Exploring impressive Chateau de Bonaguil, Puy L’Eveque and Domme

October, 2018

You will find the fortified Château de Bonaquil in between the Périgord and the Quercy, in the municipality of Saint-Front-sur-Lémance. It is a hidden treasure and surrounded by pure nature. My second attempt to reach the castle was more successful. My advise; just go by car and not by feet!

The castle is an example of evolution in architecture. Built in the 13th century, extended and changed end 15th and beginning 16th century. It’s never attacked, thanks to its impressive defence system.

It is a great place to visit, with all different towers, cellars and even a small museum upstairs. If you walk all the way up, the views are something else!

During our visit we also could admire the work of a local artist. The modern statues against the ruins of the castle were an eye catcher……

From the castle to Puy LÉvêque is a nice drive, partly along the river and passing the famous vineyards of this area. The town is situated right on the river Lot and has pretty steep roads going down to the river. If you follow the bridge, you get a nice overview of the old town from the other side.

Frayssinet-le-Gélat is a great gateway for visiting many historic towns and other cultural attractions. To the North, in the Dordogne, you will find another ‘must see’; Domme. It is a famous bastide town, perched high above the river Dordogne on a cliff. Although it is very touristic, it kept its charme and as soon as you start walking along the promenade around the town, you forget the busy centre. While walking you will pass the remains of the fortified walls and the gateways into town, like the Port del Bos and the Porte de la Combe. There is a variety of honey-coloured houses and cottages and amazing views over the river and valley from every corner of the town. For those who are interested, Domme gives the opportunity to visit the caves, which are situated underneath the town.

During my stay in Frassinet-le Gélat, I tried to visit as many places as possible. Too many to mention in this blog. I fell in love with the area, as it has not only beautiful nature and wonderful hiking paths, but also so much culture. Every village or town is a museum and always there is river lingering through the countryside. A place to go back!

 

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Cahors, other gems along the river Lot

October, 2018

The Lot’s character is formed by its ‘causses’ (limestone plateaux), through which the Lot, Dordogne and Célé valleys have carved their way. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is known as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Tucked away on a cliff, a 100 meters above the river Lot, this medieval village is a must see!

From Frayssinet-le-Gélat, you have to drive first to Cahors and from there it is around a rough 30 kilometer drive along the river; a lovely scenic drive and fairly quiet around this time a year.

Watch your speeding limit when driving in between Espère and Cahors! I got 4 times a fine, as it turned out I was driving 57 km an hour instead of 50! Probably, I was too much focusing on the directions that I didn’t see the 50 km sign! As I drove this road on various occasions, I received different fines for the same stretch…………too bad.

Saint-Cirque-Lapopie is more or less one big museum. Spend your day admiring the medieval houses, visiting the impressive inside of the Gothic church and taking pictures from the upper lookout point! The views over the Lot valley and the village itself are lovely.

 

There is definitely no shortage of tiny restaurants, cozy terraces and craft stores. In the winter, a handful of artists are the only inhabitants of the village. It must be pretty lonely, as it is quite isolated.

We had a great and very affordable lunch, on a secluded patio at ‘La Terrasse’. Don’t forget to walk to the other side of the village, from where you get a view over the old graveyard.

Best is to combine a visit with a trip to Cahors, but then you need at least two days. I got a taste of Cahors during my second week in France and visited all different corners of this typical French town, which is like a puzzle put together on a peninsula, in a loop of the river Lot.

Cahors is a city of art and history and best known for the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne and the famous Valentré Bridge. The city was founded in Roman times and became an important centre of trade and finances in the Middle Ages. The centre is still intact. The Valentré Bridge was built in the 14th Century and is found on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

A lovely town to stroll around, feel the French atmosphere and visit Les Jardins Secrets, which are scattered throughout the town.

 

 

Rocamadour, on the route to Santiago de Compostela

October, 2018

One of the neighbours in Frayssinet-le Gelat tells me Rocamadour is not worth visiting. Too many other more interesting places. I am pleased I ignored her advise and drove my car over the incredible small but fabulous road, in between Le Vigan and the place, where 170 miracles happened. I suppose you better avoid this very popular destination in high season, when several buses are unloading tourists and pilgrims on a daily basis. This time of the year is perfect for a visit, with barely any traffic on the road and the sky crispy clear. The best and only way to discover Rocamadour is by foot. Just park the car opposite the tourist information office and start walking on the road, from where you get an unforgettable view over the canyon and the old medieval village, with its churches, chapels and the Château.

We start our tour high up on the cliff, in the gardens of the Château. The interior is not open for the public, but you can walk via the steel bridge, bordering the garden and overlooking the Alzou Canyon. The entrance is 2 euros and you need coins for the machine to open the gate. You better start walking through the gate immediately, as there will NO ticket coming out of the machine (although it says so) and the gate closes right behind your back. A lot of people lost their money! If you are tiny, you can squeeze with two people through the gate in one go! Obviously, we didn’t try…..

