Collonges de la Rouges, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France: The upper Dordogne, Day 1 – Cartassac to Meyssac

December 5, 2016 · 13 comments

Those who regularly read this blog may notice a new logo for the UK Blog Awards to the right of this post. I have been nominated in the travel category. I would be very pleased if you would vote for me by clicking on the logo to link to the voting page. 

Date walked: 10th October 2016

Distance: about 9 miles

Day 1 of route provided by Dordogne Experience from Cartassac to Meyssac

Our route in thick red

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I have been visiting France since I was a child but possibly the greatest pleasure I have had there (that I am prepared to share) was when Bob and I spent 10 days a few years back walking part of the pilgrim “Route de Saint Jacques” (known to us as The Way of St James). We had promised ourselves another amble though the French countryside and Dordogne Experience‘s Plus Beaux Village itinerary ticked all the boxes: not too challenging walking, beautiful villages, comfortable and friendly small hotels and our bags transferred each day. What could be nicer?

October has to be one of the best months to visit this fruit and nut filled countryside, so we were surprised to be advised that several of the hotels that Keith Starr usually uses would be closed by our chosen dates. But with a little adjustment of the usual route and some ringing around he came up with an excellent alternative.  We would walk from the tiny village of Cartassac for 7 days, finishing at St Cere, and passing though 6 of France’s most beautiful villages (according to Les Plus Beaux Villages de France).

The information pack we received contained a comprehensive introduction to walking in France, as well as large scale (1:25,000)  maps for each day with routes marked, a turn by turn description and some tips on sights not to miss. It was excellent in all respects bar one – I found a nearer train station (Turenne) to our first hotel, thus saving quite a bit on a taxi fare.

Getting there (the day before) was as good as international travel gets. Bristol airport was uncrowded and our flight to Limoges departed on time. A taxi ride to the train station was  affordable and gave us time for a coffee on the station forecourt. The trains put our rolling stock to shame – they were bordering on beautiful and clean as a whistle.

SNCF train from Limoges to Brive photographed by Charles Hawes

Actually I don’t think beautiful is too strong

(TIP: book your train tickets in advance through SNCF’s  excellent and English-friendly website).

We were the only passengers getting off the train at La Gare de Turenne and we only saw one person for Bob to interrogate for directions to our hotel but one was enough. We trundled our suitcases for about half a mile alongside the quiet D20 arriving at L’Auberge de Cartassac  to receive a friendly greeting and in plenty of time for an afternoon stroll.  I liked everything about this hotel. The rooms were comfy, had character  and were away from the road….

L'Auberge de Cartassac , France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Happy bunny

… and the overall decor of the place quite adventurous.

L'Auberge de Cartassac , France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Yes, it is almost as loud as this

Following a Ricard in the bar, our  supper (set – no menu was offered) of home-made Foie Gras with rustic bread, slow cooked (24 hours) pork with roast potatoes (no veg) followed by  flambe Creme Brulee, accompanied by a pichet of unidentified but perfectly nice local wine set a high standard for the week ahead.  And breakfast the next morning was just as good, offering fresh mini pastries, several different kinds of fresh bread rolls and home-made jams and lovely butter (and further options of cold meats and cheese and even some fruit).

Nine miles is rather less than Bob and I would normally think of as a days walk but it was good to set off thinking that a relaxed day could be followed by a snooze and a pre-dinner drink in a bar over a game of crib.

Leaving the hotel ….

L'Auberge de Cartassac , France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nice place if you are ever going there

….we walked back into La Gare de Turenne, where not a soul was seen; I paused to admire the metal gateway of P. CASTANET.

P. Castanet, Ler Gare du Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Welding is a skill that I really ought to acquire

After passing the entrance to the station we took a small lane that climbed gently though the woods, heading for Turenne. I was struck by the slate-roofed, chateau-style architecture of one of the  modern houses we passed.

Modern house near Turenne, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It will soften with time

Near the top of the hill we joined the D8 and from there had a great, though slightly misty view of the castle of Turenne  – the first of our Beaux Villages of the week.

Turenne Castle, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

With time to spare we were happy to explore the village. The main square was neat and tidy and lined with pretty, limestone block built houses.

Turenne main square, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Maybe just a tad too tidy?

The village became a feudal state after the Crusades and was one of the great fiefs of France in the 14th century. From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, the viscount of Turenne had complete autonomy until the 8 June 1738, when it was sold to Louis XV to pay the gambling debts of Charles Godfrey, the last of the Viscounts of La Tour d’Auvergne family. Thus ended the quasi-independence of this last French stronghold. End of history lesson.

We climbed the steep street passed the war memorial…

War memorial at Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I love how this is weathering away

… and the nearby church of Notre Dame Saint Pantelon. I popped in.

 Notre Dame Saint Pantelon, Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Hoping that the sun may burn through soon

At the top was the entrance to the castle and a hut, occupied by two men, one a beret wearing Englishman from Salford with whom Bob immediately engaged in conversation about the Brexit vote (he was all for it, describing everyone in the EU machine as “corrupt bastards”).

