Vezac, France: In the Perigord region of southwestern France I found my groove again, shaking off the funk I experienced in Bordeaux.
Yesterday I departed St Vincent de Pertignas and cycled in a northward for just a handful of kilometers before reaching the Dordogne River. I have cycled through this beautiful, peaceful river valley for the past two days, passing through towns steeped in history, such as Castillon La Bataille, which played a pivotal role in the Hundred Years War, and Bergerac, the city which put the Bergerac in Cyrano de Bergerac, the author.
In the town of Port-Sainte-Foy-La Grande it happened to be market day, and the market sold just about everything – fresh artisanal bread, fruits, roast chickens, along with shoes and swimsuits and books. It seemed the whole town was at the market. I met one curious Frenchman, Joel, pulling his shopping cart across the bridge stuffed with things from the market. Joel appeared perplexed by my over-stuffed bike. We had a good long chat in French. Slowly, my French is unclogging. It must be the wine.
In mid-afternoon, while still riding parallel to the river, I passed a 4-star campsite near Pantours. I screeched my brakes and checked-out the campsite, which is perched right on the river bank and nestled in trees. It was idyllic, and a contrast to the stuffy, fortified manor where I stayed the previous night. I decided to put the tent I have been carrying to good use, and picked a prime spot to pitch it. The campsite had all sorts of amenities, including a mellow restaurant, very clean facilities, and friendly staff. I really enjoyed the simplicity and the tranquility of camping, and look forward to more such experiences on this expedition. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I have had on this cycling tour, but the all-night sounds from the insets and water fowl soothed the hardness of the ground and the thinness of my sleeping mat.
The French reliably rate everything – restaurants, hotels, even the flower quotient in towns. Now that I have stayed at a 4-star campsite, the bar has been set pretty high.
Today’s ride along the Dordogne is through Bastide country – hilltop fortified medieval villages. The first major town on my route was Saint Cyprien. Today was an even bigger market day at Saint Cyprien with wall-to-wall people in the narrow streets. It felt like the Kowloon night market on a hopping Friday night. After about two minutes I had enough and decided to head on to the next town, but not before buying two cans of over priced (I later discovered) foie gras….just in case. (This is major foie gras territory and there are many small producers throughout the region). I am carrying a can of tuna and instant noodles from Lisbon, a Real Madrid football uniform for my son, and all kinds of other stuff I don’t need, so I figure two tins of foie gras won’t really matter.
The next town, about 12 km away, was Beynac-et-Cazenah, The Beynac castle sits atop of a very steep hill, accessed by narrow cobblestone streets, which are torturous in cycling shoes. It’s a well-preserved castle which Luc Besson used while filming some of “Joan of Arc.” Beynac had none of the crowds of Saint Cyprien, which totally delighted me, and much quiet charm. I figure the steep hill deters many tourists. From the Beynac Chateau one sees many other castles dotting the Dordogne landscape. It’s impressive.
I decided to stay in the area and find a hotel to drop off my things to lighten my load and to reduce the temptation to prospective thieves of a fully loaded parked bike. As this is prime tourist area there are many interesting small places to stay. I’m not staying in one of them. I opted for a family-run motel, L’Oustal, that has plenty of linoleum but no atmosphere, unless you consider tacky 1970’s French floral decor atmospheric. I think what sold me on the place is the proprietress, a caricature of a gregarious French woman with hair mildly coiffed and a cigarette dangling, always. Madame doesn’t speak a word of English and lies on a couch behind the reception area when she’s not bothered by foreign cyclists. When I ask her whether I can bring my bike through the lobby, she looks at me like I’m crazy. Of course, she says. I like her. And the view is not too shabby, either. From the hotel I can see five different chateaux in different parts of the valley.
After lightening my load I cycled up another hill to Sarlat. I was very disappointed by the old town, which has been taken over by restaurants, ice cream shops, foie gras shops, and other retail efforts. The whole town felt like Disney’s interpretation of a medieval French village. I did not linger and moved on to the hilltop town of Domme, which offers good views of the valley, before cycling to La Roque Gageac. By the time I visited these last two towns it’s late in the afternoon, though the sun is still intense. Apparently somewhere in the past two days I crossed a time zone, so it’s even an hour later than I think. Most tourists have gone elsewhere by now which made a very enjoyable experience for walking around these old villages.
Tomorrow is my last day in the Perigord region.
Days 21 and 22: (June 25-26): 4-): Saint Vincent de Pertignas – Pantours – Vezac, France
Distances: 89.68 km (Day 21) and 85.01 km (Day 22)
Ascent: 102 meters (Day 21) and 882 meters (Day 22)
Terrain: flat (Day 21) and hilly (Day 22)
Weather: sunny, blue skies. Scorching hot on Day 22.
Distance: 10,951 km
Climbing: 9,967 meters
Rest days: 4
Police interactions: 1