of pokey death sticks on display in glass cases. A wide range of weaponry was available to look at but don’t touch. Also, trebuchets. Big ones, small ones, different designs. Catapults, you name it, we got it. It was like a one stop shop for hurling heavy stuff at your enemies. High up on the castle walls there were several large models, possibly previously used to offer up flaming balls of death and destruction to the nearby neighbours. Apparently they didn’t get along.

There was a blacksmith making fancy things. Same blacksmith that took a second look at my “Le Petit Prince” t-shirt, smiled broadly through a soot covered beard and made a completely indistinguishable comment before lighting a cigarette.

As you may have come to expect at this point, the views from any window and in any direction were splendid.

Certainly the in top 5 French castles we’ve been in. Top 3 maybe. We like castles.

We’d gotten quite used to the sleepy little (not so little) town we were based in. That all changed one night when it seemed the whole of France descended on the area. Market night. Much like the experience in Sarlat, every open space and narrow alley was lined with market stalls selling everything and anything. Practically all food in the town square, with other things spread out around the town. After the previous few nights of deathly silence in the town, it seemed like the world had come to visit.

Unlike Sarlat however, this was a distinctly more chilled out affair. Random groups of people playing music, games popping up and children seemingly sprouting out of the ground to play them. All this (at least the photo above) less than ten meters from our front door. It was great to be able to get back to the apartment in the early evening, chill out a bit, then walk around and just take it all in. A few hours of madness, then back to silence. As if it never happened. It was a nice way to wrap up our stay in Issigeac.

Back on the road, but not going too far. It was a pleasant, if a little unusual departure from the last few years of having 500+ km between stops, and then stopping only for a night or two. Holidays are demanding.

We were on the way to Rocamadour for the night, just to take in the sight of the huge mountainside town. On the way, we stopped in Grottes de Cougnac. Eager to see some prehistoric cave paintings but not wanting to go to one of the usual tourist traps and wait in a long queue to get to the good stuff. When we arrived at the caves, we got exactly what we wanted. If memory serves, there was one family of four in the queue ahead of us and the next tour was in about 20 minutes.

A lesson I learned some time ago was that my poor little Sony Nex 5N is ill-equipped to take photos in almost complete darkness. Firing up the ISO to anything a modern camera would consider low (3200/6400 ish) results in more of an ‘artists impression’ than a usable photograph that represents almost what you were looking at when you pressed the shutter button. Having said that, it didn’t do too badly, albeit with a touch of post-processing applied.

The cave paintings were as expected. I don’t want to say ‘underwhelming’ because they weren’t. You’re standing there looking at something that was drawn 30,000 years ago and it’s just a bit hard to get your head around.

With my mind sufficiently blown and still trying to make sense of what we’d just seen, we got back on the road for the short onward journey to Rocamadour. Checked in at the hotel and before long we were on the funicular heading down toward the Basilica. If I had to walk down and then back up that hill after a large amount of dinner, it would have been a religious experience. But maybe more of an exorcising demons kind of religious experience.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the area and it’s numerous nooks and crannies before retreating to a restaurant perched on the side of the cliff with yes, you guessed it, an amazing view.

Of course I don’t have any photos, but the photo above shows where we were. Look for the red canopies in the middle. We were under one of those. Rocamadour is an interesting spot. Great for photography, but as you’d expect, it’s a huge tourist trap. Very much a place that sprang up around the religious aspect of the place. Much to my bemusement, I still couldn’t get myself a bobble head buddy Jesus here. The dashboard of the bike looked practically naked without one. Mmm, sacrilegious.

Our one nighter complete in Rocamadour, we headed ever onward and upward to a couple of night stay in Limoges. We (as in the royal we) found a lovely quiet, small guest house a very short distance from the city center. An ideal spot from which to explore the various porcelain and beer opportunities which lay ahead.

But not before Julie got steak. Looking through some listings of ‘places to eat’ we found a nearby ‘traditional French’ restaurant which was apparently very highly regarded. I want to say it was “Chez Alphonse” but I’m not 100% sure. Keep in mind this was over 3 years ago. Having said that, I do recall Julie being on a relentless steak bender and ordering the largest one they had on the menu. This apparently surprised the waiter so much that he checked and double checked the order. This was such a source of amusement in the days and weeks to come, that I’ve completely forgotten what I ate at Chez Alphonse. It paled in significance when compared to the extra wide plate that was required to safely transport Julie’s steak to the table.

Unrelated but still somewhat related, I did end up trying some Carpaccio the following day. Another new food experience that I was unsure about at time of ordering but madly in love with after the first bite.

Wandering with intent around Limoges brought us to two places of note. The first of which was the porcelain museum “Musee national Adrien Dubouche”. As expected by now, I failed at taking an interesting photograph of anything housed in a glass case, so instead, here’s a nice window from the upper floor of the museum.

From the museum we strolled back toward the city center. With a growing thirst I happened upon Brasserie Michaud, what I’m going to call a brew pub, because I’m not sure if the French use the same term. We sat outside under the canopy, watching the world go by and sipping on a few glasses of house beer. Not an entirely horrible way to wind up a holiday.

One Reply to “Around Dordogne”

  1. […] it seems I’ve only just written a blog entry about our 2015 trip to France, it’s because I have. The same thing that kicked me into motion to write that entry has […]

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