Monthly Archives: Nov 2017

France – Domme & La Roque-Gageac

After another night as the sole inhabitant in the lovely aire, we left leafy Groléjac and moved on, at least a little.  We drove only a few miles, on beautiful roads lined with red, yellow and orange trees flanked by burnt russet ferns.  The road steadily rose higher and the views over the countryside rose with them, on a scale of welcome beauty.  The striking drive was over much too soon, as we pulled into the almost empty aire on the outskirts of Domme.  We bought a ticket allowing us to overnight, settled on a spot, then set off under a very warm sun to explore the town.

Domme (parked in aire)

Domme (approach from aire)

Domme (town gates)

It was one of those perfect November days, with only a light flurry of white clouds tickling their way across the otherwise uniform blue sky.  The views out to the expansive Dordogne valley below were quite exceptional, lit up with autumn colours and warm stone houses.  The town sits high above a long, slow hairpin bend on the Dordogne River, the idle flow of the water looking very tempting for a swim on this sunny, bright day, although the air was sharply cold.  We could faintly see another of the French beaux villages, La Roque-Gageac far in the distance, lit up in front of tall limestone cliffs.  It was set to be a future target for our attentions, but today we would slowly wander and absorb the casual ambiance of the hillside beauty Domme.

Domme (terrace view)

Domme (walking the streets)

We walked into the main square, passing the covered market and church, before reaching a long tree-lined plaza with an ornate stone balustrade that opened out views right across the entire valley.  We lingered a while to absorb it all before walking the length of the public gardens, loving the deep contrast of the tall red-leafed trees against the clean winter sky.  There were very few other visitors to the town today, only a few local workmen digging up and repairing a tiny side street.  We walked to the defensive walls on three sides, weaving up and down the town centre, relishing each step as it led to a different perspective of the valley.  One lucky resident had a private circular château on a promontory at the end of the village, commanding expansive vistas of the valley to the south, west and north.

Domme (N and view)

Domme (boats on river)

Late in the afternoon we headed off for our second walk of the day.  We first headed back towards Domme, before dropping downhill on a steep muddy-grass path marked as a cycle route, to reach the valley floor.  We continued on to reach the tree-lined banks of the Dordogne River.  We walked through a grove of walnut trees to reach a point on the river banks where we could easily access the water, and stopped here for a while to play with our cameras and practise photography.  The flow was light close to the bank but the main body of the river was raging and bubbling.  From here we returned back up the same route and back into town.  We walked along the stone walls and through the gardens again, enjoying the differences in the valley due to the now late-afternoon light.

Domme (chateu and windmill)

Domme (aire sunset)

We saw a few more people around in late afternoon, mainly tourists taking photos, than in the morning.  The view was still utterly compelling as we found yet more routes through small squares and streets.  We approached to look at the private site on the end of the hill, noting that the quirky circular château also had a tall stone windmill, complete with timber sails, in their garden.  Each step took us deeper into the real Domme, seeing a solid, working, residential town, not just a beautiful tourist attraction.  We later returned across the hillside to the aire, satisfied we had seen most of beautiful Domme.  We were greeted by a sprawling, messy sunset on our arrival back at Benny, with deep reds and burnt oranges flickering over clouds and the silhouette of the bastide town on the near horizon.

La Roque-Gageac (overview from river)

La Roque-Gageac (town view)

The following morning we awoke to a light frost, the frosty whiteness sticking all the loose fallen leaves to the picnic table beside us.  We got moving reasonably early, with a plan to jump over to the next beau village, La Roque-Gageac, only a handful of miles along the valley floor.  We soon arrived and parked up, before walking first to the banks of the passing river to take in the wonderful reflective view of the town’s collective façade.  We slowly traced a path along the front, enjoying the setting and the stillness.  Huge rugged limestone cliffs protected the village that clung to its face from behind, and almost camouflaged it from the front.  We found a narrow, stoned path leading steeply up through the buildings, to reach a local access road behind that offered panoramic views across the valley.

