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A short train trip (2 hours) to lovely Amboise in the Loire Valley situated us in the middle of Château territory. Château D’Amboise (residence of Francois 1st) a lovely small castle with beautiful tapestries, sits right in town on the banks of the Loire River. Leonardo Da Vinci lived his final years in Amboise at Château du Clos Luce. He was commissioned by the King of France to be the country’s chief engineer and he became a friend and mentor of François. Clos Luce holds many of Da Vinci’s sketches and in the basement are scale and life-size models of his inventions providing a fascinating look at the man and the history of machines. Da Vinci’s grave is in a small chapel on the grounds of Château D’Amboise. Exploration of Châteaus Chambord, Chenonceau and Cheverny took another full day. We could almost see the French Royalty on horseback, hunting foxes through the countryside.
It was then on, by car, to the Dordogne Valley in south eastern France. Situated about one hour east of Bordeaux, this region is filled with very ancient history, beautiful scenery, wine and pate to die for! We settled in at the Hotel du Château in Beynac, which sat right underneath the old Chateau and across the river from Château Castlenaud. A gourmet meal made exclusively of local products and wine awaited us each evening when we returned to our comfortable hotel.
A circle route bordered by the Dordogne and Vezere rivers from Beynac to La Roque Gageac (the Rock), Domme, Sarlat, Les Eyzies and Saint Cyprien was possibly the most scenic and interesting I have seen on all my travels. The entire region is filled with towns and beautiful pastoral valleys that makes choosing an itinerary very difficult. Castles and Châteaux dot the river valley for many miles. In ancient days the families living in these fortresses warred against each other across the river for control of this fertile land. Some still are private homes, but most are museums or hotels.
Domme, one of many hill-towns, has a renowned morning market where all the regional specailties are available from local farmers. Foie Gras is the specialty of the Perigord region and we saw why as several times we had to wait for geese to cross the road. The Rock, aptly named as the village hangs on the side of the mountain and out over the river. Les Eyzies de Tayac, a world heritage sight, is the home of troglodytes (cave dwellings) and grottos that house wall paintings done in the Cro-Magnon era. A modern museum in the town follows the history of the Cro-Magnon man’s existence in this area of France. A guided tour of the grotto gave us an in-depth look at these amazing ancient paintings. Unfortunately the caves may soon be closed to the public permanently as the artificial light and carbon dioxide from people’s breath is gradually wearing away the drawings.
After 2 days in this beautiful valley we sadly said goodbye and followed the road of the Bastides through Rocamadour, Bruniqui, Cahors and ending up further south in Albi, home of Toulouse Lautrec. Our journey took us to the medieval fortress of Carcassonne and then through the historic area of Provence around Arles (where Van Gogh painted “La Nuit Etoilee” and “Café du Nuit”). Eventually, we put my niece back on a train back to University in Nantes and flew home from Antibes on the French Riviera.
Crowds of Spring Break were not an issue at all, as after Paris we seemed to take a route not favoured by families. The historic Dordogne valley was our favorite area; the beauty of the countryside took our breath away and it was the France that we had always dreamt about.
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