Vezere and Dordogne RiversJune 8 in France
We left the beaches and pine forests at Arachon and took the train through Bordeaux to a little town, Le Lardine-St-Lazare, on the Vezere River. We knew it was an area of limestone, and that there were caves of all sorts there and, liking caves, it seemed a good fit for us. The Vezere and Dordogne Rivers are steeped in history, starting with Cro-Magnum people from 50,000 years ago. We went to Montigac and the Lascaux Caves which have been described as the Sistene Chaple of pre-historic art. They had been sealed off by a slide 17,000 years ago, and were only discovered by 4 boys in 1948. In the 20 years they were open moisture and Carbon dioxide from visitors took their toll, so they closed the originals and you now visit a brand new reproduction that you would never know you were not the original caves painted 20,000 years ago. Marty of course spent seveal hours biking around the hills looking for new caves. On one of our "unloaded rides" we discovered a 1000 year old abbey in St-Amand de Coly. The dome of the chaple is a hundred feet above you, and the limestone blocks of the floor are uneven and worn by a thousand footsteps. We didn't think we could see any more stunning buildings, but this one was our favorite. The Roque St Christophe a bit down the road is a troglodytic site, or a cliff dwelling, that was lived in from 55,000 years ago, and was inhabited in the Middle Ages up to the Rennaissance. The caves extend for over a kilometer high up on the limestone cliffs above the river, and they were an easy place to keep track of enemies coming up river, like the Vikings. Scouts could actually hide in cliffs all along the river and call to each other transmitting a message of invaders fourty kilometers in six minutes. Riding through this area, every turn was another chateau up on a hill, with the medieval villages down below. It would be an interesting canoe trip to go on for a week. However, I think it would be nuts in this region in the summer if the number of canoes at the outfitters is any indication. We rode up a really steep, but short hill to the Chateau de Castelnaud that was built in the 12th century and renovated in the early 70's. There were displays of Medieval armoury and weapons, complete with real sized trebuches. We stayed in a campground in Beynac, in the shadow of the cliffs upon which the Castle Beynac was built (where Richard the Lionhearted scaled an impossible wall). These two castles were on the line defended by the French and English in the Hundred Years War, with Castelnaud changing hands seven times between them. Joan of Arc came by here, as did many of the other big names, and this is just one small fragment of the history of this region.
We balanced out the human history, and took in some natural history at the Gouffre de Proumeyssac. It is another fun story of discovery where people had used the hole at the surface since the middle ages as a garbage dump and even by bandits to dump bodies. Finally in 1907 a shaft sinker was lowered in to see what was really there. I can't imagine going down by candlelight! We went down in a basket into the 40 m cavern (it is huge) and it was pretty amazing. There are stalactites and stalagmites all around the edges, and several "waterfalls" of calcium carbonate over the ledges. They do a funky light show, including turning off all the lights, and they make a ton of cash doing it, but it is well done. Our camping in this area was pretty delux, with swimming pools, and we managed to sweet talk a table at each site. The day we passed the sign at Suillac, our last official day of touring, Caleb let out a great shout and we had a party that night. He was proud of himself, but definitely done with bike touring! Finally we got on a train in Suillac and headed north to Paris. Read more