We’ve had a busy week since the last update from St Cyprien, so this post is a bit longer than normal with more photos – you might want to put a brew on!
There was a Carrefour at St Cyprien with a laundrette in the car park, so before moving on Carol caught up with the laundry whilst I did a food shop.
The first stop of the day was just 10km away at Belvès, one of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’. After lunch in the van at the aire we walked 800 metres or so into the old town. The focal point of the town is the covered market in the Place d’Armes, which was reconstructed after a fire a couple of years ago.
In this part of rural France, the shops seem to close at midday or 1pm, and don’t open again until as late as as 4pm, so almost all of the shops were closed and the place was like a ghost town. A café in the Place d’Armes was open though, so we stopped for a coffee before going to explore the old town.
When we were done, we returned to the van and drove another 25 km to Villefranche du Périgord. It’s a Bastide town, which means that it’s a fortified town from this region of France, built in the 13th or 14th century. It’s also renowned for its chestnuts and mushrooms, for which there’s an annual festival (which was held yesterday!) and there’s even a chestnut museum.
The free aire there was our stop for the night. It overlooks a lake, and is just a couple of minutes walk away from the old town, which is on the small side – a square with a covered market and main street – so it didn’t take long to see what there is to see. We visited the (free) chestnut museum, but that didn’t really make me want to start roasting them on an open fire.
Back at the van we got the chairs out to enjoy some late summer sunshine, and cooked some Tolouse sausages on the camping stove for dinner.
The next morning we drove on to Monpazier, both a Bastide town and a ‘plus beau village de France’. The small aire looked as though it had been full the previous night, and we parked up in a recently vacated space. From there it was a short walk to the town with its solid walls. After entering through an archway we wandered along the narrow lanes admiring the old buildings.
From Monpazier it was another short drive to another Bastide town (but not a ‘plus beau village de France’!) called Beaumont du Périgord. We parked up in the aire just outside the village and walked up to the town to check it out – these towns are all pretty compact, so it doesn’t take long to see what there is to see.
Whilst the aire was free, it was really just a large, sloping asphalt car park that just happened to have a service point, and neither of us fancied staying there for the night so we set off for another aire down the road. Unfortunately when we got there we found that the service point was out of order, which was no good. As we were now no more than 10 km from St Cyprien it was an easy decision to head back there, and a few minutes later we were parked in familiar surroundings. As we liked it in St Cyprien so much, one night became two!
Yesterday morning we managed to drag ourselves away from St Cyprien, heading for Rocamadour with a few planned stops along the way. The first of these was the ‘plus beau village’ of Beynac-et-Cazenac, just a few kilometers downstream of the Dordogne, where there’s a medieval castle and small town perched on top of the cliff overlooking the river. We opted for the gentle walk along the river rather than climb up to the top!
Next we stopped at yet another ‘plus beau village’ at La Roque-Gageac, another pretty village built into the cliffs along the Dordogne.
The next town on the list was Domme, which I expect will be the final ‘plus beau village’ and Bastide town on this leg of our trip. The lady at the tourist office in St Cyprien had recommended nearly 20 villages for us to see, but I must admit that we were getting a bit ‘plus beaux-ed’ out by now. That said, Domme was probably the best of the villages (apart from St Cyprien) , so we had saved the best for last. Disappointingly the ice cream parlour was closed, but we did enjoy the wonderful views over the Dordogne valley.
Back in the van, we drove eastwards to Rocamadour, a town which has been a Christian pilgrimage site since medieval times. We didn’t know anything about Rocamadour until fellow travellers and bloggers – Motoroamers Karen and Myles – posted an update last week. It sounded so good that we had to pop along, and we’re glad that we did. Built into a cliff, there’s a chateau at the top, a sanctuary half way down, and the medieval city at the bottom. The aire is at the top, so last night as the sun set, we went for a walk to admire the view.
This morning we set off from the chateau down the Chemin de Croix, a steep pathway with many crosses lining the way. After looking around the sanctury we descended the Grand Escalier – an uneven rocky staircase down to the medieval city. The main street is very touristy with lots of tat shops. As it was early, there was only one tour party doing the rounds and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, though many shops and cafés hadn’t yet opened and so we had difficulty finding somewhere for a coffee. When it was time to return to the van, we took the easy option of a lift to the sanctuary and then a funicular to the chateau – money well spent!
We’re now staying on a campsite in the tiny village of Reyrevignes (ACSI €13/night), and from here we’ll be making our way to Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast.