Tag Archives: main square

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.  

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France – Ségur-le-Chateau & Saint-Robert

Leaving Uzerche, we felt there were so many choices of where to head next.  We still had a few weeks spare before our house-sitting commitment, and we were geographically close, less than a day’s drive away.  It was time to slow down our progress and concentrate on a more detailed exploration of the surrounding area.  After much debate and deliberation, we headed off west, to visit a few of the nearby Beaux Villages a France.  Our first stop was then to be the village of Ségur-le-Chateau.

Segur-le-Chateau (river frontage)

Segur-le-Chateau (river panorama)

The day was reasonably bright as we headed west, across small country roads.  The village was not looking too promising on first arrival, as the streets approaching the centre were all dull grey and crumbling walls, and the similarly plainly decorated church was surrounded by busy scaffolding.  But once we reached the main heart of the village and parked up by the trickling river, we could appreciate what had earned the village its coveted status.  The prime setting on the curve of the river was quite exceptional, with picture-postcard timber and stone buildings tumbling out over the flowing waters and the tall ruin of an historic castle on the hill behind.  What remained of the castle’s huge stone walls was awash with thick ivy, hanging loosely off the face, offering a look of aged grandeur.

Segur-le-Chateau (village streets)

Segur-le-Chateau (main road through)

After a brief appreciation of the view, we entered what we thought was a small tourist office, but turned out to be the Mairie. The gentleman working there, who may have even been the village mayor, immediately took us under his wing, located a key to the closed tourist office and gained us access to lots of leaflets, maps and useful local information.  One of the local maps had a recommended walking route around the village, so with no other plans, we took off to follow this.  We didn’t abide by it fully, spurring off to see other corners as they caught our interest, but it offered a general structure to our wanderings.  A steep cobbled path led up the side of the church and almost instantly into open countryside with views over the village, before looping back around and back to the centre.

Segur-le-Chateau (riverside view)

Segur-le-Chateau (timber buildings)

Some buildings have been recently renovated, their stone cleaned and everything looking neat, but the village still has a long way to go to bring the overall ambience up to the same exacting standard.  But should they try achieving that perfect look, they may end up losing something of that ramshackle wonderfulness.  The intangible feeling of real lived-in untidiness, worn timber and stone permeated with depths of history and time, could potentially be swept away with too much polishing of the village.  But without continued investment and growth, it may have a limited future as a viable town for locals, beyond the influx of seasonal tourism. It’s a fine balancing act, and sits well beyond my paygrade to adequately advise upon. We returned to Benny with these thoughts tumbling through our minds.

Saint Robert (church from square)

Saint Robert (church interior)

We slowly squeezed between the high mountainside rock and a bulging stone house to leave Ségur-le-Chateau, then drove on small, empty roads to reach Saint-Robert, a short drive south.  It was another in the long line of 100 designated French Beaux Villages we hoped to visit.  There was a large aire on the outskirts of the village that we could have stayed at, but later decided against.  We parked up there in the spacious parking, beside only one other motorhome, and walked the short way to the village centre.  Saint-Robert was predominantly built from warmer stone, and felt neater and better kept, rather than the quirky, tumbling-ruin feel of Ségur-le-chateau.  Both villages had their obvious charms, but in very different ways, with Saint-Robert feeling just a little classier, being more homogenised in material and colour.

Saint Robert (church gardens)

Saint Robert (stone and timber)

We first gravitated to the Romanesque church, part of a Benedictine monastery built by the followers of the eponymous St. Robert, positioned as the central focus of the village square.  We had a short look inside, noting the different stone finishes on various levels, simple and effective as decoration. We enjoyed the wonderful views from the church gardens down to the valley far below, marvelling at the setting.  We wandered the main streets in all directions, ensuring we saw each alcove, square and point of interest, viewing the village from all available angles.  There were a few large chateaus on the edges of the village, hidden away behind tall walls.  Centrally, there were a proliferation of gites for hire, and it seemed that much of the population must be temporary visitors in peak times.

Saint Robert (ivy chateau)

Saint Robert (archways and walls)

We returned to the aire in Saint Robert for lunch, where we considered stopping over for the night, but instead decided to make a further move, closer to the next places of our interest.  So we drove off east to locate our new aire, near to the hillside village of Dampniat, to set up our next few days of exploration and sight-seeing in the region.

Holland – Gouda & Delft

Our final city visit on this tour to beautiful Gouda & a flying visit around the centre of Delft before returning home to reflect on our six month tour. 

