Rivers, Mountains, and Caves in Southwest France

Sarlat-la-Canéda

We left our cozy and rustic cottage in the Loire Valley for a cozy modern cottage in the Nouvelle Aquitaine Region of southwest France on 2 September. After a five-hour drive, we arrived at our Airbnb cottage, just a short drive outside the city of Sarlat-la-Canéda, for a one week stay. The flat chateau studded countryside of the Loire changed to the woodland hills and fields of the Dordogne Department. The Dordogne is known as the “other chateau country” (although most of the castles/chateaux were built as fortresses along the great Dordogne River). This area of France is also known for decadent foie gras (goose/duck liver), walnut orchards, black truffles (in winter), wine/cheese, tobacco fields, prehistoric cave dwellings and paintings, and biking (if you like a lot of narrow, long and curvy hills. This year the Tour de France powered through the hills around the area.

We could have kept ourselves running around every day here, but that’s not what we generally do. We kept to a slower pace a bit closer to home and enjoyed the large Sarlat Saturday market, lovely scenic drives visiting different towns along the river, and the extremely popular canoe/kayak trips seeing the towns we waked through from a different viewpoint.

The highlight for us was kayaking nine miles down the Dordogne River from Vitrac to Beynac. The Dordogne this time of year is low and slow, during the spring it's another matter. With all the water from central France funneling into it, there are floods in many of the towns we drifted by. The historical high-water marks in La Roque-Gageac are incredibly hard to believe. It was an overcast day for our outing. We picked up sandwiches at a Sarlat boulangerie on the way to the river, rented our kayaks and gear, and away we went on our own - not a group tour. This is a very scenic stretch of river and there are a lot of outfitters along the way renting canoes and kayaks. I should mention that this was the first time we ever kayaked! After four hours on the river, we arrived safe and sound at the pullout in Beynac where the outfitter drove us back to our starting point and our car. I will also note that after more paddling than we had planned due to the slow river, we were not sore in the least – must be doing something right!

Bénéjacq, France and the Pyrenees

We left the Dordogne on 8 September for a 3-night stay at L'Enclos Béarnais Chambres et table d'Hôtes B&B in Bénéjacq just outside of the Pyrenees Mountains bordering France and Spain. We were here for Dennis to experience the steep routes of the Tour de France. Not on a bicycle but driving our rental car. A few years ago, we drove La Tour’s steep mountain passes in the French Alps and both enjoyed seeing these incredible racing routes. The weather in the southwest changed from sun to rain on our drive into Bénéjacq, which brought the first snow dusting to the higher Pyrenees. Our first full day in the area was mostly a rainy day, so we opted to voyage underground. The following day was dry, and we were able to head into the mountains.

Grottes Bétharram
We went underground on this tour for a voyage au centre de la terre (voyage to the center of the earth). This 90-minute tour took us down five different levels of cave experience that included three levels by foot, then by boat, and finally by train. Our guide was multi-lingual and very dramatic, so he made the tour even more enjoyable than it already was.

The Pyrenees ala La Tour
This was a long driving day up and down the mountain passes with a stop in Arreau for a midday meal (traditionally the largest meal of the day in France). Heh, we needed to carb-up for the drive!

Thanks for joining our journey.
Stay tuned,
DaM