Sarlat, St Leon sur Vezere and prehistoric man

Started the day with a trip up an unusual elevator to the top of the old church tower in Sarlat. It is a glass elevator that goes up the middle of the tower and then out the top to give a great panoramic view of the town.

Looking up the elevator shaft

Next, on the recommendation of Patrice from the Medievale Biere brewery, we went to see St Leon sur Vezere. This is a sleepy little town compared to touristy Sarlat. Another Kodak town – you can’t stop taking pictures…

Perfect area for a picnic on the Vezere River.

Then we decided to walk across the bridge and discovered signs to a park so we walked there – and it was a big park with a dinosaur display, ropes courses, and a prehistoric troglodyte site that was later also inhabited through the Middle Ages.

View of St Leon from the bridge
Beautiful path and the shade was appreciated, it was a warm day

Bill meets a dinosaur by the entrance – our first clue about this park!
Bill just had to photograph the rustic restrooms – especially the men’s side..
And I admit to taking this picture…

And more dinosaurs with no comment… 

The park actuallly attempts to portray a chronological progress though time from dinosaurs to modern man. It was a pleasant walk and the rest is not simulated – its a real cave dwelling dating back to troglodytes (cave men). They didn’t actually live in real caves as they used fire and would have filled a cave with smoke, but they lived on the eroded away areas of limestone cliffs called abris.  This site was used by prehistoric men and also used through the Middle Ages and even beyond as a hiding spot or lookout along the river.  Artifacts are found from the various inhabitants.

One awesome aspect was we were here entirely alone – not one other person was there! 

This looks sort of prehistoric but one interesting thing we learned was there were no trees here when Cro Magnon and Neanderthal people lived here.
Some new stairs
And some old ones
Very old ones…

There are several guesses on what this was but we don’t really know…

And time for dinner at a very cute restaurant but probably our least favorite for food and service. 

But the beer was good
And the cassoulet was also – a typical dish of the area. 

Cooking class in a chateau

We found an “experience” on Airbnb that sounded fun – a cooking class by a  woman who was formerly a chef in Paris and now moved to the country where she and her husband run a bed and breakfast, wedding venue and cooking class, plus meals on reservation. 

First the drive which was about 1 ½ hours to near Monflanquin to Chateau Ladausse. 

Castle at Beynac-et-Cazenac 

St Vincent de Cosse
Typical narrow road and bridge
Railroad bridge at Belvès 

And on to the cooking – it was a hands on class with Diane showing us the techniques. It was just three of us – Bill and I and Rene from Montreal, Canada.

Pricking the dough
Learning technique
Ready to bake – those are assorted local plums on top
Rene is a butcher so he had some improvements to make to the lamb

The meal – it was wonderful!
Diane’s husband Eric joined us
Entering the kitchen of the chateau

Then a slow drive home with an ending in the hot tub!

Sarlat Market

The market is Sarlat-la-Caneda has been famous since the Middle Ages. It takes place twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday and pretty much covers the whole of the old city- mainly on the Main Street, Rue de la Republique but also on several plazas and here and there down smaller streets. There is a lot of food and almost any other goods – clothes, accessories, household items, leather goods, toys, a few souvenirs. Many of the shoppers are locals getting food or other items. Biggest market I’ve seen. And all the restaurants offer petit-dejeuner, breakfast, although they are normally closed in the morning. Biggest market I’ve seen!

Produce is amazing here
Need a few onions or garlic?
Or some olives?

The big doors even opened in the former church and there was food sales inside – these doors are only partially shown here – their size was shown in an earlier post.

Man showing off his vegetable slicers – looked like they worked great!

Visited the cathedral with its organ from the 1700’s which was being played. 

Walking around town this struck me as interesting – such an old building with its big LG air conditioners…

And ok, couldn’t resist one more cute building picture.

Waiting in the sun for our chosen restaurant to open.  Le Bistro de l’Octroi is recommended by many locals and it did not disappoint. This building was originally the place where taxes were paid by people importing goods into the city. 

Sunny and 80 degrees – a beautiful day
Ended the day in our sauna and then hot tub – both in our Airbnb apartment!

And back to prehistoric times

The area of the Dordogne and Vezere valleys was home to many prehistoric peoples. The most dramatic evidence is caves with paintings and overhangs called abris where they often lived. 

So the morning began with a trip to Montignac and Lascaux cave paintings. 

Montignac is another cute town with a flourishing tourist trade due to these caves and prehistoric sites. 

Found palms trees in several areas – because it IS Southern France…

First we went to Lascaux caves to buy tickets and reserve an English tour and it was very foggy.

Museum Le Thot

Back to Lascaux. In 1940, 4 boys discovered a cave with prehistoric paintings, it was wartime and it was awhile before any work was done on this. For some years visitors were allowed to walk through but this caused considerable determination of the cave – changing humidity and temperature caused mold and other things to grow. So the cave was closed but digital scanning has been done to recreate the cave exactly in the museum area.  This recently opened 4th version of the cave is more extensive and a wonderful look at the work done by very early man in this area.  No photos are allowed in the cave but there is a museum with further recreation of the drawings and interactive exhibits that you can photograph so here’s a bit of how it looked.

Next beautiful drive to the Vezere River and dwelling place of the “people of the cliffs”. You cannot drive more than a few kilometers without running into signs for “prehistoric site”. We went to one and on recommendation of our friendly local brewer will visit a couple of others areas later in the week here.  Some views of the drive.

