Final Days: Storming the Castle, Paddling the River

On Saturday we visited the town of Domme, which is a walled city with a spectacular view of the Dordogne Valley.

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We got an early start, and therefore had the streets almost to ourselves. This is definitely the way to sightsee in August in the south of France!

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The village has – once again – been immaculately restored, and some of the homes had such amazing flowers:

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After that we went to the Jardins de Marqueyssac, where the girls enjoyed running through the maze of box hedges and climbing in a huge net up in the trees, hung by ropes.  We finished with an extremely slow lunch at the salon de the – but with this view (and of course Five Crowns to entertain us), who’s complaining?

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We had a lovely dinner that evening in the town of Audrix, where we ate on the terrasse in the plaza, enjoying the [unexpected] music and food festival that was taking place on the square.

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During our drive home we had another amazing sunset — I’m not sure what it is about the clouds and the sky here, but the sunsets are incredible!

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Sunday morning we visited the nearby Chateau de Castelnaud,

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a 13th century cliff-top fortress with an impressive museum of medieval warfare, complete with trebuchet demonstrations.  Our tour guide did a great job explaining a siege that took place during the Hundred Year’s War — the girls were definitely intrigued.

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In the afternoon we canoed on the Dordogne river, along with a throng of other tourists, turning the lazy river into a canoe super highway.  We did the short trip (only 7km), but it was about the right distance for our crew.  The photo below shows Noah and the girls swimming in the river looking up at the Chateau de Beynac.

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Sunday night we had dinner in Beynac, at the foot of another amazing cliff village crowned by an impressive chateau.  Tomorrow we say au revoir to the Dordogne and take the train back to Paris.  We really loved this final chapter of our trip!

-Linda

Prehistoric Cave Art

When I initially planned this part of our trip, I didn’t think we would take the time to visit the famous caves in the Vezere Valley.  These caves are known for their prehistoric drawings from 10,000 to 20,000 B.C.  It is completely unfathomable to me how these drawings (some are etchings made with flint, others actual drawings made with some type of mineral) have stood the test of time.

In any case, I got intrigued and felt like we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit at least one cave, so we set out early for the Grotto de Rouffignac – one of the most famous caves, which also happens to conduct its tours by electric train.  We stood in a long line to get tickets, and then our entry time was for about an hour later, so it was a lot of waiting around. In the end I think it was worth it, as who knows if we’ll ever be back in this area again, and this is truly a world-renowned destination. Furthermore, they keep talking about closing these caves to visitors due to the incremental damage to the cave art.  The Lascaux cave – one of the most famous in the region – has already closed the original galleries, and visitors instead see a large-scale (apparently very high quality) reproduction. But somehow that’s just not the same as seeing the real thing.

I unfortunately have no photos from the cave, as photography is prohibited.  But here is the link to the website if anyone wants to check it out:  http://www.grottederouffignac.fr/index.php/welcome

The cave tour was in French, but we were able to get an English translation of sorts, which Sierra found very interesting.  She is so curious about history, I love it!  I hope she’ll find the time to write about her impressions.  Cassidy was interested for about 10 minutes, and then she really wanted to get out of the cave.  It was cold and damp, and I have to admit that I was itching to get back out into the daylight myself by the end. The tour took about an hour, which was about 20 minutes too long!

After the cave we had lunch in the town of Les Eyzies and then drove on to Le Chevrefeuille, our next B&B.  It’s an old farmhouse in the middle of idyllic pastoral countryside.

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Once again, the rooms are pretty basic, but the grounds are great, especially for kids.  There are 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, and multiple chickens, a [very cold] swimming pool, boules (a.k.a. bocci court), soccer, and [Sierra’s favorite]: foosball!!

We had a nice dinner at a very local place just down the road, and enjoyed this view from the restaurant at sunset:

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The countryside here is so green and ridiculously tranquil. Driving around it feels like you could have been transported back in time 200 years.

-Linda

Rocamadour, Cliff Town

Today we rented a car and drove to Sarlat.  Well, we stopped at Rocamadour for lunch.

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I was feeling carsick, so I only ate a few fries.  Then we climbed a bunch of steps to what was supposed to be a castle but just looked like a big fancy church.  As mommy would say, alas.  It was still really cool!

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We had a crepe then left because it was raining.  We drove to Sarlat, relaxed a bit, then walked into town and ate dinner.

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My dad is on a phone call so he missed a delicious piece of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse.

La Fille Curieuse (Sierra)

A Dramatic Intro to the Dordogne

We arrived late Wednesday night in Toulouse having spent more than EIGHT hours on the train – after what should have been an easy 4-hour journey from Marseilles.