The castle grounds contains Ceasar’s Tower…

Cesar's tower, Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

…. and a garden, which, if in England, would certainly open for the National Gardens Scheme.

Garden at Chateau du Turenne, France,photographed by Charles Hawes

I’ve seen a lot worse in the NGS

We climbed the tower, natch, and it was well worth it for the drones-eye view of the garden and the surrounding countryside.

Garden of the Chateau du Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It looks better from up here

There were several rather beautifully made ceramic plaques on the tower walls pointing up places within view.

ceramic plaque on Ceasar's Tower, Chateau du Turenne, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

I took a pic of Bob, who is also beautifully made in his own way.

Cesar's Tower, Chateau du Turenne, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

And he does a nice smile

At the hut Bob re-engaged his Brexiteer foe, so I wandered off for a bit. This was a mistake as when I wandered back Bob was nowhere to be seen. I should have rung him up to locate him but instead walked back down to the square. Then I rang him and found out that he was lost. I think I must have been a bit frustrated by now as I was keen to have a coffee; I said that I would come and find him. When I did he was pissed off with me for having walked off.

We had a coffee; the cafe owner being amazed that we would want to sit outside in what she thought was the cold and we thought was fresh-air-with-a view.

Coffees and Pain d'espices fromboise, Turenne, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

Peace offering

I had bought us a little cake but it was not enough to sweeten Bob’s mood. I offered a sincere apology later. Leaving the village on the C4 after a few hundred yards we were directed to join the GR446-480 footpath by a sign on a post….

Sign for La Croix de Belonie near Turenne, photographed by Charles Hawes

We came to love these very clear signs

… reaching La Croix de Belonie a little later.

 La Croix de Belonie near Turenne, photographed by Charles Hawes

The sign behind is a bit of a shame

The track we were on made quite a steep descent passed a field of handsome but lazy cattle…

Cattle near Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

No where near as nice as Aubracs

… and a slightly strange viewing point.

Viewing point near Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I see no ships

Towards the bottom of this very pleasant track….

GR 446-480 near Turenne, Francxe, Photographed by Charles Hawes

Spot the route sign?

… was an impressive collection of buildings which may have been the grounds of the Chateau de Coutinard.

Property near Chateau Coutinard, near Turenne, photographed by Charles Hawes

Then again it might not have been

Bob and I had a (good-natured) debate about the authenticity of some  dismantled mill stones – my view was that they were genuine.

Dismantled mill stones near Turenne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

What do you think?

What was certainly genuine were the remains of the stone surface on the lane we were walking on.

Stone based track near Turenne on the GR446-480 photographed by Charles Hawes

A proper road!

At the bottom of the track we were back on a road for half a mile, crossing under the railway line and passing below the Sanatorium Bolou-les-Roses which was perched on a cliff top above us (but mostly hidden by trees). It is said today to house handicapped adults.

New path signs pointed the way up another wide track towards Ligneyrac….

Circuit de la Vicomte, near Ligneyrac, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

Bit brash?

… passing our first fields of sweet chestnuts trees of the week some young,…

Chestnut plantation near Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

… and some very old, and showing signs of their ageing.

Chestnut plantation near Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Still cropping heavily, though

There were plenty of opportunities to sample windfall nuts but they are hard work to peel satisfactorily on the hoof and even then they are a bit dry in the mouth.

Next stop was Ligneyrac ….

Road signs for Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

…. where we had decided to stop for refreshment should there have been any but there wasn’t. Sad face. In fact we didn’t see a soul.

There, was, however, a rather lovely church…

L'eglise Saint-Cyr-et-Sainte-Julitte in Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

L’eglise Saint-Cyr-et-Sainte-Julitte

…. with some interesting iron-work on its doors…..

Detail of door of L'eglise Saint-Cyr-et-Sainte-Julitte, Ligneyrac, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

Meaning?

… but the church itself was locked. Another sad face.

We found an explanation board for  the “Circuit de La Vicomte” which clearly ties in with the new boards we had seen by the side of the path and with the viewing point we had seen at Turenne (a 2015 initiative, it seems).

Explanatory board for the Circuit de la Vicomte, Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Still not warm enough to take the jacket off

From Ligneyrac there was a gentle climb through the hamlet of Soult, passing both a Madonna and Child…

Madonna and child on GR480 near Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

They do lots of this in France

…  and a cross.

Cross on the GR480 near Ligneyrac, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This, too

Leaving the road shortly after Soult we had a gentle climb towards Peyrignac…

The GR480 near Collonges la Rouge, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Now its warm enough for the tee-shirt layer

…  the countryside opening out and the skies improving as we approached the top of the hill.

