Tour de Chev Blogdays 9 and 10

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September 26th 2009
Published: September 26th 2009
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Sarlat to Padirac via Rocamadour

Great drive. Roof off all the way in warm sunshine.

Additional maps: Sarlat, Rocadour, Figeac to Carcassonne | Figeac via Najac to Carcassonne


Chateau Sanctuares Village
Blogday 9 Thursday 24th September Rocamadour, Padirac and Figeac
An early start to the day. A quick breakfast in the room, packed the baggage into the Chev, checked out of the hotel and headed out of Sarlat for the last time, planning to end up in Figeac by way of two well known tourist destinations.
First of all we went to Rocamadour, a popular pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages on account of the statue of the Black Madonna in a sanctuary there. It also has a charming medieval village (another one) seemingly super-glued to the side of a 300 foot vertical cliff face. As it was only 37 kms away from Sarlat it took us less than one hour to reach there via some very winding valley and mountain roads. Roof off on the Chev as the weather was great, warm and sunny. Reaching Rocamadour we stopped for a coffee at a café with view of the cliff side village (see photo). Then, because we could browse around Rocamadour at our leisure we decided to push on to Gouffre de Padirac, a fantastic chasm and cave system a mere 8 kms from Rocamadour, as vistors there have to go on

The Bg Brother view
organised tours. A quick drive along the mountain ridges brought us to Gouffre de Padirac and its gaping hole in the ground: it's as impressive looking down, as it is from the bottom (75 metres down) looking up. It’s very well organised with lifts to take visitors all the way down and, much more importantly, back up; though there is a staircase available for nutters who want to climb over 300 steps to the top. However the real treats are further into the cave system. It’s not a narrow cave being fairly wide (20 - 30 feet in most places) and very high. After following a dimly lit path for 280 metres we arrived at a dock where a 10 passenger capacity punt took us along this fabulous underground lake to another landing stage where the guide (and punt-meister) took us past some very spectacular rock formations and pools, and finally to a cavern (The Great Dome) 94 metres (300 feet) high. Then back to the punt, along the underground path and back to the surface. Even if you’re claustrophobic like me this place is well worth the visit as the caves are so large, well illuminated and truly spectacular
Hotel des BainsHotel des BainsHotel des Bains

Tourist view
that there was no sense of claustrophobia. Point of interest: 35 different species of small cave dwelling animals have been discovered in the caves at Padirac. “They are totally blind (according to the official Guide Book) and because of their colouring they are totally invisible to our eyes”. Very clever of the French to discover 35 invisible animal species.
The photos I took in the caves didn’t come out because the flash wasn’t strong enough, and in any case I could not have done the place justice. Check it out, Gouffre de Padirac, on Google.
So back to the Chev and a quick drive back to Rocamadour for lunch. We returned to the restaurant where we’d had coffee earlier and asked for lunch. Only to be told that they were no longer serving lunch. The time was 4 minutes after 2pm. (there’s a café in Newport Pembrokeshire where they have exactly the same attitude to customers. There must be a family connection).
We “did” Rocamadour. Firstly, the sanctuary containing the statue of the Black Madonna, halfway down the cliff face and reached by a funicular railway. Apparently several miracles have been attributed to this statue so Rocamadour has been a place of pilgrimage for many hundreds of years; with the most devout pilgrims climbing the staircase from the lower village to the sanctuary on their knees. The lower village was (another) charming medieval village. For me the best part was the chateau at the top of the cliff directly above the village: and I mean directly above. The walls of the chateau continue the vertical line of the cliff face and one could look straight down on to the village square. Very Big Brother: as in George Orwell, and not stupid television programmes of the same name.
Then it was off to Figeac for the night, selected as it was on your route to Carcassonne.
We’d reserved a room view a view in a good looking hotel on the banks of the River Cele via (good website if you’re looking for hotel accommodation anywhere in the world). We found the hotel easily enough and the room was as described, clean and neat with a veranda directly above the river. After settling in we headed across the nearby bridge and into town for dinner. Figeac is another town that has a very picturesque medieval centre and we found a restaurant

Main Street with black cat and Chateau
(courtesy of the Lonely Planet Guide to France) which served us one of the best meals yet: firstly creamed pea soup, then Jane had fillet of sole and I had something similar to a beef burger but infinitely better, followed by tart tartine (apple pie) for Jane and cheesecake for moi. Truly excellent, and reasonably priced too. Then back to the Hotel des Bains, and so to bed.

Blogday 10 Friday 25th September Figeac to Carcassonne
I’ve now found out why there are so few big trucks on the autoroutes here (see Blogday 5). It’s because they’re all waiting outside Figeac in order to parade up and down the road directly across the river from the Hotel des Bains, and to go over the bridge next to the hotel: all though the night. To say that I had a fitful night’s sleep would be overstating the situation as I don’t recall getting any sleep. So it was Mr Grumpy who showed up for breakfast in the hotel bar the following morning. Hanging next to the bar I noticed an autographed photo of Marcel Marcaeu the famous French mime artist. Apparently, when he was asked for his opinion about

his night’s stay at the hotel he was lost for words!
Checked out, loaded the Chev, took the roof off as it was another lovely day, and headed due south on a winding hilly road towards Carcassonne. After less than an hour we turned off the road to a medieval village called Najac which has a particularly fine castle, not some effete chateau posing as an instrument of war, but a proper castle. Having become somewhat jaded with charming, picturesque medieval villages we were nevertheless entranced with this one it seems almost as though it’s jumped straight out of a Grimms’ fairy tale. Wonderful location with the castle rising up at the end of the village’s main street. A tour of the castle, which has been partly and sensitively restored; unlike most of the castles in Wales which have been left in their ruined state. Then we had lunch: another excellent meal, omlettes, before setting off south for Carcassonne.
All went well until we got to Castres about 67kms from Carcassonne. We’d planned to stay on the direct north-south route and go through a place called Mazamet, but on the ring road round Castres we saw a sign for Carcassonne which we duly followed. By diligently following the road signs for Carcassonne signs we ended up 40 kms due west of Carcassonne and by the time we got there we’d done well over 110 kms instead of the planned 67 kms. The drive into the city was a bit stressful too as our hotel is right at the heart of the city. However, by following the traffic stream and the signs for the main station, close to the hotel, we found it: albeit quite stressed out and exasperated with French road signage by this time. The hotel was very grand and belle époque but was somewhat faded now. However it did for us. Having checked in Jane recalled that we’d only booked for one night instead of the planned two so I went downstairs, explained the situation to the very helpful receptionist who told me that if I booked the room for another night through her it would cost me over £100; whereas if I booked it through the internet I could get it for the original price of €65. So I went back to the room and got on to which informed me that our hotel was fully booked: even though the receptionist had assured me that the room was available. Carcassonne was very definitely beginning to pall and we’d only been there half an hour. We then looked on for a similar hotel nearby priced at our original rate and found one that had an available room at our price. Downstairs again to the receptionist and told her that the internet showed the hotel as being fully booked. She checked the actual bookings and said that there were still several rooms available: but at the weekend rate of over £100 per night. So I asked her if she could ask the manager if he was prepared to offer us the additional night at out original rate; but if he wasn’t prepared to do the deal that we would check out the next morning. She agreed to do this and when she returned she said that the manager had confirmed that we could have the room at our original price. Phew!!!!
Shower, change and out to diner alongside the Canal du Midi. Another good meal, back to the hotel, and so to bed.
Jenks the somewhat freaked.


26th September 2009

Great photos...
it all looks fantastic....great photos.....lots of blue sky too! Life on the open road eh? Sounds like you two are having fun and enjoying the delights of France.

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