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TWO SELF CATERING ACCOMMODATION
COTTAGES IN THE DORDOGNE
Comments Off on WHAT TO EXPECT IN WINTER – THE FRENCH COUNTRY COTTAGE

WHAT TO EXPECT IN WINTER – THE FRENCH COUNTRY COTTAGE

Friends of ours stayed at Les Chouettes in winter 2013/2014 and sent this account. We thought this would be a wonderful way for you to see what is available in the area through the eyes of guests. It also gives a great feeling for the winter months. We have added these emails as received, mostly unedited as we believe it conveys the moment.

Enjoy!

“Hi Karen and Alan,

We are having or almost, have had a wonderful time in Paris. Although I was anxious about coming in winter it has been a beautiful time, I think especially being Christmas.

The Christmas lights have just blown me away, both in Amsterdam and in Paris. The Champs Élysées is magnificent and we have been there twice at night. Both sides are lined with Christmas Market stalls and Father Christmas literally flew about 50 Metres in his sleigh above the crowds.

We have had magnificent weather although very cold initially. Yesterday we had rain during the day for the first time, but I have just seen the forecast for the next few days and it doesn’t look too great. Nothing has daunted us and we have buttoned up and walked as does the rest of Paris including babies in prams.

Nicole had never been to Paris and loved it. We did all the things tourists do with her and more. We even went to the SA embassy and signed the Book Of Condolence for Nelson Mandela. They made a big fuss of him in the news here and last week the Tour Eiffel was lit in SA colors with his name emblazoned on the side. Made us feel very proud.

The Latin quarter where we first stayed is stunning and buzzing.Rue Mouffetard is a charming street with artisan shops dating back to the 18th century. There is a market every alternate day and dancing in the streets on Sundays. We have visited a number of gardens and parks and yesterday went to the Orangerie to see Monet’s waterllillies and there was also an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It was a great experience. We also love the Musee D ‘Orsay and spent about 5 hours there the other day.

Well just  3 more sleeps till we head south to Les Chouettes and we are looking so forward to this too.

A wonderful Christmas to you and your family. Congratulations on Nicholas’s graduation. You must both have been very proud.”

Day 1 – Friday, 27 December 2013

“What a haven your beautiful home is and what a charming part of the world. We have had a wonderful day. We decided not to go too far afield today and to catch our breath and look at our surroundings. We went for a short walk down the road to say bonjour to the horses and then I remembered what you had said about shops closing, so we went back and set off for the Intermarche in Lalinde. It’s a beautiful little village and we walked around the Centre d ‘Affaires I asked directions to the IM and we walked there. I must say supermarket shopping is a real experience …such a variety. We want to go the markets so we just bought a few basics. The Dordogne is a magnificent river and is flowing strongly at the moment.

It was such a perfect day with blue sky and temp of about 14 so we had lunch al fresco in the front, as you must have seen from the photo Owen sent you. After lunch we walked from here and only got back at about 5 30. Is the stone cairn just down your road something from the Compostella de Santiago? I noticed in the history of St Nicholas that this was one of the routes.

Between the three of us we have taken so many pictures. Every few footsteps and there was another photo opportunity. I think that the stark trees really assist the photographer as they frame the pictures and the black branches add interest, but also allow depth. I am sure the views of some of the buildings can’t be achieved when trees are in full leaf.

What a picturesque little village…like a postcard. We love the golden limestone which makes the buildings glow in the sunlight. We walked right through Tremolat and then up and down the little side streets. I even found a bright red poppy peeping up through a straw covering. By the way, your pansy in the front is flowering very bravely.
We walked down to the bridge and then all along the river to the rail bridge and up to the Gare. What is the huge farm which looks like a feudal farm with the 4 turrets, just above the station?
Phil has just popped in to say hi. How nice of him.

Thank you again for all your thoughtfulness. Your home is just perfect. We were warm as toast last night and had a good sleep.”

“We had set our alarm for 7am this morning (that is 8am in SA) with very good intentions of getting going early, but it was windy last night and the rain poured down and was still pouring when we opened our eyes this am. Although the temp was supposed to be 11 today it seemed to grow colder with the day.

We set off with good intentions of reaching a market, but we reached Limeuil…what can I say such a beautiful place.

The villages are very close and each has its own incredible history…such a sense of living in the past here. On the way and in the pouring rain we saw some animal in the middle of a huge ploughed field and 2 farmers or hunters were speaking on their phones and even said bonjour to us as we slowed down. It was a wild  boar…sangliers. We had just passed a sign which said Parking pour la chassey…we could hear the shots of the hunt. Shame…but Margaret I think they regard les sangliers in the same light as I do the rabbits.

We arrived at this medieval village set against a hillside, Limeuil. This village has 2 bridges where the Dordogne and thé Vezere meet. The bridges are almost at right angles to each other and the architecture is so wonderful. Owen took pictures of three swans flying above us. Swans are huge with 3 meter wingspan and can fly at 100 k per hour. They can weigh more than 15 kg. They are so elegant.

We then discovered that there was a Limeuil de Haute and driving up to the spur we had a view from a fortified village. What an experience and what beautiful and ancient dwellings. The picture of Owen and me is outside the Anglican Church of St Katherine’s (bears the same name as the Anglican Church where we were married for 41 years ago in Uitenhage SA) This is the Protestant side of the Dordogne during the 100 years war. The Catholic  centre was in Le Bugue on the other side of the river. This is as picturesque as Tremolat the houses date back to the Middle Ages and I was quite blown away. My camera battery needed surveillancey.

