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Dordogne redux - repost of July 2004 trip

Dordogne redux - repost of July 2004 trip

Jan 2nd, 2007, 08:37 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,706
Dordogne redux - repost of July 2004 trip

July 17-21 (4 nights)

Our visit to the Dordogne was the standout of our entire trip. We were there for 4 days and nights, and could’ve easily stayed for 4 more. The region is lush with woods and forests, rivers, and many small roads meandering over the hills. It is an area saturated with history: prehistoric caves, large and small, and chateaux, grand and petite, at every turn. Distances are deceptive; the twists and turns on a back road may make those few kilometers take a lot longer than you’d expect. But if you can take your time and meander, not rush from place to place, there is no better place to take a holiday. Just try NOT to pack in every sight; it will make your trip stressful, your mate angry at you (and this I can speak to personally!), and you won’t enjoy the pleasures that the region has to offer.

Arrival day/July 17:
From Gare Austerlitz, we took the train to Perigueux. The trip was difficult for me; I got severe motion sickness from the rockiness of the train. It’s not one of the smooth, high-speed rides; this was roller-coaster rocky. I finally took dramamine, and slept for part of the ride. Even thinking about it makes me feel ill!

Finally, we arrived in Perigueux! Europcar (car rental) was a block away from the train station. We ate lunch and did our laundry in town (spending a long time figuring out how to access the soap-- there are no service people around to show us how) and we were on our way.

We left Paris on a cool and rainy day; by the time we arrive in Perigueux, it’s in the 80’s, warm and humid. We are finally on our way to Les Granges Hautes! We made a slight error in our route, and drove through some spectacular countryside instead of straight highway riding. Loved the limestone walls by Les Eyzies.

Les Granges Hautes is a delight (http://www.les-granges-hautes.fr/en/index.htm). I’ve mentioned it before, but this was a gem of a place. It is an old farmhouse, on beautiful grounds and has a small swimming pool...but it’s the proprietors, Jean-Yves and Beatrice who make the place so very special. They are warm, gracious and as helpful as can be.

Our room, Toscane, isvery comfortable (no a/c, but we never needed it) and filled in a quirky but charming design style. The bathroom is huge-- old-fashioned bathtub, but has most amenities that you’d want.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and were hot, tired and cranky. We took a brief dip in the pool, a welcome nap and woke to a beautiful summer evening. Jean-Yves and Beatrice were making dinner that evening, and we jumped at the chance to eat there. For 25E per person, it was one of the most pleasurable dinners we had on the entire trip!

The tables were set up outside, and there were perhaps 5 groups or couples eating that evening. The setting is lovely, under the small trees, the summer sun lowering in the sky...a perfect night. We begin with vin de noix, a delicious liqueur made with local walnuts. An “unknown” salad-- Michael and I think that it may be gizzards, but we never do find out. Still, it is good. Then the duck breast in a wine sauce, eggplant and saffron rice-- it is well done, if not exceptional. Then, a salad with walnut oil and chevre-- a definite YUM! And, to end, a peach cobbler-like pastry with homemade coconut ice cream and coconut cookies -- oh, we are in heaven! The entree was prepared by Jean-Yves and the desserts are by Beatrice. We were glad to have had the chance to eat at Les Granges Hautes, since they don’t do dinner regularly. The gorgeous evening, the lovely grounds, the gracious welcome...it was a perfect night.

After dinner, Michael and I had noticed that the town (St.-Crepin Carlucet) was having some kind of fete, and we decided to see what it was. Foolishly, we forgot a flashlight, because we followed the road through Les Granges Hautes into the town, all on small paths. Eventually, we discovered the “fete du village”, and it looked like a wonderful local affair. There was a band, with accordion, people were dancing and eating and otherwise having fun...but since it is clearly local, and our language isn’t up to snuff, so we watch for a little while, and go back.

Author: progol
Date: 01/22/2005, 03:40 pm
Sunday, July 18
A rainy day all day; we wake up to thunder and lightening, but no rain-- yet. Thank god for rainjackets. We have reservations (made several months ago) for Lascaux II at 3pm.

We had our breakfast, in the dining room; Beatrice adds a little homemade “extra” to each breakfast. One day it is yogurt, another day, she has yummy pastries....for a standard breakfast, she adds some lovely touches.

I had originally planned a long drive to the St. Cyprien market, but Jean-Yves suggests that we go instead to the market at the neighboring town, St. Genies. We follow his instructions for the day, and find that his advice is really on the money.
St. Genies is a beautiful village with a great fair. I wanted to buy everything: tiny pastries, cheese, sausage with duck....definitely not a diet for the healthy-heart conscious! We picked up some picnic items, and I bought a bottle of walnut oil for home.

