Monday, October 13, 2014

2014 France and Italy sojourn - PART 1 - The First Week

We had a fair old journey ahead of us as we took to the skies on 9/11. Short hop, long haul and then another fairly short hop. Victoria - Seattle -  Amsterdam - Lyons.

At Victoria, we went through security screening, at Seattle, even though we were in transit, we were required to claim our bags and go through customs and immigration. For Canadian passport holders, there are self serve booths, so no form filling and the whole process was a breeze. We presented the photos the machine had taken to the officer and after a quick chat we were through. We put the luggage on a conveyor and the next time we saw it we were in Lyons. After dropping the suitcases we then had to go through security screening before heading off to our gate.
Leaving our IslandLeaving Seattle over the Rockies
When we landed in Amsterdam, we went through the Transit area and got our boarding cards from a machine. Then we went through security screening. There was a slight delay in our line as a gentleman seemed to believe he was perfectly entitled to go through with a bottle of white wine in his carry on. He was eventually persuaded otherwise and found himself bidding a sorrowful farewell to his bevvy buddy.

The three flights went like clockwork. Horizon, Delta and KLM. Delta wined and dined us very well for the 10 hours we spent with them. The service was great and the ‘Economy Comfort’ seats very roomy and were indeed comfortable. And I think it was safe to say that when we finally arrived in Lyons, we were not a security risk!

As we retrieved our bags and boarded the waiting airport shuttle, we both felt the trip so far had been remarkably stress free and dare I say it – actually enjoyable! We waited for the other shoe to drop. Surely there would be some hassle at the car rental office? Nope! Our transactions at Europcar were as smooth as silk and we were sent very happy on our way in a lovely little Lancia. Plenty of room for all our stuff (and me) and with 5 doors, it was just the ticket.

Our destination for the first week was a 16th Century farmhouse in the Dordogne Valley but we had arranged to break the journey and stay in a spa town called Chatel-Guyons, a drive of under two hours. A room had been booked at the Hotel Bellevue.  
I booked here because I wanted some French Provincial ambiance. The hotel is family run and very comfortable. The location is great for a stroll around town and the views from the rooms are very pretty. And added to the charm of the place, they do have Wi-Fi :-)
We enjoyed some much needed exercise as we checked out the town. We also enjoyed the look of the town - a real contrast from the Pacific North West!
We stopped here first, though:
Very satisfying after a long journey
...and some views of Chatel–Guyons

and the view from our room

The next morning, refreshed and rejuvenated, we set out for the 230km drive to the Sarlat region of the Dordogne Valley. We had no idea it was so beautiful.

As we drove through the Perigord region, we stopped to check out a plaque that had been placed into the cliffs by the river bank.

 Here's a close up:
My best translation efforts come up with this:
In the woods of Turnac, facing these rocks, the Resistance of all types decided to fight together against the Nazi occupiers and with the support of the population created the first Maquis of  BLACK PERIGORD 

We arrived at the farmhouse 'Le Bourgeoisie' in fine fettle and phoned the owner of the property, who sent her man 'Bruno' down with the keys. The great bunch of keys he handed over reminded me of the tower of London ceremony: "Who goes there? The Keys! Who's Keys? The Queen's Keys!....Anyway, they were indeed keys befitting a 16th. Century dwelling.

After going through the usual ground rules, most of which we guessed at because he did not speak any English and also highly recommending a local restaurant (owned by his mate), Bruno departed after topping up the swimming pool. 
Two family members from the Midlands arrived shortly after and the next morning the other two arrived from Australia. When we were out and about together, our range of accents must have intrigued the locals!

Here's the Farmhouse and our lovely little Lancia
This is where we ate most of our meals. The table is about to groan under the weight of food placed upon it!
Sometimes we popped back for lunch
 And this, believe it or not, is the door to the Laundry room!
(One of the biggest keys of all)

 There are some good pictures of the place, especially the interior here:
(By the way, there is no Wi-Fi, though this website says there is)

 The weather was great and the company was brilliant! There was not a day the farmhouse didn't ring with laughter. We wined and dined and relaxed. I took on the job of getting up early and nipping into the nearby village Boulangerie to get bag loads of still warm croissants and pastries for breakfast. On our daily trips out, we picked up food and quality wines at amazingly low prices for our evening meal.
As well as strolling around interesting places, some went on river boat trips and even went canoeing, while some enjoyed watching all the fun from one of the local bars. No guesses which 'some' I was with :-) 
And we spent some hot afternoons round the pool in which the water was, shall I say, 'Refreshing'....("It's alright once you're in" - as my old mum used to say).
One of the spots we visited was just up the road. It is called Domme. It is a typical example of a 'Bastide' - fortified town, set on a high crag overlooking the river - and our farmhouse.
Domme street view
Even the schoolyard was quaint!

More info and some great Domme pictures here:

This is just one of the many castles perched on crags in the region. Seems like there were a lot of 'Ne'er-do-wells' roaming the countryside that rich folks needed protecting from in those days!

These homes are built into the limestone cliffs of the river valley.
La Roque-Gageac
We drove a bit further afield to have a look at this place which was also built into the cliffs:

There is a helpful board across the valley at the viewpoint

Each year the small village of Rocamadour (population around 600), in the Parc Naturel RĂ©gional des Causses du Quercy, receives more than a million visitors.
Rocamadour is an important pilgrimage destination, and has been for 1000 years. Built on the site of a shrine to a Madonna, the shrine became famous for its healing powers, and soon became a stop on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Campostela. So now you know.

And here are some street views of Sarlat, our largest local town:

Sarlat  is a popular tourist spot with plenty of places to explore and tons of good eateries, bars, shops and wine stores. Almost all the stores sell the regional specialty, Foie Gras. The local wines are darn tasty, too!

So much too quickly the day came when we waved goodbye to our family, who were staying at La Bourgeoisie for another week. As we headed off towards the Borgogne region, specifically Beaune, some 500kms away, we had plenty of happy memories to talk about. It was a fantastic week and one we will always remember.

Well, that is the first week. I felt it best to let the pictures do most of the talking. (You can click on them to enlarge if you wish). I hope there was something of interest. I'm working on the rest of our exploits, which include some great places to stay, eat and visit and an unscheduled stay on the Riviera. I hope to publish the rest of it shortly. Thanks for stopping by :-)


  1. Seems like you had a good trip. Very sharp photos even though I guess it must have been a melt down when you realized that there was no wifi!!!!

  2. Thanks, Lars. There was a bar in a village just 3kms away that had wi-fi so no worries :-) Photos are from my Samsung S5 phone.