After this we were starving, in Andrew’s words, and stopped at an even more interesting supermarket called Lidl in le Bugue. We went in to find something for a quick picnic, but one gets a little carried away by the amazing things that are available. We fortified ourselves with a little saucisson and cheese and rolls and apple juice and then feeling energized proceeded to visit Le Bugue. Unfortunately by this stage the markets had long been packed up and all the shops had closed, we were told, until 4. We walked up and down the roads, but perhaps because it was pretty faceless it looked tired and I felt it lacked the vibrancy and charm of Limeuil. I know it is a big tourist attraction so we will definitely return when it isn’t a late sat afternoon. Karen, I tried to find Isabelle Jopin ‘s studio and did but it looks as if she is no longer working there. We love the sketches in your home.

As we were leaving Le Bugue there was a heavy downpour with sleet and we could understand why we had felt so cold all day.

When we arrived home we decided to cycle, but I haven’t ridden a bike since Nature’ s Valley Margaret so felt a little nervous. Don’t need a fall. So left it to Owen and Andrew and I walked through 2 villages beyond LE Rocq.

All in all a great day.

The area is wonderful and there are so many properties for sale! Sigh!

What amazes me is that one can be driving along and suddenly on a forested plot there might be a tree full of glass Christmas baubles or little decorative gifts. So many of the homes have simple strings of plain white or blue lights in their gardens or outlining the facade of the buildings, very pretty.

This area is famous for foie gras and duck and so tonight I cooked magret de canard simple and out of this world.”

Day 3 – Sunday, 29 December 2014

It was pouring when we woke up, but the rain seems to alternate with beautiful weather throughout the day and the rain ponchos I bought from Cape Union Mart haven’t even been removed from their plastic wrappers yet.

We opted for an indoor activity and decided to go to Lascaux caves today. I was a little wary as I know that this is Lascaux 11, the original was closed to the public in 1963. But the experience was well worth it. In 1940 a teenager was walking in the hills above Montignac and his dog sniffed in a hole, the opening of a cave. He tried to enter ,but it was narrow and then went back a few days later with 3. Of his friends they chopped their way through the narrow opening and discovered themselves in a cave full of amazing paintings. He told his teacher and the rest as they say in the classics, is history.

In the years following , he became a guide and did this for a further 20 years. By this stage so many thousands of people were visiting this phenomenon that the co2 from the human breath  accelerated the growth of bacteria and fungus that started to cause the deterioration of the paint and rapid calcification. After all , the caves had been painted some 17000 years before.

Artists and historians were called in and it was decided to build an identical cave just 200 Metres from the original. Using the various oxides of iron (yellow and red) and oxides of manganese (black) they made paint and animal fat was used to make candles. The historians copied every bump and crevice of 2 chambers of the caves apparently centimeter by centimetre. Then the artists copied the paintings in the same way. Bison, cows, horses and only one man with a bird mask and then symbols were painstakingly copied. The sizes of the paintings were phenomenal. Some 4 Metres in size and all showing movement…galloping horses, herds of cows painted in different colors on top of each other, horses painted in perfect perspective upside down. There were even ibex which these days are only found in the highest mountains and bears too.The woman who was our guide spoke clearly and slowly and I could follow most of what she said. She certainly was very knowledgeable and answered many questions.

The interesting thing is that they took groups of 40 at a time for a 45 min tour and it was not at all commercialised, besides a small shop where tickets are sold.

Afterwards we chose to walk up a road passing the fenced in original entrance to the caves and reached the top of a hill with a splendid view over the old town of Montignac. All the hills around are forested with oak and other trees.

On the journey to Lascaux we came across a keep of a castle in St Alvere it was part of a ruin and some of the ruins were still peeping out of the grass. This was a middle age fortified village with many of the houses nestled below the castle walls still visible.In search of a loo in Montignac (just before we went to Lascaux) we came across an Artisanale market in an old church and got to chat to a most delightful young man who is a soufflier, glass blower. The wood turning on show was something to behold, we then had our picnic on a stone bench in Nelson Mandela Place with a wonderful view of the old town across the beautiful Vezare River.

We could really spend so much more time in each place and as we leave there is this feeling of  “what have I missed?” mixed with a delight of what we have seen so unexpectedly and a reluctance to move on.

After leaving Lascaux, we passed chateaux visible through the trees and one where we stopped in Campagne. We took photos over an old stone wall of a magnificent Chateau which was surrounded by beautiful gardens. The white stone rounded turrets reminded me of fairy tale books I had as a child.

On the whole route hunts were clearly in progress and we often saw “parking pour la chasse” signs and also hunters in long leather boots and dayglow orange safety jackets.

When we arrived home at les Chouettes, I went for another long walk up the road and returned in the dark with the evening star just visible above the trees and the Christmas lights shining on trees on the large small holdings surrounding us.

This is truly a magnificent part of the world and so very quiet.”

Day 4 – Monday, 30 December 2013

“Today is the coldest day we have experienced here. There was a beautiful mist enveloping the trees this morning and it was not easy to get out of our warm and very comfortable beds. We had decided to go to Sarlat today, but by now we have realized within a short time of being here that we are bound to be side tracked whilst en route and of course, we were.

