Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Friday, 6th October – Sarlat

This region is littered with medieval castles, stupendous views and charming villages, so today we set out to fit in as many as we could! I will run out of superlatives in describing what we saw. We visited:

L’Eglise de Carsac: a charming little Romanesque church, parts of it dating back to the 13th century.

Cingle de Montfort: We can’t find out what cingle means but it appears to be a lookout with terrific views over the valley to Montfort Castle (which, we are told, is owned by a member of the Bin Laden family). A funny lookout – signs and a parking area, but nowhere to stand apart from the edge of the road, with traffic coming around a blind corner! Nice view though.

Domme: A pretty town perched on the edge of a cliff with a truly magnificent valley view. (You’ll have to have a look at the photographs). The valley floor is quite flat, and rocky cliffs seem to rise vertically to great heights, so the views really are incredible. Domme itself seemed quite nice, but we were told there was better to come, so we moved on.

La Roque-Gageac: La Roque literally means the rock, and you can see where it got its name. The whole town is built in one straight line, squeezed between sheer cliffs and the river. Many of the houses date back to the 14th century, and it is just so picturesque (I have tried hard not to over-use that word, but there really isn’t a better one). The cliffs, the river, the golden stone cottages with red tile roofs, the cobbled streets – and, bizarrely, an exotic garden complete with several banana palms.

Château de Castelnaud: A 14th century castle, stronghold for the English during the 100-years war – Richard the Lionheart was there for a time; it contains a museum of weaponry from the middle ages (which is surprisingly interesting), and displays of castle life in the Middle Ages. We saw a demonstration of a Trebuchet, which was pretty cool (especially since we missed the one at Warwick castle). And the views were amazing. All the castles are situated on natural vantage points, for obvious reasons, and while the design was defensive, the bonus for us is the best views in town. (Only trouble is, you have to stand in high places to see them!)

Beynac Castle: On the opposite side of the river from Castelnaud stands Beynac Castle, home to the French during the 100 years war. It clings to the cliffs, 500 feet above the river, and was probably our favourite stop of the day. It had fallen into ruins, and has been (and is still being) extensively restored; they have done a fantastic job, using only original materials and techniques. We had fun exploring the castle on our own, we had a leaflet, but it didn’t seem to have kept up with the restoration, so we felt like we had discovered the castle all by ourselves. There were no electric lights, the castle was lit by the light coming through the windows (not much) and oil lamps, which really built the atmosphere. The kitchen was especially impressive – it felt like the owners had gone out to battle and never returned, you could almost hear the ghosts wandering through the rooms. And more stupendous views, of course!

By this point we were fairly worn out, but still managed to wander into the old town of Sarlat for another incredible meal. Since it was Friday night, there were lots of people around; we sat outside the restaurant on the main square and enjoyed the great food (if there are any bad restaurants in this town, we haven’t found one) and lively atmosphere.