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The Big O.E An epic adventure across the world, backpacker style :)

Provence to Perigord

FRANCE | Monday, 5 May 2008 | Views [1961]

Crazy topiary at the jardin du Marqueyssac

Crazy topiary at the jardin du Marqueyssac

The French countryside in spring is an beautifully lush place to spend some time. We really couldn't have picked a better time to do a road trip. It was sunny, warm and still when we set out from Cannes, and that was the way it stayed for the next 10 days while we headed up through the country to Paris.


From Cannes we headed to Le Val in the heart of rural Provence to catch up with Tali. En route we visited Europe's 'grand canyon', the Gorges du Verdon. As my first time driving a manual car on the right-hand side of the road, I think we did pretty well to still have all our bodywork in tact after a couple of hours snaking along anorexically narrow cliff top roads with numerous oncoming tour buses. But the views... wow. And the highest bridge in Europe apparently.

The next day we continued the bridge theme, setting out for the Pont du Gard. After getting sucked in by the totally unhelpful 'All Directions' and 'Other Directions' French road signs, we spent the best part of an hour getting to know the back streets of Avignon (we did the same in Nimes later in the day so stuck to the autoroutes after that). The effort was worth it though, the Pont du Gard (complete with neighbouring 1000 year old olive trees) is tres impressionant. Even more impressive though was our next stop, the 2.4 km long Viaduct of Millau. Quite a magnificent piece of engineering. The entire, almost impossibly delicate structure, is supported by only 7 pylons, most of which are over 200m high!

Our tour of the bridges behind us we arrived at the 'too cute to be true' Perigord town of St. Genies, just south of the famous Lascaux caves. From the garden of our restaurant, we ate a tasty three course feast of foie gras and roast duck, watching the sun set over the town square and spires of the neighbouring chateau and church.

Perigord, what the English refer to as the Dordogne, is peppered with gorgeous wee towns and hamlets, each sporting an imposing chateau or two. The next day we checked out the weekend market in the medieval town of Sarlat. Almost completely pedestrianised, we had a great time wandering around the town sampling the different yummy foods on sale and contemplating which house we would like to live in when we retire to France. The situation didn't change much when we stopped in at the walled bastide village of Domme. Too cute.

Being in the region of a thousand chateaux, we thought we had better pay one a proper visit. The Jardin de Marqueyssac doesn't boast the most impressive chateau, even though you get great views of the imposing Chateau of Biron and Castlenaud, but the gardens are something else. Set on a prominent limestone outcrop high above the Dordogne river, 150,000 box hedging trees have been planted and meticulously sculpted over the past 200 years to create an almost fluid topiary arrangement (no tacky teddy bears or chicken here thank goodness!)

The next day we awoke to a bustling market in the square outside our auberge window. Duck, fresh strawberries, duck, olives, duck, walnuts, duck, cheese, duck and donkey salami! While Catherine spent the day resting up, Mum and I visitied the troglodyte dwellings at the Roque St Christophe and the Prehistoric cave art at Font de Guame. Some of the Neanderthal drawings and etchings required a serious amount of imagination to visualise, but others were so clear even after tens of thousands of years. I especially liked the intimate one of a reindeer grooming another one. 

As we had been enjoying foie gras at every dinner in the Dordogne, we decided to visit a local farm that produces it for a degustation. We should have listened more carefully. It was actually a demonstration... a feeding demonstration. Imagine two rows of panting ducks in cages so small they can't even stand up. The farmer fills a small hopper with cooked corn. The auger coming out the bottom of the hopper is inserted right down the duck's neck and corn is forced down into a pouch in the duck's neck. Onto the next duck. The ducks look a bit bewildered, but don't seem to be overly stressed or harmed by the whole affair. In two weeks their livers will triple in size.  That night we opted for the salad starter over the foie gras!

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