We passed through Cadouin and promised ourselves that we would definitely go there to visit the Abbey in the next few days. However, we could not pass Beynac Castle across the river from the enemy, Castlenaud. These castles date back to the 100 years war and are both prominently situated. Beynac is situated on the crest of a cliff and visible from all around. If you saw the movie ‘Chocolat’, it was filmed in this medieval village on top of the hill surrounding Baynac Castle. They tell you this in the brochures, but there is no mention of it in the village at all. The old stone paths wind up narrowly between houses of stone. The roofs are so interesting, packed slate and one can’t tell where the wall ends and the roof begins. So much work and so much time and these buildings have stood since the 13 th century. There are still people living in them. The view from the top was astounding and one can see the Dordogne river broadly winding down the valley. The whole experience is just out of this world and the imagination runs riot.

There are many tourists and what amazes us is that very few places are open, even for a cup of coffee. Most places have notices saying closed for the annual holiday. Yay for the picnics and we had ours at a neat dedicated picnic spot at the edge of a fores.

We drove after lunch to Sarlat, a  medieval city, huge and encircled by a wall. What an amazing place, tall turreted buildings, bell towers, music from loudspeakers and, of course, bustling with people. I shall enclose some of our pics later.

We have been playing scrabble while I have been writing this and I didn’t focus on either task. Those of you who know me well know that my whole family loves board games and that I am not and NEVER have been a fan.

We arrived home and it was too dark and chilly to go for a walk. It was a gorgeous day and I am now ready to give my overloaded brain a rest.”

Day 5 – Tuesday, 31 Decemeber 2013

“A very happy New Year to all of you. I think we will be fast asleep at midnight as we are very tired every night. This message must come from one of the most heaven on earth places. So much beauty and fresh air, what a combination.

We follow your list of market towns, Karen, and so we seeing our town Tremolat was on the list for a Tuesday we walked to the square, but there was nothing. We then walked through the village but still couldn’t see evidence of a market. Silly us it’s the 30 Dec and the lady in the boulangerie said the marketers hadn’t pitched but to try le Bugue, so we shot over there and it was in full swing. These markets are wonderful all the local products in which the French take so much pride are for sale. We saw snails, all prepared and then tinned, plenty of duck products, oils, nuts and then pâtés of every description, besides the vegetables and clothes and lovely linen cloth for tablecloths. So heavy to bring back sadly.

We then popped into the Intermarche to stock up in true SA style for a public holiday. Owen calls it the laager instinct. These supermarkets are dangerous, amazing products. I bought a bunch of carrots from Spain, cheap. The South African baby carrots were sold out – a good sign for our economy.

Andrew drove home very well although he had that experience when he worked in Portugal.

We had our lunch outside,in front. Karen and Alan, because when we had left earlier this morning the sun had been shining. Somehow it was pretty chilly at 2:30 and the sun seemed to have disappeared. We decided to take a walk and went up the road to Soulalève and then continued through Lerocq and through the farms until we came to the Limeuil turn off. We then cut down the circular road a distance of 9.5k to Tremolat and then out of the village and home. We walked for just over 2 hours.”

“I have decided that one shouldn’t have a definite plan for the day as we seldom do exactly what we set out to do or see. Andrew wanted to go to a city as he wanted to see an electronics store. And we had noticed in Karens notes that Bergerac also has a market and of course it is a Bastide town.

As the markets close early we decided to start there, but other than a small quiet covered market which wasn’t particularly interesting, we became so enthralled by the old city that we spent a good couple of hours browsing, marvelling, photographing and reading the information at various points. The architecture is very similar. Andrew told us, to that of Normandy, timber embedded in the stone and interspersed with beautiful narrow red bricks patterned to add interest. Ancient massive beams are lintels and have been there from medieval times, some of the houses seem to lean into the streets and the passageways are narrow and winding. I found this old city to be full of charm, character and warmth and I must say I preferred it by far to Monpaziac which we visited on new year’s day. I shall include pics of the medieval houses, which I took.

The story goes that during the religious wars, the 30 years war, some of those walled towns ie Bastides which revolted against the king were punished and had to remove their walls and Bergerac was no exception as it had participated in and was the centre of Protestant resistance. The preparation for the famous Edict of Nantes was drawn up there in 1685. This is the same edict which was revoked  in 1688 and saw the Huguenots fleeing France and a handful going to the cape including Owen’s ancestors. Yay !

We were astounded by the flood levels marked on brass plates and dating back to the 1700’s. The Dordogne is a very big river and was the transport artery to the Midi right up until the 19th century. There are many ports along the length and wood, leather, paper, and most importantly, wine was transported by boat to the mouth.

The river reminds me of the garlands we have seen all over here at Christmas, with the towns being the jewelled baubles along its winding route.

We then went modern and visited the large store Andrew had wanted to see, it was actually like a Rama type store (those from EL will know what I mean), but much bigger and with an incredible variety of fairly reasonable things.

We came back via the Hypermarket Intermarche absolutely amazing, but by this time my brain was addled.

We try to come back to Tremolat via a different road each time and yes, that is possible as just follow the sign marked Autres directions. And it will get you there somehow! Glad I am not driving, anyhow today we came back via a village Mauzac and there were dozens of swans on the river. I can see why swan lake was choreographed as a ballet, magnificent.

Andrew and Owen each took a ticket in the Euro million lotto tonight, wait for it, each got 2 numbers. Dont think we will be buying a village with that.

