Saturday, 3 January 2015

A Trip to the Perigord in September 2014 (Part 1 of 3)

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In early September I set out from the Eurostar station at Ashford for Paris where I visited my friends for a couple of days before taking the long train journey from the Austerlitz station in Paris to Les Eyzies in the deepest Perigord. It takes about 8 hours in all with changes at Limoges and PĂ©rigueux, but when you arrive at the tiny station of Les Eyzies you know you are far away from all the cares of city-life.

This trip is going to be very different from our regular trips. Their are just the two of us. I Met Bob on the train coming down for the first time and we are going to spend the next week sharing a canoe and a room as we paddle the Vezere and the Dordogne. It's going to be fun as we will not have the support of a van or minibus to help us get around. Just us, the river and the railway. It turns out that Bob is a professor of Japanese History so I may learn something as well.

So here we are in the small town of Les Eyzies. We have to get upstream to St. Leon so that we can canoe back down here! But first we'll walk into town find the hotel we will be staying in three days hence and leave some luggage. We'll also grab some lunch.

We sit in the sunshine have a beer and a salad. It's very warm. The luggage is organised and a taxi has arrived. A short 30 minute drive up the valley brings us to the Relais de Cote de Jor. Our host, Roland, is not about. He's left a message apologising for not being able to pick us up from the station. No worries. We throw our stuff in the room and decide to go for a walk.

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It's a nice easy stroll along the top of the valley to the viewpoint at Cote de Jor. We look down on the Vezere river as it snakes through the valley. This will be our companion for the next couple of days.

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After a swim in the pool and a laze about we walk down the trail to the village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere and have dinner in the Old Post Office restaurant. It was a long day, with an early start and a marathon rail journey. But we are here now and the two of us seem to be getting on just fine. We walk back up the lane to the Relais.

In the morning we have a walk before breakfast and then later stroll down the hill back to the village to meet Philippe and Virginnie at Apa canoes. After getting organised they run us upstream to Montignac where we will begin our first day on the river. We do of course have a look around the small town first and buy a baguette for our lunch.

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So off we go on our little canoeing adventure. I take the stern first but we'll swap around over the next few days. These rivers are not exactly challenging in a technical sense. It's warm, the sun is shining and we have plenty to look at as we glide gently downstream.

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After an hour or so we come to the Chateau du Losse which we enjoy as we meander past, checking out the ruins of the old lock gates as we approach. The Chateau is open to the public but sadly it has no entrance designed for those arriving by river and the bank is too steep for us to consider breaching the walls.

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I've been in the castle before but Bob suggests he would like to visit so I propose we paddle down to the village of Thonac where we can leave our canoes and walk back to the Chateau. It's inconvenient but it is actually not that far - a mere 1/2 mile.

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We spend a very pleasant couple of hours exploring the Chateau, inside and out. We even take the guided tour, even though it is mostly in French. No matter it's fairly easy to get the gist of it.

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Afterwards we stroll through the fields back to where we had left the canoes and continue our journey on the Vezere. Before very long we come to another grand house: the Chateau du Belcayre. It looks astounding built on the pinnacle of rock overlooking the river.

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We spin around on the river and take plenty of photographs as we pass as the sky and clouds have conspired to give us a wonderful radial shape behind the castle. The flowing weeds in front of the Chateau add to the charm of the scene.

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The next stop is the tiny village of Sergeac where we will stop for our picnic lunch. We have the French bread with raw vegetables and fruit, with cheeses and some charcuterie. Simple. Afterwards we take a small walk around the place.

Then it's back on the river for the last leg of the journey to St. Leon. We pass the last of the old lock gates and meander around a couple of small islands before gliding past the last Chateau of the day in the village itself.

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A few minutes later we are back at the canoe outfitters and getting ourselves together after a fine first day on the river. We have plenty of time for a stroll around the village and a beer as well before taking a slow hike up the hill back to the hotel.

In the evening we again walk down to the village only to find that it is carnival night. A small street market is set out selling all kinds of foods and there will be music and dancing later. This puts a smile on our face. We sit down for dinner whilst we watch the revelry but then have to be rushed inside as a brief storm brings rain. But it is soon gone and everyone drifts outside again. A fine end to a great first day.

To be continued ...