Saying goodbye…twice

It seems like a few months ago that we first turned up in Tremolat. We have felt so at home in the gite, with the pool and the privacy, it’s a shame we now have to leave it. Mirinda asked me how I felt about our holiday coming to an end yesterday. I told her I’d quite like to never go home and just stay where we were. Normally on holiday I’m ready to come home halfway through the second week so this is a new feeling for me. This holiday has been fabulously relaxing.

Still, leave we had to and this morning we packed and packed and bade our long farewells to Madame (who we’d love to stay with again) and set off, deciding to have one more coffee at Limeuil even though it was in the opposite direction to where we needed to go.

We parked the car and were about to head down to the river when I noticed I had a message from Madame on my phone. “Vous avez oublie la souris!” she wrote. Mirinda had left her mouse behind. We pulled out of the car park and made our way back to the gite to pick up the mouse. Madame claimed we just don’t want to leave if we keep coming back. How right she was.

Once more, mouse in hand, we headed back to Limeuil, parked in a now almost full carpark and headed down to the terrace by the river.

Speaking of parking, this fortnight we seemed to have had a lot of help from Denise’s parking angel (we call her a fairy) so I hope she hasn’t abandoned my sister for a bit of a visit in France. It seems that whenever we want a spot one is almost instantly abandoned and, voila, we have one. Genius and something that never happens to us normally.

So, sitting on the terrace overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and the Vezere Rivers, we managed to spend a few hours drinking coffee (beer) and ice cream before finally, sadly leaving Limeuil for the final time (this trip). We were heading to Bergerac where, hopefully, we’ll get to see the Bastille Day fireworks.

Our journey was not long so we decided to take in a chateau on the way. We followed the river most of the way and, after a slight misunderstanding at a roundabout, we eventually wound up up the hill at Chateau Monbazillac.

What a fairy tale castle of a place. It looks perfect and it is because no-one has destroyed it in one of the numerous wars or decided to change the look of the place; the sort of stuff that I’m always writing about. No, this place was designed and built in the 16th century and remains the same today as it was when new. The thing I find very refreshing is the fact that it was designed to be asymetrical.

I know Nicktor won’t like this but he doesn’t read the blog anymore so it doesn’t really matter!

What has changed is that it’s no longer lived in. Each of the rooms now contain various historical bits of furniture and/or pictures of various things. The original family was Protestant so there’s a lot of Huguenot crosses discretely placed on wardrobe doors etc.

Upstairs there is a room dedicated to the French actor, Jean-Sully Mounet (1841-1960) of the Commedie Francaise. I’d never heard of him but there’s a lot of photos of him as Hamlet and various other famous roles. He performed with (among others) Sarah Bernhardt, a favourite of mine. And there’s a lovely photograph of her on the table in the middle of the room.

Another ‘special’ room is one completely full of original drawings by the cartoonist known as SEM ( real name Georges Goursat (1863-1934)). His drawings of Parisian society were amazing. So much so that Maxims used them for their advertising. And still do.

I rather liked his depictions of the society women – in one image they are likened to stick insects which is very amusing. Generally, though his line drawings are just magical studies.

By SEM

Meanwhile, in the cellar, there are 7,000 bottles of wine, all sitting in big wine racks. They are there for decoration because the chateau is a wine making concern with vineyards all around. The special sweet white wine made at Monbazillac has been made since the 11th century. While it started with monks, it was sold to successive descents of the original owners of the chateau, through the female line until in 1960 it was bought by a wine co-operative who run it today. And it is they who run and look after the chateau as well.

And we can vouch for the wine being sweet. Mirinda had a glass before we drove to our accommodation (I had a local beer) and it was very, very sweet. It was also very, very nice but really needed to be taken with some delicious dessert or other.

Having visited the chateau and had a drink we ventured down to our room for the night. A lovely spot with an amazing shower, we rested up ahead of going to dinner.

And dinner was in the middle of a golf course…or so it seemed to me. Mind you it was a golf course with a bloody great pigeonaire stuck in the middle of it. Though, to be completely honest, the golf course was put around the pigeonaire which had been there a good deal longer.

We were a bit worried given the restaurant, the only one with vacancies this late, had had a plethora of bad reviews. But, when all was said and done, it was fine. Excellent food, local and wonderful wine plus good service. It was a lovely final night out before returning home tomorrow.

Final carbs for Mirinda

Tomorrow we fly home.

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Murmuring not shouting

Into every holiday some rain must fall even if it’s metaphorical. Today was our wet day. Appropriately we went to the aquarium at Le Bugue.

Mirinda loves aquariums. Mirinda hated this one. I have to agree with her. The whole place looked cramped and human-centric. Okay it was part themepark, part fish but even so, sometimes an animal place should cater to the animals rather than focus 100% on children.

We did come away with one extremely delightful bit of information and that was the spatula baluga fish. It has a flat beak-like nose which acts like a sonar, picking up vibrations for up to 9cm. That’s pretty amazing for a fish that resembles an aquatic Jimmy Durante.

I guess I should have realised it wasn’t going to be the best visitor site when, at the very first tank, faced with a Myocaster, I mentioned that it was a Chilian beaver. In my defence it was what the sign said and I was merely letting Mirinda know because she thought it was some sort of capybara.

Myocaster on top, fish underneath

Suddenly, out of nowhere, this tiny woman in an official t-shirt explained that it was not a beaver at all! She pointed out to me it’s long thin tail whereas beavers have flat tails. I agreed with her, vaguely trying to explain that I was just reading the sign behind me.

It seems that the myocaster shares more characteristics with a beaver but it has the tail of a rat. I’m not sure why she needed to correct my correct assumption. Still, it’s always fun to be corrected by enthusiastic youngsters.

We wandered around the tanks, trying to see through the murk and floating weeds until we came to the alligators. They have a big collection of alligators at Le Bugue. They don’t do much probably because they are bored shitless.

There’s a lot of stuff about Louisiana and Florida and alligators (I didn’t know they are unable to eat vegetation because their stomachs can’t process it and their teeth are ideal for eating fish) and, frankly, the animals looked as bored as me.

The beluga fish also looked a bit bored but I think that’s because there were so many of them crowded into their albeit big tank.

I’m not going to waste anymore bytes or time on the aquarium except to say that having seen Les Vallee de Singe, I feel all animal parks will have to attempt to reach their high bar of animal welfare and quality of life.

Of course we managed to spend a few hours on our favourite terrace overlooking the Dordogne and Vezere confluence at Limeuil before heading back to the gite for a cool down in the pool and general rest up before heading out for the evening.

We’ve seen a lot of posters and handouts advertising the incredible light show put on every night against the wall of the church at Saint Avit Senieur so we were quite keen to see it. It’s called the Murmurs (‘wall-wall’) and it goes from 10pm to 1am every night. We decided we’d eat in the town and just hang around for the lights.

Before we headed into the village, however, we decided to visit another little medieval place called Montferrand. We had a lovely wander around including popping up to visit the (mostly) ruined chateau. It’s not open to visitors as I think somewhere lives there, evidenced by the curtains on the few windows. However, one can wander around and admire the towering, crumbling walls.

The villagers were about to have a night market so we reclaimed the car and left before things became too crowded. The village boasts a delightful little church, Saint Christophe, so we decided to head up and see it.

