|Subject: French Travelogue 11|
Day 23: Rocamadour - Domme
We had no reason to rush as we only had 60 km's to travel and we did not take possession of the gite(cottage) until 4.00pm. (Let me explain what a gite is. A gite is usually a one, two or sometimes a three bedroomed self contained cottage. It is normally a requirement that the gite be booked for a minimum of a week, and sometimes two weeks during July and August. Although it is often possible to book these gites via a booking agency, we arranged ours direct with the owners. These cottages are usually cheaper and a lot more comfortable than a hotel, and you have a base to operate from, meaning that you don't have to continually pack and unpack your bags. There is a down side however, if you are travelling by car and staying in hotels or B &B's, you can get a lot further afield, because it is not necessary to return to fixed lodgings.) While we were packing our bags, heavy rain was falling along with thunder and lightning. Rachel thought it would be a good idea if we rang the owners, of the gite to make sure we have the correct directions. It was just as well we did as the gite was nowhere near where we thought it was. Directions in hand we left the hotel at 10.00am.
We arrived at the town of Gourdon, which lies between the Dordogne and the Lot. We were driving down the main street and noticed a market that was being held in an empty car park. At this stage the rain had eased, so we parked the car and wandered back. Rachel purchased some goods, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes and eggs, which helped stock up the larder at the cottage. We dropped the purchases back at the car and carried on walking and eventually entered the medieval section. We entered via the fortified Majou Gate and wandered down, rue du Majou, which was the main street for the old section. Along this street were many corbelled houses. (corbel is a piece of material, in these cases , fancy stone-work, jutting out from the side of a building, and supporting something from above). After a short walk we came upon the huge Saint Peter's church with a beautiful rose window and two asymmetrical towers. The towers along with some machicolations across the church's facade suggested to me that this particular edifice was once heavily fortified. We came to a street with the unusual name, rue Zig Zag. If, for nothing else but the interesting sounding name, we wandered down this street and as the name suggested, it was anything but straight. Most of the buildings down this street were in a dreadful state, some didn't even have their roof intact. Even with the derelict buildings all around us, this area wasn't devoid of all charm. We took some interesting photographs. We continued on for a while but soon returned to the car.
We arrived at Vitrac, a small village near Domme, and located the gite without any problems. As we could not take possession of the gite for a further three hours we went and had a look at the bastide of Domme. (bastide is a fortified village or town)
(In the early 13th century the village as it is today, had not yet been built, but apparently a castle by the name of Domme-Veille stood on the spot where the town was eventually built. To help halt the English advancement, King Philip 111, in 1280 commenced the construction of the bastide, Mont-de-Domme. Even with this, the English, through an act of treachery, entered through the town gates. Some of the inhabitants just opened the gates for the English. One year later the French re-took the town and hung the perpetrators. The Hundred Years War saw Domme change hands several times, leaving the French in control by 1421. For the next 100 or so years, Domme experienced relative peace, until the Wars of Religion, when a protestant, by the name of Geoffroy de Vivians, after two unsuccessful attempts, in 1588 laid siege to Domme, by having thirty of his troops scale the cliffs, at night, and simply open the gates. These cliffs were not defended because it was thought that they were impregnable. Domme was returned to the French after Geoffroy de Vivians, in 1592, sold it for forty thousand ponds. During the late 16th and into the 17th centuries, the people, driven by hunger and high taxes, revolted and took up arms, but were easily defeated. The 18th century saw Domme being rebuilt. During the French Revolution serious incidents arose in Domme between the rich and the poor) We entered the bastide by driving through the magnificent 13th century gate, Port de Tours, formerly protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Flanking the gate were two enormous half towers built from honey coloured stone. The half towers have, in the past, been used as watch-towers and from 1307 to 1318, as a prison by the Knights Templer. We parked the car and looked for a restaurant. We found one that was on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the beautiful and tranquil Dordogne river. Although it was a hot day, a gentle breeze was wafting in from the direction of the river, keeping the restaurant comfortable. Both of us had the 65ff fixed menu, which consisted of a salad, followed by steak and veggies and for dessert, ice-cream. For the price it was quite an acceptable meal. After the meal, we sat on a park bench in a picnic area, named Promenade de la Barre, situated next to the restaurant, and