Tag Archives: Dordogne

A river somewhere: paddling the Dordogne

After three duck-weather days, the sun peeps out from behind the clouds this morning and gives us a wink and a nudge.

It’s a sign. We jump in the car and head to Couleurs Périgord, one of the 23 canoe hiring places along the Dordogne.*

They are open, and we’re soon on our way to our drop-off point in Carsac, 22 kilometres up-river.

Apparently there can be up to 6,000 canoes on the river on summer days.

The Dordogne is slightly wider than a four-lane carriageway, so I’m guessing it would feel a bit like a freeway at peak hour. Joy.

Today, the air has a distinct chill and the sun is weak so, for us, this is the best time to be on the river. We are alone out here, just the way we like it.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…the Dordogne from the Château féudal de Beynac

Like every hire kayak, this one is built tough. And heavy. It weighs at least 56 and a half kilos. Well, maybe not, but it moves like a slug and we’re happy we’re going with the flow…

We paddle past delightful stone villages and under bridges, past castles high on the cliffs, and chateaux nestled in amongst the trees.

The river is flanked by lush green forests, splashed with Autumn reds and golds. The water is so clear, we can see fish of all shapes and sizes darting beneath us.

Every now and then, we catch a flash of cobalt blue as a tiny kingfisher swoops down from the trees to snatch les poissons du jour.

The trip is supposed to take four hours, but that doesn’t account for the outboard motor in the back of our kayak. That’s EB, who has no off-button.

So two-and-a-half hours later, we round the last bend of the Dordogne to face the incredible view of Beynac and the Château féudal de Beynac towering above it.

Yesterday, we were up there looking out across the valley (pictured). The river view is so much more impressive.

Ahead, between our landing place and us, is a small flock of rather large ducks. More like a gaggle of geese.

These things are enormous, and stretch out to appear even bigger when they spot two dangerous and slightly soggy intruders.

Three of them swim towards us, necks outstretched, furious and protective of their young. The leader opens his bright orange beak and lets out a powerful hiss.

There’s no giving them a wide berth. They paddle faster than us, especially when we’re laughing too hard to paddle at all.

Luckily their hiss is worse than their bite, and a couple of waving paddles keeps them at bay until they’re satisfied they’ve put the fear of le canards in us.

It’s times like this I wish had a waterproof camera. Damn.

At the end of our paddle, we are slightly chilled but ridiculously happy – and we feel one of those leisurely people-watching afternoons in a Sarlat café coming on.

As soon as we peel ourselves out of these wet clothes…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Couleurs Perigord are fabulous – friendly, helpful and they also offer de l’escalade et de la spéléologie (caving and rock climbing).

Fortress, castle, rock… playing up in Dordogne

A sprinkle of rain and a bit of cloud cover. Perfect paddling weather, or so we thought. Wrong. The kayaking hire places were closed, so we had to ditch the river views for a few days and play a little fortress, castle, rock…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Ducks are the stars of Dordogne – on the plate and in bronze

Quacking up

It’s been great weather for ducks, which is quite fitting here in the Dordogne.

Let’s just say, there’s a few of them around. Fields full of them actually.

And, as we’ve discovered, chefs have come up with hundreds of ways of preparing le canard – including a delicious gizzard salad (a must for vegetarians, not).

Getting historical

Immersing yourself in the history of this place is inevitable – and wise, if only to avoid food and the temptation to buy real estate.

Here’s a snapshot or two…

We walked the steep cobblestone streets of the stunning medieval village of Beynac and up to the fortress above the village.

Cleverly built on the edge of a cliff like an eerie, they had an eagle’s view of the valley and only two sides of the fortress to defend.

Château féudal de Beynac is such an impressive place and not surprising it was the set for Luc Besson’s Jeanne d’Arc (1999).

Then there’s the impenetrable La Roque Saint-Christophe – a town built into the cliff-face along five terraces in the Middle Ages.

EB and I found this place fascinating, with its smokehouse, cowshed, village kitchen, houses, a church and more – all carved into the rock.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

This ancient town rocks…

But these natural terraces first sheltered hunter-gatherers, and possibly Neanderthal man and then Cro-Magnon man as well…

We also visited Grotte de Lascaux, site of the most famous Paleolithic cave paintings in the world. The original cave was getting loved to death, with over a 1,000 visitors a day in the high season.

All that breathing and body heat, as well as pollen transported in on shoes, was destroying the artwork. So a perfect replica of the cave was built and the paintings precisely reproduced in Lascaux II, making this an awe-inspiring place to visit.

These paintings are so beautifully proportioned, colourful and even three-dimensional it literally takes your breath away.

You get a sense, in the Dordogne, that there really is nothing new under the sun – that humankind has been around for a very long time. And that they were smarter and had more ingenuity than we might sometimes think.

Hitting out…

Feeling a bit castled-out, we decided to take a relaxing stroll through the countryside. Which was only ruined by having to hit golf balls along the way, and go off-piste to find the miss-hit ones in the magical forest lining the course.

It was a seriously beautiful course and the wind was just chilly enough to make you feel alive.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

EB teeing up at the Souillac Golf and Country Club

And the golf? EB played with his usual panache, but me? Well, when I pulled a pitching wedge out of the bag, with the ball 60 metres out from the flag, it was anyone’s guess where it would end up.

Instead, it soared… and dropped within a foot of the hole. There was an eerie silence, if only because EB had stopped talking.

It was a truly historical moment – me hitting the ball well, not EB being silent.

To put this in context, my skill at golf is similar to a vegetarian cooking the perfect steak (I can’t do that either, by the way).

I have to admit, the French air definitely agrees with me.

It was a perfect day under cloudy skies. All we could wish for was a little sunshine, because the Dordogne is waiting to be paddled… and we don’t have a lot of time to hang about.

Enchanted in Dordogne…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Magical Sarlat…

As if driving through the magical countryside of the Dordogne isn’t enough, we arrive at Sarlat-la-Canéda and step straight into an enchanted medieval village…

It was début d’après midi (early afternoon) and the height of Sarlat’s buzzing Saturday market that lines the rue de la République, spills down alleyways, and takes over the place de la Liberté.

With most of the streets in the centre ville closed, poor Sylvia (our GPS) went into a spin, trying to lead us down alleyways that only a scooter could negotiate. And even one with stairs.

Eventually, we ditched her and the car, and walked into the mayhem in search of our ‘home’ for the next week.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The alleyway to our apartment. Magnifique…

We find our delightful apartment in one of those enchanting alleyways that wind away from the main street. Ah, bliss…

Being in Sarlat is like stepping into the scene from a fantasy novel, with its turreted stone buildings, tree-lined town square, and smaller meeting places tucked away down secret alleyways.

This is a place where you can’t help but question the frenetic pace of life back home.

The French really know how to live. Late starts, long lunches, the most deliciously fresh food, promenading at dusk, closing their shops or restaurants when something more important comes up… C’est la vie.

Nobody minds. There is always tomorrow…

Dordogne is a place we’d move to in a second, but home is where the heart is. So we’ll have to be content with taking a little bit of this lifestyle back with us.

Meanwhile, if all goes to plan, we’ll be kayaking down la Dordogne from Carsac to Beynac tomorrow. If not, there’s always the next day… c’est la vie.

Thanks to the lovely Leila, from France at Leisure in Brisbane, who booked our accommodation from the Loire Valley through to Dordogne, into Provence and Burgundy… including our Burgundy cycling trip.