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Moolyn's Excellent Adventures in the Dordogne: June 2006

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Jul 19th, 2006, 01:54 PM
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Moolyn's Excellent Adventures in the Dordogne: June 2006

Planning Stage

We intended to celebrate a special wedding anniversary in February with a trip to Paris and Provence. I didnít consider the Dordogne until I discovered there were lots of houses for rent there when I tried to find a gite in Provence. Unfortunately, they werenít available in February. But, when a February trip didnít work out, the Dordogne became possible. Plus, in the meantime, Iíd stumbled across Fodorís Forum in my research and had read glowing reports about the Dordogne. DH had no idea there even was such a place but heís trusting and is always happy with the trips I take him on so he agreed. What he didnít know then was that I had a whole team of advisors helping me plan the best trip ever. If you are one of the many helpful people who ever submitted a Dordogne report or answered questions about the area, thank you so very much!

Although I spent a great deal of time researching both online and in guidebooks, I made a real effort not to overplan. I simply formed groupings of places Iíd like to see based on location and made lists of recommended restaurants at which to eat along with notes on which days we should go or avoid because of markets or closings. I rated the various possibilities so weíd visit all the essential places in case we never returned but mentally started a list of places to see next time. I penciled in some clusters in my journal if they needed to happen on certain days but the only definite dates were a reserved English tour at Font de Gaume and our accommodations including two full weeks in a house in Sarlat.

Naturally I made allowances for last minute suggestions from my husband who always comes up with ideas when he finally reads some guides once we arrive. I tried to alternate days of more car travel with days of less and to spread out the different caves and chateaux. My organized freestyle planning worked out well. Besides, as seasoned travelers we feel no compunction to see and do everything. Our travel philosophy is that itís better to really enjoy a few special things than to become jaded by too many. Maybe itís a function of middle age: you realize you can no longer do everything and have to make choices.

France Sans Gluten

I can have absolutely no wheat, rye or barley ever but please donít let my gluten intolerence put you off reading further. Any restaurant that can cope graciously and proficiently with dietary restrictions will also serve regular diners very well. As it turns out, French restaurant personnel take food very seriously and almost always met my challenge. When they erred I was prepared enough to realize it, ask questions and avoid a disaster. Except for breakfast, France is actually one of the best places, other than home, to eat sans gluten, because chefs cook from scratch. Itís probably one of the best places to eat period!

Next: Moolynís Excellent Adventure Begin

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Jul 19th, 2006, 02:17 PM
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Hi moolyn

Glad to see you got your report started and looking forward to the rest! Provence is certainly in the works for one our trips in the next few years
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Jul 19th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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Oooh Moolyn - excellent. I am want to visit the Dordogne so much! I was sorry I couldn't fit it into my last trip.

Glad you found gluten-free ok in France. As a vegetarian, I relate to special dietary concerns.

I can't wait to hear more

Cheers,

Murphy
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Jul 19th, 2006, 05:14 PM
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More more more!!!! May be going next year and am eager for info..
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Jul 19th, 2006, 05:57 PM
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Oh boy, I'm looking forward to this one. I've had a yen to visit the Dordogne for a long time.
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Jul 19th, 2006, 07:53 PM
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Jill, Murphy, Chicagolori and Road Crazy,

Thank you all for the encouragement! I'll post again as soon as I get the picture sharing straightened out.

Jill, Provence is great but the Dordogne is even better. I hope my report convinces you.

Murphy, your reports on France and Greece inspired me. You'd love the Dordogne. It's full of friendly people as you'll see from my report.
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Jul 19th, 2006, 09:02 PM
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Moolyn, looking forward to your excellent adventure.
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Jul 19th, 2006, 09:03 PM
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Cant wait to read more!
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Jul 20th, 2006, 06:10 AM
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Looking forward to hearing about your adventure. We are booked to go to the Dordogne and Lot next May.
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Jul 20th, 2006, 09:04 AM
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jamikins and crazy4travel, I'll try not to disappoint.

laartista, I actually thought of you on our last day when we visited Bleu de Lectoure and saw all the art supplies made from woad pigment: pastels, inks, dyes and paints. I bought one tube of glorious bleu aquarelle plus a gorgeous blue linen scarf!

Sorry about the delay. The next section was ready to roll but my photo link didn't work. Here goes:

It Started Badly

First of all, my hairdresser talked me into layers instead of my usual blunt cut and my hair looked straggly no matter how I tried to tame it. She had promised to fix my hair it if I didnít like it but there was no time to return that last week. Besides, how do you reattach missing chunks of hair? I packed my large Tilley sunhat.

