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Eurfirst Trip to Central France and The Dordogne River Valley

Revised March 9, 2008

Limoges has long been an important city in France situated almost midwaybetween Paris and the Mediterranean coast. When North Americans think of the city it is because exquisite porcelain is produced in the city. Limoges is divided into to important sections, Le Chateau where you will find stores, restaurants and places to stay and Le Cite where you will find the ancient buildings of the old town. But for most people, Limoges is not the destination but a convenient starting point into the beautiful regions of the Dordogne and Lot Rivers and to the historic town of Perigord.

The Dordogne River Valley

Throughout Europe, you stand in medieval cathedrals and Renaissance towns, see buildings and roads more than 2000 years old and experience the culture, but in the Dordogne you can step back more than 25,000 years to a time when very primitive men climbed deep into caves to paint. There is much to see and much to learn in the Dordogne, a river valley where the history of France is written on the walls of the canyons.

From the prehistoric cave paintings which you can view in four different caves to the modern farms producing fois gras, there is much to see in the region. We arrived from Limoges to stay at a campground in the countryside. On our first day, we went to two different caves, to see the famed paintings. At the first cave, we were taken deep into the hillside on an electric train. It is almost impossible to conceive how primitive men could get so deep into the earth with nothing more than torches and how or why they would spend hours painting images of bison and mammoth on the walls of the cave. Our second stop was at the Font de Gaume, the site of the only polychromatic paintings found in the region. Guided into the cave by an expert on prehistoric life, we were awed by the numerous drawings on the cave walls.

We spent our second day enjoying the beauty of the region. Starting at the market in Sarlat, we bought provisions including cheeses we'd never tasted before, dozens of varieties of olives mixed together, fresh tomatoes and crisp bread. This is the home of fois gras, the pate made from the livers of geese who have been encouraged to eat heartily (the polite description of the method). If you aren't ready to spring for the expensive delicacy, you can enjoy its less expensive cousin, duck liver pate'.

Then we headed toward Rochamadour, the picturesque town perched on a hillside and built to honor the French saint, Roch. Over the years, hundreds of thousands have climbed the rough stairway on their knees to worship. But modern visitors can get to the medieval church via a funicular. If you can stay until sunset, the little village and its hillside glow in the last glimmers of light.

On our last full day, we took the canoe ride of our lives. We spend many of our summer days floating down our local river, the Rogue, oohing and aaahing at the natural beauty...the osprey nests with birds. But we knew that a paddle down the Dordogne, through a castle-lined canyon, would be unbelievable. Starting near Belves, there are two different places you can begin your ride--one about 18 kilometers (11 miles) and the other 28 kilometers (about 17 miles). The Dordogne is a lazy rapids to scare the timid. Which means that you can expect to do some serious paddling from time to time to get to you final destination before the farmer who rented you the canoe calls it a day. Our gracious host drove us to our "put in" spot and saw that we and the other members of our group were safely on our way. There was still a thick layer of clouds when we started but the sun quickly dispatched them and it was a warm, pleasant day on the river. It seemed that as we turned every bend we encountered another hillside castle or fortress, a lingering reminder that this spot is where the 100 Years War raged between the English and French.

Camping in the Dordogne

Our home base for the adventures in the Dordogne was Les Hauts de Ratebout, a campground in Les Castels organization. Its idyllic location in the farmland of the Dordogne delighted my husband. The campground had all the modern conveniences, a delightful restaurant and bar and a very pleasant pool facility. It is not currently listed on the Les Castels website though there are Les Castels campgrounds in the region. As of the date of the revision, there were websites offering to take reservations for Les Haut but the links to the specific property were not working. Updates on the specific campground will be posted as they become available.

You can find other campgrounds at Dordogne Camping. Though the first page is in French, most of the listed campgrounds have English language pages.