Today was our last day in Sarlat and the surrounding region. Only two villages were on the agenda for today – Rocamadour and Domme. Rocamadour is famous for the precarious position it holds literally clinging to a cliff face high above a deep valley. Domme is famous for it precarious position on the top of an escarpment, overlooking the Dordogne river and its valley.
Off to Rocamadour we went along roads different to ones we’d travelled before. Even the exit from Sarlat was different today. Soon we were travelling into the winding roads south of Sarlat amongst towering cliffs, finishing up at Rouffillac where we had dinner last night. I wanted a picture of the bridge there so we parked and I darted across the road to shoot it. Back to the car I couldn’t find Kerry so I ducked into the leather artisan’s shop outside of which the car was parked. Kerry soon joined me. All the items are hand made upstairs. I could even hear the artisans banging away. Kerry spied a small cylindrical “wallet” about the size of a pencil-case in alternating red and black segments for just EUR 5.00 so she bought that. In the meantime, I had discovered a beautiful tan overnight bag. It was love at first sight. Kerry didn’t have to try too hard to convince me to buy it so I did. That’s my Christmas present sorted!
After that unscheduled pit-stop, with the wallet significantly lighter, we continued onto Rocamadour. It was a really pretty drive through the hills and the rocky landscape. At the sight of a small château sitting a top a rocky outcrop we stopped for a photograph or two. As spectacular as it was it in it’s own right there plenty more of the same and then some to come a bit further down the road.
Shortly after the photo stop the low petrol warning light came on. Darn! I’d forgotten fill up after yesterday’s adventures. Never-mind, Rocamadour was only 12 kms away. Arriving in town I found the petrol station on the main road, pulled in and prepared to fill the car. At that point an old gentleman came out from the store and with no English at all proceeded to advise me that he had no petrol. Sure enough, the LCD screens on the pump were blank. He tried to explain to me that I could find petrol on Padirac, just 16kms away. No problem we’ll go there. Off we went in the direction of Padirac We’d been there a fews days beforehand when we visited the second cave-system. On the way we passed through the village of Alvignac. It’s petrol station was roped off. It was the same retail brand as the one in Rocamadour. Concern that we might be stranded was beginning to rear its head.
Arriving in Padirac there was not a petrol station to be seen! The needle was beginning to fall closer to zero. I stopped at a small hotel for advice. “No petrol in Padrac, it’s too small”, I was advised. The proprietor advised that there would be petrol in Gramat, 12kms away, as it is a much larger town.
With trepidation rising we set off for Gramat, arriving with the needle almost on zero. Gramat is a much larger town so to the centre of town we drove, having no idea where the petrol might be. From the town square I could see a Carrefore supermarket with 24/7 petrol. We were saved! The pump was one of those ones where you insert your credit card, the petrol flows and your card is debited for the appropriate amount. In went the Mastercard – Card declined!! Tried Kerry’s – Card declined!! Tried the CBA Travel card – Card declined!! Into the supermarket I went to be greeted by a young man who spoke no English at all. Not even badly, like my French. A customer looking only offered his help, he was my age and could speak perfect English. He directed me to a petrol station that, although automated, would take cash. Following his instructions I drive towards the edge of town and found a Total station that accepted my Mastercard. Hallelujah! The drama was over.
Gramat turned out to be to be just 6kms from Rocamadour! We parked the car outside the Tourist Bureau, picked up a map and some advice and walked down to the medieval town. The town is in three parts, the actual town where people lived and worked, above that the Sanctuary which had the Basilica, a number of chapels and the place where the clergy lived and worked. On top of all that, right on the edge of the escarpment sat the Château where the lord and master lived and worked.
The medieval town was quaint, as one would expect it to be, serviced by only one street – there is simply nowhere else to put another street or lane. Except for a hotel or two most shops are souvenir shops, artisans selling there work and the odd other retail store. Reaching the end of the street we began the climb up the Sanctuary via the Grand Escalier. Indeed it was a grand staircase, many steps but not too difficult to walk up. Kerry, who has a dislike for stairs, made it up easily with stops for a short breather on each of the landings. Almost at the top of this section our ascension was halted by a team of paramedics! It seems a chap had missed his footing on one of the slippery stone steps at the bottom of the last flight of stairs, fallen and, the evidence would suggest, broke his right fibula. We waited for the paramedics to finish their work and then continued to the Sanctuary. Here we found the Basilique Saint Sauveur. The rear rear wall of this Basilica is literally the the rock face!. In the Church of Notre Dame off to one side of the Basilica sit the Black Madonna of Rocamadour. St. Amadour established the village in the 11th century as a hermitage for his devotion to the Virgin Mary. The village has been a place of pilgrimage since then. It is said that he carved the famous statue.
We found a funicular that went 155m on a 38 degree angle right through the rock to the top of the escarpment. Kerry was most pleased. We both were!
Next on the agenda was the village of Domme, some 41kms away. It sits on the top of an hill with commanding, superlative views of the Dordogne river and its broad valley all the way across to the escarpment on the other side where we had driven trough in the morning. The vista is nothing short of breathtaking and captures this region of France in one sweeping view – pretty villages, farmland, the river, the rocks ,the forests and the distant mountains. Parking the car at the top we walked to the village square where the view is the best. I stood and shot the view from the point where the coin-in-the-slot binoculars were, figuring the village fathers would out them in the best place for a photo. A restaurant next to the square had what must be the best view in the world so we sat there for a crêpe and a hot chocolate. My crêpe was soaked Grand Marnier and Kerry’s in sugar and lemon. I think mine was healthier!
After the scrumptious afternoon tea we walked into the town for a browse in a few shops. The town was also on Stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France which was evidenced by the painted TDF signage on many shop-front windows and the painted bicycles hanging from all sorts of places on the main street. The Peleton actually rode up the main street to the communal square and back down again. It was classified as a Category 4 climb.
Sarlat was only 13kms away so home we went, getting back by about 06:45. We went to the restaurant just behind our apartment for dinner – Escargot and Confit du Canard for me, Tagliatelle Carbonara for Kerry and Walnut Cake for both of us. Then home to pack for a big drive to Brittany tomorrow.
I’ll put some more pictures up tomorrow so here’s just a small sample until then…..