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Everyone held up remarkably well under the circumstances, probably because we let the girls watch two movies! Thank god for the ipad (which – by the way – is now out of charge, and we seem to have left the charger in Cassis. Ugh.)

We stayed at Hotel Le Pere Leon in the center of Toulouse, which turned out to be about a 10-minute cab ride from the train station.  It was dark, cold, and rainy when we arrived in Toulouse, and we were all rather hungry and grumpy, so it was not a great start.  We had to wait for a cab, and then we quickly concluded it was too late to find anything to eat, so we just went straight to bed.

The hotel was very nice and modern though, with comfy beds. Since we had two connecting rooms we had plenty of space and slept well.  In the morning Noah went to get the rental car while the girls and I packed up (OK, I packed up, they played!), and then we set off north for a 2-hour drive to Rocamadour.

As we crested the hill and caught our first glimpse of Rocamadour across the river, I was entranced. It seriously looks like a painting – or a movie set – this medieval stone village perched precariously on a towering vertical cliff. It just doesn’t seem possible from a distance that so many houses could be built at a pure 90-degree angle. But of course as you enter the maze of hairpin pathways and staircases, it all seems quite solid, and you can understand how the village has stood the test of time.

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Rocamadour is a holy pilgrimage site for Catholics, with a series of sanctuaries about halfway up the hill.  The girls (especially Sierra) continue to be utterly fascinated by religious statues, paintings and images, so they were quite interested in the small chapels, the famous statue of the Virgin Mary (below),

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and the story of Jesus carrying the cross that was depicted in 13 different paintings as we ascended the hill to the chateau.  They always have so many questions about Jesus – why didn’t people like him? why did they want to kill him? why did he have to carry the cross? why is he bleeding? did they really nail him to the cross? why are the women crying? who are they? is that one Mary?…and on and on and on.  I must say it’s quite difficult for a Sunday school drop-out and non-practicing Jew to answer all of these questions!

In any case, I was thoroughly impressed with Rocamadour except for the throngs of people.  It’s funny, I had the mistaken impression that the Dordogne should be less crowded than the south of France, but that is not at all the case.  With all of France (and most of England) on vacation in August, the entire southern half of the country seems to be bursting at the seams. The Dordogne region has become a super hot tourist destination, and we are going to have to start our days much earlier if we want to avoid the peak crowds!

Just after we visited the ramparts of Rocamadour’s chateau (amazing view!) and started back down the hill it began to rain.  Fortunately, we had our rain jackets, but it was a cold rain, and by the time we got to the bottom my jeans (poor choice) were soaking wet.  We got a warm ‘crepe citron’ to lift the spirits, then hightailed it back to the car. [Noah thinks I’m giving the girls WAY too many sweets here…I’m sure he’s right, but it’s so easy to justify when there are such yummy things that we don’t get back home!]

From Rocamadour we drove another hour to our B&B – La Maison des Peyrat – just outside Sarlat. I really liked the place – very friendly proprietor (with friendly dog) and so much character – the original house was built in the 17th century! Our room was fairly basic, but laid out well and quite comfortable, and I would have been happy to stay longer due to the great common areas and nice outdoor space.

In the evening we walked (about 10 minutes) into the town of Sarlat, which is a lovely medieval town that has been impeccably restored.  The stone of the buildings has a slightly orange hue, and the narrow streets and medieval architecture are amazing.

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We had quite a nice dinner at “Le Bistrot”, sitting outside just across from the cathedral.  Once again, there were throngs of tourists everywhere; eating early (6:45 pm in this case) has its advantages, as it might have otherwise been hard to walk into a restaurant without an advance reservation.

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-Linda

 

 

 

Royal Treatment in Cassis

Last night we stayed at the Chateau de Cassis, a restored 13th century castle overlooking the colorful coastal town of Cassis.  The chateau has been converted into a small luxury hotel, with just 5 rooms, a gorgeous infinity pool with the same stone walls as the castle, and a deck with a jaw-dropping view of the Cassis port and beach.

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It was a bit of a splurge, but totally worth it – it’s not every night you get to sleep in a real castle! This is the window in our room:

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We decided we should make the most of our splurge by hanging out by the pool for the afternoon rather than doing sightseeing.  Not bad…

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We also played a few rounds of Five Crowns on the deck taking in this view:

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After that we rallied for a 6pm boat tour of Les Calanques – the ‘fjords’ between Cassis and Marseille.  I’m glad we saw this impressive cliff-lined coastline, though unfortunately it was quite cloudy, so the water was not as turquoise blue as I’m sure it would have been in the sunshine.  (We’re probably also a bit spoiled by multiple previous trips to Big Sur…)

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Cassidy enjoyed the first 25 minutes of the boat ride, after which she pulled out her invisible ink activity book and completely ignored the scenery, much to the amusement of the other passengers.  Alas…

I had made us a dinner reservation at Le Grand Bleu, a seafood restaurant right on the port. (This was a good thing, as all the restaurants ended up being packed).