for some time we just admired the views across the Dordogne valley. After a while we got up and wandered into the square, Place de la Halle, admiring some of the honey coloured buildings. Overlooking the square is the Domme church with a front porch, held up by four white columns. Above the porch is a statute of the Virgin Mary and above that again is a large round stained glass window. At the top of the uncommonly tall steeple is the bell tower, where the large bell is flanked by two smaller ones. Next to the church is the governors house, where the ground floor is occupied by the tourism bureau. The appearance of this building is rather enhanced by a small corbelled tower. Opposite the governors house is the 17th century city hall, with four large stone pillars holding up an impressive looking wooden balcony. The entrance to the Grotte du Jubile (Grotto of the Jubilee) is through this building, where a cave, 450 metres in length, reveals a world of stalactites and stalagmites. We photographed a small dwelling named Delol House which we were assured was typical of the area, with its stone steps leading to the front door, and a vine growing up the side. It was after 4.00pm so we returned to the cottage. We were met by the owner, Mary Johnson, who handed us a welcome package, which contained milk, butter, eggs, jam and a bottle of red wine. Rachel drove to the nearest town that had a super market, namely Cenac, and purchased some requirements for use in the gite. The cottage had everything except a TV and a washing machine. The lack of a TV did not particularly bother us, but no washing machine was a real bummer. To date we had found it necessary to do hand washing on a daily basis, and dry the articles of clothing, using any means possible. It would have been helpful to have a washing machine, but at least we had a clothes line to hang the washing on. Except for the washing machine, or the lack of it, everything else about the gite was excellent. The kitchen had all the necessary mod. cons. There was a decent sized lounge area, with a huge open fire. Included in this area was an abundance of reading materials, which included travel brochures, travel guides, novels, music cassettes and games. Under the stairs, the cleaning materials were kept. The stairs led to the bedrooms and the bathroom. There was a twin bedded room and a room with a double bed. The bathroom was functional with a shower, but no bath. Towels and linen were supplied. The owners, who lived on the same block of land, did not bother us, but on the other hand they were always available to offer advice. They were both originally from the UK. Both Rachel and I believed that the location cannot be beaten and the tariff at 2250ff per week was very reasonable. Holiday Gite at Vitrac, C/- A. Johnson, Domme Phone/Fax: 0033 5 53293996 That evening Rachel cooked her first meal in France, which was basic yet enjoyable. We had boiled potatoes, salad and, as Rachel put it, veal thingys. We could not understand the cooking instructions, so she placed the meat in a frying pan with a little wine and cooked them, then started to wonder if they should have been casseroled instead. Too bad, the meal tasted alright anyway. After dinner Rachel wrote up her diary and I studied the maps to plot a route and see where we were heading the next day.
Day 24: Day Trip
We left the cottage at 9.15am, and headed for first scheduled stop, Chateau du Puymartin. (This castle was built during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Hundred Years War saw an attempted siege on the castle, by the English. The same castle was the headquarters of the catholic forces which, in 1574, attacked the protestant stronghold of Sarlat. This Chateau has been in the same family since 1450. Chateau du Puymartin has a ghost called the White Lady. Apparently the story goes that the mistress of the castle was caught in bed with her lover, when the husband returned unexpectedly from the wars. The husband promptly despatched the lover and locked his wife in an upstairs room, for the duration of her life. She was not allowed to see or talk to anyone and her food was lowered on a rope through a trapdoor in the ceiling. When she died, some 15 years later, her body was cemented into the wall. Her apparition has been seen on numerous occasions floating over the battlements.) Included with the tour of the castle was the room where the mistress of the castle was imprisoned for 15 years. It was a very small room, probably three metres square. There was a large fire place in the room, but no heating was allowed. The trapdoor was still in the ceiling, and where she was entombed in the wall, was clearly visible. We were also shown rooms that were furnished with antique period furniture. On the walls hung 17th century tapestries and paintings.
The next stop was meant to be the Lascaux Caves but when we arrived we found out that the next English tour was two hours away. We were bitterly disappointed but there was nothing we could do about it. We sat down, along with some wild cats for company, and had our picnic lunch and a cup of tea from our thermos. These caves are not the original ones but all the paintings have been faithfully copied and they can be seen not far from the original site. I knew we would be passing some other caves, with prehistoric paintings on the rock walls.
