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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.