Then the hotel we had booked in Conques, Moulin de Camberlong where Ira so happily stayed, cancelled our long standing reservation completely and gave it to someone else when I tried to tie up loose ends by enquiring about the demi- pension weíd requested but which hadnít been confirmed. After unsuccessfully contacting several other recommended hotels in the area on my own, I decided to take a chance and accepted the offer of the very apologetic Inns of France booking service for an alternative hotel an hour or so north of Conques in the Cantal region.

Our flights were delayed both in Toronto and in Frankfurt where we changed planes. Then, in cold, rainy Frankfurt we had to deplane after finally boarding and wait on a bus until a replacement aircraft arrived. My gluten free meals were horrible on the overseas flight and I couldnít sleep even with an inflatable pillow, earplugs and melatonin. There was no gluten-free meal for me at all on the much delayed flight to Toulouse. For a belated breakfast I made do with an apple, some almonds I carry for emergencies and a bottle of decent reisling. Okay, so it wasnít totally bad but I was still pretty sleep deprived and grumpy.

The Europecar desk in Toulouse had a long line up whereas all the other car rental places had no customers. We hoped this was a good sign but they didnít have the sedan we had booked so our luggage would be concealed and we were given a hatchback instead. With the delays it was far too late to take one of the more interesting possible routes to Albi planned for us by Stu Dudley so we had to forfeit any idea of the Gorges de Aveyron. Plus it was too late to have lunch in Castelnau de Montmiral or anywhere else for that matter. Next time.

But Then The Sun Came Out

Our hatchback turned out to be very spacious and the luggage compartment was covered. There were even shelves and drawers under the front seats to conceal maps and guide books. It wasnít pretty or peppy but it proved to be very stingy with gas. We had no trouble escaping from the airport by simply following the signs first towards central Toulouse then towards Albi. By the time we were on the main road, passing between rolling hills under a sunny sky, we were smiling.

Albi was an excellent first day destination, just over an hourís drive on very good roads. We had to stop and ask for directions to find our hotel in the old town but my rusty high school français did the job. Our hotel, le Vieil Alby, a logis de France, was really just a restaurant with rooms but it was well equipped, quite comfortable, friendly and very reasonable. Our car was taken away and parked in a garage nearby by Sicard père. Sicard fils, the chef, showed us to our room. Our room looked quite pretty after we flung open the blue shutters. A quick wash and we were off to explore the town. Thanks to our numerous flight delays we had managed to avoid the dreaded lunch closings!

Staying in the old town gave us immediate access to the picturesque narrow streets and tiny stores. Toulouse Lautrec was born just a few doors away from ours. We walked slowly through the Cathedral Ste-Cecile and the Toulouse Lautrec Museum next door in the Palais de la Berbie. Even my totally inartistic husband enjoyed his paintings and prints. We relaxed for a while in the gardens between the palace and the river, admiring the view, and then headed back to the hotel to shower and change before dinner.

Dinner was more than good enough to make up for our lack of sleep and poor meals since weíd left home. For 35 euros we could choose four courses and two glasses of gaillac wine each, white or red. The restaurant filled quickly but no one was smoking and the tables were nicely spaced. My husband pointedly mentioned that he was the only one wearing a jacket, at my suggestion, oops! The food was all excellent but the highlights were my terrine of lotte and scallops and DHís roast veal. Afterwards there was brebis, chevre du tarn and roquefort plus three desserts each including ice cream with almonds and some tiny, sweet strawberries garnished with candied orange peel and peppercorns!

In spite of the strange looking bolster replacing pillows, the bed must have been extremely comfortable because we both slept for ten solid hours, even with the windows and shutters wide open! At breakfast I really lucked out. While DH had the usual baguette and jam plus yogurt, I was served yogurt and four different cheeses including something soft and creamy in a pot. We both had lots of good coffee, mine with hot milk, and a special, pure apple juice called puycelsi. Then we rushed off to buy picque-nicque supplies in the nearby Saturday morning market before we had to load our retrieved car and check out.

One more thing: away from Toronto humidity and disciplined with the purple, ceramic coated, dual voltage, curling iron I had bought specially for the trip, my hair started behaving beautifully! Even my hair loved France!

Since thereís no way I can possibly describe the beauty of all the villages and the countryside we explored Iím including photos with each section to save us all thousands of inadequate words. Iíve drastically edited each of my albums but it still adds up to a lot of photos overall so just look at the ones that interest you. Or just look at the pictures and ignore the report!

Albi Photos: http://tinyurl.com/k583y

Next: the Lot Valley, Conques and the Cantal
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Jul 20th, 2006, 09:38 AM
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moolyn...I am a fellow Canadian and a captive fan already. I was so worried about the way your trip started but since your hair love France (LOL)..I have the feeling that things go better from here.

