Jen and I have just returned from a lovely couple of weeks in France. We spent two half weeks in Châtellerault with John and Hélène, and the intervening week based in Gramat, in the Lot district.
Neither of us had been to Lot or the Dordogne before so it was a new experience – and the area more than lived up to the expectations we’d had!
On the afternoon of our first full day there, we went for a walk from about two miles west of Gramat to Rocamadour, largely along a forested dry valley, called the Vallée de l’Alzou. This helped us to appreciate the geography of the area – precipitous limestone cliffs looming over tree-covered valleys.
We explored Rocamadour itself the next day. It’s a town that used to be a place of pilgrimage but is now a tourist hotspot. One of its legends is that Zaccheus had ended up there. Rather more plausibly, a hermit called Amadour lived there in the fourth century; during the Middle Ages it was discovered that his body had not decayed, and this ultimately inspired the pilgrimages. Below the main sanctuary there is a lower chapel which is palpably a place of prayer, which was frequented by some of the tour guides; later, we were impressed by our guide who was keen for us to know the gospel truth at the heart of the church.
We went on a couple of trips to see the astonishing Ice Age cave art: one of these was to Pech Merle, about an hour south of Gramat, and the other to Rouffignac, located an hour and a half away in the Dordogne. These are extraordinarily tantalising glimpses into another era: while the motivations of the artists were almost certainly spiritual, it’s hard to say more than that as to exactly what the artwork was there for – deep underground, visible only by flickering candlelight. I’ll probably reflect on this more at a later date.
On our way back to Châtellerault we were delighted to stop by Nantille in order to visit Jerry and Sue Sellick, a couple of our neighbours in Shapwick. They have a second home there, and were battling the vegetation that had sprung up since their last visit. To us, it seemed a lovely location, but they were keen to tell us that it was hard work to maintain!
Back in Châtellerault, John and Hélène were most generous hosts, in both the half weeks we were with them. We visited the Pinail nature reserve on our first day, and then ended up at their favourite café in Bonneuil Matours. On the next day, we went to a museum of prehistory, stopping by the picturesque chateau in La Guerche on the way.
One of the highlights of the final half-week was a trip to Amboise. Situated on the banks of the Loire, the town is famous for its chateau, which was a royal hunting lodge in the 15th and 16th centuries. The other advantage was the variety of restaurants along the street opposite the chateau, where we had an excellent lunch!
Overall we had an excellent fortnight – and we returned the UK thinking that there were many places there which we would still like to see.