Tag Archives: medieval

France – Lake Annecy swims and cycles

After leaving the quiet beauty of Serrières we drove over and down the mountain to reach the neat, bustling town of Annecy.  The only central carpark suitable for motorhomes that we knew of was full to bursting and the busy traffic dissuaded us from attempting to stop elsewhere.  We were staying close by and could return easily by bike, a much more convenient way to see the main town.  We had booked ourselves in for four nights at a campsite, Les Rives du Lac on the western lake shore, one with a private beach, taking full advantage of their last days of cheap ACSI rates before peak season began.  We serviced and signed in and were given a prime spot, with shade, only a few spaces from the beach that we soon snuggled into and called home.  Then we were off to survey our domain.

Annecy - (first view of lake)

Annecy - (our private beach)

Annecy - (local wildlife)

We scanned the site and were quietly amazed with the mountainous backdrop behind the shimmering blue lake, and smiled smugly that this was our home for a few days.  After an enjoyable celebratory night chilling, we got up early the next day for the short cycle into Annecy town, as it was their market day.  It was an easy cycle on a well-utilised cycle path, with many joggers, bikers, walkers, rollerblading maniacs and even the odd summer cross-country skier rolling along its smooth tarmac.  We passed a long line of almost static traffic heading into the centre and were glad to be able to roll past it easily under our own steam.  After spinning around the lake frontage and through several busy and beautiful parks, we locked our bikes up next to a quiet portion of canal and walked to the historic centre.

Annecy - (cycle to town)

Annecy - (town canals)

Annecy - (walking the old town)

There was a sudden explosion of noise and colour as we reached the covered markets, along with a huge increase in English being spoken, although mostly with American accents.  We followed the stalls along winding streets, dodging the crowds and taking in the wares.  The centre was as curving, winding and steep as any medieval centre we had walked before, interesting and fresh.  The managed rivers had piercing blue water that defined each scene, lifting each vista to a different level.  We walked up a steep, narrow pathway to reach the Château d’Annecy in the heart of the old town, before dropping back down into the heart of the market stalls. We later passed a complicated fish sculpture exhibit being slowly built over the water near le Palais de L’Île, its very construction drawing in a crowd.

Annecy - (fish sculpture)

Annecy - (market day bridges)

We returned to our bikes and cycled slowly, always aware of the milling crowds around us and giving ourselves time to observe the local sunning rituals. Every small patch of grass in the burning sun was filled with supine, unclothed bronzing bodies soaking up the intense heat.  We passed the casino on the north shore and reached a packed public beach where we joined the party, found a space and began our personal sun worshipping.  We had a few refreshing dips in the shallow lake, so necessary to cool our burning skin. We ate snacks listening to the conversation buzz of locals at lunch.  On our return we were passed on the cycle path by a few road bikers in time-trialling mode, and considered attempting a chase, but thought better of it on our rickety old mountain bikes.  We’ll get ‘em next time.

Annecy - (canals and bridges)
Annecy - (boathouse on route home)

Arriving back at base, we rewarded ourselves with more dips to cool off, reading and relaxing on the beach in proper holiday mode.  The beach led straight into a lake of soft sand.  Its texture was like groping mud, offering a weird gripping sensation on our skin as it enveloped our sinking feet. We could swim 300 or 400m out from the pontoon and still stand up, the whole beach basin was like a wave pool of constant depth of 1.5m, with a soft, sandy bottom.  We later sat in the shade, drinking chilled wine and picking at bruschetta as small birds hopped around on our pitch, searching for discarded crumbs, showing no fear.  It sparked memories of afternoon tea at Grantchester Meadows near Cambridge where greedy birds once ate cake crumbs right from our hands one glorious summer afternoon.

Annecy - (lakeside cycle)

Annecy - (town beach spot)

Annecy - (lake from beach)

Another day we got up earlier than is usual for us, ate a small, quick breakfast and set off down to the pontoon.  We had planned a longer swim in the still morning waters before the wind picked up and lifted the surface waves to a sea-like chop.  We set off for a distant beach we could see across the curving bay, having no idea how far it was away.  We were coolly passed by three ladies on SUPs as we swam, along with happily floating coots and grebes, all with cute young.  Sun-worshippers lay supine on their anchored small leisure boats, incuriously watching us go by.  The beach turned out to be almost a mile from our pontoon, or 1580m as measured on my watch, it attached to the handle on Nicky’s visibility tow float rather than my wrist for a more accurate read.  We exited the water to rest a little.