La Roque-Gageac (backstreets)

La Roque-Gageac (view to river)

La Roque-Gageac (ivy doorway)

We passed tall cypress trees, fluffy pampas grass and neat timber doorways lined with red ivy, leading into stone houses balanced on the steep slopes.  We saw a church, a château, several circular corner turrets on ivy-covered buildings made from the same stone as the cliff.  The clear day gave us exceptional views along the river in both directions, and back to Domme, sat high on the hillside. We reached the Hogwarts-looking school at the end of town and returned slowly along the pretty front, between the main façade and the fast-flowing Dordogne River.  The village setting was quite spectacular and we never tired of looking at it under the hazy glow of the morning sun.

La Roque-Gageac (river facade)

We backtracked a little to the village of Cénac, to buy some bread for lunch, before returning back through La Roque-Gageac and beyond, to have a look at a nearby aire.  It was €15, sparse and right on the road, so we decided to push on a little further rather than lingering in this valley.  It was still early and we had not moved far, only a few miles, so felt we should go further.  Besides, we still had one more place to visit today – Les jardins de Marqueyssac.  

France – Groléjac & Sarlat-la-Canéda

After leaving the incredible, balancing beauty of Rocamadour we soon had to turn and back-track a little.  Our first chosen route out of town was closed for remedial works, so we chose a smaller, windier route over bumpy hills and through the open countryside.  It was a warm, clear morning and a quite beautiful choice, thickly lined with tall yellow trees lit up in the morning sun, and we loudly sung its praises as we rolled along it mile after wonderful mile.

Carsacaillac (abbey building)

As we were passing, we paid a flying visit to the small town of Souhillac.   We stopped in their central aire for ease of parking, before walking around the centre, seeing the Sainte-Marie Abbaye de Souillac.  The impressive Romanesque building was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries with a triple-domed chevet. The floor plan is a traditional Latin cross, said to have been inspired by Haghia Sophia in Istanbul.  We circled the abbey and a portion of the old town, enjoying stretching our legs.  The tourist office was shut, as expected in low season, but we were still able to use the town’s free Wi-Fi to update our downloaded off-line maps.  We sat on the ground in a small patch of warm sun in a pretty square deep with yellow, fallen leaves.  As we utilised the free Wi-Fi we watched the antics of a group of young French girls, posing and smoking to look as cool as possible as they chatted loudly in incomprehensible (to us) French.

Carsacaillac (town streets)

We had planned to stay in Carsac-Aillac, but when we parked on the aire we got stuck fast on the grass, each attempt to move dug ourselves ever deeper into a literal hole.  We tried six times to roll a little further back, in the hope we could find solid ground and gain traction, but only put ourselves into more grief, further down the grassy slope.  With one final endeavour, with chocks kicked solidly behind our front wheels, we rolled a little back onto each chock then drove off with a short, grippy start.  Each try gained us a half metre, then chocks were reset and we went again.  After numerous attempts we finally escaped and Benny regained sure footing on the flat gravel.  We had practically destroyed an area of their grass, churning it up in a myriad of places.  There was no one around so we tidied what we could then sheepishly made a swift exit.  Never before did we have so much relief in being able to drive off a site.

Grolejac - free aire

Grolejac (riverbank and bridge)

We guiltily drove on to a different aire, at the nearby hamlet of Groléjac.  This proved such a contrast – a free aire with services, set out on a spacious plot with large individual bays formed in neat limestone gravel separated by well-tended strips of grass.  We were the only motorhome in residence, and we felt very glad to have such a nice alternative so close by – the beauty of travelling by motorhome in welcoming France.  We had a short walk locally to see the nearby village and the river frontage.  We found the road bridge and later, following the riverbank west alongside neat woodland and planted coppices, the old steel railway bridge, part of a long cycle path on the old train route. We saw a dog-obstacle course being well-used by trainers as we followed the fast-flowing Dordogne to eye-up a spot listed in our Wild Swimming France book, but found the water was much too wild to contemplate a swim.

