Picturebook scenery, turbulent history, and the ultimate hedonistic gastronomy combine in a river valley that today is an exercise in harmony. From cavemen to merlot, religious wars to pressed duck, the caressing of the senses is constant. Fortified castles look down from hiltops - or maybe you do, watching the lazy bends of the Dordogne River stretch before you in a summer haze.
Day 1: Your trip coordinator, and your bike, meet you at the Libourne station. Off across the vineyards with whomever arrived by your train, on the short cycle to St-Emilion. Since the whole group has not reliably assembled this evening, one of the route’s two independent dinners is usually scheduled for tonight (but we have a favorite wine bar we can suggest...). (15km)
Day 2: Adjust to the bikes at your own pace. Wend your way past the famous wine properties of the region - Cheval Blanc, Petrus, and the rest. Neighboring Pomerol is only a few kilometers away. The possibilities are endless. Get lost on teeny roads with no cars in sight and nothing but manicured vineyards and an occasional café on the horizon. Perhaps end up back in St-Emilion later that day... perhaps. Actually, getting home is a good idea, if only to leave yourself time for the splendid church, hollowed out of a large rock. Or for a glass of the local grape juice on the pretty town square before dinner. (20-60km)
Day 3: More vineyards, more small villages, still no cars: vacation. The roads roll a bit and you can find a real hill or two if you don’t watch out (note to non-French speakers... towns with “Mont” as part of the name are on the tops of the things). Today’s route takes us through Castillon-la-Bataille, where the 100 Years War came to an end, and the British retreated to 500 years of overcooked vegetables... Dig for battle souvenirs, or just wander through the beautiful French market that Castillon hosts on Monday mornings, and gawk at the odd things you can still buy in rural France. When lunch time rolls around, join the merchants in the local bar for some escargots bordelais (snails in red wine). Or don't. We cross the Dordogne river in Castillon, and follow it to Ste-Foy-la-Grande, a quirky “bastide” (an old fortress town layed out on a grid pattern). (40km)
Day 4: Late yesterday and certainly today, we pick up tell-tale signs that we are in the Perigord. Like what? Geese, looking rather fat (“gras” in French - does that give you a hint?) and funny fungi... You’re in foie gras and truffle land. Today’s ride includes a stop in Monbazillac, to visit the castle, and perhaps to taste the sweet and luscious local wine (it will resemble a Sauternes from just to the south - but at half the price). This cool, white, almost-liqueur crowns a meal. Bike lots of miles, eat heavy food, drinkgreat red wine... fun French stuff! (70km)
Day 5: Limestone cliffs hollowed out by long-vanished streams create beautiful outcroppings overlooking the river, which loops lazily back and forth in the valley so long ago hollowed out. As the vines thin out, we replace them with cavemen, or at least with caves. Prehistoric ones, where our ancestors hung out several million or billion or whatever years ago. Trémolat offers a glorious view of the river. Limeuil is one of the “prettiest villages in France” (self-proclaimed). Le Bugue offers an aquarium, and more caves, and mini golf... not really niche marketers. The straight-line distance is short, to give time to those who wish to go spelunking in Les Eyzies and its environs. Long routes with hills are available to keep you busy if you’d rather be on the bike. (30-50km)
Day 6: A long, challenging day full of scenery and hills if that is what you want; a short, easy ride for those trying to look like the local geese; and a middle choice for those who can't quite decide. Swimming holes if it’s hot, cozy cafés if it's not... a day full of options. Beautiful ocher cliffs stretch your neck upwards as you bike the deep valleys of the Vézère Valley. Woods, cliffs, potters and artisans using the regional clay, more flocks of geese... it’s a France few know, and the ride offers us a new view of this diverse country. The Lascaux caves and the amazing church at St.-Amand-de-Coly are available to those looking for the cultural quarter hour. We end up in Sarlat, one of France’s most harmoneous ensembles. The whole town is a national historical monument! (25-75km)
Day 7: Take a day off the bikes to explore the old town. André Malreaux had the idea of saving it as a living witness to the middle ages, and we are awfully glad that he did. Or, without paniers, go down to the river to visit a collection of the region’s most interesting towns, all far older than you are. Visit ancient La Roque-Gageac, and pretty Beynac. Climb up to fortified Domme, a prize possession in the religious wars of yore. Trade the bike for a kayak on the Dordogne, and use the paddles to splash your fellow bikers. Lycra dries quickly. (30-75km)
Day 8: Our last day in the valley: ride down to the river following an old railroad grade, and then along the water to Souillac. Castles line the water, and when they don’t it’s because the imposing white cliffs are towering over the road. Souillac is a pretty town for a quick explore: lots of flower boxes and odd trees, and a famous and beautiful abbey.
Our trip disbands on arrival in Souillac.
- Trip price includes the bike!
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