Life here is really blissful and quiet. We heard a siren for the first time today since leaving. Paris and that was in  Bergerac. There is a lovely softly colored statue of the dramatist and nobleman Cyrano de. Bergerac in the middle of  a beautiful terraced  square. He was always caricatured with an exceptionally large nose and people came from all over to see his nose.

Tomorrow we will probably go on to Rocamadour via Sarlat.”

“Karen told us not to miss the Saturday market day in Sarlat under any circumstance. We woke up to a sopping wet garden again, it rained all night. BUT the sun was shining and there were cloudless patches. However the very accurate weather forecast heavy rains for the pm and so Owen felt that it would be a pity to go all the way to Rocamadour, where there is a cable car to the top and have to do it in the rain. It is double the distance of Sarlat. We decided to leave it for a whole day’s expedition. As I have said many times, it doesn’t matter what you do, it is all fabulous.

We went to Sarlat and I must say the sunshine made the medieval town glow, what a beautiful place. We parked and walked down red carpeted pavements. We have seen this in a few towns and it is to prevent people slipping on the old pebbles and cobbles. But it does add an extravagant air to the place. In Sarlat there were beautiful French carols being played softly through speakers mounted high on the buildings, quite festive.

The covered market is in an ancient church and has the largest doors I have ever seen. All the products there were exotic like truffle oil and truffles – the latter costing €100 per 100gms. And people were buying them! I can now say I have SEEN a truffle. My dad told me that apparently pigs with a ring through their nose were used by farmers to find the truffles growing beneath oaks. Nowadays they use pigs in rural areas. They are mad about truffles, but dogs have been trained to sniff them out for the hedonistic commercial traders. I like the pig method. Reminds me of Edward Lear’s “owl and the pussycat”. And there in the wood a piggy wig stood with a ring in the end of his nose.

The street market’s branch out up the Main Street and up the winding alleys. We must have spent 2 hours tasting  and browsing. We decided to go home via Castelnaud. I mentioned it the other day as being on the opposite side of the river from Beynac Castle. But first things first, the cold always makes us starving and so we picnicked on a grassy bank next to Kayaking club on the Dordogne. I thought of Kelvin …apparently kayaking and canoeing are a huge attraction down the Dordogne and Vezère  rivers. Suddenly there were a few spots of rain, see what I mean about weather forecast accuracy and it turned chilly.

The restoration of the castle has been a huge ongoing project since 1966 and the present owner’s son is president of France’s national federation for the protection of heritage sites. During the 100 years war, the castle changed hands 7 times and was  finally given back to the French in 1442. During the French revolution, the revolutionaries dismantled some of the walls to re use the stones. We set out to climb up to the top of a very steep hill to this magnificent castle perched on top with a flag flying from the top. The footpath winds up, once again through a medieval village. Only the residents have car access.

The visit to this castle was such an interesting experience. We had not gone into Beynac, although we had walked right round it and on the walls. The displays were so interesting with short films explaining different aspects of weaponry, suits of armour, the huge wooden catapults and plenty more. The views from the different levels were amazing and we could use the telescopes and see Beynac quite clearly.

The height was frightening. The weather was ideally suited to visiting a feudal castle as it was pouring with rain and we could hear the wind howling outside. When we reached the top we noticed a hillside with grassed levels from top to bottom of rows of parking places and we were so grateful not to have competed with thousands of tourists on a hot sticky day. There were very few people about 4 families in all, with us.

We drove back at the end of yet another wonderful day and as we arrived in Tremolat, I noticed that the Christmas lights weren’t on. We soon saw why.

As we turned up the road where we live on the outskirts of the village, we saw the Electricity department very hard at work.  It was dark already and there were no lights to be seen in any of the houses. We just knew…no electricity. Fortunately we had candles and matches and gas, but no heaters. Half way through supper, all sprang to life again. The rain has stopped and there is no wind here, but on the way home we noticed a couple of trees had been blown over so suppose that’s what did the damage. “

“We were awoken by the farmer and the tractor at about 6:30 this morning. A pleasant country sound, made more pleasant by the fact that it was pitch dark and there was no sense in getting up at that hour. It doesn’t help of course to know that it is 7:30 at home!

As we got to bed after midnight last night, we actually didn’t have a conscience about sleeping late. Janice had arranged for us to meet them at LE Vieux Logie at 12:30 for lunch. Please google this place and put Tremolat Dordogne France behind it.

This a beautiful hotel and restaurant which has been in the owner’s family for 500 years. Janice says that M Girondelle has no children and is 85 and the fear is that when he is no longer there, the hotel will be sold and the implications for Tremolat would be terrible. The French pessimism coming to the fore Marg.

The chef, Vincent, has had his Michelin star for a few years and the interesting thing is that if he were to move, his whole team would go with him and so would the star. It is the chef who has the star and not the restaurant. His wife, Estelle, runs the hotel. Incidentally, he was the youngest person to receive the annual young achiever award of the year and this even outshines the Michelin star as he is allowed to wear the bleu, blanc, rouge collar on his chef jacket. When he appears in the dining room, we were told to stand to applaud. This award is not specifically food related, it is for being a master of one’s craft. Writers, artists, carpenters, in fact any craftsman can enter.

On arrival we were introduced as friends from South Africa and  we were ushered into a lounge with a fireplace. Such understated elegance. We were offered a glass of champagne and then 3 fascinating covered trays arrived with the amusée bouche. The waitress explained what each of the 4components was.