Grolejac (dordogne valley)

Grolejac (az with bridge)

Grolejac (coppices)

The original reason we had looked to stop in Carsac-Aillac was to cycle the local voie verte route, an old train line now designated as a cycle path, leading into the regional town of Sarlat-la-Canéda.  Fortunately, the very same route continued along into Groléjac, so we could easily complete the same cycle from our new home, with even a few extra miles of track to enjoy.  The forecast was looking much better for the following day so we procrastinated, leaving off from contemplating the cycle until then.  Instead we passed the afternoon mooching around the aire, with another short wander in the early evening sunset hours.  We relaxed, had a slow sumptuous dinner and later opened a bottle of red as we re-watched the feel-good movie ‘A Good Year’ for a welcome shot of French longing.

Sarlat-la-caneda (n on bridge)

Sarlat-la-caneda (n on vioe verte)

Sarlat-la-caneda (bikes at rest)

We welcomed the morning with a big fry-up, a rarity for us, as despite the shining sun above us the day was going to be very cold. We wrapped up warm and headed along the voie verte and across the pedestrian bridge in the direction of Sarlat.  The route passed through passages of autumnal trees, bending over tunnel-like to enclose the path, but thinned just enough to allow shafts of light to penetrate and dance on the fallen leaves.  We passed deep gorges dynamited out of rock to allow the passage of the original train-line.  The voie verte ran out near to the centre of Sarlat town, so we had to make our own way from there.  Rather than following the busy traffic road into town, we chose to head up and over a steep hill, a tough winding climb, then had a brake-melting descent down a narrow weedy path, popping out close to the medieval centre of Sarlat-la-Canéda.

Sarlat-la-caneda (main square buildings)

Sarlat-la-caneda (specialist shops)

There were Christmas market stalls and cabins in the process of being constructed, and lights in the process of being hung.  The streets in the centre were quiet of cars and had pedestrian priority even though some cars were allowed through.  We abandoned our bikes in a quiet corner by an Artisan foie gras and wine store and continued on foot.  The old medieval centre was a delight; speciality stores selling leather goods and local foods were integrated neatly into the ancient stone buildings, leading shoppers and browsers around through narrow alleyways and passages, past churches and numerous small bronze statues.  We passed through the huge grey steel doors, fifteen metres high, of the covered marketplace for a browse of the colourful stalls.  It was a beautiful town, very neat and inviting.

Sarlat-la-caneda (central square)

Sarlat-la-caneda (leafy cycle path)

We returned by the same leafy route, only realising on the return leg how much we’d worked rising along a gentle incline all the way into Sarlat.  We hardly had to pedal going back to Groléjac, so we had lots of heads-up time to fully enjoy the surrounding views as we mostly free-wheeled home through the glorious trees.  We spent another quiet night alone in the peaceful aire, looking out to an all-encompassing black blanket filled with twinkling stars.

France – Rocamadour and the GR6

Leaving our misty valley view in Autoire, we first stopped at services at nearby Gramat to fill up with fresh water.  It was the time of year taps were beginning to be turned off, for fear of freezing, so we filled up when we could.  A quick supermarket stop and we were all fully set, so we headed out along the pretty country roads towards Rocamadour.

Rocamadour (misty start)

Rocamadour (church buildings)

We arrived at the large car-park at the top of the hill, by the terminal of the funicular that carries visitors down the mountain.  After a little deliberation on whether the aire was actually open, we parked up alone in the huge gravel area by the closed campsites and readied ourselves for exploring.  We first walked to the château, then the cross at the top of the cliff, before starting down the stone paths leading to the medieval town.  The winding hairpin route was slippery with the build-up of wet fallen leaves and we had to be rather careful, so made slow progress.  Each corner turn had an icon for pilgrims to view or rest at as they passed, and one expansive plateau between two paths housed an area of intricately carved columns with decorative statuary, all seemingly created out of the cliff face.

