Shortly after we arrived in France, I spotted an ad in the expat magazine for birdwatching holidays in southwest France. An email exchange followed and we signed on for a private guided holiday. For a very reasonable fee we just had to show up and our guide, Richard Morris, made all arrangements for housing, food, transportation, planning and binoculars. While we were excited about the venture, we were also just a wee bit nervous. What if we were committed to spending all that time with someone incompatible?
It was a great week and we would recommend it to anyone looking to really explore a beautiful location with someone who knows the trails and byways. google www.birdholidays.eu
We took the train from Paris to Brive la gaillarde, arriving about noon. Richard met us at the station and since we hadn't eaten, our first stop was lunch at the only cafe in Curemonte, one of three red sandstone medieval villages in the area. We will be back here on Saturday morning.
Next, we dropped off our luggage at our housing, which is located at Le peuch, Lagleygeolle. Outside the village of Lagleygeolle is a hill with two houses. One of the houses is a duplex and half of of the duplex is a two bedroom, two story house which is our resting place. The view is panoramic.
We spend the remainder of the afternoon on our first birding hike in the area around les Pesher followed by dinner in another of the red sandstone medieval villages, collonges la rouge. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant, Auberge de Benges three of the evenings. On the first evening Tom really enjoyed their salad with chicken gizzards and at our request, Richard explained the game of cricket to us.
The weather was mostly overcast and a few days the rain was somewhat on the torrential side. We were really glad to have our raincoats.
One day we drove up to the regional Parc of Brenne. It was a three hour drive, but worth the car time. The area has been a fish farm series of man made lakes for hundreds of years and is mostly now a conservation area. There may be about 2,000 lakes of various sizes. It was a good place to watch birds on a rainy day. There are many very comfortable bird blinds and we visited 6 different areas/blinds.
I did not keep a list of the birds, but Richard did, and has promised to send it to me. If anyone is interested, let me know and I will pass the information along to you.
From arrival on Monday afternoon to our departure Saturday afternoon our days were filled with medieval towns, walnut orchards, wild fruit trees, giant orange slugs, crayfish, meeting some of Richard's friends at dinner, the remains of village cow shoeing stanchions, picnic lunches at scenic stops on hikes along rivers, atop hills, next to public wood fired bread ovens still used by the local villagers, beautiful churches, great local food, and of course the farms and birds of Correze.
We stopped for a peek into the church in Aubazine and were delighted to find a rehearsal in progress for a coming concert of sacred vocal music. The acoustics and the music were meant for each other. It was spine chilling to listen.
The monks who settled in Aubazine in the XII century built a canal that ran about 4 kilometers from the top of the hill to the monastery next to the church. We walked along the canal Des Moines to the top of the hill where the monks built a sluice off of the existing stream. The canal was built for a gradual downward flow with gravity, making the canal much longer than a straight cut would have created. It must have taken them years, but the water is clear and the effort worthwhile.
The region had a very hot, dry summer and the reservoirs we visited looking for kingfishers were very low. The farmers only had one crop of hay instead of their usual two crops as a result. The field corn looked dry.
Baby limousin cows were everywhere you looked, so, so adorable. How can anyone look at those sweet babies and think veal?????
But we felt so fortunate climbing the hills, regaining our breathe and looking out over fabulous vistas. We even welcomed the rain since it brought us numerous rainbows. There were so many moments when we felt as though we looked on a scene unchanged since the XII century. We know we are fortunate to have the leisure to visit and walk and take time to watch a long tail tit in a tree.
One evening, neighbors of Richard's in Les Pesher, worried about the Americans, very generously made dinner for us in their home. The couple had retired from careers in London and bought and remodeled an old farmhouse with a garden. It was a delicious British dinner complete with a bread and butter pudding with custard. The couple grew up in south London and it was my first face to face experience with Cockney rhyming slang. A lovely evening, with a lovely couple.
Richard, our guide moved to France 4 1/2 years ago from London. He has been working to start a project to install barn owl nesting boxes to help preserve the declining populations. We were able to be on hand for the first box installation in the privately owned chateau of Curemonte. The chateau became a national landmark in 1991 and the family spent 6 years restoring the structural integrity of the tower, which had become a ruin. There were 92 steps to the top of the tower, 26 meters high. The owners were keen to have the first box installed in one of the tower's turrets. The box had been prepared, but fitting it to the worn, stone windows proved to be a challenge, and was not yet completed when we needed to leave for our train to Bergerac.
We were glad not to be driving. The roads are narrow, really twisty, and often have either drainage ruts or steep drop offs alongside the road. I sat in back and did not look out the front window.
If you ever come across rocamadour chèvre, eat some.
The next part of our week will be a separate posting, gardening near Bergerac. With Bisous, Debbi and tom