|First thoughts at arriving at the Dordogne were 'oh, happy day!'. We needed a change after the open, unsheltered heat of the Loire Valley and the Dordogne was beautiful, lush and cool - to start with anyway. And the river itself is incredibly beautiful compared to the scrubby, kind of vile looking Loire River.
First town we stayed was the fantastic Les Eyzies, memorable for it's gorgeous campground, free English books (oh, we weren't supposed to take them?), great little restaurant, fantastic pool, one of the best rides ever and the another camper who kept us awake all night snorning. It was an unhappy Marcus who was prodded every half hour and told to stop snoring by an equally unhappy Amelia, as he was wide awake and equally frustrated by the noise!
First day in the D started at 6am when we hit the road early ready to churn through the almost 80k plus numerous sights we wanted to visit in front of us, before the heat rose. Also it would be our first really hilly day. Cycling though the quiet, mist and smells of the early morning is always brilliant (esp. when there is coffee and delicious bakery treats) and so is reaching your half way point by 9.30am. We visited a church that featured in the Da Vinci code and a bike museum which was incredible for both their collection of weird and wonderful bikes showing the evolution of our trusty steeds and that we weren't allowed to take photos (you're allowed to in the Louvre for goodness sake).
Our first taste of serious up hill also gave us our first taste of serious DOWNHILLS. On hour to get up 'em and ten minutes to get down them. Love it.
We scooted home reliving all the 70's disco tunes we could think of and Marcus jive riding down the road on his bike, singing in falseto, oblivious to the traffic. Our day ended with a few hours by the pool. Best day ever.
Only to be topped by the next day and the totally awesome ancient rock/cave dwellings we passed on our way to Montignac. We have some pics of this which we'll post when we can. Montignac was gorgeous and we arrived for market day. Marcus bought some cheese that cost more than our nightly accomodation YUM! This is the area near the Lascaux cave paintings/dwellings and and so much of it looks positively ancient. It was a busy and hot day but luckily we found the time to sit by the pool for four hours. Working on our tans - better than real working!
Next day to touristy Sarlat which was overrun with groups of dawdling, confused old people with camcorders. (With all due respect to all the older people we know and love.)
The ride to Sarlat was pleasantly interupted by a stop at the top of the steepest hill in the world (it was a huge effort to keep riding and keep the front wheel from lifting off the ground) at some ancient Cabin dwellings where the Cabins kept us enthralled for 1/2 hour and the friendly farm animals for two hours. We arrived at camp after our hilliest day yet (lengthening an already serious ride by adding numerous unnecessary kms up really steep hills to the trip), way too hot, way too dehydrated, way too hungry, way too tired. Worse day ever.
Next day was another day and we only rode about 16k. The ride instructions we were following suggested we set up camp and then complete the rest of the ride (about 40k) from Vitrac Port, unloaded. We stopped and didn't start again that day. There was a pool and we were hot and completely buggered after the hell ride the day before. The pool and icecream shop were calling and dammit, we were going to enjoy it.
We did a circuit ride the following day, followed by our first provincial five course meal at a proper restaurant that evening - sublime. Marcus was in heaven with his fish soup, followed by fried foie gras and duck proscuitto salad, duck breast for main, cheese and finally desert. A very ducky (and typically Perigord) dinner. Amelia was virtually unable to breath after consuming the best vegetable soup ever expereinced (served at the table with nifty croutons of French bread, which one smeared with a creamy dip like sauce and piled with cheese before dunking in the soup), a walnut stuffed trout, a beef fillet cooked in a (name now forgotten) herb sauce, lashings of superbly cooked vegetables and fried sliced potatos, a cheese course and a delicious chocolate concoction for dessert. All this with endless bread and a lovely Rosé. Best meal ever.
Another early start saw us off to Rocamador, an historic sanctuary for pilgrims built magestically and breathtakingly into the cliff face. Also home to the black Maddonna which was suprisingly little and suprisingly lovely.
It was a Sunday and as we climbed hills and soared through lush valleys we passed (on the other side of the road) hundreds of 'sport' cyclists out for their Sunday ride. Almost all yelled a hearty "Bonjour!" and we "Bonjoured" in reply until we were hoarse. On the way and while enjoying our morning grand cafe in a small villiage, we met a crazy-looking but sane-sounding American cycle tourist (carrying a guitar on his bike!) and enjoyed our first long and understandable conversation with someone other than each other for weeks.
There were some big hills to climb that day in the incredibly hot sun but all was forgiven at the goat's cheese farm at the peak of the last long hill.
Next day was another long, hard ride to St Cere, with a memorable stop at the Gouffre de Padirac - a crazy cave with fabulous formations and a lake which we cruised in metal gondola. The lake was like a massive underground infinity resort pool enclosed in swirley rock edging. The guide was enthusiastic and went over and over the info in French for our benefit until we had to submit and acknowlege our (lack of) understanding, lest we be there all day. The ride into St Cere was debilitatingly hot and we decided it was time to swing for a hotel.
6am rolled around next morning and there was no movement at the station. Agreeing to another day in indoor luxury to rest our weary bodies in one or two words, it was back to the land of zeds for us until noon. The rest of the day was spent prone (except for a quick dash out for provisions).
Tuesday morning 7am, 18°, clear skies, perfect riding - Tuesday morning, 7.30 am, 8°, oh my God it's pouring with rain, it's freezing and we're climbing a 15km hill! Finally cresting the climb at 624m (nothing to a TdF rider, Mt Everest to us) we were rewarded with coffee and a respite from the wet. Despite appearances, once we had our wet weather gear on, it was a welcome respite to be cool. The day finished up in the pleasant campgrounds (but filthy amenities block) of Figeac. Patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, we were brought back to earth by the arrival of a Dutch couple on bikes - with a baby in tow and the mother 8 months pregnant. Those Dutchies are tough! (or maybe just a little crazy).
The next two days gave us some stunning scenery as we cycled along the Cele and Lot rivers, taking in the towns of St Cirq-la-Popie (not the puppy) and some cave art at la Grotte du Peche Merle. Every turn in the road brought surprising towns built into cliffs, each one more dramatic than the last.
We exited at Cahors, with a train ride to write home about (not), arriving in "Gay Pari"(s). But more on that later....
PS. We'll have the photos up tomorrow.