Rocamadour (cliff tombs)

Rocamadour (buildings)

Dropping down quickly under the cover of yellowed trees, we soon arrived at the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its complex maze of ancillary buildings, all built on or into the cliff face.  This was a 12th century Benedictine community precariously perched on the face of the cliff, about halfway up, with the community village below.  We could just see the Alzou river, flowing between limestone cliffs over 120 metres high, between the red-amber foliage of the blanket of overhanging valley trees. Long, straight runs of carved stone steps led us on, ever downwards.  When we reached the village at the bottom of the cliff, it was almost entirely empty, the early hour and the dour weather having scared off all but the most dedicated tourists.  We walked the length of the narrow, winding main street, far enough to see the tall château, built to help defend the sanctuary, balanced on the high plateau of the rocky cliff behind.

Rocamadour (valley view)

GR6 – walk

More dull drizzle welcomed us on Sunday morning, lightly tapping on Benny’s roof.  After a slow start to see if the inclement weather would clear, we noticed a slight brightening and finally decided to get on with our day and go explore beyond Rocamadour town.  With our walking boots and waterproofs on, we headed off feeling sure we would spend a good portion of the day getting wet.  We enjoyed re-visiting the beautiful tree-lined hairpin decent past the château and down towards the medieval town.  We passed through the stone tunnel and the grounds of the sanctuary church complex built up against the rock face, before descending the main stone stairway to reach the edge of town.  From here we headed west out of town on the well-marked Grand Randonnee 6, or GR6 for short.  This dedicated walking route was to be our main companion for the day, through the beautiful valley forests.

Rocamadour (arch at end of town)

Gouffre de Saint Sauveur (autumn)

Our spirits were lifted by the beauty of the autumnal leaves on the many trees lining the valley floor and sides of this limestone gorge.  Our route along the gorge’s valley floor curved in harmony with our neighbour, the meandering L’Alzou river.  We followed an easy trail through intensely beautiful scenery, even when viewed through the persistent drizzle.  This led us first to a deep sink hole, named le Gouffre de Cabouy, where several dry-suited divers were preparing to descend into the passageways below.  This over-ground limestone gorge covers a network of many underground caverns and connected stretches of labyrinthine tunnels. We continued around the edges of the blue pool and onwards to our planned destination of le Gouffre de Saint Sauveur, a stunning swim spot recommended in our Wild Swimming France book.

Gouffre de Saint Sauveur (arrival)

Gouffre de Saint Sauveur (sinkhole)

The promise of crystal clear, azure water on a warm sunny summer day was conjured up easily in our minds, but on this damp November day, although pretty with the autumn colours of the surrounding woodland blanketing its high cauldron backdrop, the pool was slightly lacklustre in comparison to the one of our imaginations.  The surface was partially covered with algae and fallen leaves, so neither the depth of colour nor visibility was pristine. There were canyon divers here too, their presence foretold by giveaway bubbles, and we sat and ate some snacks as we waited for them to slowly resurface from the blue depths.  Once they had waddled out in their fins and returned to their cars, we had the pool entirely to ourselves, and Nicky prepared herself for a dip.  I opted out for once, becoming the designated towel-holder and cameraman as Nicky wriggled into her swimsuit and rash vest and slowly eased her feet along the gradually sloping sandy bottom to reach the blue water of the deeper part of the pool.

Gouffre de Saint Sauveur (ready for swim)

Gouffre de Saint Sauveur (in the sink)

Nicky reports:  So many times we’ve visited a place in winter months and have agreed how lovely the place would be in the summer; here was no exception.  Yet visual beauty was only one way to seduce your senses.  After a summer of enjoying many Scandinavian swims, whether wetsuit or birthday suit, quick dip or lengthy training swim, it had been a long while since we had been immersed.  When swimming skins on a cool, wet November day you anticipate the biting temperature of the water grabbing your skin and enveloping you in a tightly-hugging chill.  This somewhat sadistic feeling is ultimately invigorating, refreshing and pleasurable all at once, a nerve-tingling thrill and a sensory overload.  It’s even more special when coupled with a deep natural pool in rural French countryside, surrounded by overhanging autumnal trees, reached by a lovely, lingering 7km hike.  All other thoughts in your mind are banished as the enlivening feeling from the cold water accompanies you in a tranquil cocooning haven; a special moment.

