Loire Valley | Midi Pyrenees | Dordogne Valley
This trip journal continues from my previous instalment – 3 Days in Paris. From here on, my parents and I will be exploring the countrysides of France.
With a wave of goodbye, we picked up the rental car in the middle of Paris and proceeded to scream our way out of the city. I say “scream” because it took a bit of getting used to driving from the ‘wrong’ side of the car and on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!
Chateau de Chambord (Loire Yalley)
But we got the hang of it eventually and managed to find our way into the Loire Valley, also known as ‘Chateau Country’. And our first stop was at Château de Chambord. A truly iconic sight, a splendid example of French Renaissance architecture, and also the largest chateau in the valley.
We turned this into just a photo stop as Tripadvisor advised that it’s nice from the outside but not worth exploring the (meaningless) gutted out interior. All the same, we ended up strolling around the whole grounds because it looked so majestic. Mum was so in awe with this place.
Chateau de Chenonceau (Loire Valley)
We only had 1 day in the Loire Valley, so this was the only other Chateau we visited. A smaller but much more personable visit, if I might add.
Château de Chenonceau
What’s beautiful about this particular Chateau is how it’s built gracefully over the River Cher. Here’s an evening view of the building as reflected in the river’s waters.
We decided to spend the rest of our afternoon exploring the inside of the Chateau and its surrounding gardens.
It was a very good visit, the interior was not ‘overdone’ into a tacky museum the way many tourist attractions can be made into. Instead, the place told a story and the interior was refurbished modestly to suggest the sensibilities of its occupants and its turbulent past. This resplendent gallery here is the part of the chateau that stretches across the river.
And here’s the view of the gardens from the upper floors of Chateau Chenonceaux. I wished we had more time to spend here as there was something bewitchingly historical about the place, and I wanted to just stand there and gaze across its grounds, conjuring scenes of how life would’ve been centuries ago.
Dinner in Cour-Cheverny
There’s one thing you should know about me, my travel habits aren’t food-oriented for the most part. So here’s our very simple dinner in a *cough*…. pizzeria, one of only three places that were open for business in the township near where we stayed for the night. Incidentally, the pastas and pizzas there were awful, but the chargrilled steak was sensational.
la Closerie de l’Aventure
+33 (0)2 54 78 88 57
With a budget of EUR150-200/night for three, I’ll have to say that finding nice places to stay posed a bit of a challenge for this trip. At that price point, we’re often looking at not-that-great three star hotels.
But during my browsings, I’d eventually stumbled upon this B&B close to the Chateaus we’d visited. It’s run by Pascaline, a lovely lady who used to live in Paris but has since moved to this area to run this B&B and a hobby farm to boot!
While the location was pretty remote (you definitely need a car), the rooms were pretty boutique. It reminded me of a farm stay with your own self-contained rooms, and there was an apple tree in the front driveway that excited us (dumbo-dilly) city slickers so much!
Breakfast the next morning was gorgeous, with a lovely spread of home baked breads and homemade jams with house churned butter. Honey from bees in the region, and fresh milk from the farm!
After breakfast, we visited the farm animals and played with them before departing on our onward journey. I must say donkeys are soooo ADORABLE!! Funny how they’d eat freshly plucked grass from your hand when the same grass is everywhere around them for them to eat.
We enjoyed our ‘farm stay’ at la Closerie de l’Aventure and I’d like to thank Pascaline for taking care of us so well.
Rocamadour (Midi Pyrenees)
We left Pascaline’s beautiful farm and proceeded to drive a few hundred kilometres down south to explore a few villages in the Midi Pyrénées. It was a very long day of driving, but I’ll have to say that I’m so glad we got to see these picturesque off-the-beaten-track villages. Dad researched this part of the trip marvellously.
The village of Rocamadour contains medieval monastic buildings set against a sheer cliff face that faces a tributary of the River Dordogne.
Once again, we spent more time here than we planned for… exploring the village, its twisting terraces and passages, and the untold stories hidden within its age-old walls.
A parting view of Rocamadour before we moved on. Sometimes, I wished we had the facility to spend months and months exploring these wonderful places.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (Midi Pyrenees)
After even more driving down narrow twisty roads (and we got lost a few times), we managed to reach this second village just before sundown.
It was spectacular, and we understood why Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) association.
This quiet commune is perched on a 100m cliff above River Lot in the Midi Pyrénées.
There are times when I’m on holiday (like when I’d visited Machu Picchu) where I’d just want to take a piece of the breathtaking sight before me and keep it close to my heart… so that I’ll remember it forever and become a better person for it.
