Thursday, 8 January 2015
After a leisurely breakfast we returned to the canoes and began our day on the river. We will be visiting castles and villages along the way until we get to our next hotel at Beynac. First of all we slide along the river until we reach the cliff and bridge at Vitrac.
Then it was the long straight stretch with the village of Domme looming on the cliff ahead of us. A layer of mist hung over the river but we could already tell that it was going to be another hot day. After coming under the Domme cliff we arrived at the Cenac bridge and a stretch of bumpy water taking us along to Roque-Gageac.
We admired the glistening white cliffs here as we rounded the bend and got our first view of the village.
At Roque-Gageac we pulled over at a canoe outfitters as some restoration work was going on at the public place. Since a major cliff-fall at the village a couple of years ago they have rebuilt the river wall and road in front of the village. It looks smart too. The only downside is that some parts of the higher village are now permanently closed off - you can no longer walk up to the troglodyte cave dwellings above the village. Some of the cliffs are now also covered with a metal mesh.
Steve and I did take the time to walk around the village on this visit, something I haven't done myself for quite a while.
Some of the footpaths around the back of the village are also impassable these days - as being deemed unsafe. We still managed to see most of it though.
After some refreshments in the hot sun we got back in the boats to start the next leg of the paddle down to Castelnaud - not forgetting to look back at the picturesque Roque-Gageac as we left.
In no time at all we were arriving at Castelnaud where we took our guests up the hill so they could visit the splendid castle.
As we had plenty of time we also took our guests to visit the Chateau Marqueyssac which sits opposite the castle on the other side of the Dordogne. This was built to spy on the first castle but is now home to an extravagant and formal topiary garden. We sat down and had our picnic lunch here too whilst admiring the views over the countryside.
We walked back to the river from here visiting a cave on the way where we tasted some of the local wines. At the river bank our canoes we still there and we were able to paddle the last stretch of the day down to Beynac. Just another half-an-hour on the water.
We soon approached the canoe ramp at the end of town and pulled ourselves ashore. Our hotel is just a step across the street so in no time at all we were sitting in the sun having a beer and reflecting on our day on the river.
In the morning we walked up through the village to visit the castle as soon as it opened its doors. This castle has quite a different feel from it than the one at Castelnaud. They were mortal enemies during the 100 Years War between France and England.
It was a very pleasant walk in the early morning sunshine as we descended back down the village to the river-side where we began to make preparations for our last day on the river.
We slipped into the water and immediately took the passage on the right side of the island just below Beynac. This is the quieter, slower side and I always hope to see something. Perhaps a Nutria gliding into the water or some Eagle Owls roosting. This island also has a large Heronry in the centre which can have dozens of birds in the spring-time. Today we see a couple of pairs of Swans and some quite grown-up cygnets.
As soon as we are back in the main stream we are under the railway bridge with the Chateau Milandes in the distance. In fifteen minutes we approach the ramp here and pull up our canoes for a visit. This is the place made famous by Josephine Baker and it is interesting to visit the castle and gardens and learn more about her and her life.
After our visit we had our picnic lunch at the JB memorial in the lower village which has tables in the shade of a large tree. It was then time to begin our last paddle by continuing on down to Siorac.
Our guests Nancy & Mitch were in a bit of a hurry so they scootered off whilst Linda and I took every opportunity to explore every island and to take our time on the river. It was a beautiful day for it and though we got into some shallow scrapes as we meandered down the path less travelled we had a very enjoyable afternoon.
We took a width berth at this place where we saw almost 40 swans gathered in one place.
It was very beautiful under the canopy of the Autumn leaves in some of the narrower channels.
At some places I had to get out and drag the canoe 'African Queen' style through the shallower sections. It was fun though and I think Linda enjoyed the Katherine Hepburn role.
In the end our days on the river were finished and we had to pull up our canoes for a final time.
Wednesday, 7 January 2015
After breakfast we strolled down the lane into the village of St. Leon and back to the canoes we had left on the river bank. In no time at all we have got out life-jackets and paddles, have loaded up our canoes and are on our way.
It's a beautiful Autumn morning, a little cool, but with a promise of some warmth later in the day. We are surrounded by the subtle fall colours of the leaves and trees around us. Mostly pale yellows and golds and browns. A small flotilla of floating leaves accompany us downstream.