After this we were taken to the dining room, originally old stables with huge beams. Everything was exquisite – silver cutlery, antique dinner plates etc. The lunch meal was tapas.    In the form of a dégustation gastronomique. I have never experienced food like this, such exquisite combinations of subtle flavours. We were brought 11 courses. All small tastes, but beautifully prepared, like a work of Art.  Each on a different plate or bowl. Apparently the chef works with what is in season and he invents the recipes and the way they are to be presented. He teaches members of his team how to cut the vegetables present the meats etc and checks every dish before it leaves his kitchen. They address him as chef, never by his name and when he claps his hands they all stand next to their work stations to listen to his orders.

He might need to coordinate 50 Customers’ orders in one night and the timing for each table and course has to be spot on.

If a guest doesn’t want one of their set courses, they will bring an alternative. They announce what each course is and remove and replace appropriate cutlery throughout the meal. The entire meal lasted until 4:45. What an incredible experience. The owner came to welcome us to the table and  to introduce himself. At the end of the meal we were brought a complimentary glass of champagne from the chef.

The hotel has beautiful gardens and Janice told us that they use stencils to topiarise their shrubs. She has seen them doing it. The stream which rushes through Tremolat cascades through these gardens too before flowing into the Dordogne a few hundred Metres on. The hotel has a helipad and apparently people come from all over to visit the restaurant. The hotel has 25 rooms.

Janice is a mine of information on the area and on the history of the area and we had the most entertaining time with her. She decided at 5 that we needed to see the church, in Paunaut, which Karen told us about and so shortly before darkness descended we drove at what felt like great speed, down narrow back roads, but first we stopped to get pics of the very best view of the cingle de. Tremolat and then we stopped at her home and the second home that they are renovating, all lovely and bordered by woods. After this it was pitch dark, but we continued in quest of the church, built in 911. All lit up with a medieval garden on the side.

Unfortunately the man who has the key was out, but Owen, Andrew and I will definitely return this week during the day.”

Day 13 – Wednesday, 8 January 2014 

“Another lovely day. I could wear a track suit top over a jersey, shirt and spencer, but not necessary for scarves and padded jackets.  We decided to go to Paunaut by day and we were not disappointed. Such a beautiful, but sad church. The entire vault collapsed a few years ago. It also has a massive crack. From roof to floor. It is a huge and majestic Abbey. It was destroyed by the Normans in 880 and rebuilt and consecrated by a bishop in 991. It celebrated its millennium in 1991.

The porch is the oldest remaining part and has remained intact without any alteration since the 12th century. The worn stones  would speak of pilgrims and animals stepping on them over a thousand years. The nave of the church is a huge space and has been restored during various periods as it was badly damaged during the 100 years war and then in all the other religious wars between 1561 and 1598. The transepts are 12th century style and the vaults are Plantagenet style, built on spindly columns. The amazing thing is that we noticed that these columns were mounted on blocks of wood riddled with old borer holes. Incredible to think this massive stone church had this type of support. There are also excavations that have been carried out with some interesting discoveries.

The floor was raised in the 19th century covering 12th century floors and a bath or sink where the monks used to throw the water which had been used to wash the chalices. Each period left signs of its own style and yet they seemed to meld aesthetically.

Next to the church is a tree which legend tells, was a staff of a pilgrim which was planted. Pilgrims stopped to drink at a spring and that is still there. We walked up the hill on either side of the village and had lovely views of the Perigordian pointed roofs. After this we took some back roads to St Laurent des Batons and had a picnic on a bench overlooking a river. An old man came up to me and asked in French if we would like to visit their church which was right there, also 12th century. He pointed up the hill and said that lady in the house with the blue shutters will open for you. I thanked him, but we were actually going to pack up and move on.

Next thing he bounded up the hill and this dear old lady came  with the key and opened up and told me the church had burned down and had been rebuilt. I thought this had happened about 100 years ago  but she said I can’t remember about the 15th century! I was quite amused.

The next stop was St Alvere where we had seen the ruins of the castle a few days ago, we walked down an ancient street and an old man came out to ask us if we found it ‘beauty’. I got to chat to him too and he told me how the Americans, Dutch and Belgians were buying up the houses. He also told me about the war. When I said I was from Afrique du Sud he replied ah le Cap!! And then proceeded to tell me he had lived in Maroc after the war. The same happened yesterday when we were introduced as SA to the owner of the hotel. He said in French that he employed someone from Cote d’ Ivoire  and when Janice told him but that is far from SA, he replied “yes but it’s still Africa”. So there we are all lumped together, perhaps that’s why the rand and euro are the way they at the moment Rand R14,90 to 1€. After a cup of tea when we arrived home we set off on a wonderful walk and, Karen, we did a couple of k’s on the road to Limeuie. We managed to take some beautiful shots of the sunset and saw a deer in the fields. Owen looked for owls, but without success.”

Day 14 – Thursday, 9 January 2014

“I don’t have too much to relate today. THE SOLDES have started, ie the sales. In France there are sales twice a year and they are controlled by law so no shop may have a sale if it feels like it. The sales start this week till 11 Feb and then again in July.

All the sales start on the same day throughout the country. They are absolutely amazing, less 50 and in some places less 70 percent.

We discovered this by accident. We were en route elsewhere and passed through Lalinde and the market was in full swing. I had wanted to look for a top and ended up getting tops for 5 euros. Even the markets cut their prices. We were walking around and who should come up the road but Janice and Warren. By the time we had finished chatting to them people were packing up their stalls.

