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.

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