Like Saint Martin’s chapel, it sits inside a small churchyard full of family graves. Unlike Saint Martin’s chapel, it was open. And what an amazing little place it is. The 12th to 15th century frescoes are incredible though fading away in some instances and inexplicable in others.

Is this the bull of Greek mythology? Inappropriate appropriation, if you ask me. Where’s the winged bull in the Bible? With the Giants, maybe.

The little church of Saint Christophe was a bit of a highlight, especially for today if not for the whole trip. Beautifully understated, simple and peaceful atop its hill overlooking the Couze Valley.

So, back to Saint Avit Senieur to go and eat…except, like Mary and Joseph, there was no room at any of the inns. We didn’t see any stables so, having had a brief argument about my inability to make phone bookings to French restaurants, we headed back to the car and returned to Cadouin and the wonderful Restaurant l’Abbaye from the other night.

I forgot to mention the very delicious garlic soup each customer gets as the first course. It is a regional dish and, as long as you like garlic (a lot), brilliant.

Anyway, the staff remembered us, fitted us in and we had a delicious dinner that helped defray a few tempers. We then headed back to Saint Avit Senieur for the lightshow.

In a word it was pathetic. Lights with some sort of strange pattern in them that changed once was about it. Hardly warranted such high scale advertising. Damp squib about puts it in context. We snapped a selfie then went back to the gite for our final night in Tremolat.

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Life up high

Do you see those rock ledges up there?” Asked the lord of Reignac.
Where, sir? Do you mean the ones where the prehistoric men lived? The ones we can hardly see because the distance is so great and they are so high?” Asked the serf in turn.
Yes, that’s correct. The ones right up there. Now what I want you to do is build me a manor house right up against it. Use the back of the cave as the back of the house and build the front…well, in front.
Mad bastard,” Thought the serf…but he did it because he had to.

For a change we decided to have a coffee at Limeuil, looking over the Dordogne and Vezere Rivers this morning. Okay, it wasn’t much of a change; we even had the same waitress. Even so, it was (and is) an ideal way to start the day.

We also saw the boy scouts from yesterday. They must have just pulled down their tents because they were packing up and preparing to head off. They also must have managed to contact each other because the troop had doubled in size.

Boy scouts and coffee aside, we started the day off by travelling a mere 30 minutes up the Vezere Valley to Tursac to visit Maison Forte de Reignac, a fortified house built into the side of a hill. It is truly amazing. It was also a genius way to protect itself give no-one could attack from behind without burrowing through. It was also so high that anyone intent on attack would be seen for miles before they actually arrived. It was the perfect fortified position.

Before the house was built it was a cave dwelling. Neolithic man lived on its ledges, hollowed out the caves for better living spaces and generally made them more comfortable. At the top of the house are the ledges which were very similar (though nowhere near as big) to the ledges we saw at Roque Saint-Christophe a few years ago.

In fact, the people who lived here at Reignac in the 17th century were beholden to those at Saint-Christophe.

Still, it’s important to think back further than the 17th century. The original inhabitants of the ledges and caves in this area settled in some 20,000 years ago. The ledges and caves were ideal for Cro Magnan man and they flourished. There were regular migrations of animals and fish up and down the Vezere Valley and these guys would be waiting there for them.

Eventually came the the usual troubles of religion until 1500 years ago, in the 16th century when a sort of peace descended on the valley. Up river in Saint-Christophe, the bigger things were judged and worried about while the lord of Reignac would handle smaller, irritating things like petty thieving, duck hunting and enjoyment. For these, he had a prison cell, no bigger than a box room but with no windows and a narrow hole for passing food through. I discovered it is just right for small children as well.

Possibly almost as interesting as the incredibly interesting mansion house built up against a rock face is the fact that it has only been open to the public since 2005. It had belonged to the Bordeaux municipality since 1968. They organised a series of archaeological digs at the site until 1977 when it just sat there.

A chap from the Perigord region, Jean Max Touron, had been obsessed with the place since his first visit in 1968 when it belonged to a Dr Charles Hulin (who sold it to Bordeaux). He then visited the dig site over the course of the many seasons. Eventually Bordeaux put the whole shebang up for sale and he put in an offer which included restoring the place then opening it to the public. Fortunately for us, Bordeaux accepted his bid and he set to work.

The servants’ bedroom

The odd thing is that there seems to be no evidence for who the original owner/builder was. Various dating methods can indicate when but not who. For instance, it is clear that in around 750BC the ledges were used by Iron Age troglodytes following on from much earlier inhabitants. It is also clear that it was occupied from 1735 to 1777 by Marie de la Barthe, granddaughter of Jean Bart a pirate who became a famed sea captain.

Before Marie was there, evidence is a bit hazy but there is speculation that the house was occupied by a branch of the Calvimont de l’Herm family. Going forward though, it eventually fell into the hands of Blanche-Louise, the only surviving daughter of the Count and Countess of Malzac (just up the road) who, on her marriage, sold it to Dr Hulin. The good doctor (a stomatologist) purchased the property in 1952 in order to excavate its various hidden lithic treasures.

Now the only inhabitants are the shadows of the past and two peregrine falcons who have made the cliffs their home, setting up a nest and having babies undisturbed since 2006.

The whole place is absolutely amazing and unique. I’m sure it’ll take a while for me to forget.

Eventually though, it was time to leave so we headed back to the gite (via Limeuil for ice cream and coffee (beer)) and a swim followed by a laze around the pool. Tonight was to be our big Michelin starred meal for the this trip.

WARNING! There will be quite a few food photos from here on in.

Mirinda heard about the one Michelin star restaurant, Le Vieux Logis, in Tremolat back home so I booked us in yonks ago. Tonight was the night so, setting off an hour early, we headed into the village.

At this point I think it’s handy to point out the fact that when we booked the gite we thought we’d be in the middle of the village. As it turns out we are actually a ten minute drive from the village. I really have no idea how this mix up came about. Mind you, I’m quite happy because, apart from the muck spraying farmer, the gite is beautifully peaceful and the pool a dream.

Raw duck amuse bouche

So we set off early in order to explore the village given we’re too far away to just walk around.

Tremolat is a little bit surreal. It seems to have at least 15 restaurants but absolutely no shop. It boasts a hair dresser, a small petrol station with no shop, an enamelist, a very big church, an antiques shop but nowhere to buy fresh milk. Naturally it has a couple of patisseries but, again, there is no shop. I really have no idea how it works because there’s no shop for miles around.

Vichyssoise with ham, crudities and white truffle shaving

We know because we walked around the entire village and while we spoke to the guy who runs the antique shop, we didn’t ask him. He was, however, very keen to tell us that he spends six months in Tremolat and six months in Toronto. When asked why he explained that the Perigord hibernates in the winter. He also said he knew Isabelle, the artist in Cadouin.

Fish on fennel, foie gras and a mussel in a lemon jus

We wandered around the church as the strains of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here rang out. A couple of chaps were playing on a green space out the back of one of the many restaurants. Mirinda was surprised to discover that Wish You Were Here is possibly my favourite album of all time. I was surprised that the audience for the two guitarists consisted of the boy scout troops from earlier this morning and yesterday and an old chap with a beer.

I think the boy scouts had no idea what was going on particularly when the guitarists started playing (and singing) Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. While I enjoyed it very much I really have no idea what they thought. In fact, not long after the song was finished, we passed the scouts heading out of town as if pursued by bears.

Roast duckling with onion, and polenta, with juniper ice cream.

Eventually though, it was time to enter the hidden delights of the hotel and restaurant.

What a beautiful place. We sat outside, overlooking the manicured lawn, liberally sprinkled with very big box balls, half hiding the pool and sun chairs. Just beyond a small wall in front of us was a stream, burbling away. It was an amazing location.

Desert number 1 – pannacotta with apricot

We decided to have the Spring in the Perigord set menu accompanied by wines selected especially and boy was it brilliant. My only complaint would be that the sommelier really ought to cheer up a bit. The rest of the staff were marvellous (especially our waitress) but he was just a bit grim and uncaring. If he wanted a tip it would be: Could do better with a smile.

Dessert no 2 – a tower of meringue filled with fruit with raspberries on top

It was really a wonderful meal in a brilliant location.

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Like a thousand bees, the trumpets sounded

Following the bizarre evening we had yesterday we decided a more sedate approach to today was called for. We figured a jazz night at an art studio comprising a harmonica player and a pianist struck just the right balance.

But that was our plan for the night, this morning we decided to visit a chateau…except we didn’t make it beyond the terrace overlooking the Dordogne at Limeuil where we had a coffee. This is really one of our new favourite places. So much so that we went back later and had some lunch as well.

However, after our leisurely coffees we headed down the road to St Martin’s chapel. This is renowned throughout the region as a very pretty little chapel or ‘squat’ as one source unkindly put it. It sits in the middle of farmland, a graveyard around it.

It was built on the orders of Richard the Lionheart to atone for the murder of Thomas A’Becket. Seems a small recompense for a man’s life.

We would have loved to have gone inside but the restorers are in and they had the key. We know this because Mirinda’s book claims the key is kept in the house opposite. She went and asked a rather creepy old woman who referred any questions to a farmer of very impressive facial hair with a jolly face to match.

He told Mirinda that the door is just a bit stiff and generally needs a good shove. He followed us back to the chapel door and demonstrated. Except the door still didn’t budge. He shrugged and explained, through French language, gestures and outlandish mime that the key is normally with him but the restorers have it and he didn’t know where they were.

While we didn’t get to see inside, we did walk around and take a lot of photos of the outside. I was rather taken with the gashes in the south exterior wall which seems to indicate that there was another section of building there once upon a time.

We saw as much as we could see then returned to the car, parked rather haphazardly behind a grave tending local who was even more haphazardly parked. Rather than head for the chateau that we’d more or less decided not to visit, we just drove. Mirinda basically let the car take us somewhere we hadn’t been before.

This isn’t as odd as it seems because Linda always shows the breadcrumbs of our journey. In order to go somewhere we haven’t been this trip all we need to do is not follow the breadcrumbs. Easy. And that is how we discovered Paunat or Peanut as Mirinda insists on calling it.

At Peanut there’s not much except a massive church. The church was once part of an impressively large abbey but it was destroyed a number of times (100 Years War, Wars of Religion, French Revolution…the usual suspects) and now there’s little but the land left.

The church is very big though and seems a bit oversized for its place in the valley. Something equally shocking is the majestic scaffolding erected around one part of the church as a hardy team of restorers do their thing.

Mirinda doesn’t like scaffold and when she spotted it, she was not best pleased, almost ready to jump back in the car and drive to something a little less covered up.

She didn’t. But it was a close thing.

No-one really knows (or they’re not telling) when the abbey was originally built at Paunal. The only real evidence they have dates from the 11th century however, there are a few bits of scrappy evidence that indicates that the place was probably built in around 800AD. It was then destroyed by the Normans a few years later. Then built again. This happened a few times over its chequered (and largely unknown) history.

As for good old Saint Martial, for whom the church is named, he was a bishop sent out from Rome by Pope Fabian to bring Christianity to the Gauls (whether they wanted it or not) sometime in the 200’s. Martial was given Limoges to convert so off he trotted. He must have liked Limoges because he never returned but lived then subsequently died there. He was buried and, eventually, sainted. Mind you, he might not have really liked the place because Limoges was swept with a wave of ergot poisoning in 994 which he didn’t bother sorting out for them though they did a lot of praying to him. By the way, ergot is a type of fungus and was once much favoured by witches.

Anyway, back to the church and abbey.

The ethereal altar with two angels

The place was built and destroyed so many times that there are quite a few different levels of floor. A very handy plan and open floor near the altar demonstrates the various depths of tiling. More importantly, there’s a very nice restaurant outside, built somewhere atop the ruined abbey. Sadly it doesn’t open on Wednesdays so we drove back to Limeuil and sat back down by the river for lunch instead.

As we pulled up at the car park we were approached by a French boy scout (we’ve seen quite a few of them) asking if he could use my phone. He wanted to contact his friend but he had no signal. Given he was a boy scout and troop leader of a small troop of younger boys, I figured he’d be fine. I set my phone up and handed it to him to make the call. Which was fine except my signal dropped out as well. We all shrugged our shoulders and went our separate ways.

After a two hour break by the river, we had a choice. Either go back to the gite for a short rest or drive across to Cadouin in preparation for the jazz concert that Madame had told us about (by way of a flyer). We decided there was little point in going back to the gite for so short a break and, instead, drove to Cadouin then on to the Abbey church of Saint Avit Senieur, just down the road.

It has to be said that the town of Saint Avit Senieur is yet another beautiful little place in the heart of the Dordogne countryside, the road leading into the centre lined with an overflowing tsunami of red trumpet flowers. These plants, so reminiscent of bind weed, appear everywhere in the region but it seems the majority are here. And the bees love them.

As we walked by the flowers, the buzzing was almost deafening as each little fur bellied bee took its share of nectar to be turned into honey back at the hive. It was truly a beautiful blast of buzzing, though I reckon Susanne and Rafi would have run away very quickly.

Which reminds me…when I went for a swim the other day, carefully keeping my mouth closed to avoid swallowing any of the thousands of insects adrift on the surface of the pool, a wasp kept bothering my head, the only part of me above water. No matter how many times I dived beneath the surface, it was always there, waiting for me. How do they do that? For creatures of very little brains, they show some incredible feats of thought sometimes.

The abbey at Saint Avit Senieur is another ruin attached to the remaining church. This one had a bit more information available in the form of an English leaflet. To quote the text directly:

“…in 487, a hermit named Avit, born in Lanquais, withdrew into the valley west of the current abbey. Between 1060 and 1065, a small group of monks jived together near Saint Avit’s tomb.”

Ignoring the fact that the jive wasn’t invented until the 1930’s, I’m guessing these facts come from some reliable source rather than on a dance floor.

The leaflet goes on to claim that there were ‘confusing reports’ of fires in the church caused by the Albigensians in the 13th century. For the uninitiated into the ways of the religious ferocity of the 13th century, the Albigensians were the Cathars, particularly despised by the Pope at the time.

Moving on to the 100 Years War, the English destroyed the choir then the Huguenots (French protestants) wrecked the entire abbey in 1577. While the Catholics retook the monastery, it wasn’t much chop anymore so they left it to rot, fixing up the church instead. Eventually most of the abbey buildings collapsed so they were all levelled to the ground. This means there is still a very visible blueprint remaining of the original structure.

Of course, some walls still remain.

Some of the ruined abbey with the church behind

The church, on the other hand, is very much there. Although it was extensively restored in the 1980’s, it is pretty much how it always has been (after the Cathars tried to burn it down of course). The inside of the church was, once, completely covered in frescoes. Now there are just faint hints of the glory that once was. Though the painted ceiling is pretty amazing.

The church is huge inside and very cool which is excellent when the outside temperature keeps hovering around the 30 degree mark on the Melty Scale. The fact that there is very little furniture in the church is possibly blamed on the Albigensians but I think it was probably removed by the restorers a little later on. The furniture that remains, however, is more than adequate for sitting and cooling down on.

After a bit of a wander around the ruins, we headed back to Cadouin for a pre-jazz drink at one of the terrace bars. While there, I tried to work out who was going to the jazz as well as where it was. Both tasks were not easy. The address was an artists studio. Fortunately Cadouin is not that big and the only artist’s studio in town is easily found plonked on a hill overlooking the piazza outside the abbey.

It’s not often that I find an artist’s work appealing to the extent that I actually want to buy it but this artist, Isabelle Jacopin, is a dab hand at sketching. She has created some amazing brush stroke pictures of French markets as well as four line nudes. However, the one piece I almost immediately fell in love with was an acrylic picture of Josephine Baker, or so I thought.

The artist confessed that it might have been Josephine Baker but she couldn’t be certain. She did go through a bit of a Josephine Baker phase. The one I bought is predominantly yellow and the singer is wearing a white dress, standing in front of a microphone. I really think it’s quite beautiful. Eventually it will hang in my office.

Speaking of the artist she spends eight months in New Orleans and the other four months in Cadouin. She has studios in both places. Tonight, though, she was in Cadouin and had a special treat in store for customers and visitors alike in her French studio.

Jazz harmonica player Michel Herblin and his piano playing friend, Guillaume Wilmot entertained us all with some pretty amazing music. They describe it as ‘Harmonica Baroque and Piano Jazz.’ Whatever it might be, it was certainly pretty cool. Mirinda counted about 20 harmonicas in Michel’s case for a start. Though there was only the one piano.

There were a lot more people by the end of the gig.

Afterwards we strolled over to the lovely little Restaurant de l’Abbaye, where we dined on delicious smoked duck salad, fish and creme brulee (see my report on the appropriate page).

Another amazing day.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

(Please don’t) Release the dogs of War

Tonight was one of the stranger holiday nights we’ve ever spent. It ranks up there with the Fana Folklore for oddity. I was convinced that Fana Folklore couldn’t be beaten but I stand corrected, Les Mensterels of Issigeac is definitely at the top of the list.

And the day started off pretty normal.

We managed to leave the gite by 10am and were headed for Maxange Cave at Le Buisson de Cadoin. This is a relatively new cave in that it was only discovered in 2000 by father and son, Maximilian and Angel Cablallero (the name comes from combining their names). It’s not exactly a new cave in geological terms as it was starting to form 60 million years ago (or, if you’re religious, quite a bit before gods were invented).

Max and Angel were quarrying in a cave when Angel spotted a crevasse, he managed to squeeze in and, lying on his back, he shone his light on some amazing crystals above him. He went a little further and the crystals were even more intense. He couldn’t go any further because the ground and the roof were far too close for his fine French physique. The two of them got to work with shovel, pick and dynamite and, by 2003, they created a tourist site.

The beauty of Maxange is that it is ‘easy.’ There are no wet, slimy steps, no deep gouges in the floor, no limestone smears on the walls. It’s also not so small that those affected by claustrophobia, need not worry. Well, except for when all the lights go out.

The cave is accessed with a tour guide and ours was excellent. Mind you, it was all in French (we had a crib sheet in English) but she had a lovely voice that filled the cave. She also spoke English and kept coming up to make sure we knew what was happening and we hadn’t missed anything. She was lovely.

And I learned something new today. As well as stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (rising from the floor) there are also eccentrics which form sideways from the stalactites. Conditions have to be just right for this to happen…like most things really.

Best of all, you can take photos. Without le flash, of course.

Possibly one of the best things about the cave is that the temperature almost immediately dropped to 13 degrees when we entered. Given the 30+ degree temperatures we’ve been enduring, this was an utter delight. I watched in amazement as two people quickly put on jumpers they had brought especially. They then took them off as soon as they emerged. Very, very weird.

After our tour underground, which was fantastic, we sat with a coffee (beer) just soaking up the morning for a bit before heading off to Urval.

We went for a drive the other night and decided to check out the village of Urval. Driving through it at night showed us that it was probably extraordinarily beautiful and quaint and all things French village. So we decided to return in the daytime.

And we were right.

Typically full of the yellow stone houses of the region, it features a rather austere 11th to 12th century Romanesque church, a communal bread oven and very little else. We didn’t see the bread oven because we didn’t know what it was, the sign ‘Four Banal’ meaning nothing to us apart from ‘banal’ meaning commonplace.

It seems that in the days when villagers were owned by their betters, their betters would charge them to use the village bread oven. This was a sore point with most villagers. The ‘droits seigneurieux’ (lord’s rights) were almost always charged on the mill and village hall as well as the oven, so the poor villagers remained poor…which is possibly why the bastards in charge did it.

These days, of course, the villagers have their own ovens and the seigneur is long dead and buried.

Urval

Don’t get me wrong, Urval is a French countryside delight but I’m not sure about the statue of Mary and Jesus in the church. Mary looks a bit demonic and Jesus looks like a young French girl from the Belle Époque.

Scary Mary!

Creepy statues aside, we loved Urval. In fact, we wanted to eat there but the only two places to eat were asleep so we headed off for pastures new…and hopefully awake.

We wound up in the very medieval town of Belve (the Elves also had Arks A, B and C, obviously) where we took up a table on the terrace for a lovely salad of fried chicken. I’m being rather generous (as were they) with the word ‘salad’ here given it was half a lettuce and a quartered tomato. Still, it was just the thing to fill an empty food hole and went well with the wine (beer).

After eating, we went for a lovely stroll around the manic network of little cobbled streets full of nattering, chattering townsfolk and a very talented pianist, who was only heard and not seen.

The centre of the town of Belves is dominated, as quite a few of these places are, by a covered market place. This one dates to the 15th century, the timbers showing various centuries of repair within the intertwined beams.

Belves is on a promontory which means there is a splendid view and viewing point upon which to view it. The countryside all around looked gorgeous as we contemplated how the Elves came to build the town on such a high point before heading back to the gite.

Last week, Madame had emailed me a list of things that were happening in the region this week. One of them leapt out at us. It was called Les soirees des Menestrels in Issigeac. It promised an evening of medieval entertainment including a dance demonstration. We’ve visited Issigeac before (though Mirinda didn’t remember) six years ago and I remember it as being especially beautiful and round. (It was once surrounded by a wall that has now become a road.)

On the way we drove through a small village called Faux which I don’t think really exists.

Coincidentally, tonight France played Belgium in a World Cup semi-final so how many people would turn up for the minstrels was anyone’s guess. As we wandered the streets, the bars were filling up with football fans. We walked by the various tribes with their war paint, heading down to Church Square, the site of the festivities.

Before going any further, I have to say that the townsfolk of Issigeac seem to be a lovely bunch. They’d organised quite an amazing evening (actually it started with archery for the kids in the afternoon) with a wonderful pig on a spit for dinner.

The only greens are in her hat

The food was delicious, the ticketing system perfect and the dancing…well, here’s just a glimpse of the medieval dance demonstration which resembled Morris dancing without the sticks and bells.

Included in the group of dancers were the boss lady who was clearly also the choreographer, the drunk lady who kept disappearing for a sip or two, the only guy in the group who had a mohawk haircut, a woman who looked remarkably like a woman who reads at Talking Newspaper and a woman in a shower cap.

Between dances we also had a demonstration on medieval weaponary and dress given by a young chap who may or may not have been funny and an old fellow who was extremely jovial in his tin fedora and metal shin pads.

The whole thing was great fun and delightfully odd. Everyone had a great time and the audience were even invited up for a dance with the troupe after a short and hilarious dance class with the scary choreographer.

By 9pm it was all over and we headed back to the car and, finally the gite where we commiserated with Madame over the fact that Belgium were beaten by France.

The title refers to when the dogs in the audience decided to bark and snap at the two chaps demonstrating their fighting skills.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Shem, Frank and the Great Tablecloth of Wonder

Many, many years ago a couple of salesmen (let’s call them Shem and Frank) were a bit hard up for ready cash. They would roam the countryside, selling their wares from off the back of their donkey called Job. Times, however had been a bit lean; people weren’t buying what they were selling. Shem and Frank were having problems making ends meet and things were not easy for Job either.

In time honoured tradition they would buy from one person and sell to another. No matter that the first person was in Egypt while the second was in France. They would roam to and from anywhere in order to make a shekel or two.

It was around 1100 when they found themselves in a tavern in the Holy Land, Crusaders all around, when a chap entered and ordered something strong from the tavern wench. Shem noticed this fellow paid in silver and knew he’d found himself someone of wealth. Nudging Frank, he told him he had a plan.

He went outside to Job, the donkey, and took from their pack a smallish tablecloth which he’d managed to steal back in Northern Africa somewhere. He folded it up reverentially and carried it back inside. He went to the bar and spoke to the serving wench.

Excuse me, Miss. Would you have somewhere safe I can store this holiest of holy relics while I head down to the public baths? I wouldn’t have it stolen for anything.

Before the wench could say anything, however, the stranger had turned to Shem and asked him what the relic was. Shem looked surprised and became rather guarded.

What relic, sir? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said as he hid the tablecloth behind his back with all the subtlety of a Vogon.
It’s alright, my good man. You may not have recognised me but I am Adhemar de Monteil recently come from the Pope himself. You can speak freely to me.

Shem looked warily at the stranger but then, as if convinced by some unseen force he showed him the cloth. He then lowered his voice and moved in close to Monteil’s ear.

It is part of the shroud within which was wrapped the body of our saviour, Jesus Christ.” Both men urgently crossed themselves sort of in the manner of World Cup footballers. “I had it from my father. He from his and so forth down our family line since the crucifixion itself. Apparently one of my ancestors was there and managed to grab it. I would hate to lose it but must find a safe place to hide it just now. Particularly given all the crusaders about at the moment.
Please, good fellow, let me see this wondrous object!

And Shem knew he had him. He sold the tablecloth to Adhemar de Monteil for a considerable amount of money after a lot of baffling haggling – it went the wrong way because Adhemar de Monteil really wanted it but Shem didn’t want to sell it. Adhemar de Monteil then took it back to France. He donated it, in 1117 to an abbey in a place called Cadouin. A whole system of chains, a capstan and a big box were constructed and prayed over before being suspended over the altar of the church in Cadouin. The tablecloth was placed, very carefully, in the box.

And there it hung for 800 years. It was taken out every now and then so that the townspeople of Cadouin could sing songs to it and generally follow it around the town. Then, in 1935, someone realised it was just a tablecloth dating from around 1100. It even had the tailor’s name embroidered into the edging in Arabic.

Nowadays, the cloth has been taken away and safely stored for the wonderful old thing it really is while the chains still hang in the church as if testament to the stupidity of blind faith.

Chains hang meekly from the ceiling where is painted the resurrection of Christ

Apparently Shem and Frank also sold Jesus’ romper suit to a church in Tremolat but I’ve yet to see it so that story will have to wait.

The church is next door to the most amazing cloister I’ve seen for a long time. It’s not just me who thinks that. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The beauty of the cloister mostly lies in the story it tells as you wander down the corridors. Starting at the beginning, the monks would have wandered beneath small statues telling them how to conduct themselves, warning them of the dangers of sin and the vices associated with normal god-given life. The little statues are sometimes on the wall, other times on the ceiling, even others at the top of columns. They all tell a story of some sort or other.

Sometimes the story makes sense, other times it will make you screw up your face in confusion and other times they will make your blood boil. The way women are treated around the cloister was definitely in the latter camp.

Mrs Noah tries to poison her husband in order to find out about his secret conversations with god

Amazingly the cloister (and the abbey attached) has been destroyed a number of times during various conflicts through the ages (Wars of Religion, French Revolution, Hundred Years War, etc) and repaired by adding to rather than recreating. In the 1960’s however, a new threat was uncovered. Water was destroying the statues by seeping in and causing them to slowly melt away. A company was employed to help stop the damage. They succeeded but did not recreate, they merely repaired. It’s a significant and very important difference.

One of the best things about the cloister is that you are free to enter the cloister garden, something that isn’t usually the case. Of course it helped that the day was so beautifully blue and bright, but the yellow stone looked radiant in the sunshine even though we were melting.

I took a lot of photographs (with both camera and phone) but really think the panno I took from one corner the best for showing what the place looked like. And, amazingly, it was peaceful as well.

Cloister panno

Having had a coffee in the town square, a wander around the cloister then church and finished with a second coffee (beer) we decided to have a wander around before leaving for Beaumont because there was rumoured to be an ATM there.

Cash has been a bit of a problem since we left the chateau because we had to pay in cash and it was the limit of our withdrawals on the day. This meant we were using our reserves of cash and employing the card whenever we could. This came to a head today in Cadouin when the bill for the coffee (beer) came to almost exactly what I had left in liquid funds.

There was rumoured to be an ATM in the post office at Cadouin which opened today at 1:30 but by the time we’d left at 1:45 it was still closed so we headed for Beaumont instead.

Beaumont is a bastide town. I’ve discussed these before so won’t go into what one actually is however, this one is interesting because it was built by Edward I of England in 1272 when he was shoring up his French holdings. It also has a very military style church. This served as a sort of keep for the townsfolk to run to in times of trouble.

The other wonderful thing about Beaumont is the terrific salads served at the Bistrot. I had goats cheese, Mirinda had duck; both were superb. They may have been enhanced by the fact that the ATM across the square was in complete, money giving mood. Still, they were delicious whatever the reason.

Salad for Mon

After lunch we headed around the bastide for a little look see. That took about ten minutes so we went inside the church where I found a monochrome Joan. I’ve never seen a monochrome Joan statue before. I think she looks quite ethereal though the light shining in her upraised face must be a bit annoying.

I have searched in vain to discover who created such a beatific looking Joan, which is annoying because I really like the monochrome.

Monochrome Joan

Eventually we made our hot and dusty way back to the car and headed for the gite to drink wine (beer), eat cheese and French sausage and generally rest up after the tiring morning. It’s never easy getting up and leaving the house by 10am.

