“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 given 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 the local Cro Magnons 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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was really a wonderful meal in a brilliant location.