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.
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.
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),
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.
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.