Charmed by the Dordogne River Valley
I recently came back from the Dordogne region of France. If you’re like me, the Dordogne rings a bell as one of the rivers of Bordeaux. But, it’s a lot more then that. The river may end in Bordeaux but it’s starts far inland and the history that courses along it’s riverbanks goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond.
I wasn’t thinking about that as we landed in Brive. We were on the inaugural RyanAir flight from London to Brive and it was a bit of a bumpy landing. It seems it can be a bit windy in this part of France but before we knew it, we were on the ground. Ryan Air now flies twice a week to Brive from Stansted Airport.
Thankfully, our first stop of the afternoon was to the charming house of Denoix liqueurs. The Denoix family have been making the speciality of the region, liqueurs de noix, as well as a whole host of flavoured liqueurs since 1839. Not much has changed in the production of the liqueurs, we were shown the stone wheel that they still use to crush the walnuts as well as the copper pots that they use to infuse the liqueurs. The family use only all natural ingredients, including fennel, star anise, and orange peel amongst other ingredients. It was a lovely introduction to the region.
Later that evening we dined at Chez Francis, local institution of a restaurant which is famous for the graffiti left on it’s walls by literery visitors. I loved the various drawings and scribblings that covered the walls and even the ceilings. Of course, I had to leave my mark 😉
The next day was full on sight seeing starting with the town of Turenne, which I insisted on pronouncing as Tureen, still can’t get my head around that. Turenne is a medieval town famous for being built at such a commanding height and also as one of France’s most beautiful villages. The castle atop the hill is indeed imposing and reminded me a of ship looking out over the valleys below.
Another of the most beautiful villages in France is Collonges la Rue, another ancient village that is built almost entirely of the local red sandstone. We spent a few hours, traipsing around the village, admiring the 16th to 18th century buildings. One side note, there is a mustard maker in the village who is known as the Mustart Maker to the Pope’s as they were once the official mustard maker for the popes when they lived in Avignon.
The highlight of the day was a trip to the Gauffre de Padirac. The gauffre is a gigantic sinkhole in the French countryside. It was discovered by Frenchman Edouard-Alfred Martel in 1889. Edouard was the first modern man to descend down into the sinkhole and discover the vast cave system below the surface. Today over 450,000 people visit the site a year. An underground river starts at the mouth of the caves and doesn’t reappear above the surface for 20 kms, in the village of Montvalent.
The sinkhole is 75 metres deep and the hole was caused by the collapse of the limestone roof. Standing at the bottom of the sinkhole itself is very peaceful with only the sounds of dripping water and our echoing voices. There is a lone statue of a human figure perched on a small hill at the bottom called Tous Simplement, a beautiful and at the same time haunting piece of art.
We walked down into the depths of the cave and followed a path through the cave to flat bottomed boats that are used to tour the caves. It was a short 10 minute journey but we ended the trip in the Great Dome which is a 94 meters high. Our guides told us that we were over 10o metres below ground. The Dome though is so huge that I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. After that we took the boats back to the surface and civilization.
It was an exciting day but we weren’t done yet. We were next on our way to Rocamador,which has to be one of the most dramatically placed sites I’ve ever been to, but more on that in my next Dordogne post….
I visited the region as a guest of Aéroport Brive Vallée de la Dordogne