Annecy - (view from our beach)

Annecy - (n lake swimming)

Annecy - (sunsets at beach)

We paused here for a few minutes, watching a small, vocal group undertake lifeguard training.  A Dutch couple sat near us on the beach with their fun-loving black collie, throwing a ball into the lake. Two floppy ears approached us out of the water and with a very friendly manner proceeded to shake themselves dry all over us, to much hilarity.  We took this as a sign to get ourselves back in the water and dropped in from an old concrete digue to begin our swim back.  The waves had picked up in the time we had sat, so rather than stopping for casual sight-seeing as we did on the way out, we swam straight and true, back to base.  We climbed back out onto our pontoon with a little over 3km swam, in beautifully clear 24deg water, feeling buzzed and happy.  And it was time for second breakfast.

Annecy - (Chateau at Duingt)

Annecy - (boats and sunset)

Another day we decided to try the voie verte in the opposite direction to Annecy, to reach the village of Duignt.  A pleasant ambling along the traffic-free cycleway brought us to the shadow of an impressive château, set on a narrow peninsula, although it was privately owned and inaccessible.  Deciding we had better places to swim, and to not linger due to the busy through-road, we instead detoured through the lovely village centre, replete with colourful hanging baskets.  We meandered through their ancient streets then returned to our campsite, to enjoy chilling for the remainder of the day.  We spent time planning out longer swims to various spots we could see around the lake, but ones we may never find the dedication to undertake.  It was all too easy to slide into doing as little as possible.

Talloires (view of lake)

On our last night, we packed up slowly over the day, then sun-bathed and swam for much of the afternoon.  This wasn’t like us at all, but the sun was too repressive to attempt much more.  Later after dinner we returned and sat at the water to watch the slow red glow light up the faces of the mountain rock opposite.  The next morning we slipped out and got back on the road, but we were not finished with the lake just yet. After discounting stopping at a golf course, we parked on the side of the road and walked back to a set of stone steps leading up through a tall retaining wall to reach a path into the Réserve Naturelle du Roc de Chère.  We followed shady woodland tracks through the park, searching for a way to drop down to the coast of the lake.  We eventually found a route that would serve us.

Talloires (swim spot)

Talloires (nicky on boat pier)

Talloires (marina and mountains)

We followed a steep downhill path with metal bars drilled into the cliff face to assist descent, finding a glorious swim spot. White rocks and clear blue water combined to create a special corner of coastline, perfect for a cooling dip after a hot, hilly walk. Bikinied girls sitting chatting on SUPs glided past, and a bearded guy on a small sail dingy nodded a hello.  After drying off, the path led into Talloires town centre.  This was the posh end of Annecy, with a scattering of high-priced hotels and neat restaurants.  We heard American accents pass us by, them seeing Annecy through a different, more monied lens.  There was a gyrating patchwork of colourful paragliders circling the nearby peaks above us, and new wooden pontoons with sunning bodies lying all over them.  A scene of casual perfection.

A&N x

 

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France – Orléans & the road south

We rolled away from the pleasant beach boulevard in Seaford to catch our uneventful four-hour ferry to Dieppe.  We doodled only a short way south before deciding we deserved a lazy afternoon and evening, so we pulled into a tidy, and surprisingly somewhat busy, free aire at Clères.  It was a nice aire, set between rows of hedges with each large division each accommodating two motorhomes.  We had a short walk around the adjacent local football fields whilst some young players trained reluctantly, and we had a play on their climbing frames and slides as we went.

Cleres - view of aire

We drove a few more hours south, initially on roads familiar from our recent trip north, with our next stop being Orléans for a short city break.  We arrived just before lunch and found an easy park just a few kilometres out of the city centre and followed the river in on foot.  It was a cracking day, hot and clear, and produced our first outing of the year in shorts; it was a wonderfully comfortable and budding spring-like day in all ways. The contrast to the past chilly weeks in the north of England was stark and clear, and we thought on how well we had successfully dodged the worst of the winter weather as we enjoyed our makeshift picnic overlooking the river Loire in the gloriously hot sunshine.  It was the first proper sun we’ve experienced in a long while, and felt like we were finally warming up, mentally and physically.

Orleans - (riverside walk)

Orleans - (main street)

As the birthplace of Jean of Arc, we expected to have this historical fact hailed from the rooftops and be drowning in constant references to her life and exploits.  Yes, her childhood home is now a museum, the main street is named for her and a large statue of Joan on horseback sits proudly in the main square.  But there was little other mention, not even visible in the ubiquitous postcards or souvenirs, where the gothic cathedral seemed to be the dominant local feature. The city, built with clean white limestone, had the feel of quiet elegance, restrained and classy, and it maintained an ambience of understated opulence, confidence and openness.  It would be a difficult place not to like, especially lit up in the gloriously bright sunshine we were experiencing, and we were happy to oblige the mood.

Orleans - (Jean of Arc's house)

Orleans - (Square and statue)

We passed by the childhood home of Jean D’Arc and easily found the main square where her statue dominated.  Golden-coloured trams glided almost silently along wide avenues, with a casual ease that typified our first impressions of the city.  A festival celebrating street activities, from street dance to music to BMX tricks to spray-painting, was in full swing in the main square.  Groups of young girls danced while skateboarders rolled by and BMXers jumped and flipped, with music blasting all round.  We continued through the narrower, much quieter, medieval streets to find another festival focus, this one on junior rugby skills, set up outside the cathedral.  Players from a local club ran drills with the participating kids, with a Top 14 match projected on a huge screen behind.

Orleans - (festival in square)

After a lazy loop round the centre and the obligatory look inside the cathedral to cool off, we returned back to the riverside to slowly walk back to Benny.  We stopped for a while to watch a couple of kayakers on the river, or pedantically-speaking one kayaker and one canoeist, twisting and playing in the bubbling rapids formed by the stone arches of the King George V bridge breaking up the fast flow of the Loire.  As we reached Benny the blue skies darkened overhead and the now grey weather threatened a deluge, but we made it safely back before the inevitable happened.  After a short while we headed off to a nearby aire, to park up early and enjoy a little bit of the afternoon.  The sun soon returned with a welcoming smile and was back on full brightness as we reached our overnight stop.

Orleans - (kayakers in Loire)

We overnighted about a half-hour on from Orléans, at the small town of La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, on a patch of land outside a currently closed campsite that doubles as a free aire, available until 1st May.  The weather had cleared again so we went for a short run along a trickling river bank, studiously avoiding rogue brambles and nettles, on sodden ground that occasionally squirted liquid mud up our legs.  On our return we passed by the aire and beyond to have a closer look at a large château set behind a moat on the other side of the main road through the village.  We had a brief look around the impressive exterior but didn’t visit inside as it was closing.  We returned to the aire and explored a little of the external artwork, a joint venture between French and Australian artists, scattered around the woodland; it reminded us of art installations we visited in Skovsnogen in Denmark but this was, if it is even possible, worse.

Orelans - main street trams

The following morning we doodled off again early, heading south this time with intent, as we had a number of house viewings lined up.  After a few more hours of driving and we arrived back in the Limousin region, readied for a few days, or weeks, of serious house-hunting in our chosen area.  We were viewing five very different houses in varied settings over the next three days, to get a feel for what we’d like.  Unfortunately one house that we were very keen on (on paper) was, we were informed only a few days before our scheduled viewing, seen by another couple who made their excited offer the same day, was subsequently accepted and the house immediately taken off the market.  This was a reminder to us that if you see the house that feels right for you, snap it up.  We were geared up and ready to pounce.  Watch this space…

A&N x

 

France – Agen, Pujols & around

An update on our activities over the past few weeks during our house-sit in Cazeneuve.

It’s been around three weeks since our last blog post, and we’ve been keeping busy, but not in adventurous ways that we feel are worth sharing more regularly.  Our days are full with learning, activity and exercise, with the odd venture out to visit a local town.

Agen (back on the Garonne)

Recently we had one such day-trip out to visit Agen, our closest city.  First we swam a steady 2km in their wonderful 50m competition pool, before finding a spot to park on the riverside and walking into the centre.  We passed under vast rows of pollarded plane trees set in the riverside park, their gnarled white branches contrasted heavily against the uniform blue sky, like arthritic knuckles reaching into the void.  We wandered through tight medieval streets and the modern, wide pedestrianised centre, enjoying the sights and the buildings of Agen in bright sunshine.  The cafés were bustling with people and we were immediately impressed with what the busy town had to offer.