This photo doesn’t quite capture how awesome it was being there. Still, my heart skips a beat whenever I look at it.
+33 (0)5 53 28 11 38
After sunset, we drove for a few more hours in the dark (and nearly ran out of petrol!) to our accommodations in The Dordogne Valley. That was one of the most harrowing drives that we had out of the whole trip because the roads were so dark, twisty and narrow and we got quite lost.
By the time we’d arrived, it was past 8.30pm. Since Montford is such a quiet township, we faced the prospects of going to bed hungry with no restaurants open for a late dinner…
That’s when Andre and Barbara, the hosts of this inviting little B&B, did a very touching thing. Despite it being so late at night and without any prior notice, they proceeded to whip up a simple but splendid meal for the three of us.
We feasted on heirloom pumpkin soup (I saw Barbara picking the pumpkin from the fruit basket outside), wine from Bordeaux, local cheeses and cold cuts with organic bread (baked by a friend). Even dessert came as thoughtful scoops of homemade chocolate sorbet with poached pear. We were literally ‘tasting the terroir’. Because of the extraordinary circumstances that occurred which made this meal happen, it was one of the most memorable meals we had out of this whole trip.
Morning at L’Ombriere… I’m still so taken by Andre’s and Barbara’s wonderful hospitality. We spent two nights here whilst exploring the Dordogne Valley, speaking of which…
Morning in the Dordogne (view from my window)
… isn’t this just the most beauteous sight ever?
Beynac et Cazenac (Dordogne)
Andre sent us off with tips on where and what to visit, and we spent the whole day exploring the Dordogne Valley.
The villages and sights weren’t that far from each other, so we had a much nicer time driving around and exploring this region. Here’s the old fortified castle at Beynac et Cazenac, Andre recommended we visit this because they’ve kept its interior like how it was like during Medieval times.
It’s certainly better than visiting some of the other castles that (I hear) have been pimped up into bling bling museums with security guards et. al.
And look at this view of River Dordogne from its defensive ramparts!
Our precious few days exploring this region turned out to be the highlight of this whole trip, there was just something soo tranquil and magical about this area.
Lunch happened in the town of Sarlat, where we discovered many many shops selling foie gras. And that’s the other thing about The Dordogne, the Perigord Noir region where it’s in is also known as the land of foie gras and truffles.
Chez Le Gaulois, Sarlat
But we had a simpler (but satisfying) lunch of local cold cuts with salads and breads.
After lunch we walked around Sarlat some more, it’s historical centre was remarkably charming.
Les Jardins de Marquessac (Dordogne)
Our next stop was a little afternoon stroll in the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac.
It’s set on top of a hill, so there were places where you could get quite a nice view of the Dordogne Valley. In the background against the river, you can see the riverside village of La Roque-Gageac.
And some distance away in the horizon, lit up with beams of sunlight cutting through the grey autumn clouds, we could also see the medieval hilltop castle in Beynac et Cazenac.
La Roque-Gageac (Dordogne)
We then took an hour long boat ride from the township of La Roque-Gageac in the late afternoon. Not the loveliest of rides because it was cold, windy and there was a brief and sudden rain mid-ride.
But just as we returned, the sun came back. It’s a pity this village was going through some refurbishment, but even so, I thought it was very picturesque set against the river next to the steep vertical cliffs.
And we spent the evening watching the sunset from the quiet hilltop village of Domme.
This sight of the Dordogne Valley is one that will remain in my heart forever.
We had a rustic dinner in La Gabarre, a small family owned restaurant near St Julien de Lampon. Fabulous foie gras there!
It’s interesting how many of the restaurants in France use moveable blackboards as their menus. While it’s stressful when there isn’t an English menu, it also means you’re probably going to get better food. So most of our meals involved me furiously checking what this and that French word means using Google Translate app on my phone, and then attempting to speak (very bad) French to the waiter only to discover that they can speak English… hah!
This ends our visit to the beautiful Dordogne Valley. It’s the one region of France that never crossed my path when I was researching where to go on this trip, and I’m so so glad that dad had discovered it on his own accord and insisted that we spend a few days here.
To be honest, I usually don’t like coming back to the same place when on vacation because there’s so many other places in the world I’ve not visited. But I do hope to return to the Dordogne Valley in the future and spend more days of tranquility there. It’s that memorable.
Follow up with the next instalment here, where we went into Bordeaux wine country, visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady Lourdes, marvelled at the majestic hilltop of Carcassonne before finally reaching the Mediterranean coast.