Sunday, 1 October 2017

La Vallee de la Dordogne (Sunday 1st October 2017)

Today was a touring day, exploring the villages of the Dordogne valley. Most the day was spent exploring the part of the river in the département of the Lot, named after another significant river in France. Investigations later on have revealed that we were only about an hour north of the area we visited in 2013.
Over breakfast Kerry had read about five villages in in the region which had all got guernsey in France’s Les plus beaux villages de France list. A list of France’s most beautiful villages. We reckoned that trying to visit them all will likely take the whole day so off we went on our quest to see them.
On the way to the first one we were following the route to the village of Padirac the village near the famous Gouffre de Padirac. This was the underground adventure we had planned to do yesterday but went the to the wrong one. Since we were so close we ignored GPS-girl and took the 1.5km detour to the village and the cave system. We parked the car and walked to the main building. The first sight one sees in the massive sink hole – right there next to the car-park. The hole is 35m in diameter and 75m to the floor. The cave system begins on the floor and descends a further 30m under the ground. Lifts or stairs take visitors all the way into the first cave. We took the stairs for the first part, because the first lift was out of action, a lift for the next bit to the chasm floor and then stairs into the first cave. This path took us through a long tunnel to the point where the underground river became navigable by boat.
At that point we waited for a boat with an English speaking guide to come along. We almost didn’t make it any further as the tickets had fallen out of my pocket onto the cave floor. Anyway, a suitable boat soon came along, we boarded and  sailed off into the darkness. The adventure so far and the 500m cruise between the sheer rock walls was enough in itself to warrant the price of entry but there was plenty more to come. The boat docked in a beautiful pool of crystal clear water. Thoughts of Rick Wakeman’s musical interpretation of Jules Verne’s  “Journey to the centre of the Earth” came flooding in “Admiring shades of lava which imperceptibly passed from reddish brown to bright yellow, their way lit by crystals appearing as lighted globes, they continued through the lava gallery, which gently sloped until they reached the intersection of two roads.
…. the journey continued through a succession of arches, appearing before them as if they were the aisles of a gothic cathedral…..”.

Along narrow paths, up flights of steps by the running water we walked. Always overhead calcified rocks lingering dangerously at head height or the roof of the cavern some 103m overhead. All around were small stalactites and stalagmites forming. In one place we stood next to a column where two had joined millions of years. The column was 75m high and 4m in circumference. Wow! The guide, whose name wasn’t Hans, took us further into to system to more magnificent pools, small waterfalls and stunning limestone formations.  Beyond the point we reached the river and the galleries extend  a further 40kms. One recent scientific expedition took two days to complete the journey.
From here we ventured upwards over more than 200 steps, stopping on platforms or narrow ledges to view the cavern and the galleries from on high. What an incredible sight. Words cannot describe it. The final part of what was probably a tour that took two hours was the descent back to the dock and the boat ride back to the starting point. We reached the end of the tunnel to find a lift which took us a third of the way up the chasm, a second lift which took us the next third and, to Kerry great delight, a third lift, now back in service, which took us all the way to the gift shop!
This was a truly awesome experience, not to be missed if you’re in the Massif Central of France. It‘s right up there with the La Sagrada  Familia in Barcelona – the two are strangely similar in some ways. Kerry did very well to tackle two cave systems in two days. I appreciate her companionship on both of them.


After a crepe and a coffee in the cafe next to the gift shop we continued on to the village of Autorie. It is a lovely little village with a massive limestone escarpment as its backdrop. The village was quiet except for sounds of the robust Pétanque match that was underway. We wandered over to the other side of the village where three dogs, with cow bells attached to their collars, looked like they were up to some sort of mischief. It’s more common to see dogs off the lead than on the lead in France. All the dogs off the lead are all very well behaved and obedient. Are you listening, Percy!From Autorie we motored on to the next village, Loubressac, only a few kilometres away. This village sat on the top of a high hill and offered magnificent vistas of the Dordogne valley. Here we spooted a walking trail that links the five villages together. Sort of like the Cinque Terre of France.
Down the hill we went, along very narrow lanes which reminded me of the country lanes of the Cotswolds and the Lake District in England, reaching the village of Carennac by the Dordogne river some 13kms away. Of the three visited so far this was the most charming. With streets and lanes linking with each other along the contours of the steep hill-side the village presented a formidable labyrinth for directionally challenged tourists. As is always the case we had to visit the church which we could see quite clearly at the highest point of the village. Actually getting to the door was the challenge. More than one the feeling of déjà vu fell upon us as we passed by a landmark for the second time. We detoured to the river and walked along there for a short while, hoping we would just pop-out somewhere near the church. That didn’t work. About to admit defeat we turned through a little arch above what we thought would be a cul-de-sac and voilà, the front door of the church appeared before us!
Still not sure of how to get out of the village back to where we’d parked the car we followed the road at the top of the precipice above the river. After five minutes we reached the main road and found the car. By now it was almost 6:00pm so we called it a day and headed back to Sarlat, 90 minutes, but only 67kms away. That gives you an idea of the roads in the area. Great fun to drive on, just be careful on the blind corners. The locals drive fast everywhere and don’t slow down to pass oncoming traffic on roads barely wide enough for two small cars. Tomorrow we’l explore the other two villages and a couple of others and drive some of Stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France.


  1. You look so much like Grandad in the picture of in front of that beautiful view.
    Love the caves pics and the pretty little cottage homes.

  2. That sink hole & cave system - unbelievable!! Truly amazing. Was it an expensive tour being a 2 hour underground trip which included the boat ride? And do you find most guides on such tours narrate in both local language & English?

  3. That cave system- magical! And the villages look like elves and fairies should live there. Once again - magnificent countryside.

  4. That cave system- magical! And the villages look like elves and fairies should live there. Once again - magnificent countryside.

  5. Great pictures of the underground caves and the lovely villages. We will study your blog in detail when we plan our 2020 trip.
    I have been very busy and just returned from 5 days doing family visits in Melbourne (not quite up to the interest of your last five days!), so just catching up on the blog now. Keep up the good work.