Closing time is also strictly controlled. I couldn’t find my camera and thought I had given it to Owen to hold while trying on a top. He didn’t know anything about it and I went back to the rail of clothing and there it was dangling on the end exactly where I had left it. Much relief!

We went to Bergerac and really did what Owen and Andrew wanted to do, look at some big stores. Not much shopping, but amazed at what is available here. Sigh sigh!!!! On account of the warm weather, we have had two jacket less days. I guess the temp went to about 14. Mild.

Tomorrow we have been invited to spend a night in the chateau. We are looking forward to the experience and I will regale you with the full story. If not tomorrow, then the next night.

We plan to go to Domme tomorrow before the rendezvous with our hostess at 4 in Daglan. Domme is a  royal Bastide established in 1283 and is the Acropolis of the Dordogne. It was established to keep a watch on English expansion in the area. They were occupying Gascony at the time.

We try to walk every evening and tonight we we walked up to the St  Genies turn off and back in the dark. The stars are so different and Owen and Andrew had the iPad set on google sky map last night and searched for the stars and planets, especially Jupiter.”

Day 15 & 16 – Friday / Saturday, 10/11 January 2014

“We spent last night in a castle, more about that later. Yesterday, we left Tremolat and headed for a tiny village Daglan in a valley called C’est ou. We were to meet Janice the owner of the castle.

The arrangement was to meet her in the square at 4. So we did a whole lot of sight seeing on the way. All these villages are fairly close by and when one needs to travel for more than an hour one thinks one is doing a safari!…well almost.

St Cyprien was the first place we decided to look at. We had driven through there on our way to Beynac, but because we were aiming to spend a large part of the day there, we had bookmarked St Cyprien for another day. The town below is not particularly attractive, but this golden medieval village stretches up the hillside and is dominated by the most magnificent Abbey. We parked at the bottom and walked up the most beautiful narrow roads lined by medieval stone houses. It was THE most gorgeous sunny day. Like many of the churches it was added onto over the centuries, but the original monastery dates back to the 6th c.

The Vikings attacked it in the 9th c .The large square tower was added in the 12 c and actually was planned as a watch tower. It has loopholes and is protected by buttresses and very thick walls. The English then sacked it in the Hundred Years’ War and the Calvinists set fire to it and used the church as an arsenal. So religion and war went hand in hand, as it still does.

We carried on passing Beynac once again and also Castelnaud. All along the Dordogne river are chateaus,neither perched on the hills or visible through the oaks and set back from the banks. We stopped to picnic in an exquisite little village set against the cliffs and also golden in the sunlight. La Roque Cageac.

The main road along the river was being rebuilt, apparently there was bad flooding last year and the river wall was being rebuilt. We walked along and I was astounded that other than homes, the entire commercial sector of the town seemed to have been closed. When I asked about this I learned that most of these small villages close up out of season, but also it was impossible to trade because of the construction. So people just shop in the next village.

Because of the road closure we had to follow a narrow little back road and descend to the next village by a road which according to the road sign measured 2.1 m in width and high stone walls on either side. It descended steeply and all of a sudden an enormous tractor came round the corner. There we were like a miniature daubermann facing a St.Bernard! The tractor driver indicated that Owen was to reverse, now this was a fairly impossible task as the distance was about 300 Metres. We all became quite agitated and in the end Andrew got out and helped by indicating to Owen. Both walls seemed to loom over us and as we edged back so the tractor moved forward.

We crossed the river and drove up through a forest to a Bastide town called Domme with a splendid view over the valley and farms below. The surrounding walls are pretty well complete and the gateways are magnificent. We parked and walked all over…very beautiful and I imagine quite a tourist trap it was founded in 1281. And the knights Templar were imprisoned there.

Unfortunately we only had about an hour so didn’t see their graffiti, a coding system, that is apparently still visible on the walls. This order of knights was created to safeguard pilgrims on their visits to the Holy Land.

We drove on to Daglan which is probably only 44k from home. We had seen so much and it had taken us the whole day to get there. When Janice arrived she wanted to pop in to see Canadian friends briefly. Charming people who retired to France after visiting it on and off over the last 10 Years. Their huge grey and white cat Scooter, took a shine to me and just draped himself over my knee. See the picture.

Janice showed us their castle on the hill – which was visible from the town square.

Once again, we found ourselves winding high up the hill and through the hamlet of Peyruzel. The castle above the hamlet is called Château le Peyruzel. It has a plaque on the gateway saying it is an historical monument and dated 13th and 16th century. The part built in 1250 was rectangular and in 1550, two towers were added. The building has 5 floors and we were on the top floor and positively out of breath when we reached the top. Janice has records of all the owners as far back as 1350. She felt that in contrast to the stark exterior she wanted a soft look inside. The rooms are lovely and cosy and one gets the feeling of being in a large house. I kept forgetting which floor was ours. There are lounges and kitchen and kitchenette and libraries on different levels and she lit fires in fireplaces. One in a lounge halfway up and one in the dining room. The width of these was about 3 Metres.

We were thoroughly spoilt and she opened Moët and Chandon champagne and we had a wonderful Spanish ham called pato Negra as a starter. She had invited a woman who has just settled in France, our age, from New Zealand. She is writing a book. In fact we walked down this morning to see her cottage she has bought and is in the process of renovating…sigh sigh.