Rocamadour (on the GR6 path)

With Nicky dried off and suitably re-clothed, we returned by the same path back to Rocamadour.  The winter scenery continued to impress through a dull light drizzle that turned into a heavy deluge seconds after we made it back to Benny.  Happy to have made something of an otherwise washout of a day we snuggled cosily inside, content with our efforts, and enjoyed many cups of warming tea.  It would have been so easy to stay in and miss out on creating this wonderful memory.

France – Autoire & Loubressac

We drove through a wide limestone gorge from Carennac to reach the large aire set just outside Autoire village.  A steep descent took us to the bottom tier, where we parked up with a view across rolling hills and an autumnal valley.  It cost €4 for 24 hours.  With all our recent exploring we decided not to visit this beau village until the morning, so we spent a lazy night in aire, with only a barking dog and a distant baying donkey for company, with the exception of some very late arriving vans who then noisily flapped around under the midnight starlight, deciding where to park.

Autoire (church)

Autoire (chateau)

Waking up we found ourselves not far below the hanging cloud that had descended through the valley.  Visibility was still sufficient for walking, so with walking boots on we set off with a plan to take us through the clouds.  We had a quick look around the small village, again a lovely setting although there was little to see today. We followed a local walk along the river bank to see the cascades; a tall, wispy waterfall with deep pools below in the river.  With the high valley sides lined with tall trees and the light spray catching the sunlight through the leaves our setting took on a wild jungle feel, and for a brief moment our imagination took us to Venezuela’s Roraima, not south-west France.

Autoire (valley view)

Autoire (cascades)

We crossed the low river on a small timber bridge and headed up the side of the valley. It was a sharp, steep climb, warming us very quickly with the effort, even in the cold, misty air.  Once near the top of the valley side, the path levelled out and we spurred off a short way to visit the 11th century Château les Anglais – a fanciful and gravity-defying stone-built castle, keep and turret set under the over-hanging cliff face.  It was originally built from the same limestone as the cliff, so was well camouflaged from below.  There were holes in the walls noting where timber beams for higher floors would have been, and the tell-tale remains of a spiral stair providing access to the other levels was evident at the entrance.  An interesting ruin now, but it must have once been an impressive fortress or prison.

Chateau les anglais - approach

Ascending some handy metal stairs we reached the top of the limestone cliff, and shortly after arrived at a built viewpoint.  We had poor visibility through the flaccid sheet of still, cold mist stubbornly remaining in the valley below, but the top of the cascades were just visible across from us.  We walked on along ancient paths for the last few kilometres, imagining horse-drawn carts squeaking along these cobbled lanes in past centuries, to arrive at the outskirts of Loubressac, yet another celebrated Beau Village de la France.  We arrived into the village green with its white-barked plane trees lining the square, and a stone plaza offering panoramic views out to the valley behind.

Loubressac (top of cascades)

Loubressac (us in mirror)

Loubressac (main square view)

The seigniory of Loubressac was a going concern from at least 900 CE.  After the drama and destruction dealt by the Hundred Years War, the oppressive English yoke was finally thrown off and the following 15th– 16th centuries brought a complete revival of fortune, with many buildings rebuilt and repopulated.  In 1789 the French Revolution swiftly removed the head of the last Feudal Lord and garnered in a more democratic future with a newly-elected Mayor to oversee the village. Today the village seemed quaint, sleepy and quiet, but oozed history from its worn stones. We walked around the centre, passing the high gate into the unseen château behind.  We later found an eye-opening aerial photo of the village and were astonished by the extents of this crowning property; stables, swimming pool and manicured lawns all squeezed in within the otherwise tightly compacted spaces and concentric walls of the village.

