Saturday, January 16, 2010

Driving the Dordogne

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1....Happy New Year!
We spent our New Year's Eve countdown nestled down in our hotel in Beynac, France within the Dordogne River valley. Not a lot of fanfare, but we were awake and happy to ring in a new year. It is a celebration that always makes me thankful - for a healthy happy daughter, for a husband I love dearly, for another year rich with change, challenge, and adventure.

After logging many miles on our road trip we were happy to reach the Dordogne where we spent three nights. I only recently heard about this region of southwest France when my Emory boss suggested the spot. He raved about it as his favorite part of Europe, so we weren't about to miss out with a recommendation like that. He was absolutely right. The Dordogne is one of the more special European destinations. It is not on the well-worn Grand Tour tourist route and perhaps that is what lends to the cozy, classic charm.

That said it was clearly the "off" season. We stayed in one of the few hotels even open. I was sorry we missed the warmer weather treats of hiking, biking, and canoeing the river but c'est la vie when the travel time clock is working against us. Our itinerary was still jam-packed with treasures to find and explore even with the brisk chill. On New Year's Day we made an all day loop to see the Dordogne towns and castles. I never imagined such a dreamy setting. Every few miles was another sepia-colored town literally built into the cliffs with a castle sitting like a cherry on top.
Our photos just don't do it justice. I think the Dordogne is one of those must-see-live-and-in-person kind of places. It blew my mind the way the rock-sculpted towns clung to the rocks like a natural growth of the mountain rather than something man-made. And so many of them! This day we left Beynac and saw the castle towns of Castelnaud, La Roque Gageac, Domme, Vitrac, Montfort, and Carsac on a Dordogne tourist road loop. Followed up in the afternoon by La Roque Christophe, Abri du Cap Blanc, Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, and the Cro-Magnon Caves of Lascaux. Because of the cold, rainy weather many of these were drive-bys - gobbling up our film with vistas beyond compare despite the dreary drizzle. It was a good driving circuit given the bitterly cold weather; we could take in most everything with the comfort of our car's heater running!Connor made sure to show the Dordogne towns to her friends, Elmo, Pooh and Piglet, from the backseat.Unbelievable!This castle (below) looked like the Rapunzel chateau. Can't you just imagine her letting down golden hair from this isolated tower for the prince to climb up?!? The Dordogne was an area rich in fairy tale settings.Alas, it is not only fairy tale country, but more importantly Foie Gras country. Geese are raised being force fed to fatten their livers as a regional specialty. Foie gras is fattened goose liver. Some say it tastes like butter and costs like gold. I am a skeptic on the butter comparison. Still need to work on refining my palate I suppose! We saw the foie gras farms everywhere. We called it quits back in Beynac after a full first day of 2010. We hiked the cobbled mazelike path up to the castle. Connor surprised me and did relatively well hiking stroller-free considering the elements. The above photo is of Beynac. We hiked to the castle on top. Our Hotel du Chateau is pictured in the foreground. We highly recommend it. Super friendly owners who gave us a free upgraded room!With the immense beauty all around Connor was most captivated by this small lion fountain across the street from our hotel. She made sure to greet the lion with all our comings and goings!Thankfully Dordogne Day 2 was clear with a sky of sapphire blue. We left Beynac and headed straight for the Saturday market in Sarlat where we found the hustle-bustle of locals shopping away. Clementines are a must this time of year!The pungent odor of French truffles wafted from this gallery. We were amazed to see these carefully-guarded delicacies selling for 600 euros/kilogram! It made me smile seeing the precise scales and the truffles surrounded by their protective finders. It reminded me of jewelers keeping watch over their prized diamonds when a celebrity borrows them for the red carpet. They definitely want to show off the black, earthen treasures - but don't get too close!With her fruit and dried strawberries from the Sarlat market Connor was happy!The golden goose cases of foie gras were plentiful......but I say give me a freshly-baked pie like this any day instead of that ole goose liver!


Jen_runs said...

Ah, thanks for reviving more wonderful memories for me. I spent some time with my girlfriend driving around the Dordogne region a couple of years ago. Absolutely magical place!

Glad to hear that you are both well & making the most of your remaining time o/s. My love to you all,

Jen x

julie said...

Yep, we really were in the exact same spot!