Climbing Cliffs and Soaring Temperatures

We are on our way towards Beynac, in the Dordogne and it’s getting hotter…and hotter. We’ve left Souillac behind and have plunged into Dordogne proper, mostly following the lovely river. It’s a scenic drive and we’d love to stop and get lunch in any one of the outrageously beautiful villages on our route, but they are steadfastly anti-campervan, all car parks having low barriers or ‘no camping car’ signs.

On our way to Beynac there are plenty of great sights and we go first to Domme, a village perched on a hilltop [of course], where at least there is an allocated space for campervans next to a serviced aire. It’s a walk up, naturally, to the medieval village, which is very pretty, has wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and the usual array of tourist shops plus a Noddy train. There are also some splendid grottes, allegedly, although while we are enthused at the prospect of going underground to view the stallectites etc, not to mention getting into the cool caves away from the heat, the next ‘tour’ has just left…So we content ourselves with the views, the gardens, the architecture and a walk round the sightseeing trail- all very pleasant.

Then it’s on towards Beynac and, mid-afternoon we feel obliged to stop and park up to see Le Roche Gageac, a partly troglodyte village clinging on to a steep cliff. I’m a sucker for troglodyte communities, finding a fascination in homes that are burrowed into rock face with an outwardly conventional facade and an inner cave. There is an allocated field for campervans and motorhomes but the parking machine is unfathomable, refusing all efforts to pay, so I scribble a note: ‘nous sommes desolees’ and we head off across the car park proper- where we spot the parking warden, checking tickets. This is not good news. I tackle him and explain our problem, although he’s not amenable. Eventually he relents and gets our tickets for us.

We slog up to the lofty houses, stopping for a sorbet half way up, served by a sluggish teenager. The village is worth the effort of climbing in a heatwave, honey coloured cottages clinging to the cliff and swathed in riotous vines and roses and again, breathtaking views of the river below, miniature pleasure boats cruising and turning. A pale, fairytale chateau at the end of the village provides a backdrop.

Feeling we should get to our site as the afternoon progresses we call it a day and return to the van, which has become an oven; then it’s onwards to Beynac, where our chosen site lies almost opposite the Chateau de Beynac and its church, perched precariously, towering over the village, the road and the site. As we pull into the driveway a quick look reveals it’s busy- maybe ‘complet’? But no, the receptionist tells us there are spaces, which is a relief. The Dordogne is heaving with tourists, mainly Dutch and German with a smattering of we British.

Finding our pitch, however is like some devilish reality TV game, the site having been extended and the numbers along the shady alleyways seeming haphazard, but we get there. The rain we’d experienced in Souillac has churned much of the field into mud, which is drying slowly but is a little mucky. Nevertheless we are in- and the site is almost entirely shaded, which under the circumstances is a very good thing, because the heat is on, and is only going to rise…

Towards the Dordogne

From Parthenay we travel on southwards and head for Souillac, the weather improving as we go, until when we arrive to this attractive town on the edge of The Dordogne it’s sunny and very warm indeed, a situation we are unused to and not yet acclimatised to.

The site is close to town and by the Dordogne river, although, strictly speaking Souillac is in Lot. There’s one main street, as is common in French towns and villages. Once we’re set up at Camping Les Ondines we retire to the bar for cold drinks, sitting under a shade by the pool. A little later we try a walk up into the town to stretch legs after a day’s travel but it’s hard work in the unaccustomed heat.

In spite of the promising sunshine we wake next morning to rain, unrelenting and gloomy. We’d  promised ourselves a walk or a cycle but by afternoon there’s no change so we don rainwear and set off to explore Souillac, soon seeing most of it- down one side of the street and up the other. But there’s a museum- the Musee de l’Automate, which looks interesting. The exhibits are all historic, working models, some quite extraordinary, many comical and others downright sinister!

I’m also drawn to the Josephine Baker exhibition, showing in a cavernous space behind the tourist information office. There are photographs, ancient film footage and items from her glamorous wardrobe on display and a helpful expert on hand to answer questions, although not to talk non-stop, thankfully. Josephine Baker lived a fascinating life and had come from a deprived and impoverished childhood in the American south. Now she is much revered by the French. Her connection to Souillac is a little tenuous, in that she stopped overnight enroute by train to the Dordogne chateau she’d bought after becoming such a celebrated dancer.

There are few places to get a coffee on a wet, Wednesday afternoon in Souillac but we seat ourselves outside a hotel in the main street under the awning and get a drink while the rain plummets in a deluge.

The day after is a little better- cloudy but at least dry and we opt for a walk by the river, except that the footpath disappears after a time. Alongside the path a young horse is being schooled, round and round a ring. On our return we are confronted by the horse, riderless, stirrups flapping, galloping towards us on the path, prompting us to step to the side, although I stick an arm out and say ‘whoa’ as it thunders in our direction. The horse stops abruptly, standing opposite us and panting, then drops his head to graze, joined at last by his rider. The horse is beautiful.

By evening the sun is out once more and we go to eat at one of Souillac’s few restaurants. The menus are dominated by duck-related dishes, also foie-gras- a delicacy we prefer to avoid. But we get a pleasant meal on our last evening here and then we’re off again, this time to get into real, proper Dordogne country…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook