We have travelled through many beautiful regions of France in the past but the southwest somehow eluded us. So this year was the one to take a sample and see if it warranted more extensive exploration in the future. The verdict was an astounding yes.
Since everyone always needs a little Paris, after a few fun days there we took the train to our first stop south, Limoges. Here, we rented a car and headed to Noth, where the beautiful Chateau la Cazine awaited us. Here you can really get immersed in the splendor of the French countryside. From the chateau’s window you see the crystal lake in front of you with deep green tree laden rolling hills. And inside you sample a bit of what the life of the former aristocratic owners must have experienced–detailed architectural interiors, comfortable places to socialize and gourmet meals complemented by great French wines.
As we explored the surrounding area we stopped at the little town of la Souterrain. The town is dominated by an old majestic cathedral. We had a great dinner at a little bistro called La Gondole sur le Toit. I think I had the best goat cheese salad ever there. The cheese was housed in a crispy crepe draped in honey. This was accompanying a wonderfully fresh salad, and that was just the starter.
After 2 days at the chateau it was time to venture into the picturesque area known as the Dordogne, named for the winding river that runs through the valley. We left the main highway and travelled the little country roads, that’s where you experience the real France. History goes way back here, like to 2500 BC.
There are a number of caves in the area where you can experience a glimpse into the lives of our cavemen ancestors. It’s one of the few places with the cave paintings still in tact. One of the most famous is Lascaux. The actual cave here has been closed but a replica has been painted in a cave near by and it has been described as a Sistine chapel like covering. If you decide to visit be sure to stop in the town of Montignac nearby to buy the tickets as they are not sold at the cave. The town is a charming stop in either event.
We continued on toward our next destination, Rocamadour. On the way we came upon a little countryside restaurant/ B&B for lunch. It was a great find, good food and a cozy french atmosphere to boot. It’s called Le Moulin de Mitou . It felt like stopping at a friend’s farmhouse for lunch along the way. As we bid it farewell, we passed little town after town of stony buildings with window boxes filled with flowers and colorful shutters, old majestic cathedrals and chateaus perched at the edge of winding rivers. Needless to say there were many picture stops, allowing us the opportunity to fully soak in the beauty of the area.
Arriving in Rocamadour, it is a city like no other. It hangs on the side of a cliff overlooking the green valley below. The best pictures are obtained from the small town of l’Hospitalet across the valley. This town has quaint shops and restaurants with local merchandise and local food . We had dinner at a little creperie with the best views in town. Both the dinner and dessert crepes were terrific. If you go check out L’Esplanade.
We spent the night just outside of town at the Maison d’hôtel Domaine. The chateau and grounds were lovely. The accommodations were actually in a converted barn and they were surprisingly nice. We had breakfast the next day sitting on the outdoor patio overlooking the lovely garden, very relaxing! Then we were off to Rocamadour.
Rocamadour is truly unique. There are 2 major levels to visit–the top where the cathedral sits and the mid level where the shops and restaurants reside. You can get up or down like the folks on pilgrimage on your knees, or you can take a funicular and an elevator which we found more convenient. The religious top is well worth a look and there are some nice little shops to buy locally produced food items as well as items unique to the area on the mid level. Several restaurants had great views back over the valley, if you make it a lunch or dinner stop. We headed out after lunch to our next stop, the town of Cahors, about an hour and half away.
The medieval town of Cahors is a particularly picturesque town, as a river flows all around it. The historic center has ancient buildings with views across the river to chateaus and a gentle waterfall. On the other side of town is a photogenic historic bridge said to be constructed with the help of the devil. That’s the legend anyway. As we were approaching late afternoon, we decided to hit the motorway to our next stop for the night, Cavenac, near the walled city of Carcasonne.
By the time we arrived in Cavenac we were ready for a relaxing dinner and a good night’s sleep. The Chateau de Cavenac delivered on both counts. Entering a historic chateau after a day of sightseeing is so welcoming. Our room overlooked the courtyard and had a beautiful canopy bed. The receptionist immediately booked us for dinner. It was so nice to just wander downstairs through the cozy sitting rooms accented with French armor and colorful tapestries. The restaurant gave you the feeling of sitting in a large country kitchen with beamed ceilings and breads and vegetables in view. And then there was the most delicious 5 course meal of local french dishes, like cassoulet and creme brûlée accompanied by a variety of French wines. What a magical night it was!
In the morning we headed to our final and perhaps most awesome stop, the medieval city of Carcasonne. Carcasonne sits atop a hill, and the best views occur as you drive out of the town and look back, only then do you get the full comprehension of where you have been. But exploring this city is an exciting and fun experience as it has everything you could want, a castle, a cathedral, a full wall to walk and see extraordinary views, lovely shops, as well as restaurants and cafes for leisurely stops in between. As you cross the drawbridge to enter the town, duck into the first cafe on the right. One of the best omelets ever there! Should you decide to stay longer the Hotel de la Cite is located within the walls and it is an exquisite place to stay, surrounded by warmth and elegance with casual or al fresco dining and a library bar. Carcasonne is a UNESCO world heritage site
The region around the medieval citadel is steeped in history with the Canal Du Midi close by. Cathar castles, ancient abbeys and villages abound. Carcassone is not far from the Mediterranean coast, so it enjoys a warm and mild climate, the famous Languedoc-Roussillon vineyards are within easy reach for a visit.
As we left Carcassone to catch our flight in nearby Toulouse, we marveled at what a picturesque area we had the privilege of exploring and we promised to return to cover the many more interesting spots yet to discover.