We had the most wonderful meal last night. Janice made chestnut and apple soup and then got the local chef to prepare the dinner. His name is Fabrice, but everyone calls him Fab for short. We had a truffle sauce. Very spoiled indeed.

We had seen truffles being sold at the Sarlat market for 100 € per 100 gms. First time I had ever seen one, let alone smell and taste them. We had special wines and cheeses from the region. And of course walnuts…caramelised. The Perigord is famous for its walnuts. She had invited another very interesting couple Alex and Sophie. He is a cabinet maker and Sophie bakes breads to supply people wanting speciality breads. Her farm has an old traditional fire bread oven and makes 60 kg s of bread 3 x a week.

This morning we all had huge bowls of coffee in the kitchen and then watched as 3 truffles were grated and sliced with a special tool. We had scrambled eggs and truffles and sliced truffles on buttered toast. An unusual taste and very distinctive aroma which permeates the room.

This morning Janice showed us the original floors which are still evident in the cellar. Large quarry type tiles were put into the house in the 16th c. She also took us up to see the Attic. The original roof was flat and stone and in the 16th c the pitched roof was added. The beams throughout are absolutely magnificent and in some places the walls are 6 foot thick. Most of them are about a metre. They are allowed to alter the inside, but besides evacuation pipes no changes are allowed on the outside.

Such kindness and hospitality left us feeling very touched. It was great to renew contact with some one I had taught about 38 years ago and whom we had last met and spent time with at a school function some 15 years ago. She is so knowledgeable about the history and traditions in this area and has made many interesting friends here. Thank you Alan and Karen for putting Janice in touch with us. It was yet another very special experience in this beautiful area of yours.”

“We thought that Sarlat had the best market in the region but after going to Issigeac today, we are not too sure.

It was huge and very good and in the most exquisite medieval square with many timbered buildings. Everything is available from coats to tops from Italy, to leather handbags and then the specialities of the area, in the food line.

Honey is big at the markets and the wax is made into candles of shapes of every description. Then there is honey flavored by where the bees have been and honey sweets which we have bought on previous visits and which are most delicious. There are vegetables and organic stalls. When we reached the bread stall it was already sold out.

Some of the shops lining the market, were open and we browsed.

Janice had bought a magazine for me in which a 12 page article about her friend Nathalie was featured. Nathalie sources antiques and linens from Chateaux and reworks the linen as duvet covers, table cloths, pillows slips etc.

We decided to pop into her studio and Salon de thé and ordered coffee. I Introduced myself and she immediately knew who we were as Janice had told her about our visit. We drank coffee out of the most exquisite antique cups. Each one was different and the spoons were also beautiful. The place is ancient at the top of rickety stairs and furnished with antique chairs, couches and tables. Complete with kitty and lovely dog. Nathalie made all the duvet covers, pillowslips, table cloths and curtains for the castle. Karen, she knew we were staying at les Chouettes.

It was again THE most beautiful day and so we drove back via the back roads. To me, who sits at the back, as Andrew is Owen’s navigator with his samsung tablet, there are what seem to be hundreds of back roads wherever one wants to go. You just need to follow a mysterious sign that says Toutes Directions and somehow you land up in the chosen place. We chose to go back to Mouzac , across the Cingle de Tremolat, and we watched the wild swans again. What can I say,such grace and beauty each either diving into its own reflection or swimming and carrying it beneath. This is such a peaceful spot and interesting too as the Lalinde canal and locks end here. The reflections of the rail bridge are exquisite. After getting home we went for a 5.5k walk. For your info, Karen and Alan, down our road to the bottom then past the SNCF station and along the rd to ST GENIES, up the hellishly steep hill and home. By this stage I was so warm, I had taken my padded jacket and scarf off. By the way the temp was low this morning when we woke up,4c. It hasn’t been that low for a while, but it warmed up quite quickly once the mist had lifted.

Our holiday is coming to an end. We are going to Cahors tomorrow – a lot to do with Romans and Celts, quite far for French standards,90k. Lots of interesting places en route.”

“Cahors was our destination today. It had poured during the night and was overcast and cold this morning. Although only 90k away it took us 3 and a half hours to get there. Of course we stopped along the way .We also moved from the Dordogne department into the Lot dept. We travelled in a SE direction and kept seeing road signs for Toulouse and Espagne. I find the sun so confusing here because at midday it was due South.

The first town we stopped at was Villefranch- de- Perigord. This is in Lot. We had passed a sign saying welcome to Lot, the country of chestnuts. There is a Maison du Châtaignier, marrons and champignons, an ecological museum devoted to the 2 types of chestnuts and mushrooms. Being winter, it was closed. Apparently there is a chestnut market every Saturday in season, in an ancient covered market with heavy stone pillars. This is also a Bastide town and was founded in 1261. We walked around and bought a jar of chestnut confit. Once again the town exuded history and had lovely cobbled streets. We drove on and passed through another tiny village with a church wall right on the street. The village is Goujiounac and the date on a stone of an ancient archway or window filled in at some stage is 610.

We moved on towards Cahors and suddenly Owen saw the name of a Village, les Arques, he had just finished reading a book set here  before coming on holiday and so we turned along a narrow country road winding through oak forests and arrived outside the old school which had been turned into a famous restaurant. Someone  else, a sculptor, Zadkine.brought fame to this village perched on a hill in beautiful bucolic surroundings.