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We had a lovely (if slightly overpriced) dinner – Salade de Chevre Chaud for Sierra, salmon for Noah, and monkfish and prawns for me.  The highlight was letting the girls taste their first ever crème brulee (can’t believe it took me 2 weeks to order one!), which was a big hit!

As we walked up the hill to the chateau after dinner I said to Cassidy: “Do you feel like princess returning to your castle?”  She thought for a minute, then responded disparagingly:  “No, because then I wouldn’t be walking up this hill.”

The photo below shows what our castle looks like from the port looking up the hill.

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This morning we had a late, leisurely breakfast at the same table where we had played cards the previous day.  Oh how I wished we were staying another day – I just love this place!

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Sadly, we bid farewell to the Chateau at noon and started our trip to Toulouse (via Marseille).  We are currently in the midst of our first transit disaster of the trip – stuck on a train that was first delayed due to some electrical problem, then completely rerouted due to a brushfire near the train tracks. We thus find ourselves unexpectedly in Avignon, where they are taking us on a different route to Toulouse. They are saying we will arrive in Toulouse at least 4 hours late…so after 9pm. UGH.  Boy am I wishing we had just rented a car for this leg of our journey!!

-Linda

Island of Pork and Rolls

It’s really Ile de Porquerolles, but I personally like island of pork and rolles better.  We spent two days at beaches.  We rented bikes because there are no cars on this islands, just golf carts (also known as taxis on this island).

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We biked to the beaches and played for a while.

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On the second day we built a sand castle.

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We’ve been playing a lot of card games lately.  I’m getting pretty tired of them.

Yesterday morning we rode in a golf cart taxi to the ferry building then took a boat, and a bus and then a train to Cassis.

La Fille Curieuse (Sierra)

 

Now We’re on Island Time

Yesterday afternoon we arrived on the Ile de Porquerolles, a small car-free island that you get to via a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Hyeres.

It was blazing hot when we arrived, so we were pretty excited to just chill out for a while in our air conditioned room.  After that we strolled around and got pizza for dinner, and I caught the below photo of our street just before sunset.  The light here is just amazing, especially toward the end of the day.

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This morning we rented bikes – the primary mode of transit on the island – and biked to Plage Notre Dame.  This was definitely a long bike ride for Cassie, along with several new challenges: hand brakes instead of a foot brake, and a gravelly path with some hills and occasional sandy patches.  I wish I could say she took it all in stride…

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Suffice it to say that it took a looooong time to get there. But it was lovely when we finally arrived!

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Surprisingly, it was quite cloudy and windy this morning, and for the first time in a week I was wishing we had a bit more sun!  But we enjoyed the clear water and small waves (thanks to the wind). And of course Sierra got completely caught up in digging a sand tunnel; boy does that girl love sand!

We then took our usual siesta time after lunch (which no longer involves napping unfortunately), and geared up for our second beach outing of the day around 4pm.  We biked to Plage d’Argent, which is a bit closer to the port, and therefore quite a bit more crowded.  I just love biking on these wide dirt roads with no cars — what a great way to get around on vacation!  The sun was out this afternoon, so the water of the Mediterranean was an exquisite turquoise blue.

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I would have been happy to linger there much longer, but with bellies growling we headed back around 6pm to shower up for dinner.

We ate at L’Orangerie with a view of the port. Beautiful, but so bright we had to wear our sunglasses!  As is now our new ritual, we played Five Crowns while waiting to be served.

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I had a delicious fresh sea bass, served whole, head and all.  The gratin dauphinois on the side was amazing; forgot how yummy that stuff is when well prepared!

We enjoyed a brief sunset stroll by the port before coming home for bed.  I’m really liking it here – it’s one of those places (like Hawaii) where you instantly shift into carefree vacation mode.

-Linda

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Bargemon: A Week in the Pool

It was a long week in Bargemon – plenty of pool days!

Day 1:  My cousins came and we celebrated Aidan’s 18th birthday.  We played water polo in the pool.

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Day 2:  Aidan got a fever and a stomach ache, so he couldn’t go in the pool.

Day 3:  It keeps getting hotter and hotter!  I think I’m going to melt.

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Day 4:  I’m definitely going to melt.  We went to a winery today.  We went on a really boring tour and then tasted wine. (blech) They told us to smell the wine then shake it and smell it again.  They called it first nose and second nose. We got a kick out of that!  It was a long drive home.  We realized we didn’t have a key, so Brendan (my other cousin) had to climb into the window and unlock the door from the inside.

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Day 5:  We made up a very violent water basketball game. It’s really confusing and hard when everyone’s taller than you.

Day 6:  Aidan and Brendan left in the afternoon.  We went to a town called Seillans.  We took a long walk where we met a stray cat, then drove to the restaurant.

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Day 7:  Our grandparents left.  We packed and left too.  Cassidy puked in the car.  We hope it was car sickness.  We took a taxi and then a ferry, and we finally arrived on the island we were staying on.  Looking at it from a distance it looked small, but when you got closer to it, it was actually pretty big.

La Fille Curieuse (Sierra)

Reflecting on a Week in Bargemon

There should have been plenty of time to write in Bargemon, as we didn’t even leave the house on some days!  But they were lazy days of playing in the pool, lunching outside on the terrasse, swimming some more, and again dining al fresco in the evening.

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It was generally preferable to be in the pool or still wet from a swim, as we had a major heat wave all week.  The 1st floor interior of the house (except for the kitchen!) stayed remarkably cool, I guess because of the thick stone walls and heavy metal shutters (which we kept closed during the heat of the day).  But it was almost unbearably hot outside in the sunshine, and only a bit better in the shade.  This was a serious deterrent to daytime outings, especially for Noah’s family, who – with the exception of his Dad – have very little tolerance for hot weather.

On Wednesday afternoon we drove an hour to the Chateau de Bern to do some wine tasting and have dinner.  It was an impressive winery, but I honestly felt like I’d simply been transported back to Napa! (including the temperature)  We were planning to walk around the gardens of the estate after our tour, but it was so hot that we opted to sit inside and order a bottle of chilled rose with an assiette de fromage instead!

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Dinner was good, but service was slow, so I think we were all exhausted by the time we got home at 10pm. On the drive back Noah texted us to look out for wild boar, and sure enough, a few minutes later Ron actually hit a small one on the road (or at least that was his best guess!) Apparently they have a lot of issues with wild boar in this area; our house has an electric fence around the perimeter to keep them out!

Our last two days in Bargemon the Arnolds invented a crazy fun game of water basketball that left us all panting and bruised but with so many good laughs.  Everybody joined in, though Cassidy and Sierra had a serious inferiority complex by the end, as it was pretty hard for them to keep up with their super athletic and physical cousins.  Ron and Marji (Noah’s parents) were right in the thick of it – sure wish someone had caught some of the intense moments on video…alas.

Those last two days I also managed to get up early to do the (30 min round -trip) walk into town to get fresh bread and pastries for breakfast.  The photo below shows the fountain on the main square of Bargemon – such a charming little village!

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It was so pleasant to be out before the heat of the day, and this was about the only exercise I got all week (other than water basketball).  Still, I don’t think it was sufficient to work off all the bread I’ve been eating!  We have now fed the girls so many pains au chocolat that they aren’t even excited about them anymore – is that good or bad?

On Friday afternoon the Arnolds started their journey home – via Avignon, then Paris, back to Boston. In the late afternoon our family went with Marji and Ron to the village of Seillans (25 min drive from Bargemon), which is apparently considered one of the 35 ‘plus beaux villages de France.’ I have no idea who creates this list or what the criteria are, but Seillans was indeed a lovely village, with steep narrow streets and medieval stone homes.

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We walked around, got some ice cream, met a few cats, and watched a group of elderly men playing ‘les boules’ (pretty much the same as bocci).  From there we drove on to the town of Fayence for a yummy seafood dinner at L’Auberge de Fleurie (good food, mediocre atmosphere). All in all, an excellent final day in Bargemon!

And here is a view of Bargemon from a distance, as we were driving out of town on Saturday:

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-Linda

Visiting the Grand Canyon of Europe

This morning Noah, Ron and I decided to brave the windy drive up to the Gorges du Verdon, an impressive canyon about an hour north of Bargemon.  (Others in our group were worried about getting car sick after reading the rather exaggerated description in the Lonely Planet.)

It turns out the drive was not so bad, and I thought the views were totally worth it.  It’s nothing like the Grand Canyon, but I was not expecting it to be, so no surprises there.  It’s much greener – both the water and the landscape, and it’s all limestone rock, so mostly white and gray.

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We left early and got back by 11, then spent the rest of the day in the pool!