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Published: October 3rd 2012
On the road from Ussel, the view on the volcanoes peaks in the distance
HIDDEN FRANCE 5.Bort-les-Orgues
I've just figured out something!... When I was a kid, my grand-parents used to rave about Bort-les-Orgues (pronounced 'Borleyzorg' and hence written that way). I was a kid in the 1950's, yes, last century. Yesterday, doing a bit of research on the net to be able to write something clever about the place, I learnt that the big hydro-electric dam there had been officially opened and put to use in 1951... That's it, that's why my grand-parents used to rave about it! In 1951 I was 7 and I vaguely remember travelling with them to the Massif Central to see the damn dam!!! It was in those days quite a technical achievement and it put the area and the country on the list of the most modern and daring of countries in Europe.
Here are a few photos of what it looks like when arriving from Ussel. At times you get a fantastic vista onto the peaks of the Massif Central. I couldn't identify them but I guess they are the 'Puy de Sancy' and the 'Puy de Dome' somewhere in the distance. Then you drive on the wide road down and
View on the Massif Central
down to the bottom of the narrow Dordogne valley, with glances at times on the big lake behind the dam. "Borleyzorg" is very much stuck at the bottom between 2 steep sides of rocky cliffs. 'Les orgues' are rock formations at the top looking like church 'organs'. Rock climbing is a local sport, I presume. The Dordogne river is an infant here, a small river just out of the plateau where it originates from. Since time immemorial, the river here has acted as a divide, a border, a frontier, between two regions, the Limousin and the Auvergne. The great Ceasar even wrote about it, apparently, as there were 2 different tribes on each side of the river.
To read in French about "Borleyzorg", try this website: http://www.bortlesorgues.com/
... You'll find plenty of great photos if you click on each and every title on the right handside margin.
Not too long before we started driving down to "Borleyzorg", my passenger took 2 photos of a strange medieval castle that popped up in the windscreen like out of place and out of time! Noodling around on internet I finally found what it was, or at least what
The start driving down into the young Dordogne valley
I think it is: the 'château de Pierrefitte-Sarroux'
. The current owner, on his website, writes the story of what happened to his uncle, living in it then, during the second world war. Here's my summary of the story:
In June 1944 most German troops were called north to fight the Anglo-American armada recently landed in Normandy. Tragic moments everywhere in France where SS divisions retaliated on the spot to harrassing resistance actions. A division of SS called "Das Reich" under the command of General von Jesser stops at the castle to clean it off any resistants supposedly hiding in the barns. They had gone, of course, leaving in the chateau his uncle and aunt, both in their 80's. The German general says that the castle is to be burnt down and the owner executed. So, the uncle Guillaume goes and puts his best uniform on to die with due honour. And then he asks to take a last tour of the chateau, showing every room to the general who is impressed with the grand history of military service of the family. He thereupon decides to burn the barns only and to let the uncle Guillaume and his wife
The lake behind the dam holding the Dordogne river
free. The current owner who is the nephew keeps hoping to see one day this German officer turn up as a tourist to greet them. But he may have paid for this gesture with his own life...
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