I can't believe that hotel in Conques cancelled your reservation at the last minute like that. How horrible!!

Your photos are lovely...I can't wait to hear more.

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Jul 20th, 2006, 09:55 AM
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Hi moolyn,

Great photographs! And no worries... your hair looks lovely
My hair always likes Europe better too. Alas, DH does not consider this one of my more valid reasons for wanting to move there
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Jul 20th, 2006, 10:16 AM
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Moolyn thank you so much for sharing your photos! I love photos! Albi looks lovely - I've written down St. Cecile...what an amazing building

Oyi - how annoying about the reservation.

Did you drive through Chely-du-Tarn near Albi by any chance? I have a screensaver of it on my computer and I've always wanted to get there....

Keep the trip report coming.

Cheers,

Murphy
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Jul 20th, 2006, 10:30 AM
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Hi M,

>Moulin de Cambelong where Ira so happily stayed, cancelled our long standing reservation completely and gave it to someone else ....<

Oh, my! That's awful.

>I decided to take a chance and accepted the offer of the very apologetic Inns of France booking service...<

Good for them.

Glad you enjoyed your visit after such a rocky start.




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Jul 20th, 2006, 01:04 PM
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Jill, that was sweet of you to say my hair looks lovely but that wasn't my hair. No pictures of me in that first batch. I wouldn't mind looking like the woman I think you thought was me.

Murphy, we didn't explore the Tarn at all. From the first I knew this trip would just be a sampling to whet our appetite for next time and it sure did.

CRAZY4YRAVEL, nice to meet another Canadian! There's quite a few of us here. As you suspect, the rest of the trip went much better but it wasn't boring. There's still some excitement to come.

Ira and Crazy, I was quite distraught at the time by the cancellation. It was to be our splurge night, balanced by le Vieil Albi the night before. As it happened, le Vieil Alby was a pleasant surprise. And as for the last minute change, I decided to look upon it as an adventure rather than a disaster.

Inns of France didn't authorize the cancellation and were actually quite embarrased. Moulin de Concasty cancelled the reservation, they said, because they thought we wouldn't want a room if we couldn't have demi-pension. It was a bit bizarre anyway as the website clearly offers demi-pension. My guess is that hotels pay a fee to Inns of France for booking and don't want to pay a fee for meal arrangements as well. I contacted the hotel directly, using an email address kindly supplied by Inns of France, but they never responded.

Ira, how did you book?
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Jul 20th, 2006, 05:06 PM
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The Lot Valley and Conques

It was 11:00 by the time we left Albi so we decided to forego Cordes (next time!) and head straight to the Lot, bypassing Rodez which looked lovely from afar. We pulled off the highway below Chateau Bertholene for our first of two picque-nique lunches, fresh chevre and brebis with strawberries for me and a ham and brebis sandwich for DH. Stu Dudleyís itinerary brought us to the Lot at St. Geniez-díOlt then mostly along the Lot River through one lovely little village after another. St. Eulalie, our first Most Beautiful Village of France (MBVF) of this trip, enticed us for a quick walk around but we just drove slowly through St. Come and Espallion. Estang also lured us to stop and explore and take many photos.

We missed the Lot River route after Entraygues but enjoyed our diversion along the scenic road to Montsalvy then through some pretty villages and back down the mountain to rejoin the Lot River road just before the bridge for the highway to Conques. Conques was not the freestanding hill town I expected, visible for miles around. Itís tucked into the side of a mountain and is actually quite hidden even from the main road below, at least from the direction we came. But, in spite of the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, it was thronged with cars and people.

Perhaps this would be the place to mention that the vast majority of tourists we saw were French. Or perhaps heard would be the better word. Brits formed the second largest group and many were residents or had second homes there. Germans and Dutch came next with North Americans last.

We drove through Conques first then looked for the Stuís bench overlooking the village. We never found it but we did find a very nicely situated picque-nicque table, perfect for our second small lunch of the day. While we were there, a man with impressive camera equipment arrived and started taking pictures. I admit I enjoyed watching him as much as the view. See photo. He turned out to be a professional photographer taking photos for the next tourist brochure for the department. Like me, he found that the sun was not quite right to shoot pictures from that angle but, like me, he had to take them when he was able to be there! Before we left Conques we found the Moulin de Camberlong just to see the place where we werenít spending the night as planned. Next time!