Agen (pollarded trees)

One morning we decided on a leisurely cycle, a wide triangle on a voie verte taking in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Casseneuil and Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot.  The air was a cold 4 degrees, and we wrapped up well before we headed up over the hill, a steady 2km long climb that led into a flat ridge cycle before being followed by a fantastic flowing descent of 5km.  We picked up the voie verte heading north and arrived in the medieval centre of Casseneuil a few easy kilometres later.  After a short explore, we headed south along the banks of the river to Liverade and through, back over the hill again to home.  We later discovered on our return that we had lost our camera somewhere on the cycle, it having jostled its way out of a side pocket, unknown to us.  After a thorough search of the house we concluded it was definitely missing, but outside had turned from borderline sunny to a grey, sodden deluge in that time, so we didn’t venture out to look.

The next morning we visited the Mairie in Allez-et-Cazeneuve and the Hôtel-de-Ville in Liverade to report our missing camera in the hope some kind citizen may hand it in.  We also left a note at the central police station, but they had very little interest in our petite drama.  After we reported the camera, we then ran the last 11km of the track we had cycled home the day before, in two portions, checking along the verge, ditches and hedges for any sign of it, but to no avail.  We can only hope it was swept up by someone walking along the path before the previous night’s deluge and that they will hand it in next time they are in town (perhaps next Friday, on market day), but we’re not holding our breath for it to reappear.  It’s always disappointing to lose photos of a good day, along with our well-used and loved compact camera.

Cazeneuve (enjoying a window of sun)

Cazeneuve (veg patch weeding)

We are passing our days in generally similar ways, with a welcome routine of reading, exercise and rest.  We have a few hours of French most mornings.  We watched the opening weekend of the Six Nations snuggled up with a few beers, content that both our teams got off to a winning start even if Ireland left it very late to nick it from the French. We had a not entirely awful go at archery in the garden.  We played a few games of table-tennis and pétanque, had a few pool swims, a couple of cycles and runs, and have pottered in the garden, between rain storms.  We’ve been visited by both le chien noir and la chienne rouge.  Below is my (corrected) French homework story that tells a little more of how we spent our week, should you be interested.  The dreaded green pen wielded by our tutor Rebecca did not get its fullest workout this week, so something must be improving in my French-feeble mind.  Peut-être.

Cazeneuve - French homework

This week, rather than our usual Tuesday morning swim, we awoke to a bright, clear sky and decided to postpone for a day and undertake a long local walk instead.  We drove a short distance to Lacépède and followed the marked trail out of the completely dead village, through sleeping plum trees and empty, ploughed fields.  The path was thick with leaves and mud after the recent rains, and was difficult to progress on.  Being so muddy underfoot made the hilly portions tricky and sliding, but we squished around 11km of lovely rolling countryside with no sign of anyone else.  We reached a small reservoir with bird-watching huts and some interesting, colourful sign-boards describing the lives of local bees that we photographed to fully translate later in our next ‘French hour’.  We arrived back in the village just as the rains began to fall, followed closely by a wandering dog who seemingly wanted to be our very best friend.

Lacepede (church on route)

Lacepede (forest rrails)

After one pool swim, we finally drove up and visited the medieval centre of the nearby village of Pujols.  We had often looked at it from the comfort of the large Jacuzzi bath post-swim, but had as yet not ventured up the hill.  We had left it long enough since our last beaux village visit to regain the excitement and interest of a new place, and were pleasantly surprised by its neatness and beauty.  The sun appeared for a few moments, lighting up Villeneuve-sur-Lot below and the white stone façades of the ancient streets, giving it a wonderful glow.  We saw the church, the covered marketplace, the detailed model of the town in the tourist office, the truncated once-circular well-stone now cut back to a semi-circle to allow vehicles to pass, the remains of the original ramparts and finally la porte des Anglais, the English Gate, named for the route the English soldiers fled along from a lost battle during the Hundred Years’ War.  We passed through it too before making our escape from the frigid, icy air back to the car and home.

Pugols (viewpoint)

Pugols (a in main square)

Recently, the days had been sharper, fresher, colder than before, with a deeper mud grey blanket of cloud spread across the sky.  Twice we have had a light falling of tiny flakes of snow, forced out of the chilled clouds with obvious reluctance, not at all like the proper snow we have been reading about back in the UK.  For a few quiet moments it was beautifully still and tiny white flakes swayed gently in the air, glistening with reflected light and looking quite magical.  Then as quickly as they appeared they have gone, but the chilly, biting air remains.  Several times we have stood outside for a few long moments reflecting on the changing moods of the days and weather, taking in deep red, moody sunsets, before scampering back into the comforting warmth of the awaiting boulangerie for some warming tea.