Again, I had to push myself up the stairs, although I felt nearly sick of my fear of heights. The panorama is just something you should have witnessed.

From the top of the cliff, we descended over the winding road with the various stations of the Cross. At a certain point we found a small cave, where you could buy nails, and hammer them in a cross, as for protection of the pilgrimage journey. I refused to do such a thing.

 

The curvy and shady road ends where the 8 churches and chapels are draped around a little square. Here you find the Chapelle Notre-Dame with the Black Virgin and also the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of Saint Sauveur. The beauty of these medieval buildings is stunning.

 

From here the famous 216 steps of ‘The Grand Escalier’ go down to the picturesque main street, where many boutiques and cozy restaurants are overlooking the canyon. Imagine the pilgrims were climbing all those stairs on their knees. Some of them still do these days…….

We leave the beauty of Rocamadour, while walking through one of the four gates. From time to time we stop and look back on the impressive three successive levels of this village above the canyon.P1040870

There is an old local saying;

‘Houses on the river, churches on the houses, rocks on the churches, castle on the rock’…….

In between castles, cathedrals and the french country life.

September, 2018

Nearly two weeks I am staying now in Frayssinet-le-Gelat and just loving it! I am running from one cathedral to the other, discover empty, spooky houses, drive along the river Lot and explore all the hiking trails around the village (where I even spot a deer walking in between the houses).

In between I work. On my blog, following courses and loads of other administration. I have to get used to shop twice a week, as there are no supermarkets in the neighbourhood. Constantly, I am out of supplies, so sometimes my meal consists of tomatoes and tuna or cheese and olives. The bakery is closed on Monday and the only eatery in town, called café Le Bourian, closes Tuesday night and Wednesday. If I am touring around and I see a big store, I immediately stop the car and go shopping.

While being in France, you should at least once visit a Brocante. It reminded me of the time we lived in Greece, when once a month whole families got in their car at 6.00 in the  morning, on their way to the carbootsale. Most of the time it was held at a big parking spot in front of the supermarket. It was a great way to get rid of old clothes, toys, books and all kinds of rubbish. At the same time it taught the children how to sell their own stuff for the highest price possible and it had a social function; afterwards we spent the earnings in the taverna with other ‘carbootsale friends’. Here in Prayssac it looks exactly the same, but the socializing and money spending starts already at lunchtime!

Frayssinet-le Gelat is surrounded by hiking trails, just like all other villages in the Lot department. Only the signs tend to disappear after a few kilometers. At least I noticed, that you are safe following the yellow sign and NOT the yellow cross! The best map these days is my phone; at least it tells me where I am (very important as I get lost everywhere!). One day I discover, that just five minutes walking up the road behind ‘my’ house, there is this ‘château’, totally abandoned. I heard that it belongs to two sisters, one passed away and the other one left. The garden is overgrown and it looks, even on this sunny day, a bit spooky. I try to take some pictures from the other side and would have loved to get through the gates and see it from the inside!

I continue my hike into the woods and feel pretty uncomfortable. No other souls walking here, only plenty of mosquitoes flying around and I even more spooky houses present….

My speed is increasing and I force myself to keep on walking. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel; I arrive at a road, which leads me back to town. On my return in the village, I have a relaxing moment with a glass of wine at Le Bourian.20180924_175603.jpg

On another occasion, I get in the car to drive to this very impressive castle, just thirty minutes from where I am staying. It is called Château de Bonaguil and according to the map I can reach it via the small village of Saint-Front-sur-Lémance. While driving along the scenic road, I just can avoid a dead deer. Not a nice start, but nothing can spoil my day. The weather is superb again and I can’t wait to see the castle. Just today they broke up the road in the tiny village. In my best french I ask the roadworkers if I can walk to the castle. Oh yes, not a problem at all! So I park the car somewhere in the shade and start climbing the road. I have my water and my biscuits, as always. I follow the signs and the road has a lot of curves and is awfully quiet.

The only car which passes, is the car with the same roadworkers coming from the other side!!! Ehhhh? Why didn’t they tell me that there is another way to the castle? Ah well, it is a nice walk, although again I am the only person hiking. The road becomes smaller and now goes through the woods. I see a sign; castle one kilometer. Yes, I made it! Suddenly, there is an open space and wow, the castle is right in front of me, situated high on a cliff. I look at the castle and at the road in front of me; it is going down and down and the curves are going the wrong way. It means that I have to walk up and up again later. This is too much. No clue where I will end up. I decide to go back and will try to reach the castle via another way, but not today! After an hour (going down goes faster), I reach the village again. The roadworkers are still there and I decide to give them a big smile and just rush to my car. At least I did see the castle!!!P1040359

An unexpected introduction to Ossip Zadkine in Les Arques

15th of September, 2018

To find a book in The Netherlands, with information about interesting places in the Lot department, is difficult. Plenty regarding the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, but nothing for this area. So thanks to Google, I make myself familiar with my surroundings, as I don’t want to miss out on anything important. While investigating, I read about this small, but important museum in the vicinity of Frayssinet-Le-Gélat. Next moment I hop in the car and drive direction Cazals and then halfway I turn into a ‘white’ and curvy road, which brings me to Les Arques.

