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Sarlat was even more interesting than I remembered from our first visit about 25 years ago. All the tour groups have Sarlat as one of their stops and we could understand why. The shops are full of enticing goods, the restaurants are excellent and there are more beautifully restored historic buildings to explore than we could manage to visit. It was the perfect spot to start our walk.
We arrived by train from Paris and found Hotel La Couleuvrine in the historic part of town. To think the hotel was once part of the defensive walls of the town. It is now a very comfortable town with an excellent restaurant, Les Delices de Lauralice, and just minutes from all the best sights in Sarlat.
We had just time to follow the Micheline guide walk around town before the first of our group of friends arrived. Ginny and Huibert Arnold came shortly after we arrived, then Kathy and Andy Greiner and Cathy Pawley arrived the next day. Cathy even brought her cousin Rosemary and her husband Nick, from England, to stay with our group in Sarlat that night.
Ray and I had time for another walk around the village and to find where we would start our self-guided six day walk, arranged by the company, One Step Abroad, the next day. Dinner was in the hotel that night and we were pleased to meet an addition to our group, Janice and Jim Greene, from Oakland, California.
Our first day of walking arrived with clear skies and a group of eager walkers assembled in the hotel lobby. We broke into two groups. Ray and I and the Greenes wanted to try the suggested longer route to our next destination, Domme, while the others were content to try the shorter route.
The Greenes and Ray and I had a lovely day. We found the red and green slash marks for the trail without much trouble. It was hunting season. One section went into a wood where a hunter waited beside his truck where several hounds, anxious to start the hunt, bayed from a wooden cage in the back of the truck. We continued on past a group of workers gathering up walnuts that had fallen from the trees. Late in the afternoon, we entered Domme through the Porte des Tours, where the Knights Templars were imprisoned in 1307. To our surprise we found Huibert, but not the rest of the group, enjoying a beer at our hotel, L’Esplanade. He told us that he had left the rest of the group some time before when he determined they were following the wrong instructions and made his own way to the hotel. He didn’t know when they would arrive.
We checked into the hotel, relaxed for a while and by the time we came down for a drink before dinner, the others had arrived. The four remaining walkers had had enough walking for the day and finding themselves in Vitrac, a small town just 5 km away, they phoned the hotel and arranged to be picked up. Luckily the hotel made up for the difficult day. Our rooms were more than comfortable, the view overlooking the Dordogne valley and La Roque-Gegeac, a sheer cliff on the other side of the valley, were stupendous. Add to that the excellent service and delicious food for dinner, and we all went to bed content.
We woke the next day to the entire Dordogne valley completely obscured by a thick blanket of low cloud. It was eerie. I got up before breakfast to take some photos as the heat of the day was starting to dissipate the clouds. We all started out together, heading for Beynac, via Castlenaude, but once out of Domme, we split up into our two groups, with the Greenes and Ray and I choosing the longer hiking option. Lunch for us was a picnic beside the Dordogne, admiring the view of Castlenaude. We crossed paths with the others as we were leaving our lunch spot and they were entering a restaurant in town for lunch. Our route continued past La Roque-Gageac, the impressive rock face we saw from our hotel in Domme, and several interesting castles on the hillsides. Soon we were in Beynac, and our stop for the night, Hotel le Poutet, was in the center of town. Dinner that night was across the street in Restaurant Maleville, not quite as fancy as the night before but still very tasty.
The walk the next day to Boyer was shorter than our first two days so we had time to explore some of the pretty streets of Beynac. We parted ways with the Greenes in Lamy, where they were staying at Hotel Ferme Lamy. We should have used Jim’s GPS to find Hotel Domaine de la Rhonie, because we misunderstood the instructions and ended up bushwacking through a field and up a bramble hill to the hotel. At least I was able to have a relaxing swim in the heated pool as the others joined us after their walk.
We met up with the Greenes again the next morning for the walk to Les Eyzies. I guess we all made a few mistakes following the instructions as the listed 8.6 km distance ended up to be 14 km for the 4 of us and 22 km for the other 5. Oh, well. at least we got into town in time for me to have tea in a cafe and to visit the Pre-Historic museum, featuring an interesting photo exhibit of costumes worn in the winter celebrations of old legends.
Les Eyzies is noted for its Font de Gaume pre-historic caves with their wealth of petroglyphs. We couldn’t visit the afternoon we arrived but there was a chance the next day. That is, they didn’t take reservations ahead of time. If you were willing to get up early, line-up before 8:30AM and stand in line until the box office opens at 9:30 AM, you might have a chance of being amongst the 12 people allowed in with the first group or perhaps the next available time. The Greenes and I were keen to try our luck. Ray was not. Our breakfast didn’t open until 8 AM so the earliest I could go with the Greens was 8:40 AM. Ray had a cold and elected to walk with the rest of our group. The first 2 in line had arrived at 7:15 AM and were very cold by the time we arrived. We were numbers 17-19, so we would be in the second group. I calculated that we wouldn’t start the tour until 11 AM, which was too late for me. I left and joined the others. The Greenes stayed.
Eventually, even the Greenes gave up and we all met up at Château de Comarque, which turned out to be a very worthwhile visit. It had been recently restored and afforded wonderful vistas as well as a wealth of historic information. We left the Greens after Château de Comarque to go directly to our hotel Domaine le Contadine, 1 km south of Marquay, while the Greenes took a sidetrip to see petroglyphs at Cap Blanc.
We made our biggest route mistake on our last day of hiking, back to Sarlat. We missed the interesting dry stone corbelled structures of Les Cabannes de Breuil when we found ourselves in the village of Croix d’Allix, about 1-2 km from last night’s hotel. Oh, well again. We had time to admire the dilapidated Château de Campagnac before finding a road heading in the right direction leading back to the main road to Sarlat. Jan and Jim were billeted in a different hotel. We said our goodbyes and continued on to return to Hotel Le Couleuvrine, arriving to find Huibert sitting outside with a glass of wine. Without us realizing, we had passed the others having coffee in a bar near the Greens Hotel, but we were walking too fast to call to us. We all ended our walk with a glass of wine in a common room in the hotel and getting together that night for dinner.
The next day we all went our separate ways. Ray and I picked up a rental car and drove east to meet up with our friends, including the Greiners and Cathy Pawley, at a villa Mas St Damien, near L’Isle Sur La Sorgue in Provence.
Click Villa Mas St Damien to read about our week in Provence Oct 2015 with friends
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