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.
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.
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 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.