I awoke to a fresh mosquito bite on my arm and a nice welt from where I’d scraped myself with (of all ridiculous things) a broken-off piece of crusty French bread. Only in France. We went downstairs to the dining area to have breakfast—fresh croissant, fruit, yoghurt and toast. We chatted with some friendly Swedes for awhile; one was a flight attendant with Scandinavian Airlines, so I was curious about how things actually worked. After breakfast, we prettied ourselves for the day and set off. Making our way out of town was only partially impeded by some road works that were rather obnoxiously holding up traffic. We made the fairly short drive to La Roque-Gageac, a picturesque town wedged between an imposing cliff and the Dordogne river. We stopped for a few refreshments before hopping on a gabarre (essentially a replica of an 18th century river barge) for a tour up the river.
The heat continued today, so it was a welcome relief to be puttering away on the river, with a nice following breeze. The boat afforded a particularly good view of La Roque-Gageac and its chateau. We listened to the commentary informing us about the history of the river and so on, pointing out key sights, including the gardens of Marqueyssac and finally the impressive Chateau Castelnaud, perched high atop its cliff. The boat tour was nice in that the driver would actually have the boat turned almost sideways for portions, floating down the river, so that we could take photos. We wound our way back down the river to La Roque-Gageac and went to have some lunch, a couple of bountifully cheesy pizzas. The road through town seemed to be blocked from traffic, so we planned a more indirect route to get to Les jardins des Marqueyssac. We drove up to Domme, a bastide (medieval fortified town) perched 250 metres above the Dordogne. We took a wander through town, heading out to their view points for some beautiful views of the valley. After popping into the town church to cool off, we walked along the edge of town and back to the car, through the quiet streets lined with ivy-covered stone buildings.
From Domme, D drove us through hilly countryside, past the town of Castelnaud and its imposing castle, up to Marqueyssac. Even walking from the car park, you could see at least three castles in view. We first walked up to the chateau to have a quick coffee and ice cream to try to cool ourselves off. Sitting on the terrace, they’d spray out cool mists of water; though, D speculated that that just enhanced the high humidity. And boy was it ever sticky today! We started our walk through the gardens, largely consisting of trees and finely manicured hedges. We wound our way through the park in the direction of the belvedere almost a kilometre away from the chateau. After a steep climb, we eventually made it to the view point, which afforded a truly panoramic view of the river and valley. Wearied by the heat, we gradually made our way back through the gardens, stopping to check out the trippy box hedges carved in some fantastic shapes.
Sarlat was only a short drive away from Marqueyssac, so we were soon pulling into a parking spot and heading back to the hotel. After relaxing and attempting to cool off in our room, we ventured out in search of food. We took stock of the restaurants in the area, finding one I had seen recommended as a possibility for D’s birthday tomorrow, and eventually settled on crepes. I needed something light after all that pizza and the last several days of duck and foie gras. D went the more traditional route of ham, egg and cheese; I opted for L’Alaska, which was two scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and flambéed Grand Marnier. Interestingly, they had actually put the scoops of ice cream inside the crepe, which meant it sort of melted and created a cream sauce. Quite tasty in the end. We headed back to the hotel, having a quick drink downstairs in the little snack bar owned by our hosts. We chatted with them before heading upstairs. Apparently, a storm was brewing. When it finally hit, my goodness did it ever hit. D and I sat in the darkened bathroom for a good while just watching the storm. We’d never seen so many lightning strikes in such quick succession—must’ve been lightning flashes every couple of seconds, stretches where it was just nonstop lightning—for an hour or more, with raucous thunderclaps, rattling the windows. It was one heck of an epic storm. I told D it was arranged to honour him on his birthday. Thank you Zeus!