The Dordogne Region OR Going Where the Tourists Aren’t

The title is true but not entirely accurate, meaning there are tourists everywhere in France, there are just far less of them in Dordogne because you need a car to experience the area (there are no trains and few buses).  That was fine with CrossCountry Bob as a rental car is his preferred mode of travel in any event.  Stop when you want; stop where you want; and perhaps most importantly, stop AWAY from the tour buses (when CrossCountry Bob sees flocks of tour buses the usual result is a snappy U-turn).  Often, the so called “lesser” sites are just as fine and, with no crowds, more than fine.  Besides, Paintin’ Peggie prefers to paint and draw or take photos without tourists cluttering the composition.

The centre of the Dordogne region and the base for CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie was Sarlat-le-Caneda.  CrossCountry Bob booked a bed & breakast there, something he rarely does (not so private and neighbours for breakfast are a couple of CrossCountry Bob’s reasons).  But this B&B turned out rather fine with gracious and friendly hosts (check out the photos on Paintin’ Peggie’s album).

One claim to fame for the Dordogne region is a high density of castles perched along the limestone cliffs of the Dordogne River and the Lot River, a legacy of the hundred years the English and French quarreled from 1337 to 1453 (give or take) over land, treasure and who gets to be king (the usual, in other words).

One of the more impressive castles was Beyac…. Hard to believe but CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie paid their money and went inside.  Paintin’ Peggie said, “oh my god, we are doing the tourist thing…”. CrossCountry Bob shrugged (a Gallic shrug already?) and the exploration was on.  Fascinating place and a stark reminded to CrossCountry Bob that only an idiot would want to go back to those brutal days of warfare, constant threat of famine and working for the man (well, at least war and famine have receded in North America, two out of three is not so bad thinks CrossCountry Bob).

If castles and chateaus tire you out (one helping per trip is enough for CrossCountry Bob), the Dordogne also has numerous restaurants tucked into the various medieval villages.  Cautious after St. Emilion, CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie decided on lunch, choosing one some distance up the hill from the Dordogne river (a theory of CrossCountry Bob: price falls and quality increases as you migrate in the opposite direction of the tourists.  And…..success!  Confit de Canard for CrossCountry Bob and a French variation of Risotto with prawns for Paintin’ Peggie. Both delicious even if CrossCountry Bob’s choice easily won the gold medal for calories and fat content. But no slouch in the competition department, Paintin’ Peggie cleverly upped the calorie ante with crème du brule…oh so good…

You would think from that type of lunch that perhaps eating would be the national sport or preoccupation of France.  It is a contender of course but not quite championship material according to CrossCountry Bob.  And no, not soccer either (“le football” as the French refer to it), nor cycling (although CrossCountry Bob noticed a fair number of cyclists of his vintage hammering out the miles with muscled legs of a different league that CrossCountry Bob’s spindles…

To find the true national, simply get in your rental car and start driving.  It won’t take long for the French players to emerge.  For the national sport is the challenge of approaching as close as possible to the car in front, preferably while both are traveling at a high rate of speed (the Frenchman behind usually wants to travel at an even higher rate of speed which initiates the contest).  Even better (for the French) is the approach to roundabouts.  Now, even closer!  And perhaps a horn and French wave of the hands for emphasis. This applies even if there is a line of cars and it is entirely obvious that no car is going anywhere fast (it is the French sport after all, so logic need not apply).  It seems that the only critical rule is don’t brake suddenly (even though CrossCountry Bob has occasionally been tempted).  It all works because all the drivers are playing the same game, seeking the same adrenaline rush (or so CrossCountry Bob rationalizes as he recovers from his own frequent adrenaline rushes, the only difference being CrossCountry Bob’s come from glancing in the rear view mirror and seeing nothing but car with a driver who might as well be picking his nose for all the concern he shows for being inches from CrossCountry Bob’s rear bumper.

Since this is France, you might be wondering when CrossCountry Bob is going to mention wine again.  The answer is “Now” and so CrossCountry Bob asks you, dear reader from Canada, “Have you heard of the wines from the Dordogne region?” No, of course not. That is like being in a French chateau and asking if they have heard of Okanagan wines.  The reason you don’t hear about these wines is that the Bordeaux merchants who controlled the Bordeaux ports always made sure the Bordeaux wines shipped out first and the other wines later (maybe). Sort of like being in a BC Liquor Store. You think you have a selection but not really.  You see what the man wants you to see and pay what the man wants you to pay (don’t get CrossCountry Bob started…).  Here is a Dordogne wine CrossCountry Bob thoroughly enjoyed… 

Appellation Bergerac – not available in Canada; sorry!

Dogs, of course, don’t drink wine, even in France,  But there must be some other secret French sauce that certain doggies cannot leave alone…

You should see him run – magifique!!

Medieval villages are both a highlight and a common occurrence in Dordogne.  One of CrossCountry Bob’s favourites was Rocamadour.  Living here requires learning to climb like a mountain goat (or, more accurately, like a chamois, the local cliff dwelling goat-antelope of which CrossCountry Bob has so far seen exactly zero).

Paintin’ Peggie was taken by Rocamadour as well and decided to sketch it…

Paintin’ Peggie draws Rocamadour

And with that, the Dordogne region fades in the rear view mirror.  The wines of Cahors (Malbec, just like in Argentina) went untasted (CrossCountry Bob is enforcing an approach of quality over quantity and so some areas must, regretfully, be casualties).

Even the wonderful medieval bridge “Pont Valentre” is only entitled to a stroll across and back…

And then, with Cahors is in the rear view mirror, CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie are motoring south towards Lourdes (home of the fabled grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl in the 1800’s) and where CrossCountry Bob, unaware, will meet a vision of himself as he was some 60 some years ago.


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