Written on: 08/09/2005 by raehippychick (28 reviews written)
Good weather, friendly people, stunning scenery.
Can be a bit 'touristy'.
We had decided after our last trip on Motorail to upgrade from standard class for the trip to the Dordogne and a soon as we entered or cabin we knew it was the right decision. The three-berth cabin was miniscule, but gorgeous; we even had a steward at or beck and call at the push of a button. After consuming our buffet trays, I snuggled down between crisp freshly laundered, under a soft tartan blanket. On the wall by each bunk was not only a glass holder, but a wine bottle holder too the French do now how to live! I spent most of the night pretending I was aboard the Orient Express.
At six we were woken by our steward and after a quick wash in the little sink cleverly tucked away in the corner of our cabin, we were breakfasting on fresh rolls and croissants washed down with aromatic coffee in the cathedral like proportions of Brive station buffet. Definitely not British Rail!
We arrived at our campsite very quickly and unpacked into a beautifully equipped and well-laid out van. After a coffee or two in the campsite bar we headed out for provisions. Bound for Sarlat in search of a hypermarket we soon found one with a very grungy looking snack bar. As usual in France appearances can be deceptive, the snack bar was great, sandwiches and chips all round washed down with drinks and a glass of red wine for me all for 75FF, about six quid back in 2000. After stocking up with food and other essentials such as wine and chocolate we whizzed back to the van before the frozen peas could melt
The day was rounded off very nicely with a dip in a clean and well laid out pool. It took me my usual ten minutes of squealing to get in, but when I was submerged the temperature was fine and my son and I had a great time racing down the slides. Afterwards we watched the sun begin to turn the sky dramatic streaks of reds and golds from poolside bar with a glass of wine suddenly England seemed very far away. As dusk fell we explored. The whole campsite was nicely laid out and seems well equipped, with clean well-lit washing blocks. The site is set in rolling hills with winding lanes, a walnut tree orchard and hedges between each area and gives a feeling of natural beauty coupled with enough privacy for comfort while still being open enough to make friends easily.
A static caravan on an organised site is a great place to take young teenagers, especially if like me, you have just the one. My son was too old to want to play with his mum and Grandma, but too young to go off on his own. Even though he was slightly too old to join any of the kid's clubs on offer I cannot praise the lads running Eurocamp enough, they allowed my son to hang around with the younger kids on the premise of 'helping out'. He seemed to come back soaking wet after water pistol fights an awful lot of the time.
The scenery in the Sarlat area of the Dordogne is glorious, gently rolling hills dotted with chateaux with comfortably safe roads sweeping round, up and along. Sarlat was just perfect, a small to medium town of windy streets with plenty of sunny pavement cafes. The buildings are old crooked constructions of mellow yellowy stone in a great assortment of shapes many with cascades of flowers and greenery. As this area is renowned for fois gras there are many references to ducks and geese, including lovely fountains with small statues of waterfowl. The other speciality is a delicious looking walnut and chocolate flan. For an email addict like myself the Post Office provides an internet terminal and with a card costing around five pounds I was able email my friends back home and swank about the food and heat.
After a quick evening dip and a supper of merguez sausages, chips and salad again washed down with red wine (is a pattern developing here?) we all turned in. The morning dawned bright and warm again and we visited Domme, a small bastide perched breathtakingly on the crest of a hill. Some of the belvederes were just a little too breathtaking with sheer drops into the valley below. We repaired to drown my nerves in alcohol to a small caf overlooking the Dordogne River, thankfully not too close to the edge. As we walked around the town in the soft sunlight butterflies danced around us until I began to feel like a fairy princess.
The days drifted by and we visited some beautiful places and had many drinks and delicious pastries at the pavement cafes that the French specialise in. Local attractions included Montpazier, which had a medieval market square that was still in regular use. The local bakery did some amazing sandwiches; cheap, fresh moist crusty baguettes filled to bursting with whatever filling you desired.
One particular cafe I remember was at Belves a delightful village overlooking the valley with a house I yearned to buy. At the caf we were served by a Fox Mulder lookalike, he was so similar I kept expecting him to mutter "trust no one" as he laid our pastries down.
Sadly for me towards the end of the first week the weather began to cool so my son and I placated mum and agreed to a visit to some caves at Montignac. We were all fascinated as we learnt that the Lascaux II caves of prehistoric paintings were discovered in 1940, but over the years the breath of visitors was eating away at the paintings so they built a complete replica a short distance away. Walking through the tunnels looking at the numerous paintings of hunting scenes and animals it was astounding to think of the work that must have gone into producing an exact duplicate.
Luckily we only had one day of really cool weather and the next day we visited Beynac, a tiny village of incredibly steep cobbled lanes topped by a dinky castle. We paused near the summit on the way back down at a caf with huge glass windows giving a panoramic view right across a tremendous swathe of the valley. On our return to terra-less-wobbly-kneed we crossed the river to see Castelnaud which has a castle museum (hmm, and how different is this from Norwich?... Very!!) The castle has been undergoing restoration since 1969 and they have done a great job. There are two routes round the castle, one easy and one not so easy, but you won't find out which you have chosen until you are halfway round; I had to make an undignified retreat two staircases up.
All three of us had a great day when My son went canoeing with the Eurocamp reps. After abandoning the boys at the water's edge mum and I drove off to Roque Gageac a little way down the river, another of the many little towns that the locals seem to enjoy building up the side of the hills. It struck me as I bit of a daft idea and I felt vindicated in my sensible opinion when I learnt that about fifty years ago the cliff fell down squashing ten houses and three people. Also the river floods regularly and the houses at the bottom can't use their lower floors.
After waving to the boys as they paddled past my mother and I took a trip on the Gabarres de Beynac, a decent sized boat and so much more civilised than all that rowing business. It was a beautiful trip with the chance to see lots of wildlife; the only melancholy part was seeing a goose who had escaped from a fois gras farm some years back with her mate who later died. She looked so sad standing all alone on the bank.
Our last day arrived all too soon and we left the campsite bearing a bag of fresh walnuts from the site owner and headed back to Brive. After a wandering search for a caf or restaurant that all three of liked we gave up and settled for dinner in the station buffet. A serendipitous moment; the food, service and atmosphere was perfect for a last meal of a holiday. We enjoyed a very reasonably priced three-course dinner; with at last a taste of fois gras and finished it all off with a slice of the walnut and chocolate flan. Delicious! I have always loved train stations and it was very pleasant to sit watching the trains coming and going while we dined in style. I have to confess that red wine at this last supper got the better of me and afterward My son and I were so giggly that to mum's embarrassment we danced on the platform to the music playing through speakers while we waited for our train home. The station staff seemed to enjoy our impromptu show though.