The arrival

The next day was bright and sunny as we headed for the Dordogne.  The first part of the journey was excellent, with smooth, fairly empty roads, but after lunch the temperature climbed and it got very hot in the car, despite the air conditioning, because we were driving directly into the sun all the way.

Tempers began to fray after we left the motorway and took to the narrow, twisting roads of the Dordogne, often overhung by rocky cliffs. The place we were looking for, Camping Maisonneuve at Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, proved rather difficult to find. My map-reading skills have always been non-existent, in fact I suffer from a sort of map dyslexia – it all looks like a lot of meaningless squiggles to me, so I wasn’t much help to John.  When when we finally arrived at the camp site, feeling very hot and bothered, there was no obvious place to park and nobody in reception. 

However, we got sorted out in the end and chose the sort of pitch we usually avoid, one in deep shade under the trees, but in the 30-degree heat it made a lot of sense.   (It wasn’t so good a few days afterwards when it rained heavily and the sound of the trees dripping onto our roof was deafening – but more of that later!)

The site

The pretty little River Ceou, shallow and crystal clear, ran behind our pitch, and in front of us was a wild-flower meadow full of blue scabious and purple clary, full of butterflies and loud with crickets. We could even hear a cuckoo.  Our view was of a steep, tree-clad hill rising uptowards a rocky escarpment – typical Dordogne scenery. Sometimes we would see rock-climbers scaling the heights, and on fine evenings hot air balloons sailed overhead.  So far, so idyllic, but to be honest the toilet blocks weren’t all that wonderful and we soon had ants in the food cupboards!  But the swimming pool was lovely, with plenty of comfortable sun beds and even a view of the impressive Chateau of Castelnaud, which is not a pretty mansion like a Loire chateau but a real castle, the scene of many battles in the 100 Years War and the Wars of Religion.

We spent the following day relaxing in the shade, swimming in the pool and paddling in the icy-cold water of the river, in the company of numerous small fish and tadpoles, with the occasional larger trout.  In the evening we ate our meal outside and were relaxing with a glass of wine (or two) when four hot air balloons took off from the adjacent field – a wonderful sight. This, we felt, is just what we came for.

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

The next day was hot and sunny again.  We walked the short distance to the local village, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, which had a few shops, a café and a riverside “beach” with canoes for hire.  This was the lower village – the upper village, which is one of the 100 prettiest villages in France, is reached by a very long, hot, steep walk up a rough path! 

We were more than ready for a cool beer in a convenient bar when we reached the top.  As well as numerous picturesque houses, the main attraction here is the castle.  We didn’t go in – it’s full of exhibitions and demonstrations of weapons and warfare, very popular with children but not particularly appealing to us – but we admired its impregnable position on the top of a rocky crag, commanding the valley of the River Dordogne below. 

When we got back to the camp site we were ready for a swim followed by an afternoon relaxing in the shade.

Sarlat la Canéda

It rained a bit in the night, and there was some thunder.  Next day was cloudy but warm.  We drove to Sarlat, the main town of the Dordogne, famous for its culinary delights and picturesque houses of mellow ochre-coloured stone, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.  We wandered around the streets following our Michelin guide book, then had a typical Perigord meal in a shady courtyard. The diet went out of the window -duck and foie gras loom large in all menus in this area!  John had magret de canard, I had confit de canard, with potatoes Sarladais (cooked in duck fat!) and followed by tarte aux noix, another local speciality. Two delicious courses for €12, not bad!  Sarlat is always full of tourists but at this time of year they were mostly French, including our fellow diners.

We called in at a large Leclerc supermarket on our way home.  Unfortunately we then took a wrong turning and had a very long, if scenic, detour!  When we eventually got back we had a much-needed cuppa and sat in the cool awning, relaxing.

La Roque Gageac

Next day was sunny and warm again, so first thing, before it got too hot and busy, we drove to the nearby village of La Roque Gageac, incredibly picturesque, built into a cliff on the banks of the river, and a well-known tourist hot-spot.  We walked up a narrow, shady path behind the houses leading to an “exotic garden”, a little oasis of greenery, then along to the end of the village and back along  the main road. We sat down with a coffee and watched the tourist coaches arriving and disgorging their hordes.  Meanwhile the river boats known as “gabares” were broadcasting their commentaries to yet more tourists, and traffic was building up on the main road.  Time to escape back to the peace of the camp site.  John spent the afternoon having a nap, while I had a dip in the pool, followed by a much colder dip in the river – exhilarating!  We finished the day with a barbecue – brochettes bought in the excellent butcher’s in Castelnaud.  Later, the skies darkened and a storm was forecast, so we battened down the hatches by zipping the sides and front into the awning, making it fully enclosed.  Sadly, it remained mostly zipped up for the rest of our stay.  The rain started about 9.30 and there was a massive thunderstorm with non-stop lightning, and the noise of the rain on the roof drowned out the sound of the TV.