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A postcard from the Dordogne Valley

Postcard from the Dordogne Valley    

By Inntravellers, James & Fiona Clarke, travelling in September

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 1: Eurostar left on time and we are soon at the Gare de Austerlitz in Paris waiting for our onward train. We’re glad we have been upgraded to First Class (thank you, Inntravel!) for the journey to Brive. A lovely taxi ride later, and we arrive at the Hotel les Flots Bleus in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. For supper, we dine on confit du canard samosas, salmon with cauliflower mousse, trout, frog’s legs, apricot crumble and mango and basil 'soup' with cassis sorbet. It’s all very good.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 2: After a leisurely start, we set off to explore the town, pleased that we had opted for an extra night here to begin. It’s a beautiful place and we stroll through the market before heading off through woodland (lots of nuts: sweet chestnut, walnut, hazelnut), and meadows filled with grazing cattle, including local Limousin. It’s very rural, and despite the rain, we really enjoy the walk. We enjoy galettes and beer for lunch in a local eatery, before walking along river back to hotel. By early evening the sun is shining and we sit outside reading. Another good dinner of salmon, cinnamon chicken, carpaccio of beef – all the better for being chased down by a 'demi-bouteille' of Bessey de Boissy, the local vin rouge!

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 3: It’s a bright morning as we cross the river and leave Beaulieu, on the start of our eagerly anticipated Long Trail to Rocmadour. We walk through shady walnut groves so it is cooler, and there are some gentle climbs, though nothing too harsh. The paths are mainly good and in the clearings we see plenty of butterflies, including a swallowtail, plus yellow and orange ones, brown fritillaries, and reds of all sizes. There are also plenty of insects and birds, plus crickets and lizards. We pass through some beautiful rural hamlets, enjoying views back over the Dordogne, before arriving at the Auberge du Vieux Port in le Port du Gagnac. It’s a very nice spot by the river and we are warmly greeted by the owner. Dinner includes salmon, duck, pork and crème brûlée washed down with local wine – from Glanes, where we walk tomorrow. Excellent!

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 4: After a hearty breakfast, we are ready for the longest walk of the holiday. It is hot but most climbs are in the shade. It’s beautiful countryside and we reach Château de Castelnau in time for lunch. The verges and fields are alive with butterflies – like walking through blue and brown confetti! Insects and lizards accompany us all day, and we are also treated to the mewing of buzzards and kites. The final climb up into hill-top Loubressac rewards with excellent views back along our route. It’s a beautiful, sunny evening and a good dinner at the Relais de Castelnau is made better by another bottle of Coteaux de Glanes!

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 5: A beautiful sunny morning, with mist hanging in the valley – and Chateau de Castelnau almost sitting on the mist! It’s very hot again, but plenty of shade in the tranquil woodland. The peace and quiet gives way to the babble of voices as we near the Gouffres de Padirac cave system. We join the queue and descend into the huge cavernous space beneath a high roof covered in stalactites. We walk deeper then board a boat for a tranquil punt across an underground lake, before re-emerging into brilliant sunlight once more. After lunch, we head back through limestone country – a bit like Yorkshire – though the vegetation is very different. Back in Loubressac, we explore this beautiful medieval town, before a supper of paté and duck.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 6: A taxi takes us to the pretty medieval town of Carennac, on the banks of the Dordogne. We walk through meadows where sheep and cattle graze, before entering wilder country, where we see birds, butterflies and lizards. In late morning, we enjoy fabulous views over the Dordogne valley with its towering limestone cliffs. We enjoy our picnic in the shade, and later, cross the River Dordogne at Gluges, to walk beneath those limestone cliffs. We see vast orchards of walnuts as we follow part of the Route de la Noix (‘nut route’). We are hot when we reach the Auberge de l'lle in Creysse and the cool interior is very welcome. It’s time to rest our feet before exploring the village.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 7: It’s a misty morning as the taxi takes us to the start of today’s walk. Despite it being slightly hazy, temperatures reach nearly 30°C, though it is humid. We walk through hamlets and geese farms but the morning mists hide most of the early views. In the early afternoon, we reach Lacave and check into the Hotel Pont de l'Ouysse. It’s a beautiful spot below a château on the cliff overlooking the river. The old bridge was washed away and the new one is a little down the road, which makes the hotel a very peaceful spot. We use the pool – excellent after a hot day, before a very good Michelin-starred supper – with wine prices to match! It’s as much about the presentation, as about the taste.

Day 8: After a late breakfast, of local farmhouse yoghurt and freshly squeezed orange juice, we enjoy a short walk to the next village – up the cliff and along the ridge. It’s very pretty but also very hot. We spend the afternoon back at the hotel by the pool, keeping cool. We see red squirrels close by, feasting on walnuts. That evening, another excellent meal, this time on the terrace, it’s such a warm evening.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 9: We set off for Calès on a beautiful and gentle walk along the River Ouysse. We pass two ladies with a flock of sheep, and see two kingfishers reflected in the still water. There are plenty of butterflies, too, as we reach the Moulin de Caugnaguet, an old fortified mill. The guide shows us round and we get to crack walnuts and try a rather potent walnut liqueur! Leaving the valley floor, we are rewarded with more fine views as we approach the lovely village of Calès. We cool off with an excellent sorbet in the main square, overlooked by our hotel, the Petit-Relais. That night, it’s duck (again) for dinner.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 10: In the morning, we had the best breakfast of the whole trip, before striking out for Rocamadour. The tracks and paths are easy to follow and we get great views of the countryside. We pass eight walkers at one point, (twice as many as we have seen all week!) before a final steep climb into Rocamadour. It is very busy, but we lunch in the town before reaching our peaceful hotel, Le Troubadour, a mile away. It’s a very comfortable hotel, and we get ready for dinner, meeting a couple of other Inntravellers who we enjoy comparing notes with.

Self-guided walking holidays in FranceDay 11: On our last day, we explore Rocamadour, climbing the steps up to the cathedral and the château at the top. It’s a fascinating town, and there are major festivities to celebrate 1,000 years as an important religious centre. This is also the weekend of the annual balloon (‘Montgolfiers’) festival, though poor weather cancels the launch. What a sight that would have been! We beat a hasty retreat before the rain hits and enjoy an excellent final supper of local food, served by the very friendly members of the hotel owner’s family.

Day 12: Today, we travel back to UK. While waiting for our taxi, the cousin of the owner turns up with a huge basket of ceps! All arrangements go smoothly and we are home before we know it. Another wonderful holiday!

[All photos by James & Fiona Clarke.]