He hid in the village during the war and lived there after the war. We had seen many of his works in Paris adorning gardens and parks. Some have humour and some are quite tormented. The church, also ancient, had 2 interesting works by him instead of steps going up to the altar rail they went down below the altar (a modern alteration) and one of his sculptures of a distraught Mary holding the broken body of Christ, was positioned there. Then as one turned to go up the steps there was an enormous very modern wooden carving of Christ on the back wall. It was somehow quite amazing. I don’t usually like modern additions to old churches, but this worked beautifully. As we left the rain came down in buckets and we ran back to the car. We put the heater on for a bit and soon dried.

We drove on to Cahorsa spring which still supplies this fairly large city with drinking water. The spring was used by the Gauls and then the Romans and in 1991 coins were discovered in the source of the spring and were dated back to the beginning of Christianity. They had been thrown into the spring as offerings. Boulevard Gambetta is lined with enormous old plane trees, cafés and shops.

The 2 things not to be missed are the Pont Valentré, a medieval bridge which is quite spectacular and spans the Lot river. There are 7 pointed arches and 3 towers. It was a fortress guarding the river and each tower originally had portcullis. The middle tower was a watchtower. It was apparently never attacked because the English, during the 100 yrs war and Henri de Navarre during the siege of the city, were all too impressed by it. It is wonderfully impressive, but I think the translation actually intended to say that they just knew they didn’t stand a chance with those fortifications.

The other must see is the Cathédrale St.-Étienne, which was also built as a fortress. It was built from the 11 century and most of the original building still stands. We also went into the cloisters with a beautiful medieval garden. The delicacy of the carved arches in the cloisters which date back to 1509, was breathtaking. We walked back to the car once again getting caught in a heavy shower of rain. With the help of his navigator, we left Cahors in pouring rain and late afternoon traffic. We stuck to the slightly wider roads which actually have shoulders – for as long as possible. It doesn’t look as if there was any rain in Tremolat today, but it has become very chilly.”

Day 19 – Tuesday, 14 January 2014

“Today was cold! Brr we went to Bergerac as we had some shopping to do. We landed up at Tridome which is a DIY, home and garden shop about twice the size of builders Express. The interesting thing is the variety of items available here. Those who know my preferred shops, will know that this type of shop can keep me occupied for hours. Such fun.

We left the picnic today because of on and off showers and mist and had lunch at the shopping Centre. Also most interesting. The French meals are so French. So, although one collects ones own trayand cutlery etc, there is the most incredible selection of starters to choose from if one wishes to have a starter and so beautifully presented.

Then one orders the main course which can be anything from a plate of winter vegetables, to a grill to a Hamburger with cheese and yes, that was Andrews choice, and the cheese is not a slice of melrose, but half a deep fried Camembert. And then fancy desserts prepared in little pots. We just had a main and a café and I now am a fan of espressos.

We came home directly as we wanted to walk. The sky had cleared completely and the sunset was golden, pink and then orange as the sun dipped. The almost full moon had an ice ring around it tonight and Jupiter was its full stop.

What more can I say about our holiday in France. We were so delighted and proud to show Paris to Nicole and we saw so much more through her eyes too. We had a wonderful time in that very special city. The French flare and style was evident wherever we went. We were not swamped by tourists and saw the chic Parisians. People were helpful and charming.

Unfortunately the gardens were bleak as beds were being turned in preparation for the spring planting. We experienced the marrons, cooked on the sidewalks and the warmth of the shops we popped into. The bare trees afforded us views of places one might not easily spot. The huge attention paid to Nelson Mandela stirred a pride in us and it was so special to go to the SA Embassy to sign the book of condolence.

We stayed in 2 apartments in 2 very different parts of Paris. One was the Latin Quarter and the other was a working class area. We experienced the weekly markets and their preparations for Christmas.

Our trip to the Dordogne has also been very special. To experience the  French countryside and exquisite villages, to be aware that we are so small in this expanse of time and that however insignificant we are we can leave our mark just as the stone masons left theirs in the tiny stone houses or magnificent cathedrals and castles that have stood for hundreds of years. This has indeed been remarkable.

With Andrew, we have experienced such warmth and kindness. From our hosts, the Carter’s whose beautiful French Country Cottage, Les Chouettes, we stayed in. To the people we have met in the villages and engaged in conversation, to Janice who treated us to some wonderful experiences.

We have loved the walks, the sunsets, the icy air and the narrow windy country roads with a surprise around each corner. We have also loved the French wines which are so drinkable and lower in alcohol content than ours. The variety of cheeses in the supermarkets is amazing and French cheese from Woollies at home like Boursin and Rustique cost about one euro 20 here. There are 365 cheeses here a different one for every day.

See you all soon. Packing tomorrow night as we drop our car off on Thursday in Bergerac. We then catch a train to Bordeaux. Andrew has to be at Bordeaux airport at 3am on Friday morning and we fly from there at 4 on Friday pm.

Day 21 –  Thursday, 16 January 2014

“We were very sad to leave this morning but have so many happy memories of Les Chouettes and Tremolat and the Dordogne. Everything was spick and span and we folded the linen and left it in the lounge adjoining Andrew’s room.

Owen settled with Simon, who popped in before we left. It was raining softly all the way to Bergerac, but blue skies in Bordeaux.

We have just realized that we are all quite tired, lugging heavy suitcases around and we have been on the go now for 6 weeks!!

Andrew flies at 6 am and we fly later in the afternoon.

Andrew has sent the bathroom photos.

Much love

M.O and A

Our guide to the local villages and activities is well worth a download.

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