We drove through the small town of Montignac and followed the Vezere River until we came to the imposing Chateau Losse. We got some marvellous photographs of the castle with the sun shining directly onto the yellow facade, creating a fantastic reflection on the almost still waters of the river. Although it was not on the schedule to visit this castle, and seeing that we had some spare time, because of not visiting Lascaux caves, we decided we would like very much to take a tour of this castle. To get to the castle we had to drive back to Montignac and cross over to the other side of the river. We arrived at the castle entrance, and as luck would have it, a tour was just about to start, and it was in English too. This 16th - 17th century chateau occupies a truly magnificent site, on top of a smallish cliff face overlooking the clear, dark, slow moving waters of the river Vezere. When we were on the far bank taking some photographs, we noticed what looked like a cave, purposely dug into the cliff face. The reason for this, I never did find out. When the chateau was originally built, a large arch was constructed to bridge this cave. We entered the grounds by first crossing a drawbridge and carried on through a well protected, 16th century gatehouse, complete with a steep pitched stone roof. This gatehouse was like a small fort where soldiers were housed. The drawbridge was turned into a fixed bridge in the late 16th century. A curtain wall with watch towers and turrets runs either side of the gate house. We entered the main building by climbing a of magnificent stone staircase. We entered the Hall of Residence which is fill of remarkable renaissance furniture. This room opens out onto the Grand Terrace with fine views over the Vezere River This terrace is built over the large arch that spans the cave. We were then shown through an absolutely breathtaking drawing room. On the wall was a 17th century Brussels tapestry named Preparation for a Journey. This tapestry was in remarkably good condition. More incredible renaissance furniture filled this room, included were chairs, tables and small dresser, but the piece that caught our eye was a large walnut French dresser dating back to the 1670's. The front of this exceptional piece was covered with ornate scroll work. It was set off with the inclusion of three carved, small columns of painted lemon-wood. Although Rachel and myself are not normally great antique buffs, we found it difficult to tear ourselves away from this room and consequently we were hurried along by the guide. The next room was a small salon, and again renaissance furniture was everywhere. There was a large stone fireplace is the middle of the room. On either side, of this fire place, stone pillars held the fancy stone-work which went right up to the ceiling. There was another beautiful, but smaller walnut dresser in the corner and a small table with wonderfully carved legs, was to the right of the fire place. The show piece in this room, well we thought so anyway, was a huge, decorative, sculptured wooden column. (Because we were not allowed to take photographs in the chateau, and Rachel's diary was not more specific, we do not know the use for this piece of furniture, but we do remember that it was absolutely stunning in appearance) The main colour scheme of this room was light greens and creams. The private bedroom, although less spectacular, still had some very fine renaissance furniture in there. A 17th century tapestry hung on the wall and a four poster bed with a carved wooden headboard stood in the corner of the room. The canopy had finely sculptured wooden edges. Finally we were shown the armory with all its medieval weapons. Anyone who enjoys looking through a chateau filled with fine renaissance furniture will definitely enjoy visiting the Chateau de Losse.
The town of Les Eyzies was our next scheduled stop. This town is recognised as the pre-historic capital of the world. The only real reason that we wanted to stop here was that the National Prehistoric Museum was housed in this town. From the main street, looking up at the cliff face we saw the old Les Eyzies castle which was converted into the museum. To get to the museum we had to climb a temporary metal stairway. The museum is spread over four floors. Spread throughout these floors are artifacts from the prehistoric era. We saw actual sculls of both Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man. A complete skeleton of a twelve year old from Cro-Magnon period was on display. A complete skeleton of a Mammoth was also on display. There were many more artifacts, too numerous to name.
We were heading back to the cottage when we passed a sign pointing the way to a Troglodyte village. We thought that might be interesting so off we went. Although the prehistoric part of La Madeleine is closed to the public, the cave fort was open, so we paid 30ff entrance fee and were told that this was a self guided tour. This was fine by us. (Scientists have proved that this area was inhabited as far back as 12,000BC. Evidence has been also unearthed proving that a 10th century village was built and fortified here, to withstand Viking raids.) As we walked along formed roads we saw evidence of where dwellings had once been erected. Some of these houses even had a second level and down below, stone walls had been built to shelter animals. To prove that the rock fort had been used by modern man as well, there was a 15th century roman church built under the rock ledge. (Legend says that somewhere buried around this church is a fortune in buried treasure.) Up above lookout posts(overhead cluzeau) were hacked out of the rock face, and we thought they would have been used for throwing missiles at intruders. They may well have been used for that, but their main purpose was to communicate from fort to fort, reflecting light of a shiny surface. On top of the cliff is a ruined medieval castle, Petit Marzac. We enjoyed wandering through this trogladyte fort but it was late and both of us were dog tired. We returned to the cottage and later Alan Johnson, co owner of the gite, came over and introduced himself.
More Later......... Richard (Christchurch, New Zealand)