Loubressac (tower view)

Loubressac (chateau gate)

We returned to the large open square and sat for a while, to eat and think.  As we ate our snacks we watched a very old guy, wearing an obligatory beret and a long impressionist painter’s beard, shuffling very slowly home from the store.  He had probably lived in Loubressac all his long life, we decided, making a daily pilgrimage for provisions.  After eating, we walked another circuit of the village, taking in a few other key sites.  About ten minutes later we saw the same ancient, bent-double gent shuffling again, slowly opening his front door as he finally made it back home, no more than 100m from where we first watched him in the central square.  We bought ourselves a baguette in the only shop in town then walked out of Loubressac via a different, more direct route for our return journey back to Autoire.

Loubressac (Az in the street)

Loubressac (plane trees and car)

Loubressac (route back)

We passed the village cemetery as we departed, with more expansive valley views to our left.  Ancient dry-stone walls lined the route, each thick with bright green, hairy moss that covered all surfaces so completely that it looked sprayed on.  We descended swiftly on a steep, leaf-strewn path under the canopies of old, rickety trees with twisted, overhanging yellow-leafed branches.  Here we met the only other person we saw outside the village on our walk, a lady impressively running up the punishing hill with her energetic cocker spaniel in tow.  This path proved to be shorter and more direct and we soon arrived back into Autoire.  We popped out behind a stand-alone square tower and walked the last few hundred metres on the road, crossing over a small bridge to return to the aire, and Benny.

Autoire (arriving in aire)

We made it back with only moments to spare before the sky suddenly turned into a giant power shower, drenching everything in the valley.  Safe and dry inside, we were very happy to have made something of such an enclosed, grey day.  We passed another, this time entirely undisturbed, night in the aire, as we casually planned our next moves.

France – Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne & Carennac

Moving on from overnighting in the Domaine de Chirac’s farm, we continued with our now familiar theme of visiting beautiful French villages.  The next we planned to go and see, only a few miles away, was Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.  We parked easily in the town’s spacious aire down by the river, conveniently payable overnight but not during daylight hours.  A short distance from the aire we saw a bustling trade fair was underway and watched as unimpressed cows were bought and reluctantly loaded into trucks, with three men desperately pushing, pulling and otherwise bullying them.

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (fountain square)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (la maison renaissance)

It was a dreary, cold day, with little colour or light.  There was a curious salmon-fishing or capture-and-storage point built into the side of the bridge, trapping them as they navigated the river.  We followed the banks in the direction of the village, walking through a stone archway under a bridge to reach the tight medieval centre.  It was yet another slightly shabby but rather beautiful village.  We passed an old well set on a cobbled street, where we could easily visualise the grime and noise of carts and horses rolling through in times past.  The next open space was at a large five-storey Renaissance house, decorated with caricatured statues of scenes from the Garden of Eden.  The huge, delightful property was listed for sale, but we didn’t enquire – no Benny parking.  Through tiny alleys we reached the large church with tall bell-tower, set in a trafficked square, with various timber-fronted shops set around the edges.

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (medieval centre)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (church entrance)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (church square)

From here we wandered through more winding passages to reach the more modern side of town, where the roads were suddenly full of cars, people and noise.  We crossed over to a large square where quite harshly pollarded trees provided the main focal point, with lots of busy commerce around.  Tall residential properties lined two sides of this main square, with wildly steep gardens set behind them.  All the buildings were built from a cold white stone that was set off nicely by the myriad of varied colours on window shutters.  We found a tourist office but it was shut, as is generally the case at this time of year.  Having decided we’d seen enough, we purchased a baguette and returned to Benny to continue our way of gentle discovery, but it was about to all unravel into a long and rather frustrating trek.

