Friday, April 24, 2015

Cordes-sur-Ciel, France: Medieval Wanderings

Sometimes what looks like the most direct way on a map is not actually the case.  When choosing to go across the grain of the land, from one river valley to the next, expect to spend time going up and a lot less time going down.  But sometimes there are panoramic views along the way, and even a few sights like chateaus and fortresses on steep cliffs or where a river valley narrows. 
A castle here...

...a château there...

...everywhere along the Dordogne!
We left the Dordogne Valley and its castles just past Souillac.  We were following our trusty Michelin atlas, and it gives towns and cities a star rating based on what the place has to offer.  And our goal was the three-star burg of Rocamadour, the grand-daddy of cliff-clinging fortress towns.  It was not far from our last campground, just 20 kilometers or so.  Maybe a couple of hours.  As it turned out it was uphill grades most of the way, and we burned through most of our breakfast and the morning by the time we got there.  What kept me going was the thought of a pastry, an occasional treat we allow ourselves on tough days.  Pâtisseries and boulangeries can be found in even the smallest of towns, and surely the tourist magnet of Rocamadour would have something.

View of Rocamadour from the east.
Looking down on the alleys at the base of the Rocamadour fortress.
We arrived, and the cycling gods were good to us.  Our approach from the north deposited us at the high point of the ridge on which the castle was situated.  Turn left to seek out a calorie depot, turn right to see the castle.  We turned left first.

To our disappointment it was hotels and restaurants and souvenir shops and not a bakery within sight.  Bummer -- another muesli bar for you.  Temporarily fueled we swung by the castle and then took the steep road with a hairpin turn down to a park at the base for a proper lunch.  The park was located right at the Petit Train depot and not far away from the elevator that requires much less calorie expenditure to get up to the castle.
Lovely French country road with tress just starting to sprout leaves.

Wayside cross in the countryside.
Our afternoon was a repeat of the morning as we dug out of the river valley just to drop and climb again, three iterations in all.  We stayed on minor roads to avoid traffic, and it was quiet and rural and sparse along our route.  The buildings all looked ancient and weathered but striking against the clear blue sky of the afternoon.  We could see for miles in all directions.  This is what I imagined bike touring in France to be, and it was fun.

At 2:30 in the afternoon we came by two signs -- one with the distance of 45 kilometers to our destination, and another to a campground.  We took stock and realized we did not have the energy or time to get to camp at a reasonable hour given the terrain, so we headed to the campground (uphill, of course).  We met the proprietors, Stuart and Shiela, a British couple who purchased an old château 25 years ago and built a resort-quality campground around it.  And like we had found with so many campgrounds already, they were not open yet for the season.  But they would let us stay anyway.  They said they often get cyclists who underestimate how far they can get across the area’s topography after leaving Rocamadour.  Since we did not have enough food for dinner they would make a plat de jour for us, too.  It was a pleasant evening, sitting on their terrace and chatting with Stuart about their life and the history of the area.
Foggy morning after rain showers overnight.
The next day we made good time getting to the Lot River valley, despite drizzle in the morning.  And the next day out of that valley and into the Aveyron River valley and up a tributary where the landscape flattened and opened up to wide pastures.  The corduroy landscape was ending and the campground only 5 kilometers away.  And then we saw the town of Cordes-sur-Ciel perched on a high knob.  One more hill to climb that day, I guess.  But we stopped at the campground (on top of a hill, wouldn’t you know it), set up our tent and left behind the heavy panniers to make our way to the city and explore the twists and turns of yet another medieval wonder.

Cordes-sur-Ciel poking out in the distance.
Cordes-sur-Ciel is our favorite town so far.  Only portions of the old city have been restored and exposed on the weathered buildings are the supporting beams and multiple alterations that have been made through the centuries.  People live in this town, but there are also shops that sell beautiful crafted items -- jewelry, leather goods, pottery -- refreshing after seeing so many tacky souvenir shops in other places.  We were charmed, despite our weariness.  Sometimes the road is not direct, but it may lead to something good.

Just a can see a map of our route at either one of these links, periodically updated by John when time and wifi are available: Google Maps or on the GoSeeDo blog

We left Cordes-sur-Ciel on a Saturday morning, and in the town square was a market with this heap of carbohydrates.  You can't get a bad loaf of bread in this country.

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salviadorii said...

This is all so fun to see.Lovely bread pictures. When we did our walk if was from Cahors to Figeac. A lot through the Lot valley.I really like the landscape and food!

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