Both scenery and village are very peaceful, authentic and worth visiting. I park my car and hear a lot of voices, from people having lunch in the one and only restaurant in the village. Later, they will all visit the museum, but by that time I am gone again.

The Église St. Laurant invites me in and immediately I am attracted to the Pietà in the crypt; just a wonderful piece of art, made by the Russian artist Ossip Zadkine, who bought a house in Les Arques in 1934, the place where he felt deeply connected with nature. He took care of the renovation of the church and created the wooden Christ on the Cross. Zadkine was a tremendously gifted sculptor and there is a museum in Les Arques, opposite the church, with bronze and wooden statues, engravings and  various photographs and testimonies of the artist. It is a small, but delightful museum!

 

Zadkine is the maker of the famous statue ‘the Destroyed City’ or ‘de Verwoeste Stad’, on Plein 1940 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It remembers the bombings during the Second World War. From the 6th of October 2018 until the 3rd of March 2019, there will be an exhibition in Museum ‘Beelden aan Zee’ or ‘Statues by the Sea’ in Scheveningen, The Netherlands, with work from this remarkable artist. It will be organized together with the ‘Musée Zadkine de la Ville de Paris’.

After my visit to Les Arques, I drive home and make a stop by the tiny Chapel of Saint Andrée. There is nobody else and the church door is open. It feels weird and a little bit lonely, to be here, in the midst of fields and forest and in a place where Zadkine played such an important role; with his help it was possible to unveil the frescoes of the late 15th Century. A picture shows Zadkine sitting on a small chair in the little chapel. For a moment I sit myself on the same old and simple chair and feel his presence around.

 

 

 

A housesit in Frayssinet-Le-Gélat, France

11th of September, 2018

There was a time, that I was a member of five housesitter websites. That was before I settled down in the Netherlands. The time I was still kind of ‘homeless’. I kept the membership of one of the most popular and best working websites, as there are always moments I can skip daily life. Definitely, since I am without a job again. Flipping through one wonderful housesit after the other, my eye catches this cute house in Southern France and I already start packing, when reading the description. Immediately I apply, without even having looked in my diary. Normally, there are several people applying at the same time and chances are small you get chosen. Though until now, I have always been pretty lucky and also this time I get a positive response more or less right away. Oh dear, I was not ready for this! Now I really have to do some serious thinking. My children encourage me to go (‘you deserve it, mum’; really?). Do I go by car or plane? Is renting a car an option? What are the costs of flying? After some calculations the conclusion is made that driving myself is best and cheapest. I have a look at the map and notice I need to go via Paris. Last time I drove through Paris is around 25 years ago, on our way to Spain and that was in the middle of the night. This time it will be daytime! Do I book a hotel for the night or just see where I will end up? I have to arrive the second day at lunch time, on time for the introduction and instructions. The night before I leave I barely sleep. Paris is hunting me……..but cheerful I drive away in the dark at 6.00 a.m. My adrenaline is flowing and keeps me awake until 4.00 p.m. For sure the strong coffee along the route keeps me awake too! (1.80 euro for a big cup; different prices than Switzerland!)20180911_144110.jpg

I passed Paris with ‘sweating hands and drops on my forehead’, while trucks were trying to push my little Twingo at the side in the tunnels. At that moment I started to feel like the lady I am now; a senior! In Vierzon I stopped at the first hotel I noticed. I got their last room. Coincidentally, it was one of the budget hotels from my list. I slept like a baby and arrived fresh and cheerful at my house- and catsit on time. Pfffffffff…………..

 

 

Frayssinet-Le-Gélat is a very tiny village, about half an hour from Cahors, in the Lot department. There are roughly 300 inhabitants, a bakery and a tiny pizza place.

 

One of those villages you drive through and not many people realize that on the 21st of May 1944, a massacre took place right in this village, by the Nazi’s. It happened that an SS Rifle company of the second Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ stopped for a refreshment break. Believing that one of their officers had been shot by members of the French underground, fifteen hostages were taken and executed. Ten young males from one child families and five young women. This was to prevent any further family line of descent. A memorial remembers the victims.

 

 

The surroundings of Frayssinet-Le-Gélat are green, authentic and also very quiet. There are several interesting towns to discover, musea and castles, so I will not be bored! Every day there is somewhere a market. On Friday mornings it is Prayssac, on Sunday morning Cazals and on Tuesday Puy L’Évêque. During the first days I visit the two markets, both with a totally different atmosphere. I prefer the market in Prayssac, a typical french market and barely any foreigners. Here you can find lot’s of treats and local produce; truffles, confits, lamb, grapes, foie gras, prunes, walnut cake, goat cheeses, ready-made chicken, teas, olives and of course Cahors wines! My next market will be in Cahors!