The next morning started brightly, with the unfamiliar sun lighting up the edges of the clouds and highlighting the tawny autumn leaves.  We left the spacious aire in Dalfsen and retraced a few miles back to Zwolle and beyond, heading along fast wide roads past our previously haunt of Utrecht and on into the centre of Gouda.  We bagged one of the spots with free electricity in the town’s €8 per night aire at Klein Amerika, checked we could pick up the nearby library’s Wi-Fi from Benny (yes) and then we readied ourselves for a visit into town.  During our drive the rain had sneakily returned, defying all forecasts, so we waited a while until we spotted a break in the deluge and quickly wandered over the bridge across the canal leading into the historic centre.

Gouda (cheese shop)

Gouda (cheese selections)

Despite the grey, wet day, we took an instant like to Gouda.  There were local flags lining the pretty streets and it had a quiet buzz, a tranquil busyness that stoked our interest.  We stopped in to taste lots of cheeses in the specialist store we passed, with flavours from liquorice to smoke to chili to lavender to wasabi.  The brightly coloured cheese-blocks ranged from rainbow to solid black, from green to blue to red to white, depending on the flavours and spices added prior to the aging process. We decided very early that it was so pretty that we would spend a second night here, so we slowed up and took our time, looking into every small nook and cranny we passed on each lovely street.

Gouda (bridge and canal)

Gouda (market square)

Gouda (a in main square)

We circled the very large Sint Janskerk church, flanked by narrow canals and cobbled streets, before reaching the main square dominated by the gothic town hall, set alone in the centre.  The square was really a wide triangle, coincidentally (or perhaps deliberately?) shaped like a giant wedge of cheese.  On Fridays during summer months it hosted a large cheese market with sellers and suppliers wearing traditional costumes, but on our visit it was almost empty of people.  The edges were lined with the covered seating areas of restaurants and cafés, some with watching customers, but mostly quiet.  Red and white painted shutters lined the façade of the Town Hall and were repeated throughout the city on many buildings, including the tourist office that housed the Gouda Cheese Museum.

Gouda (central square town hall)

Gouda (a at town hall)

Gouda (lion and buildings)

The following day we did more of the same, simply wandering around quiet back streets. We visited the Gouda Cheese Museum where we watched a short video on how the local cheeses are produced, from cows in the field to shelves in the shops.  We saw the equipment used over the years and how it brought prosperity to the region, and the political and commercial implications of when the crown, seeing the wealth of the suppliers grow, decided that cheese needed to have its own tax applied. We bought a few small items as gifts as we wandered, feeling glad to have had this one last, very lovely stop on our tour, as after the traffic mayhem of Germany we had thought our travels over and all we had left were the miles home.

Gouda (cheese museum poster)

Gouda (in cheese museum)

Gouda (nicky in clogs)

That night, our last abroad on this trip, we sought out a specialist craft beer bar we had read about, called Biercafé De Goudse Eend.  When we arrived we were the only customers except for one other, so we sat at the bar and chatted to the barman and owner Jeroen.  We tried a selection of beers and made many unsuccessful attempts to beat the challenge of moving a bottle opener over a metal strip shaped like the skyline of Antwerp without contact.  We learned about the history of the bar, with its ever-growing collection of rubber ducks, and grew slowly sozzled with the bar and chilled atmosphere.  The bar busied up very quickly later on, with many more beer aficionadas arriving to join the chat.  It was a great night to top off our travels and leave us with lasting memories of Gouda.

Gouda (church building)

Gouda (nicky with pub games)

Gouda (in Goudse Eend piub)

The following morning we rose early, heads a little fuzzy, to pack up for the last time on this trip and head to the Hook of Holland.  We were only an hour or so from the port, so we had plenty of time to spare before our afternoon crossing.  On the way we decided on one last flying visit, and called in to see Delft.  Other than being synonymous with blue and white pottery, we knew very little about the town.  After a struggle to park, and then with no means to pay for a ticket as neither cash or Visa cards were accepted, the parking attendants let us off if we promised to only be an hour.  We would, so that was a bonus.  We walked along a canal into the main square, seeing several churches and the impressive town hall, amazed by the scale of the main square and the beauty of the surrounding streets.

Delft (town hall view)

Delft (central buildings)

Delft (cheese tulips and pottery)

Delft (a on canal bridge)

We had a rather boring and rocky six-hour ferry trip, arriving into Harwich port just after 8pm.  After a winding queue through the port and customs areas, we broke free and drove around 10 miles to the nearby village of Little Bentley and parked up in the empty car park of the Bricklayers Arms.  After confirming it was fine to stay, as they are a BritStops listed pub, we spent a lovely two hours drinking with Liz, the proprietor and owner.  We were the only customers in the bar during our stay, and we couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the previous night’s bar in Gouda, so very different but so similar too.  The following morning, excited to be back in the UK, we headed off to meet up with friends, our Scandinavia trip now at an end.  It would be some time before we could process all we had seen over our incredible trip, almost six months of travel, with such a variation of experiences, scenery and activity.