France – St-Cyprien, Belvès & Monpazier

We left the stunning Jardins de Marqueyssac and arrived in St-Cyprien, our chosen spot for a few days of, relatively, nothing.  We parked in the designated motorhome area in a large mixed parking car-park on the edge of the town, with a direct view up to the central church.  We bought a 24hr parking ticket that included usage of electricity points, so plugged in and cranked up our heating, as whilst the days were bright and clear, the nights were getting very cold.

st cyprien (benny in aire)

st cyprien (church tower)

We didn’t even manage to walk the few hundred metres into town on the first afternoon, but did visit late morning the following day, for a brief look.  We passed the church and a few pretty squares, and enjoyed the valley view from the steps leading to the hilltop cemetery.  We called into the tourist office and found a local riverside walk and decided to follow the route later when the day warmed up a little in early afternoon.  We crossed an old steel-lattice railway bridge, now a pedestrian and cycle path, across the Dordogne River and walked along the southern bank, east towards Allas-les-Mines.  We passed swans on the river, walking between strips of thin, managed woodland and along dark leafy paths, chilly without the sun.  We walked fast, with purpose, to keep ourselves warm with effort.

st cyprien (crossing old railway bridge)

st cyprien (bridges over river)

We rose steadily upwards through the trees then descended into the settlement of Allas-les-Mines, grown around a cement works that dominated the landscape and local economy.  We crossed another much smaller bridge over the river to return along the north bank, cutting through scruffy fields that looked deliberately ignored, possibly forming part of a managed defensive area to stem the river flow in times of flood.  Passing over one small hollow here we both let out a synchronised ‘woahh’ as the air temperature dropped significantly, like we’d suddenly entered a walk-in freezer.  A few steps later we returned back to normal ambient air, slightly shocked by the chilly pocket of air we’d passed through.  It had been good to get in a walk, covering around 14km on our loop.  We passed a lazy evening around the aire, listening to the ringing church bells and watching the busy flow of traffic in and out of the car-park.

st cyprien (riverside trails)

st cyprien (town vew)

With two days of doing very little happily achieved, we drove off south. Unable to stop ourselves, we soon stopped again for a town explore, parking in a designated aire that was little more than a waste ground gravel-patch with bins, and walked into the centre of Belvès.  This was to be our penultimate visit to a beau village, at least for a while.  Set on the River Nauze, the village sits elevated on the side of a small rounded hill, surrounded by hordes of chestnut trees in the valley below.  We arrived at the stone church first, then followed a casual perimeter path that allowed a wide overview.  We reached the central market square where a few stalls were still open for business, the only place that looked busy between the empty, scruffier surrounding streets. We may have been suffering from beaux villages overload, but even on this bright, blue-sky day, with the stone lit up, we saw precious little that truly inspired us.

belves (town view)

belves (market square)

Moving on ever-southward, we arrived in Monpazier and parked in the town’s free aire, set behind their salle de fêtes and fire station, very close to town.  We walked the few hundred metres into the town, entering by one of the many arched doorways through the protective perimeter wall of the bastide rectangular plan.  In 1284 King Edward I of England, also then holding the title of Duke of Aquitaine, was responsible for establishing this specific model bastide settlement we were now visiting over seven centuries later.  We reached the central market square, surrounded by its stone colonnades of low arches, definitely the town’s main attraction feature.  An ancient looking timber covered market stood tall at one corner, with the 13th century St. Dominique church set a short way behind on another.

monpazier (market square arches)

monpazier (main square)

After our visit, we spent the afternoon lazing around the aire, sketching in the sun, where the air temperature felt at least triple that of the shade.  A French van arrived later in the afternoon and, after looking around a while to choose their spot, they decided, in classic French fashion, to park on the sliver of road serving six designated spaces, blocking them all entirely should any other van arrive.  We had another walk into town after dark, to experience the market square and church façade lit up with moody, atmospheric lighting.  A week-long harvest celebration had just finished in the town the day before our arrival, but our stay over the weekend was still to prove a noisy one as the nearby party room was still in full use, finishing off all the party spirit, especially late and loud on the Saturday night.

monpazier (night shot)

monpazier (az at covered marker)

We decided to spend a second night in Monpazier, rather than move on again.  We had less than an hour to drive to our pre-arranged meeting with our house-sitting hosts, so we didn’t need to be closer.  It was a bright, clear day but very cold.  We braved the chilly air and walked around the village perimeter, this time beginning with an external loop that took in small portions of the nearby countryside on quiet roads.  We later sat at what was becoming our favourite spot, a picnic bench just outside the south façade of the city walls, near the pétanque playing areas and overlooking the yellowing, tree-covered rolling hills behind.  We passed a quieter Sunday night in Benny, reading, chatting and watching movies, feeling relaxed and rested without the all-embracing need to plan any more travels.

monpazier (church and arches)

Monpazier (n wanders streets)

Leaving Monpazier we said goodbyes to all our sight-seeing, for a little while at least, as we headed off to undertake more static responsibilities – we had two almost back-to-back house-sits arranged, to take us through Christmas and New Year, and then all the way through to March when we return to the UK for annual servicing and maintenance.  This, we hoped, was going to be a different, and warmer, winter experience in the south of France than last year’s.

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