Monday, May 14, 2012
After a “German style” breakfast…meats, eggs, cereal and everything else…we were off to visit the chateaux west of Sarlat. Jim and I have driven by them many times on our way to Sarlat but never really explored that area. So we also had a special treat waiting for us today.
Our first stop was in the town of Beynac-et-Cazenac…we missed the film site here for the movie “Chocolate” as we thought it was at our last stop….but we did enjoy a very personal tour of the Chateau de Beynac. This was the stronghold of the French during the Hundred Year War and Richard the Lionhearted spent ten years here. We were the very first visitors of the day and beat the crowds and that alone made it special! Sparely furnished but massive in size we enjoyed the views of the Dordogne River far below. It is also one of the more complete Chateaux in the area.
From there we drove to Chateau des Milandes; owned for many years by Josephine Baker; it is devoted to her life and memories. When we first arrive the Bird Show was in progress and we sat in the garden and witnessed two very good handlers put the birds through their paces. One was a bald eagle and several were various owls. At the end we saw s falcon that eventually caught the bait as it was flung high into the sky. During the show a small owl landed on Terry’s arm. That really made his day as he loves to identify birds and keeps a list of all the different birds that he has seen in his lifetime. None of these counted as they are “captive” birds.
The Chateau was restored to its former glory about twenty years ago and has been a museum since that time. She died at the age of 68 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was a stage and film star born in the USA but lived most of her life in France. During WW II she worked with the resistance in France and earned many medals for her work. She also worked with Dr. Martin Luther King in the USA during the civil rights movement. Seeing all of this makes me want to read a book about her life after our trip.
Our next stop was at Chateau Castelnaud; a short distance away. At one time both Castelnaud and Milandes Chateaux were owned by the same family…the husband built Milandes for his wife when she found Chateau Castelnaud too much like a fortress. Chateau Castelnaud was owned by the British during the Hundred Year War. It has suffered much damage over the centuries and was actually used as a quarry at one point; people took the stones and used them to build other buildings. They are continuing to restore it to its original size. Today thay have put televisions in various places with films and have many pieces of armament and other historical items. It is one of the most visited Chateaux in the area…especially by school children.
We were chateaux’d out and headed towards the village of la Roque-Gageac; built on the side of limestone cliffs on the edge of the Dordogne River. We signed up for an hour’s boat ride on a Gabarres Caminade boat; a delightful ride downstream and then around an island back to the start. There was a running commentary in French but we had audio guides in English about the sites we were seeing as we passed the shores. We were also constantly surrounded by canoes filled with tourists…a very popular activity in this area.
We walked around the town, then climbed up the cliffs as high as the church as we ate our cones filled with delicious ice cream. Then back to Sarlat by 5 pm with Daisy’s help for a few hours of down time before dinner.
We had a wonderful dinner at one of the local restaurants recommended by Rick Steves. Many were closed tonight so we didn’t have many to choose from; but Auberge Le Mirandol was perfect. Three of us enjoyed canard in a truffle sauce. Terry and I had a lemon tart for dessert in a sauce that was finger licking good! As we were leaving the owner invited us to tour the caves that are at the back of their restaurant; amazing…created in the limestone hill behind their building..
Tomorrow we drive north nearly four hundred kilometers to the city of Amboise in the Loire Valley to visit Chateaux that are more like Palaces than Fortresses. Weather today was overcast but still very warm but one needed a jacket in the evening.