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac
Overhands form “abris” which was areas that wore away and were used by prehistoric man as dwelling areas. T
hey did not live in caves.

Grotte du Grand Roc is a beautiful cave of stalactites, stalagmites and some more rare crystal formations. 

Grotte du Grand Roc

Next to it is a prehistoric dwelling area that has been partially excavated and one area recreated to how it was believed to look. This is called Laugerie Basse.

Recreation of prehistoric dwelling
Excavated area showing layers of various ages – some Neanderthal, Cro Magnon, and later times

Above – the rocks near the bottom fell from the overhang, covering some of the early dwelling areas that have now been excavated (earlier picture)

Vezere River

Later, back in Sarlat, we visited Patrice again at the Biere Artisanale – had a great conversation about France, Sarlat and travel. 

Patricia and Patrice

It’s almost impossible to stop taking pictures of this picturesque town!

Popular sculpture of the geese on the site of the old goose market – the area is famous for duck and goose liver – fois gras is big here. 

Restaurant recommended to us by Patrice at the brewery. 

We met Chef Christian Borini who recently opened this restaurant. The food was beautiful and delicious!

Amuse Bouche

Gazpacho, with beef heart, antarctic prawn, and lemon sorbet – awesome! 
Magret (sliced) de canard (duck of course) with an orange/ginger sauce and seasonal vegetables

Walking on ancient streets

We slept almost too well – didn’t get up until 10:30, unheard of for us. But it felt great, really have not had any jet lag effects – we work at this for a couple of weeks before leaving – changing meal times to be closer to our destination and waking up (even if temporarily) at or nearer the time we would be at the destination. 

So breakfast was really more like brunch and many restaurants don’t open for breakfast so the one we found was not open for food but just coffee – we saw that at several. But one of the three employees at the one we ate at finally agreed they would serve us. They had omelets so we pretended it was still breakfast… 

Ham and cheese omelet with fries and salad. Really good omelet – I usually find them too dry – this was more cooked on the outside but cream and soft inside.

Then we decided to walk around Sarlat. 

Sarlat-la-Canéda most probably developed around a Benedictine community which settled in this remote place in the early 9th century, safe from marauding Vikings. It has been a walled city for centuries – it is known that the wall was reinforced in 1340 but not when it was originally built. The old city has an amazing collection of medieval and Renaissance buildings built of golden limestone in very good repair. Narrow streets go every which way and it would be easy to get lost except the main street, Rue de la Republique, bisects it into two and is the only street cars are allowed on (I think not even that street has cars in summer when there are many tourists).

The old wall still exists in several areas. 

As well as some towers and passages (entrances) to the city

Cute little restaurants are everywhere.

This town is seriously so perfect – the only one that compares is Rothenburg on der Tauber in Germany. You could take pictures all day – I did take a few but will only post some. 

Bill found something interesting

Biggest door I’ve seen – not sure what this is exactly – according to the historical plaque this was first a 14th century church, Sainte Marie, later taken over in the Revolution and used as a Hotel des Postes and then abandoned. Now used for expositions.

World War II memorial to those who died in the town, in the resistance and in concentration camps.

Unusual sight – this appears to be a grave next to a house – or just marking WHERE someone died?

The local little grocery store had a lot of cookies from Europe and just one familiar to all Americans...

So on to a beer before dinner at a local very tiny brewery run by Patrice. 

The brewery

Then off to dinner at Le Quatre Saisons 

Magret du Canard
An unusual but delicious tiramisu.
And lastly, a candlelit hot tub….

Driving to medieval times

So after locating our rental car, we took off with only a few oops, turn around here incidents.  Once we were out of Bordeaux it was pretty easy going. 

Contrast of the old and the new and new-ish in Bordeaux
More hills and very green. There has been a lot of rain in southern France
Love seeing some familiar names along the way – like Limoges on this sign, went by Bergerac (ala Cyrano de Bergerac, although he was not from here)
Cute towns along the way once we were off the bigger highway 
Sarlat-la-Canéda- in the center, the walled medieval city

Parking lots are outside the old city so we had to walk to our apartment down Rue de la Boetie, our little street

Our door and inside 1001 Nuit apartment (1001 nights)

Stairs to the bedroom 

Hot tub instead of a living room – perfect for us!
Kitchen beyond the hot tub and to its right, the sauna. Upstairs, the bedroom
Le Bistrot restaurant

Next in search of dinner we found the area with restaurants was pretty busy at 8PM – and this place was full – later read that it was recommended by Rick Steves so no wonder…. but it was good, great service and we were happy to get dinner after our long trip.

I had a “Kiwini” – Vodka, lemon juice, orange juice and kiwi syrup- very refreshing and not too strong
Light meals – duo of melon on bottom was marinated with citrus and basilic wine with sliced duck breast (LOTS of duck in this area) and Bill had “Salad Goat” which meant goat cheese which was on the bread on a salad with walnuts
But this being France and Bill – we did have dessert – “Rum Baba” – cake soaked in orange rum with what they translated as “arranged Vanilla” (whipped cream probably with vanilla flavoring) – VERY GOOD!
And you guessed it, relaxing in the hot tub before going to bed and sleeping about 11 hours!!