A&N x

France – Villeneuve-sur-Lot and around

Our house-sit in Allez-et-Cazeneuve continues on full of reading, learning and exercise.  And downtime – plenty of that too.  Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to recently –

On one dry day we cycled over to see the main local town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot.  We climbed up and over a steep local hill then enjoyed a very fast but all too-brief downhill to reach the valley on the opposite side.  We found and followed a grassy, damp abandoned railway line, now a designated cycle way that ran parallel to the main road a few hundred metres distant.  This led us all the way to the centre of town where we stopped on a modern bridge to enjoy the view over to the parallel 13th century stone bridge with its very imposing 26m wide and 18m high arch.  The river was wild below.

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (bridge view)

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (town streets)

We cycled around the historic centre, impressed by the neat shopping streets and decorative squares, before reaching the Église Sainte-Catherine de Villeneuve-sur-Lot, a tall Gothic red brick church dominating the square.  After a look, we circled around past the modern Hôtel de Ville and along wide tree-lined streets before cutting back through the narrow town centre to cross the river Lot on the ancient bridge.  Here we passed under one of several gate towers before following a quiet country road back towards Allez.  We had to climb over the hill again to return to our base valley, a harder climb in this direction especially as we’re no longer bike-fit.  It was only a 22km cycle trip to the town, but felt longer by virtue of being book-ended by the same steep 2km long climb.

Cazeneuve - (nicky summits hill)

On another exploratory day out, we found ourselves visiting the local swimming baths at Pujols.  We swam a good number of lengths in their wonderful 25m pool before availing ourselves of the largest Jacuzzi bath either of us has seen, followed by a stint in the thick menthol mists of the adjacent steam room.  It is a fantastic facility that is now set to become a key part of our weekly agenda.  We occasionally undertake a short walk with the neighbour’s dog, know only as le chien noir, when he chooses to come visit us.  In our more passive downtime we are doing lots of house-hunting, and have looked on-line at hundreds of potential places over the past few weeks.  We have fired enquiries out to many agents but have yet to locate the perfect property for us.  But we now have a feel for what is available and what we want (and don’t want) so will hopefully manage to find our perfect property soon.

Cazeneuve - (walking black dog).jpg

Along with our weekly formal lesson in French, we have been reading select news articles in French to improve our vocabulary.  I’ve also taken to translating a few children’s books, them filled with many words still challenging for my fledgling French (En Route is my favourite so far, a story of a young bear making her way in the mountains).  “Le monde est plein de surprises!”  We have been watching a French movie most nights too, but the speed of the spoken French renders it practically incomprehensible, even if we know the words.  Translating words on a page to spoken sounds is the next, more challenging hurdle we face.  Still, we are giving ourselves the very best time and opportunity to improve.

Cazeneuve - (the knowledge centre)

We practise piano most days, Nicky very decently rebuilding her repertoire of tunes whilst I, having started from scratch, am struggling through a children’s Grade 1 piano book, playing scales and hand exercises until I can no longer bear the incessant noise.  I may need a silent piano to practise on first until I manage to improve.  Learning to read music is another language, another set of arcane symbols my weary mind has to translate before being able to fully utilise.  In the midst of all these efforts, I also had the strange notion to begin learning Japanese, and have spent a few weeks learning kanji symbols along with a few basic words.  By now you perhaps understand why our brains are challenged; learning anew is not a natural state for gnarly old brains constantly abused by too much wine.

Cazeneuve - (sunset)

Our brains haven’t had so much pressure to learn new things put on them since our school days.  It’s proving to be very productive, but also tiring and we can’t do much more than a few hours each day before fading out.  Little and often is said to be the key, so we break up our self-led French lessons by going for a run or playing table tennis, or a little bit of garden maintenance.  Several hours of French study followed by bracing hilly runs or cycles to clear the mind and awaken muscles works well, but also serves to wear us out.  We are feeling very tired at the end of each day and are sleeping long and soundly.  It’s a very nice life here in this very beautiful corner of South West France.

A&N x

 

 

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.

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.