I’d also like to mention that the search for Hornzy Twigs continues in the US. Hopefully he will soon be reunited with his grieving family. Here’s an police identikit picture of him. If anyone sees him please get in touch.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

The hills are alive with the sounds of puffing

Before I get on with today, I’m going to have a little moan. Firstly about the directions received for finding this place.

The address for the gite was a road. The road is quite long, divides into two roads and has many houses in it. Why don’t they have numbers? Or names? Anything that would give one a clue as to where to go. This is not the first time that this has happened and it tends to ruin the start of the stay. Of course, any hassle is quickly dissipated but the hassle could so easily have not existed had the address been a bit more obvious.

The other moan is about the claim that these places actually have WiFi access to the Internet. This is, broadly speaking, true but when it actually comes to connecting and doing anything useful (like write a blog post) it’s about as true as the whole giants surviving the flood thing. (They were doomed along with the unicorns and thinking for oneself.)

Take this place for instance. There is a WiFi antennae thing on top of the fridge and all the lights are flashing as they should but when I connect to it all I get is a message saying it’s not connected to the Internet. I’ve tried everything that an ex-IT guy can do but to no avail. Fortunately I can use my Android phone as a hotspot (the 4G signal is unusually excellent) but I shouldn’t have to. We rent places on the basis that they have WiFi not just the promise.

Anyway, as I said, I’m just having a little moan. Now on to the marvellous day we just had.

My night, though interrupted by the rare bucket frog which seems to live somewhere just beyond the swimming pool, was restful and I woke to a coffee and a sit outside reading waiting for Mirinda to join me. Eventually her holiday version of the bell rang out so I made her a tea. After a number of repeat cups of tea, we hit the road.

Our first stop this morning was the town of Saint Cyprien and the Sunday market. (Actually it was the only thing we did this morning.) What an amazing market it is. The town is presently in the grip of some sort of summer festival so the place is festooned with all manner of decorative flowers creating sky avenues of colour and joy.

The approach to the market

Knowing from old that parking at these sort of places is next to impossible, we drove into a back street and, imitating the French drivers around us, parked in a ditch, completely illegally, knowing we’d be okay. We then left the car and walked up to the market.

What an amazing place the town of Saint Cyprien is on market Sunday. Saint Cyprien/Cyprian himself was the bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer and saint who lived probably from 200 to 258. He may or may not have written stuff about giants. I really couldn’t say, however, his namesake town is fantastic.

The main part of the old town seems to be glued to the side of the hills, bits of building jutting out and threatening to fall on other jutting out bits. And everything clinging together courtesy of bright pretend blooms attached to long wires down the main street.

Very crowded Sunday market

We managed to make our very slow way along the narrow street with stalls either side selling everything from hunks of spit roasted pork to cheese, from olives to artisan beer. It was all there and there were plenty of people to buy, chat and generally enjoy the whole experience.

(It’s odd how people seem to prefer the whole market thing. I mean, this was originally how it all worked; the farmers would bring their produce to town and the people would buy or swap goods. Then people started preferring using a shop where the farmer delivered his goods and the people would buy, thereby creating the middleman. Then, of course the people decided that they much preferred removing anything even close to the farm from the whole thing and decided to shop in huge, out of town, soulless supermarkets. Meanwhile, the same people would bemoan the loss of the shops, the markets and the joys of shopping. Humans are strange. They only need to see what joy comes from the Sunday market at Saint Cyprien to realise that that’s where the fundamental happiness in life can be found.)

We managed to buy enough food to feed us for the rest of week (goats cheese, various saucisson, olives, a great hunk of pork) then walked to the end of the almost endless market, wandering, slowly, back to the car. It was then back to the gite for a well earned rest.

The pork, by the way, was fantastic.

After a long and extended rest up, we headed out for our second part of the day. The weather has been disgustingly hot (over 30 the last few days) so we decided to only do things up high in order to take advantage of the breezes. Our first stop was at a lookout, looking out over the big bend in the Dordogne River close to where we’re staying.

The views were quite extraordinary but they were dwarfed by the views we discovered later on in the day when we finally breached the ‘mountain’ that is Limeuil!

As we once more prepared to leave yet another car park, we stopped to admire what appeared to be an abandoned hotel and restaurant. Mirinda suggested that we could buy it and start up a holiday business directly opposite the panoramic view we’d just seen. I said no and we continued on our way.

We’d have to get the squatter out first

Having visited the lookout at Tremolat, we decided to follow the sign and visit the one at Limeuil as well – sort of sister sites. Except there isn’t one. There are signs, but no site. So we decided to keep going to Limeuil and have a drink.

We parked, along with the hundreds of other people out for a lovely day on the river, and started walking down to the bar when we spotted that the glass blower was open. This is very lucky because he only ever opens when he feels like it, not being a regular hours kinda guy. Of course we went in.

We didn’t see him blowing anything but we did see a lot of lovely glass including a beautiful little glass lemon, which we bought, obviously.

Satisfied, we headed down to the bar.

Sat on the edge of the Dordogne, soaking up the shade and breeze from the river was all just too perfect. So much so that it was interrupted by a French couple at the next table smoking at us. Obviously they can smoke if they really must but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to do it at the same time. After she’d finished her’s he then lit his which means I had a foul stench for twice as long as strictly necessary.

The French certainly do like their smoking. They see it as so much of a right that they do it whenever they can. It’s almost as if someone has decided that should they stop smoking the right will be taken away. I haven’t seen a lot of kids smoking so maybe the habit will (literally) die out with the present generation.

But enough puffing about puffing and onto the puffing up the hill we did next.

Limeuil is built, mostly, on a very steep incline overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezere Rivers. While being a rather annoying aspect of hill living, the hill affords splendid views once the peak is achieved. At the top, in fact, there is a garden, which was where we were headed.

The woman on the seat has given up

And it took a while but eventually we reached the peak and were rewarded, not with a view, but with ice cream. Locally made ice cream. Ice cream of extraordinary flavours. And being the sort of guy I am, I had to try the green tomato, lemon and basil flavour. OMG! Perfect for a hot day or what! If ever I see it again (unlikely) I’m going to have to have it.

After the amazing ice cream, we entered the Panoramic Garden.

The garden was created by a Dr Linare who, while a native of the Perigord, had worked for many years for the Sultan of Morocco. Obviously making a lot of money in this position, when he retired and returned to Limeuil, he spotted on the steep hill an old chateau. Climbing up he then spotted the For Sale sign. He bought it, did the house up and started creating the marvellous garden we visited today.

When Dr Linare died, however, no-one thought to keep up the work and the chateau fell into ruin and the garden was reclaimed by nature. Step up the Au fil du Temps, the association that was asked to fix it back up. After a lot of work they have achieved something quite wonderful…though the chateau is no longer there.

There are many ‘rooms’ in the Doctor’s garden including a quirky mirrored Hall of Herbs. I liked it so much, I shot a short video…

It was lemon grass.

The whole garden lends a certain air of management to the amazing views around it. From the very top, the view down to the rivers, the bridges and the fields of agriculture were simply incredible. Well worth the walk and the price of admission. And the amazing ice cream. (Seriously: green tomato, lemon and basil…remember it!)

Vezere on the left, Dordogne on the right, the market directly below

We had noticed that a market was going on in the town below (see photo above) but were in no hurry to reach it. Mirinda had read great things about a restaurant not far from the garden and on the slope leading down so we asked for a table and were seated inside a big old wisteria on a terrace.