We then drove to St. Amand-de-Coly, a tiny but lovely village with a handsome abbey, fortified at some point in its history. The town has few tourists; we spend some time in the abbey and have coffee. We drive past a La Grand Filide, a small castle in a hollow in a valley, but we don’t stop. We continue to Montignac, a larger town on the Vezere and the nearest town by LascauxII. Although many people would discount this as a tourist destination, we found it had a charm of its own. It has a realness beyond the typical tourist life and makes a good jumping off before the cave visit. And we had the BEST ice cream (glace) of our trip here-- we each had noix (walnuts), which was simply delicieux!
LascauxII was interesting, though not totally satisfying. The work is remarkable, and it’s hard to fathom how and why people were able to do these drawings 15,000 years ago. Although it is a meticulous copy (so we are told), we couldn’t forget that this was a fake and knowing that made it less impressive.
After our tour, we drove to St. Leon sur Vezere, a truly magnificent town sitting on the Vezere. The town has a totality-- the church, two castles and the roads are all laid out still with its original plan, and the siting on the river is very pretty. It was a fun town to wander through. We had our second ice cream of the day; this time, miel (honey). It was good, but not as good as that first one!

That evening, we drove into Sarlat. Jean-Yves had made a recommendation for an easy supper, and we also wanted to spend time in the town. And what a town! The town was restored in the 60s, and the size and quality of the buildings was impressive. We wandered through the tourist path and then had dinner at La Gaulois. For those of you who are watching your diets, this region is a challenge! Michael’s meal consisted of dheese, potatoes and lardons-- delicious but very rich. And I ordered something with toast, figuring it would be “lighter”; it was anything but! A large round of toast with cheese, mushrooms, artichoke pieces and foie gras (okay, I saw that it mentioned the foie gras, but I ignored that...); again, it was good, but definitely not “light”! Did I mention the 3rd ice cream of the day?!?
After sundown, Sarlat was magical; the lights on the golden-colored buildings give an otherworldly feel to the town. And with the tourists throughout the village, especially with the crowds surrounding the street entertainers, one could really imagine the hustle and bustle of medieval times. A good end to the day.

(more to come)

Author: ira
Date: 01/22/2005, 04:47 pm
Lovely report, progol.

Thank for sharing.

Author: progol
Date: 01/22/2005, 04:47 pm
Monday, July 19
Up early and pretty rested. Today is the day we go to Font-de-Gaume, and we are excited. The day starts out with beautiful weather, but it is very changeable.There are intense showers while we are driving, but warm and dry for much of the day.

We get slightly lost on our way to Font-de-Gaume, missing the turnoff just past the entrance and somehow driving many kilometers down a lovely country road. But we got to the site in plenty of time.
Do not miss Font-de-Gaume! This is the real deal, and it is amazing. Seeing the actual paintings was powerful and very moving. The drawing of the bison with the carved eye was exciting, walking through and feeling the dampness of the caves put us in touch with the sense of this being REAL. The tour guide was thoughtful, intelligent and with a sense of humor. Excellent tour.

Off to Beynac. We debated about parking down below or driving to the top, and convenience won out. It was also HOT, and the long walk UP was less than inspiring. Beynac is a grand castle and has wonderful views over the Dordogne river and valley. Looking across the Dordogne to Castelnaud makes us think about the bloody history here between English and French. History is everywhere in the Dordogne.

Next stop, Roque-Gageac, another wonderful site. Despite the number of tourists, the town is quite manageable. We go up the side of the cliffs, walking high up to “Fort Troglodyte”, a fortified cave built into the upper cliff. The town is lovely, with the houses built into the foot of the cliff, practically at the river.

The day is long, and we are getting tired and hot, so we took an hourlong boat ride from Roque-Gageac. This is a lovely way to view all the sights, and relaxing, too.

By now, it’s the end of the day, and I still wanted to explore Domme. It was perhaps just a little too much for the day (what did I say earlier about taking it easy? the advice is derived from experience!), and we both felt too tired to really enjoy the town. It is, fortunately, the end of the day, and most of the crowds have left, but still, it is high season, and there are many tourists everywhere. We parked at the top, and walked along the Esplanade and through the gardens and the town. More fabulous views of the Dordogne River and valley. We ate at the Belvedere, a lousy restaurant but with great views.
Riding through the region is remarkable; there is a saturation of sights -- chateaux, caves, vistas-- at every turn. A lush landscape that is picture postcard pretty. There is no one sight that stands out, but the richness and variety of the whole region is remarkable.