The GR480 near Collonges la Rouge, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Yes, its turning out to be a lovely day

A potentially confusing confluence of  five roads and a few paths had us pausing to carefully read our map….

dordogne-day-1-54

….and to think that Keith might want to clarify the direction at this point, but we took the right track – thanks to a GR route sign on a stone- (though neither of us would have said that it was “tiny” as our notes suggested.). This dirt road descended passed a hamlet called Le Chastanet …..

The GR480 near Collonges-la-rouge, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Benefiting from the shade, now

…(though the 0nly sign we saw was for St Mesme).

Alongside a field on the right were several Medlars – a fruit unknown to Bob and though I recognised it I could offer no enlightenment as to its eating.

Medlar, photographed from the GR480 in France by Charles Hawes

They are not edible at this stage

A steady climb for half a mile gave us our first view of our second Plus Beaux Village of the walk – Collonges-la-Rouge.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It is easy to see where the “rouges” bit come from – practically everything is built from a local red sandstone.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It is quite an extraordinary place.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It also had quite a lot of tourists milling around and lots of cafes and restaurants, though what I wanted more than anything was an ice-cream.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I got the ice-cream (excellent) but Bob forewent the beer. He bought his wife some truffle infused walnut oil from one of several goodie-stuffed shops.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It’s the kind of place one really should grab a table in and have a meal but we were only a mile or so from our destination, so instead we had a bit more of a wander around.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It deserved more time but I was feeling a bit weary and that snooze I promised myself still seemed a very attractive possibility.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

So we followed Keiths notes out of the village, passing the Catel de Vasshinac…..

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

… and a house with quite a ridiculous tower.

Collonges-la-rouge, Dordogne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We didn’t get our route right from Collonges to Meyssac, taking instead a more circuitous road via the camping and caravan site. This was of particular interest to Bob as he was about to be the proud owner of a swish conversion of a VW van to a mobile home and was keen to suss out possible sites. I think it got the thumbs up.

We found the Le Relais Du Quercy easily enough. I think we took it well when the slightly odd but perfectly friendly reception person told us that regrettably that the  “wee-fee” was not working. No matter, the room was very nice. And I got my snooze (serenaded by sheep and donkeys from below my window)

dordogne-day-1-72

 

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Thorpe December 5, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Lovely – the pictures, the idea, the light, the French (or most of them in my experience). Must try a holiday like this sometime.

Reply

Charles December 5, 2016 at 11:29 pm

Hi Ian. There are so many walks to choose from in France. Bob and I are thinking of their Ardeche one next year.

Reply

Kev the Yank December 5, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Where are the pictures of the sheep? You mentioned sheep, but I see no pictures of sheep…. I only read this blog for the sheep pictures you know!!!

🙂

Reply

Charles December 5, 2016 at 11:32 pm

There will be a goat coming up. It’s just not a sheepy place.

Reply

John December 6, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Well I can see a lamb very clearly in one photograph. But for those that can’t, I offer today’s snippet of useful sheep-related information – a “sheppey” is the distance you need to be away from a flock of sheep in order for them to resemble cute balls of fluff – about seven-eighths of a mile.

Reply

Charles December 6, 2016 at 11:14 pm

I think at nearly a mile, most of us would just see white blobs. But I suspect you are weaving your creativity into something I said.

Reply

Paul Steer December 5, 2016 at 10:30 pm

That’s a lot of pics for a no camera walking holiday – glad you took them though .

Reply

Charles December 5, 2016 at 11:31 pm

Who said this was a no camera walk? I’m regretting leaving it behind for our last walk. But I can’t keep up.

Reply

Paul Steer December 6, 2016 at 8:37 am

My misunderstanding …. Thought you mentioned the fact that it was a holiday rather than a potential blog.

I agree with Bob and yourself about SNCF they have always been ahead of us …. Why is it that in Britain we always put up with second rate railways ? And since denationalization have we seen the benefits ????

Reply

Charles December 6, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I guess to some extent we get what we pay for. I’d like to see what per capita spending is on SNCF compared to our system. Nationalised industries are not renowned for their effectiveness or efficiency.

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Bob December 6, 2016 at 8:08 am

Walking in France is a constant source of joy for me. Your blogs captures it eloquently.
Missing the fresh walnuts and kicking your ass at Crib.

Ps SNCF is brilliant nationalised railway system. Can we have one in the UK please?

Reply

Charles December 6, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Thanks, buddy. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the walnuts. But I can’t recall any significant crib defeat. I seem to be having very good experience on our train system. But, no, sorry, we can’t afford to re-nationalise and British Rail was, in my dim and distant memory, pretty crap.

Reply

David Marsden December 7, 2016 at 7:05 am

Very serene, Charles, very peaceful. But nine miles? That’s a morning’s stroll isn’t it? I find that my package-bought cycling holidays are the same – that the days are just too short too. Perhaps they’re aimed at the older lady and gentleman. Still, plenty of time for coffee, cake and ice-cream, which is important. Incidentally, the French call the medlar, dog’s arse! Charming. Some beautiful photos there, young man. D

Reply

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