After an hour or so we pull over at Roque St. Christophe to visit the museum cut into the cliff. The old grooves in the cliff cut by this river millions of years ago were once used as shelter by various peoples - even as late as the Middle Ages - even as late as World War II as it is reputed that contraband was hidden here even then.
An hour later we are back on the water and making our way to Tursac where we shall stop for a picnic lunch. Steve has got there ahead of us and the table is beautifully set with all sorts of goodies when we arrive. It's warm enough to have a glass of cold wine or two as well.
With some reluctance we leave the comfort of the picnic stop to continue our paddle. Our next destination is La Madeleine - a famous Chapel which clings to the cliff above the river. King Richard the Lionheart of England is reputed to have prayed here on his way to the Crusades. It is also the site of a Roman Fortress and of some ancient Cro-Magnon dwellings too.
Another couple of hours on the river brought us around to the small town of Les Eyzies where we are to stay the night.
It didn't take long to stow the boats and walk around to our hotel. We still had time in the afternoon for a lounge around or a snooze and later, in the evening, we wander to a local restaurant for dinner.
The next day we took a short drive to rendezvous at Cazoules with our next outfitter. We are to start here on our three day paddle down the Dordogne. Today we are aiming for Montfort. The Dordogne is a larger river than the Vezere, both broader and faster, but it does have plenty of islands to explore and we spend some time on our meander downstream ducking and diving down some of the smaller channels.
After an hour on the water we stop for our usual extravagant picnic on the bank. Steve had once again rustled up something special. It was hot too and me and one of the guests took a quick dip in the river. I must admit it was quite fresh!
After lunch we continued our sedate paddle downstream, dodging in and out of several islands and slipping into a little cave at one point.
We have the river entirely to ourselves, not another canoe to be seen and all the fishing punts are tied up on the bank. Some of them look in a right state but I've seen fishermen use these. They just bale them out and drift out to mid-stream baling and fishing as they go. No motors are allowed.
Eventually we get to the big corner in the river where the Chateau Montfort looms over. It's an impressive sight.
We negotiate three more islands after the castle, taking the quiet side on two of them and then slipping over into a bouncy faster stream for the last gallop home before we arrive safely at the beach by our destination. Steve is there to meet us and before long we are trundling along the narrow lanes back to our hotel.
Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Another season, another trip. This time it is late in the Autumn of 2014, the time of the Fall. We had expected it to be cool on the river with misty mornings and a chill in the air first thing. As it turned out we had days of 30°C, beautiful blue skies and at times it was warm enough for us to swim in the river as if it were June or July.
Steve & I decided to make the long trip down to Bordeaux in one long fell swoop. So we were up at 5am to take an early ferry crossing and hit the road. To tell you the truth I can't remember much about it. Many hours later though we finally ended up in Bordeaux where we were to pick up our guests the next morning. After some wandering around we found ourselves somewhere to stay in a rather grand if faded Chateau Fontbelleau trapped amongst a grim industrial estate. We can however thoroughly recommend it.
First thing in the morning we drove into the city to pick up our guests from the Grand Hotel in Bordeaux. We got out of town as soon as possible and started the drive up the Dordogne valley to St. Leon-sur-Vezere.
It only takes a couple of hours. We stopped for a panoramic view over the Vezere valley before arriving at the Relais de Cote Jor for our two night stay. We then dropped down to the village for a picnic lunch besides the river and a little walk around.
Whilst our guest relaxed back at the hotel Steve and I took a short drive down to Les Eyzies to pick up our other guest who was arriving by train from Paris.
In the evening we wandered back down to the village for dinner at the Old Post Office.
Bright and early the next day we began the first of our two days paddling down the Vezere river. This first day was from Montignac back down to our village of St. Leon.
It was a stunningly beautiful day, very warm but with that smell of autumn in the air. We glided past the pretty Chateaux of Losse and Belcayre before arriving at the village of Sergeac for a picnic lunch.
After lunch we continued downstream past the ruined locks and the last of the days Chateaux at St. Leon itself.
In the afternoon we decided to visit the Chateau Commarque which is a beautiful ruin set in the hidden woods between the Vezere and the Dordogne rivers. It took us some time to find it as the roads wind about the hills and the signposts are few and far between.
We spent a very pleasant hour or two wandering over the ruins before returning to St. Leon. In the evening we drove to Montignac and found ourselves a very pleasant Spanish restaurant for dinner.