2m wide bridge - no good for Benny

We left Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne thinking we had a twenty minute drive to visit Carennac.  With only one minute left, so we thought, we were suddenly hit with route barrée signs on the only bridge across the Dordogne into Carennac.  So close, but no way across.  We followed a few nominal deviation signs, but they soon disappeared so we headed to the next bridge along, about 20km away.  The road approach to this bridge was shrinking with each turn, with weight limits reducing from 9t to 7.5t to 3.5t, and when we hit 1km to go we were suddenly informed the bridge was only 2m wide. We hoped, if careful, we could possibly sneak across so we continued on, but on lining up at the entrance to the bridge we found it to be so tight, with high foundation stones each side, that it really wasn’t worth the risk.

The bridge we couldn't take

We parked under the bridge and had lunch and a short walk along the river before we re-planned again. The next bridge along would add yet another additional 30 minutes to our travel time.  We talked about changing our plans and heading elsewhere, but decided to persevere with our original plan.  The road along the river was one of the prettiest we’d driven, a tight snaking path with bubbling water on one side and high stone cliffs on the other, similar to those skirting around Loch Lomond, so this was of some small consolation.  We finally reached the village of Gluges and crossed our third bridge of choice, and ten minutes later we passed by the opposite end of the 2m wide bridge, less than 200m from where we had lunch, with a few choice words for whomever decided to build the narrow structure.

Carennac (village view)

Carennac (stone courtyard)

With one more stretch of narrow, winding riverside road behind us, we finally made it into Carennac.  We had a slight panic on arrival at the immediate tininess of the local roads, but we slowly made it through the outside loop of the village and safely out the other side.  There was good signage to manage modern day traffic flow for the safety and longevity of the historic village, with each road clearly marked if it was not suitable for buses or camping-cars.  Some village roads were barely large enough for tiny French cars to squeak through.  We parked up on one of the village’s several aires, the free one, a wide area of sloping gravel surrounded by high trees, just fine for day parking.  From here we walked into the historic centre, packed with neat, traditional medieval dwellings, all beautifully kept.

Carennac (approaching church)

Carennac (church entrance)

The cold, lime-washed whiteness of the overcast skies persisted, so we never had the stunning panoramic views from the village’s elevated position. With no particular plan, we just kept moving around and through the twisty narrow streets, enjoying the easy exercise and fresh hillside air.  We occasionally had to swiftly dodge, with our backs tight to the stone side walls, as a confident or reckless car rushed through much too quickly for the available street width.  Tucked away, we found small artist shops selling their artisan goods in bright displays.  We had our obligatory visit to the local church, found through a tiny archway that led into a wonderful cobbled courtyard.

Autoire (town aire)

Leaving Carennac, we decided to head for the hillside village of Autoire, where there would be more beaux villages to see and, more importantly, expansive hillsides to walk in, to give ourselves a short break from stone and reconnect with more leafy pathways.

France – Turenne & Collonges-La-Rouge

We serviced and left the pretty hilltop aire in Dampniat, heading across country.  The weather had turned and we no longer enjoyed wonderfully clear blue skies, but a dull, thick greyness now permeated everything, blocking out the light.  A light drizzle occasionally fell, obscuring our view as much as the lack of light did, making it a fairly miserable, grey day for sight-seeing and photography.  But we persisted with our plan, and next to see was Turenne.

Turenne (village square)

Turenne (village streets)

Turenne is bastide village, one built in a circular plan on a domed hill, historically providing both prestige and security for the residents. We arrived on the outskirts and slowly inched our way down a tight lane into the town’s aire, amazed to see a huge 9m long Concorde parked up already, with no idea of how he manged to turn himself into the site. We weren’t staying so parked at the back of the aire, away from the free electricity points, and walked into the town.  The sky was a uniform blankness, an off-white sheet of featureless cloud.  Even with the lack of light on this overcast day, the first square we reached, less than a minute from the aire, was simply beautiful.  The town’s white stone mixed with a pale hanging mist gave an ethereal quality to the buildings, and they oozed class and eminence.

