Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Delightful Dordogne – Land of Foie Gras, Truffles, Medieval Cities, Castles and Caves

June 12 – 15 – We departed Bordeaux around 10am on Sunday morning taking the toll way to the Montignac exit – one of the entry points to the Dordogne region. We arrived just before noon and were completely enchanted with the charming little town decorated with flower streamers above the streets. We found a quaint restaurant with outdoor tables along the river, and proceeded to order a foie gras salad and a half a carafe of Bergerac Blanc – made primarily of sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.

After lunch we wandered around the town and found an ice cream shop with an amazing assortment of flavors including rose, violette, and pampelmouse rose (pink grapefruit) – which I ordered. We purchased our tickets for the Lascoux prehistoric caves and found we had a couple of hours to spare, so we drove a few kilometers to the Chateau de Losse.

Chateau de Losse

Chateau de Losse is an ancient castle on the river, built in the 1300’s, complete with moats and beautiful formal gardens. Cost was $8.50 euros per person. We viewed the gardens and fountains first, before touring the castle with a French speaking guide. Helpfully they provided us with an English brochure so we could understand what was being communicated. The rooms of the castle were beautifully decorated in antiques and every effort had been made to renovate it authentically.

Lascoux II Cro-Magnon Caves with Prehistoric Paintings

One of the major tourist attractions of the Dordogne are the many prehistoric caves sprinkled throughout the region. We had Rick Steve’s Travel Guide 2009 with us, so we decided to take his advice and go to Lascoux II first. It is an exact reproduction, including humidity and temperature, of the original Lascoux I caves which are now closed to the public due to damage that was caused from too many visitors breathing on the paintings.

We had registered for the 2:30pm English tour for $8.50 euros. Wearing sweaters we followed the guide down a flight of stairs into the two caves. It was definitely chilly inside, but as the tour only lasted 40 minutes it was not that bad. Our guide began with the story of how the caves were discovered by 3 teenagers and their dog in the 1940’s. The dog chased a rabbit and accidently fell down a hole. When the teens went to rescue him they found a passageway into the caves.

The walls are covered with more than 100 paintings of horses, bull, deer, and other animals. Our guide did a great job explaining how they were developed over the centuries and pointing out the exquisite craftsmanship needed to paint such large scale paintings more than 15,000 years ago. We were very impressed, and I would highly recommend the tour. There are also several other caves nearby with original, rather than reproduced paintings, but none are as large or complete as Lascoux.

The Charming Village of Le Bugue

After the cave tour, we drove 40 minutes on a small road along the river that passed many historic sites. At one point we stopped at a foie gras farm with over 100 geese in a large park like setting. They encourage visitors to go on tours to show that the geese are not treated inhumanely, and that every part of the goose is used – including feathers, meat, and foie gras liver.

Eventually we came to the small village of Le Bugue where our hotel, Vacanes Residences (only $69 per night on was located. It took several telephone calls before we found it on the outskirts of town surrounded by rolling hills. It is a charming family oriented apartment complex with large sunny pool. We had 2 separate bedrooms upstairs and a living room/dining room with outdoor patio complete with table and umbrella. The only thing they forgot to mention is that we had to rent towels and sheets. Despite that, we enjoyed our three nights there.

After unpacking and taking a nap, we headed into town for dinner around 8:30pm, but made the mistake of stopping for a pastis at a river side bar in Limuel. By the time we looked for a restaurant, they were all closing at 9:30pm. I had forgotten how much France shuts down on Sunday. After being turned away from the 4th restaurant, the lady took pity on us and gave us directions to a take-out pizza parlor. So our first night in Le Bugue, we had pizza and a great bottle of 2009 Chateau Baron Le Mayne, AOC Bordeaux wine in our outdoor patio. It was my first taste of the legendary 2009 vintage, and even though it was an inexpensive wine, it was very fruity, full-bodied, with good length. Michelle said it was her favorite red Bordeaux of the trip….but then, it was a 2009!

Magical Dordogne Towns – Beynac, La Roque, Sarlat, Le Domme and Castlenaud

June 13, 2011 - Per Rick Steve’s book, we took his advice and booked a boat tour at Beynac. It was one of the highlights of the trip as we were able to see 4 castles from the Dordogne River within one hour. Afterwards we had a very nice prix fixe lunch at LaRiveria Restaurant overlooking the river in Beynac. We copied all the French families eating there and ordered a wonderful half bottle of Bergerac Rose.

After lunch we drove to La Roque and marveled at how the city was built into the cliffside. As the day was getting quite hot – in the high 80’s – we went back to our apartment for a lazy swim in the pool and nap. Then we drove to Sarlat and followed Rick Steve’s walking tour of that amazing medieval city. He said to visit most of these places in the evening as they are less crowded and cooler. He was right! Sarlat had to be one of the most beautiful ancient cities I’ve ever seen. There were so many charming restaurants – all decorated in pink, yellow, or orange tablecloths with glowing candlelight -- that it was almost impossible to pick one. But we eventually did and had a great fish meal with a bottle of 100% Semillon Bergerac blanc.

June 14, 2011 – the next day we attended the wonderful Farmer’s Market in Le Bugue and then drove to Cahors (see post below). On the way back, we stopped for a drink in the hilltop walled town of Le Domme and Michelle swore she would come back some day and stay in the hotel on the cliffs. Next we drove the few minutes to Castlenaud – another amazing ancient castle on the cliffs, and then ended up back in Beynac for a wonderful dinner on the river again. This time I had goose gizzard, which was surprisingly filling and reminded me of beef stew. After dinner we walked around the deserted Beynac castle and gasped when a full moon rose up over the valley and walls. We had the whole magical landscape to ourselves, and it felt like we had fallen into a fairytale.

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