Lot photos: http://tinyurl.com/j5553
Conques photos: http://tinyurl.com/j8bfg

Auberge de Concasty

Our hotel was located about an hour north of Conques in the pastoral Cantal region. The Auberge de Concasty, a Relais du Silence, turned out to be much nicer than it looked on the website and we discovered that our room had been upgraded. It was very large with a sitting area and a balcony plus a bath room as well as a shower room (his and hers) and a separate toilet. We opened a bottle of rose to drink on our balcony and admired our surroundings until it was time to eat. We forgot all about the late, lamented Moulin de Camberlong.

There was no choice for dinner but fortunately for me it turned out to be mostly gluten free. It started with our very first fois gras experience. I liked it but DH, not so much. The roast veal was prepared differently than the night before so DH was quite happy to have it again. The cheese trolley was very impressive and our waiter informed us that they were the best cheeses in France. Since DH doesnít much like cheese either I got to sample six and loved them all! In fact, I have yet to meet a French cheese I donít like. The only thing I couldnít have was the layered ice cream meringue concoction for dessert since the almonds were glazed in flour but I was content with strawberries and plain ice cream. I got up the courage to take photos of the fois gras and cheese courses but forgot to take the other ones. I got braver as the trip went along and I saw other people taking food photos too. It was quite cool eating on the terrace so DH went back to our room for his jacket, the last time I saw him wearing it on this trip.

During dinner we started talking to a family with two young daughters sitting at the next table. The wife is a flight attendant for Air France and flies to Canada quite often so we exchanged email addresses and even discussed exchanging homes. They live near Geneva. She loves Canada and is bringing her whole family to Toronto and Montreal later this summer.

Auberge de Concasty photos: http://tinyurl.com/zy7gr
Auberge de Concasty website: http://tinyurl.com/ofy6b

Driving in the Lot and Dordogne

French roads are well maintained, even the minor ones, and traffic isnít heavy in June. We were never quite able to figure our why some roads are marked scenic on the Michelin maps while others, every bit as scenic, are not. M. Michelin seems to prefer windy roads with a view or roads through wooded areas. Our version of a Michelin map would for sure have many more green lines!

We learned almost immediately that itís better to simply look for the name of your destination or the places en route than to try to follow highway numbers. Thatís partly because the numbers arenít very prominent but also because the numbers on the roadside are sometimes different than the number printed on the maps. And often the highway number changes from department to department.

Our experience with roundabouts in Britain came in handy. We treat them like clocks. As we enter, at six oíclock, I call out the corresponding time to leave. Twelve oíclock is straight through. Three oíclock is a quarter way around. You get the idea. This system usually works for us. And when it doesnít we simply circle around again.

Next: we finally reach the Dordogne!
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Jul 21st, 2006, 07:01 AM
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"And as for the last minute change, I decided to look upon it as an adventure rather than a disaster."

moolyn..that attitude will take you far.

I am really enjoying your report and lovely photos. There is so little information on this region as compared to Tuscany. We found our map was not that useful there either..like you say it is better to follow the signs to your next destination.

I like the idea about treating the roundabout like a clock...I was pointing to my husband and of course he was trying to watch the road and me. Many times we had to circle around again in order to make the right exit.

I can't wait to hear more

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Jul 21st, 2006, 07:02 AM
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ira
 
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Hi M,

>Inns of France didn't authorize the cancellation and were actually quite embarrased. Moulin de Concasty cancelled the reservation, ...

Ira, how did you book? <

Did you mean Moulin de Cambelong?

We booked through their website. At the time they offered us only the demi-pensione, since we were staying just the one night.

I see that their website still says:
"Our service includes the dinner, the room and the breakfast for 2 people".

I'm glad that your visit wasn't ruined by the mistake.

Lovely pix.

Looking forward to more.



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Jul 22nd, 2006, 08:44 AM
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Thanks, Crazy! Looking back, my spirit was buoyed by Carluxís immediate response to my pitiful ďCan they do this?Ē email with an offer of a house in Sarlat for that night, available because of a cancellation. Tempting as that was I realized that seeing the Lot Valley and Upper Dordogne was more important than staying in a super nice place so why not take a chance.

Glad you liked our roundabout clock approach. I almost deleted that paragraph as too obvious but it took us a few years to figure it out so I left it in.

Ira, yes, I did mean the Moulin de Cambelong and I booked through the website too. It now feeds to Inns of France. Perhaps it was a direct connection when you used it. As you point out, the website clearly offers demi-pension so our experience is all the more baffling.

Hopefully this was a unique misunderstanding and others wonít have a similar problem because it looks like a wonderful hotel and the location is superb, on the river below Conques.

More excellent adventures soon!
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Jul 22nd, 2006, 09:15 AM
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Your giving me lots of great ideas for my next trip to France moolyn! I love your pictures of Estaing especially.

Nice to finally put a face to the name!


Can't wait to hear more,

Cheers,

Murphy
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