We cross through today, to one of my favourite parts of France, the Dordogne in the Perigord Noir. It’s here I picture when I have my fantasy about running away to a cottage in France, with its pretty limestone cottages, aged to a rich buttery cream, dark stone roofs, and gloriously vibrant flower box windows. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting than the Dordogne with its dark forests and winding river. And it’s the home of chateau, truffles, walnuts and very fine farmhouse cheese. Bliss.
On the way we pass though the village of Catus, where I spectacularly fail to photograph the cat sculpture poised in eternal stretch against the village signpost. Too busy thinking up stories about how many cats might be needed to run Catus, ala Beatrix Potter in whose world animals very sensibly owned shops and laundries and could run up a pretty dress when needed. Very fine stitches, mice make.
Our destination today is one we’ve visited before, on our first trip to France 14 years ago. La Roque-Gageac sits nestled in between the limestone cliffs that protect it on one side and the Dordogne river the other.
Man has lived here since prehistoric times, originally in caves in the cliffs, the last of which was occupied until the 1940s. Really.
From the 10th to 17th centuries, La Roque-Gageac was a tax-free haven attracting many nobles who built the fine mansions and houses still standing today.
Being August, the month where the French holiday, the village and river are bursting with activity. Half of France is canoeing or standup paddling down river, the other half lunching.
We succumb to the latter, enjoying a burger (him) and warm goat’s cheese with local walnuts (me) under umbrellas in the open air with the best view in town.
This gorgeous spot was one of my favourite villages 14 years ago and it’s stood the test of time.
One thing we didn’t do then, was sail down the Dordogne on a gabaras, the flat bottomed boats which were the main form of goods transport in this area until the advent of rail.
We remedy that late this afternoon, taking the 7 km journey down river to the next village, Beynac-et-Cazenac, passing chateaux, natural spring waters and getting a history lesson along the way.
We learn about the area, its trade history and rather terrifyingly, about the massive rockfall in 1956 that claimed three lives when part of the limestone cliff collapsed onto the village.
We also learn about the mercurial nature of the river: currently between 45 cm a few metres deep, in winter water levels rise to 9 metres, covering the carparks in water and flooding the ground floor houses, none of which are used as residences for this reason. It’s a sobering thought.
After the boat tour we climb the ancient steps to the 16th century church, admiring along the way a most unusual tropical garden featuring palms, bamboo and oleander which pave the path.
From here we have a great overview of the river and the village as the path runs from one end to the other.
What’s left of the light is spent exploring the village as the busyness of the day fades.