(one more day in the Dordogne)

Author: StCirq
Date: 01/22/2005, 05:12 pm
oh, progol, you are making me horribly homesick

Author: progol
Date: 01/22/2005, 05:25 pm
July 20/Tuesday
A slower day but lovely end to our 4 days in the Dordogne. Although we woke to a heavy sky, it never rained, and by the end of the day, we had one of those lovely summer evenings. We slept late and checked our email, spent some time “talking” with Jean-Yves and Beatrice. We all try to talk the other person’s language, but it’s a struggle. Michael and I found it interesting that in the 4 days we stayed at Les Granges Hautes, there were Germans, Dutch, English and French, but there were no other Americans.

We meandered. We thought we might go to the Grotte de Rouffignac, but found that you needed reservations. We stopped along our drive, having cafe, getting a feel for the different villages (no particular places come to mind) and found ourselves by the Albri du Cap-Blanc, another cavelike shelter, this one with friezes of animals sculpted into the walls. Though rough, some of the images, especially those of the horses, were remarkable. The sculpting is really 3-dimensional and from the side, not only do you see the body of the animal but almost feel it as a presence. What is remarkable is how many of these smaller cavesites there are; while we read about LascauxII and even Font-de-Gaume, there are many others that are smaller, in less pristine condition but still impressive considering they are 13,000-15,000 years old. And it’s only when you are driving around that you become aware of just how many there are. You can keep yourself busy for months or years, just checking out all these sights!

More meandering, a stop for lunch and our drive took us to a new-old site, the Chateau Puymartin. A hodgepodge of centuries and styles, it was interesting because it is still used and is representative of an active, lived-in chateau. Beautiful rooms, completely painted, some whimsical -- a room based on classical mythology was pretty special. The only frustration was being on a French tour; although there was an English placard, we missed a lot of the guide’s humor.

After a break at Les Hautes Granges, we ate La Meynardie, which was highly recommended by Jean-Yves and Beatrice. It was only a few km down the road from us, just outside of Salignac. The atmosphere was wonderful-- under a grape arbor-- and the night was beautiful. Dinner was very good (some things better than others), but again, the atmosphere was delightful. A leisurely dinner for our last night capped our visit.

We leave the next morning for Albi, and we’re both sad to leave Les Hautes Granges and our warm proprietors. Beatrice gives us a small gift of her own pate, and Michael and I are touched by this small gesture.

progol is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2007, 08:52 PM
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I tried to edit this, but couldn't add or subtract to it. I copied it from an earlier post, and tried to edit out the headings and posts in between my posts, but it didn't accept them. Nor did it accept any of my additional comments.

I thought this might be helpful for those who are now planning a trip to the Dordogne, especially those who were interested in reading about Les Granges Hautes. That was a real highlight of our 2004 trip.

progol is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2007, 08:55 PM
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Oops. I'm up way past my bedtime. Can't even get my own name right.
progol is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2007, 08:27 PM
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I loved reading this, my whole being is panting to get there.

Thanks so much

joey365_000 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2007, 08:15 AM
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For anyone else who happens upon a fete du village, I would strongly recommend that you partake. Even if you don't speak French, you can usually participate enough to manage to buy a drink, or even a dinner.

English speakers who come to our village fete always have a wonderful time, and are amazed at how welcoming the people sitting next to them are, even if none of you speak the same language.
Carlux is offline  
Feb 18th, 2007, 12:46 AM
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Although you say in your post that Montignac is a tourist town, it is not to the same extent as other places in this area. The market is still big even in the winter. We buy fresh vegetables there throughout the whole year. It does swell in the summer but the tourists seem to just fit in with the locals. The Cafes charge the same prices all the year round.
If you wish to take a canoe ride then this is the place to do it from. The river Vezere is much quieter than the Dordogne river where masses of boats can be seen. A good trip is from either Montignac (3 hours) or St Leon (2 hours) to Roc st Christophe.
The only trouble is that you will want to spend a few hours at St Leon and the same at Roc st Christophe.
Roc st Christophe is a very interesting historical site as it was inhabited from about 17000 year ago till the 14th century, but just around the corner is a newly opened fortified manor house,built into a rock face which used to be a cave, which has a history just as long, well worth a visit.
I have some pictures of most of these places on my blog on http://bikesindordogne.blogspot.com/, If there is anywhere else local that people want to see pictures of then let me know and I'll post them on the blog.
Bobt is offline  
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