The food was excellent (and reasonably priced). I had a warmed goats cheese salad followed by fricasseed rabbit while Mirinda had terrine followed by fricasseed pork. We drank a bottle of local Rose. And, of course, I took a photo of my rabbit for Monali.

The sauce is mustard

I had to finish with a creme brulee (of course) which, sadly, I could only give a 8/10. You can see my report on the Creme Brulee page of the blog.

And finally it was time to walk back down the hill. And you’d think that would be easier wouldn’t you? And you’d be wrong. The steepness of the ascent created quite the incline going down so the going was slow and measured. Still, eventually we reached the bottom and had a stroll around the Night Market enjoying the mad music and overall atmosphere of strange food, miserable families and kids playing football.

I was so taken with a group of English tourists that I just had to video them ‘doing the Madison.’ For those that don’t know, the Madison was a popular dance in the 1950’s which some people seem to think is still popular. Mirinda thought they were line dancing.

One of the things about having a gite with our own private pool is that when you get back from a very hot and sweaty day, climbing mountains and enjoying rich food, you can just strip off and jump in. The day just washes away as you swim around to the accompaniment of cicadas and the bucket frog.

A final view of the twin bridges…from ground level

Tomorrow we are planning to visit another abbey.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 2 Comments

Where Melania buys her gloves

Today had a very leisurely start and continued along that vein managing to get increasingly leisurely as they crept along. It marked the beginning of the third part of our French holiday. I have to admit that breaking the two weeks up into three distinct parts does make it feel like it goes on for ages.

So, after a sleep in and breakfast with Madame then Mirinda having a swim, we packed the car and started our journey south. However, before I go too far down those French roads, I feel I have to mention the bathroom issues at the chateau.

Everything was fine up to last night. Before leaving for the restaurant I wanted to have a shower. I set myself up by manipulating the complex screen apparatus and turned the water on to get nowt but a dribble. In fact, the pressure was so non-existent that the little button you lift to transfer the water from tap to shower, refused to stay up.

No shower for me then. I figured the water pressure was down because the grandkids were visiting and were probably having showers before bedtime. I dressed, figuring I’d have a shower when we returned from the restaurant. This was a hope too far. Still no pressure and now no hot water. We went to bed planning to tell Madame in the morning.

Come the morning and the situation had not improved so Madame wandered where ever people wander in ancient buildings, looking for the problem which she didn’t actually find. She did however come up with an alternative shower that did work (don’t ask me how) in the room that attached to the mysterious tower tacked on the end of the building.

What this meant was that Mirinda could have a swim. Which she did. Then a shower. Which she did while I packed. We then set off.

Now people might say I forget places I’ve visited SOMETIMES but sometimes I just stop somewhere and with a shock of familiarity realise I’ve been there before. Not like in a past life or any of that nonsense. Like today, for instance. We’d reached the halfway point of the halfway point of the drive and Mirinda wanted to pull over for a rest in an Aire de Repose. One turned up almost like magic and we turned into it…albeit entering the exit by accident.

As we drove around looking for a spot (it was full of families with dogs and picnics and clamped bicycles) when this self same feeling swept over me. It all seemed ridiculously familiar. The car parked we got out and looked at each other. Almost as one we said “I’ve been here before!” And we had.

We think it was during our 2014 Dordogne holiday with Bob. Maybe he can remember because I can’t find any reference in the blog. The town was called Moulismes but more memorable would have been the red chairs, rank coffee and mini lake. Not that it matters, really but it does highlight how often we come to France if we recognise individual rest stops.

The mini lake at Moulismes

What is perhaps more surprising was our next stop which was the halfway mark of the day’s driving. Last night we’d worked out the best spot to stop for lunch. It was roughly halfway. When I looked up information about the town I discovered it had a population of around 11,000 and was renowned for making very nice gloves. So nice, in fact, that Melania Trump wore a pair during Trump’s ill-attended inauguration.

This of course gave rise to much hilarity and expectation of big signs proclaiming the fact. It was not to be, however. The townspeople had clearly decided not to use the Trump name to further their capitalist ideals. Instead they chose to ignore the fact.

So we drove into the centre of Saint Junien and parked. As I left the car I spotted a hotel across a roundabout and I just knew I’d been there before. In fact I pointed out to Mirinda the window of the room in which I stayed.

The old Red Beef hotel

In the words of Lorna, I appear to be on a Weasel pilgrimage. After the Poitiers sojourn and visit, she maybe right. I cast my mind back to September 22, 2017 and I discover I have visited Saint Junien before. The proof, if proof be needed, is here for all to read.

From memory (backed up by my blog) it wasn’t the nicest of towns however, that which stinks in September can be glorious come the following July. The place was lovely. AND we found an open restaurant that served an amazing salad and local beer.

Superb salad

It was almost like there’s two versions of Saint Junien – the miserable months and the merry months. And I’ve seen both. We also saw a church that the Weasels didn’t see because we didn’t walk far enough down the grandly named Grand Rue.

And something I spotted as we were leaving town was a delightfully naked statue proclaiming someone called the Muse of Corot. She is reaching out, beseeching someone like a siren reaching for a sailor. I don’t remember it and was wondering whether any Weasels sneaked up for a look at her.

Of course, I could have forgotten.

So, finally we then drove on to our next place of residence, Tremolat in the Dordogne. We are staying in a self catering place for a week and really looking forward to exploring the area (re-exploring in some cases) while sleeping in a lot. Mind you, this was the first thing I did when I arrived.

Our own pool

It was perfect.

The other thing I did was watch Croatia narrowly beat Russia in the World Cup. And, believe it or not, Croatia will now play England in the semi-finals. It’s just extraordinary.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

There were giants on the ark?

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS QUITE A BIT ABOUT AN ABBEY, FRESCOES AND LITERAL BIBLE BASHING

Today we managed to tick off another UNESCO World Heritage site. This time it was an Abbey; the Abbey of Saint-Savin to be exact. It lies in the Vienne/Poitou-Charentes area of France, along the bank of the La Gartempe river.

(Actually, and of extreme interest, the river was the power behind the first elevator to be installed in this place. The story goes (and it’s true) that Leon Edoux (1827-1910) who was born in Saint-Savin, was working as an engineer on the Eiffel Tower. He suddenly thought of an elevator, powered by water, that could be installed at the Abbey to allow visitors the opportunity to rise to the higher floors above the refectory without having to mount the stairs. This he did, in 1892, twice. One of these lifts was still working in 1984. And all powered by the river. Extraordinary.)

The drive to Saint-Savin was nice and meandering, through the countryside, along narrow roads which are only an inconvenience to driving when someone else wants to do the same but from the opposite direction. We drove through little towns and villages, all intriguing, all driven through.

One thing that we had to find was an ATM. The chateau where we are staying requires payment in cash and our Euros were running dry. I spotted one in the bustling ex-limeburning town of Chauvigny. From what I’ve managed to find out, Chauvigny is most well known because it’s on the way to other places, most notably the curious bone-cavern of Jioux. Not that we saw it or the bones. Though we did see one of the famous churches.

Something that Chauvigny does have, however, is a wonderful boulangerie that sells Mirinda’s favourite French treat, the religieuse. They’ve been hard to find in France of late so when one is discovered, it is important to buy and devour it as soon as possible…which she did. I had a French vanilla slice.

