This was one of the first legs of our trip that we booked. Knowing that Europe in August is in full-on holiday mode, we didn’t want to be moving around.
At the time, we didn’t know how much traveling we would do prior to plonking in one spot for three weeks. As the time approached, we were very ready to stay put in one place for a while.
Neither of us had much knowledge of the Dordogne area, but I thought it had to be nice, as it was only 20km from Saint Emilion; a wine appellation I am very fond of and a town I had visited 15 years ago.
Our home for three weeks is on a small property called Beaulieu; the owners have converted a barn into two apartments. The other booking failed to show up, so we have the place to ourselves.
The apartment is spacious and well-appointed: a large kitchen, dining and lounge downstairs and an upstairs loft with bedroom and bathroom. After living out of a backpack and staying mostly in accommodation consisting of simple bed and bathroom, this is luxury. The first thing I did was entirely unpack the contents of the car and then my backpack.
Our nearest village is Villefranche-de-Lonchat, consisting of a boulangerie, pharmacy and a little general store. The locals are very proud of the nearby Lac de Gurson. Whenever we mention where we are staying to anyone, they all seem to refer to the lake. The nearby villages got together and created a beach and recreation area. It looks very pleasant, but given we have a pool where we are staying we haven’t taken a dip in it.
The landscape is a patchwork of grapevines, sunflowers and corn fields, interspersed with grassy fields and grazing cows.
Since arriving back in France I’ve been having an affair…..with french food. It started with duck; duck magret, duck confit, duck salad and the pièce de résistance is of course duck foie gras.
We even visit a local foie gras farm (stop reading if you are a vegetarian or animal rights activist, the following paragraph may cause distress!)
The owners wife was Irish and delighted in giving us a tour, perhaps a bit too much of a tour. Aside from seeing the ducks wandering freely around the yard, we also got to see how they are fattened up in their short (but very happy) 12 week life and how a quickly and calmly that little life ends. We still bought some foie gras!
The love affair continues with saucisson, jambon, baguette, croissants, pain-au-chocolate, cheese and more cheese. Then there is the wine; french champagne, sweet white wines, dry rosés and rich reds. The french have a wine to match every morsel you eat!
Many of the surrounding villages have a weekly fête; a local food and wine festival. Rows of picnic tables are set up in the town square, surrounded by local producers selling plates of food straight off the farm. It’s a gastronomical feast: steaming vats of escargot and seafood paella, lamb and pork sliced straight from the roasting spit and of course there is duck in every way imaginable.
But leave room for desert! Don’s favourite is the local ice cream; we even visit an ice cream farm during our stay. He also loves ‘chichi’s’, the french equivalent of spanish churros, served with a rich chocolate sauce. Then there are pancakes and an array of fresh tartes…….Don has a sweet tooth.
I discovered the ‘Jesuit’ (named so, because the shape looks like the Jesuit hat), it’s a cross between a custard tart and vanilla slice, sensational! We’ve checked out a few fête’s during our stay.
It’s no surprise that the kilos are creeping on. I think we acquired a few sitting around the Greek islands for 5 weeks. Lazing in the sun reading books does not help your waistline, but it was heaps of fun! But, if we are going to keep eating our way across France, I might need a new wardrobe.
So, we decided to hire two bikes and go out riding most days. The bikes have been a great way to explore the local villages and have the added benefit of getting some exercise and hopefully shifting a few kilos. I’m not so sure the later is working, they seem to falsely justify eating more!
Both of us speak very basic, you could say, pathetic French. Though to the amusement of the French, we are willing to give it a go. But rattling off a well rehearsed phrase like a parrot can get you into more trouble, when they reply back in rapid French. It’s worth throwing in early ” Je suis Australien, et parle un peu Français.”
Lets face it, being Australian does have advantages; we are generally considered the more exotic and preferred tourist, over other English-speaking countries. I say “milk it when you can.”
To date we’ve always experienced people with good humour and enough English, or at least sign language, to help us get by.
One Friday night we find found ourselves at a local tavern in Minzac. There was live entertainment from Jacques and he enjoyed involving guests. He was very excited to discover we were Australians and announced this to everyone.
Suddenly, Don is part of the entertainment. Jacques hands him the mic and wants him to sing Hotel California. Well, it was a laugh and there are times when you are glad you will never see these people again!
We hadn’t expected any visitors during our stay, but had two friends surprise us. Don’s school friend, Bruce Wymond was in London for work and popped over for a weekend. Penny Arrow who we’d met skiing in Japan, took a detour from a trip to Spain and came to stay. It was lovely to catch-up and spend time with both.
As you should have gathered by now, I am not going to give a day by day description of our time in Villefranche. That would even bore me. In general; we played ‘tourist’ as little as possible.
Most of our exploring was on bike, or through living out our weeks as much as possible like locals. Buying from local wineries and markets at different villages, visiting the village fête’s of an evening.
Some of the highlights include touring down the Dordogne visiting the towns of Beynac, Domme and Sarlat, on our way to pick-up Bruce. This is the more popular tourist end of the Dordogne.
Numerous medieval towns are set along the banks of the river, or perched above with fortified walls and towering castles. Well worth the visit, but we were glad to return to the peace and quiet of Beaulieu and our surrounding villages.
We took Bruce, on the way back to the airport, to visit the Lascaux II cave. The original cave dates back 17,300 years. This is certainly the oldest ´thing´we have visited on this trip. A bit sceptical at first about visiting a fake cave, until we learn why.
The original cave was discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1948, but the exposure to visitors breathing carbon dioxide was damaging the paintings and the cave was closed to the public in 1963.
Lascaux II is a near perfect replica, built 200 metres from the original site. It took 7 years to painstakingly construct and another 5 years to reproduce the art. Not only is the effort of replicating the cave impressive, so is its contents of Paleolithic cave paintings. The paintings of animals are all on the roof of the cave and the detail and colour is amazing.
Well, our three weeks has quickly come to an end. I had great expectations of catching up with emails, completing some boring admin and most importantly getting the blog up-to-date.
I didn’t quiet get there. Somehow time flies by, even when you think you have a lot of it. Before we knew it, we are back on the road continuing our tour through Europe.