Turenne (Az in narrow street)

Turenne (n wandering the streets)

We walked along narrow streets lined with colour-giving hanging baskets, all neatly tended even this late in the year. It was so tranquil, out of season, casually wandering and envisioning the lives of those who had passed through these gates in ancient times, and similarly imagining what it must be like to live in this village today.  Turenne had very difficult and tight access for cars and would certainly be hard to cycle to and from. We continued uphill to reach the main castle, passing many private homes and gîtes for hire, some with tiny swimming pools.  Several balconies offered expansive views down over the valley and the lower portions of the town.  The view was mostly shrouded in low-lying mist, but the occasional stray breath of wind would momentarily clear the obstruction and allow us a look.

Turenne (view of valley below)

Collonges-la-rouge (approaching village)

Collonges-la-rouge (N in village)

We returned to the aire and carefully headed on, ready for our next stop at nearby Collonges-la-Rouge.  This was yet another place with the designation of ‘Beau Village’ and we soon felt it richly deserved its classification.  There was a dedicated motorhome aire on the outskirts, and we walked in from there, slightly unsure if we needed to pay.  Our approach offered an overview of the town from a distance, and of several route options we could take.  The dark red sandstone of all of the buildings in the well-preserved small town was almost burgundy in colour.  Sadly, it cast a deeper pastel shade than normal under dull, blank skies and although we were sure we weren’t seeing it at its best, the intricate narrow streets full of many bespoke quaint homes and local artisan businesses was still a delight to see.

Collonges-la-rouge (church exterior)

Collonges-la-rouge (church interior)

Collonges-la-rouge (Az under arch)

The village can historically be traced to the 8th century CE, but has had a rather chequered history. It profited and grew from the custom of pilgrims passing through the nearby pilgrimage site of Rocamadour, but the French revolution caused the destruction of key priory buildings.  It underwent a brief economic recovery in the 19th century until dwindling population numbers led the village to becoming not much more than a stone quarry.  Only in the early 20th century did villagers create a movement that eventually secured the classification of the village as an important historic monument.  Collonges-la-Rouge was the founding member of the ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ association, a brainchild of the mayor, and has since become one of the most visited places in the region.

Collonges-la-rouge (leafy streets)

Collonges-la-rouge (central towers)

Collonges-la-rouge (n walking the centre))

The village was like a perfect film set; each twist of the pathway, every turn of a street corner, brought a new vista of beauty and interest even on this, the dullest of days.  Red and yellow-leafed ivy hung off the high sandstone walls in beautiful cascading curtains, adding a softening aged grandeur.  Most of the village’s commerce was closed, but we passed one restaurant whose vents were expelling the most wonderful aromas.  We had read that the sandstone is known to glow brightly under a warm sun and we vowed to revisit at a future time to experience this.  Collonges-la-Rouge had a tight, compact centre and we completed various loops to ensure we’d walked every possible path and seen all the key buildings from all angles, absorbing the sights as much as we could during our all too brief visit.

Domaine du Chirac (duck house camper)

Domaine du Chirac (With our purchase)

We planned to overnight stop at a nearby farm­, but it proved difficult to find as the co-ordinates listed on their website led only to the centre of the nearby village of Brivezac.  We eventually found Domaine du Chirac on Google maps and plotted our own route, only we headed up and over the mountain on single track farm roads, rather than around on proper roads.  We would have faced trouble had we met another vehicle on the way, but thankfully we didn’t.  This was a France Passion business, a local wine producer, and we were able to both park up for the night and enjoy a wine tasting.  Their specialty was rich, sweet white wine, which isn’t a particular favourite, but we enjoyed the tasting session and learning a little of the history of their business.  We purchased a bottle to serve as a sweet aperitif at our upcoming Christmas festivities, before settling in surrounded by geese, donkeys and farm dogs.