We also had a coffee (beer) while Mirinda applied her sunscreen. She feels, as an Australian, that she should be as public as possible in her suncream application. If nothing else, it provides the locals with something to talk about over dinner with the family.

We were not long in Chauvigny. We collected the car and headed further on, towards the little village of Saint-Savin, and the massive spire of the Abbey church. We arrived and drove around the one-way square, before finding the parking area in front of the abbey. Mimicking the only other driver to do it, Mirinda parked abreast the dividing line between the alleys, declaring her bipartisanism, and we headed for the church.

My first impression was that Saint-Savin appears to be the sort of town where the locals pour out of the tabac because they think they recognise you from the previous edition of Crimewatch but I could be wrong. It seemed that way when we drove in but a little while later I figured the visitor figures must be so high that they would be up and down and in and out more times than their waistlines indicated.

We entered the signposted entrance and were greeted by a young man who was not fooled by my French one bit. In English he explained that the audio guides were only in French and he would give us a brochure (which he did) and then explained the route we should take. The church and the frescoes (the reasons we were there) came last.

Obediently we headed into the refectory then the garden (a bit scrappy, it has to be said) then upstairs to look at the tiny rooms once occupied by the monks, then the gendamerie then various other people who required fireplaces and extra leg room. This all became a bit much when we started to be pursued by a couple who were a bit smelly.

We left the Hall of Little Cells and rose once more, this time to the 30 minute dramatisation of how the ceiling was painted. Obviously it was in French and had the audience gripped. We were not gripped and, when Mirinda asked me if I’d had enough, I suggested that perhaps we could now see the actual frescoes. We did.

And what an amazing place. So light and airy, so colourful and bright. The frescoes are very high up but even so, the strength and beauty of them shines down.

A few of them have gone. Through the years various wars and revolutions and just plain stupidity have seen bits and pieces destroyed but, essentially, they tell the story of the Bible. Or bits of the Bible at least.

This nicely leads me on to trying to understand how people can possibly believe that the Bible is the word of God…unless God is a complete arse.

The single biggest example has to be the destruction of the giants. It seems that when Noah filled his ark with two of everything, he included a couple of giants. Male giants to be specific. They are pictured on the ceiling ark fresco, clinging on for dear life.

The next we see of the giants is a single one helping to build the Tower of Babel which God is cursing because, I suppose, all people were working together to create something really, really worthwhile like a way for everyone to communicate more effectively.

Leaving aside the poor giants and their fate at the hands of an uncaring God, I feel I have to speak of the 19th century restorers. It would appear that whoever repainted Eve gave her whiskers. The fresco representing God, Adam and Eve is more likely to be God, Adam and Adam. Perhaps the restorer was well ahead of time and advocating of gay marriage before gay was even a thing.

Anyway, reason aside, the whole place is utterly beautiful and evidence of what human beings are truly capable of if they try. Or are forced by a superstition beyond any reasonable logic.

Sorry.

We spent quite a while admiring the frescoes but eventually, even monocular viewing had limits and we visited a terrace tabac outside for a couple of wines (beers) before, eventually, heading back to the chateau.

Back at the chateau we had a long, long rest before heading back to La Table de Bellefois for a delicious final meal (I had the duck in order to save my insides from another raw beef onslaught), our final meal in this part of France for now.

Canard with peach and potato – for Mon

On the drive back we discussed the fact that it feels like we’ve already had two holidays (St Malo & Poitiers) and now we’re about to head off for the third. Tremolat here we come…tomorrow. After a sleep in. And a long drive punctuated with a few stops.

And just as an aside…Brazil was knocked out of the World Cup tonight by Belgium. France beat Uruguay earlier in the day which means there are now no more South American teams in the World Cup. How often has that happened?

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Life in the monkey house

The silver backed gorilla is not the big tough guy of popular belief. He is gentle enough to watch a ladybird wander around his finger for half an hour. In fact, the gorilla is one of the most peaceful of primates. They live in groups of up to 20 individuals with only one reproducer, a silver back that can grow up to 250kg making him the largest of the primates.

Watching them being fed without cages or fences or barriers of any kind, was a wonderful experience and it was what we did today.

We drove south, beyond Poitiers, to the small village of Romagne and into La Vallee des Singes.

Lemur

The park opened in 1998 and this year celebrated its 20th anniversary. There are nearly 30 different species of primate making up more than 350 animals dotted around on islands landscaped and planted up to suit them. The humans wander round the many paths, stopping occasionally when it’s feeding time.

And not forgetting the numerous peacocks and ducks that wander wherever they want.

And they are not always separated from you by a moat. With the lemurs, for instance, they come right up to you. It’s seriously difficult not to pat them, I have to say. They are all very used to humans having been bred in captivity. There’s a European network of animal exchanges which enable the gene pool to remain varied and viable.

The park is rightly proud of its record of births at the facility. Some of them mark the first of their kind in Europe or France.

As you wander around you realise just how much love and care is lavished on the place.

Lemur

La Vallee des Singes is, easily, one of the best zoos I’ve ever visited. I hate animals in cages so this place is ideal. Even the fact that it rained was not a problem. As it turned out we were having lunch when the heavens decided to stop being sunny and start being very wet. We had started outside but then made the excellent decision to move inside just before the downpour really started.

While watching the gorillas being fed was terrific it was nothing on the lemurs who seem to just ignore the people and run around like lunatics. They also make a lot of noise. According to the guide book this is the way they mark their territory. Caterwauling they call it. I call it extraordinary.

After discussing our highs of the day, Mirinda declared that her favourites had been the Mandrills. They looked so serious and so sad it was hard not to go and give them a big reassuring cuddle.

Sadly, a lot of the species we saw today are on the Critically Endangered list. This is mostly to do with habitat loss, being hunted for so-called ‘bush meat’ and from people wanting them as pets. Think about the capuchin monkey on Friends that Ross ends up with and you can see why they’re endangered. These incredible animals deserve to live their own lives and not to provide entertainment for humans…unless they really, really want to.

There is a lot of talk around this part of France with regard to Futuroscope which might be amazing but, truly, honestly, La Vallee des Singes is just too incredible to miss.

Back at the chateau, we rested up before heading out to a restaurant supposedly in a town called Cisse. It’s actually five kilometres from Cisse, at the edge of an industrial estate with the most appalling signage I think I’ve ever seen. Actually, the signage was so bad that a complete lack of signage would have been an improvement.

Still, eventually we found it though by that stage Mirinda was not in the best of moods. Her mood wasn’t improved when we walked in and the place was empty but for us. Her immediate reaction was to suggest we leave. I managed to get her to sit and the meal was fine. Nothing too fancy but delicious. Her decision to stay was helped massively by the sudden appearance of an amuse bouche which was divine.

They also had some mighty fine wine. And the cheese was serious.

The orange edged cheese bottom left in the photo above is the strongest cheese I have ever tasted. Mirinda insisted I try it even though the woman begged me not to. It smelled very strongly of something long dead and rotting wrapped in smelly socks for a year before being left in a pile of mulch. It was pretty powerful. I ate it anyway.

Which reminds me…my tummy troubles have evaporated. All is well after yesterday’s explosive episodes.

Tomorrow the plan is go to the Abbey of Saint-Sauvin and its World Heritage frescoes. A pity Bob can’t be with us.

Posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment