THINGS TO DO
There are many remarkable gardens in the area which you can visit. Only a few minutes drive away from Esparoutis are the spectacular gardens of the Chateau de Marqueyssac on the clifftops above Vezac. Surrounded by meticulously hand-pruned boxwoods in the most ingenious shapes, the park offers more than 6 kilometres of shaded pathways from where you have sweeping views over the Dordogne river, La Roque Gageac and Beynac. For a list of special gardens in the Perigord, including links to photos, you need go no further than Wikipedia Gardens of France – Dordogne.
At least, we think it’s relaxed, as far as we know you don’t have to do any work, but it’s certainly not cheap …
Vide Greniers, Brocante, Antiques
Nearly every village has an annual Vide Grenier (literally ’empty-the-attic’, equivalent terms, although generally less fun, are garage sale, car boot sale, flea market) which is more an annual village event than a serious commercial enterprise. they are generally held on Sunday’s during spring and summer. Sometimes there are rides for the children, always there are refreshments and a mixture of tourists, people looking to furnish houses, neighbours buying one-another’s stuff and professional vendors doing the rounds. There are bargains to be had, not least because many interesting items are so common, reflecting the richness of France’s rural past, that they would otherwise find their way into landfill. Much of the furnishings and crockery in our property was sourced from our weekly strolls through the vides greniers in spring – a truly pleasurable experience! Throughout the summer there are also brocante and antique fairs (and there are many depots-de-vente, brocante and antique shops as well), where professional vendors of bric-a-brac (often surprisingly good, often far from cheap) and antiques offer their wares. For both vide-greniers and brocante/ antique fairs, keep an eye out for brightly coloured printed fliers in shops, windows, roadside notices and so forth, or consult the local paper or Sud-Ouest.
Over 10% of France’s chateaux are in the Dordogne, one of the 92 Departements in France. The high concentration has much to do with the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between the French and the English. The Dordogne valley had a border status in this conflict, and some of the most commanding chateaux date back to this period. Combined with the cliffs and good stone, here the chateaux were not just grand homes, they were made to last in the face of adversity! The greatest of the chateaux—Castelnaud, Beynac, Milandes—are on our doorstep. The Chateau de Castelnaud has a great museum on medieval warfare which is worth visiting. The Chateau de Beynac is perhaps the most atmospheric and grand, built on top of a limestone cliff towering over the lovely riverside village of Beynac. As for the Château des Milandes, it is famed for its former owner and occupant, the legendary African American music hall singer and dancer Josephine Baker, who conquered the stages of Paris in the 1920s and made France her new home. It was at Milandes where Baker once lived with her twelve adopted children. A permanent exhibition of her life can be visited in this magnificent chateau.
Villages and Bastide Towns
On the plateaux south towards the Lot River, you can explore the extraordinary medieval bastide towns of South West France. Founded in the 13th century, these towns were usually built to a strict grid layout, centred around a main square with a market hall and sheltered arcades around the edges. Although not primarily fortified towns, the bastides often acquired fortifications later, especially during the Hundred Years War that raged in the region between the English and the French. Particularly fine examples of such towns are Monpazier (pictured above) and Villefranche-du-Perigord.
First and foremost, the National Museum of Prehistory at Les Eyzies has to be experienced. In an ultra-modern building, it is rather overwhelming. Try the short videos on the right of the first gallery to get an understanding of what it’s all about, then browse the glass cases and the ‘artefact wall’.
Don’t miss the caves. They are what brought one of us to the area in 1962! That was Lascaux, the last year that the original cave was open to the public. The reproduction ‘Lascaux II’—it is still worth visiting, but also try for Font de Gaume in Les Eyzies (book early, even out-of-season).
If wish to make a quick trip to the bakery or supermarket in Saint Cybranet or Castelnaud, we recommend that you use the bicycle available for guests at Les Paroules—just a short, 5-minute ride on the flat through wonderful countryside. A friend of ours who visited last year said that cycling to Castelnaud to get croissants for breakfast was the best thing he had done for a long time (and it’s not that he doesn’t have an interesting life)! Esparoutis is on the newly launched Piste Cyclable du Ceou, a bike track going from Castelnaud all the way to the Lot. The ride from Esparoutis to Daglan along the Ceou river is 7km, and ideal for children because it is flat. From Daglan, another 3.5 km takes you to Bouzic on a more hilly track. The area around Esparoutis is also superb for longer, more adventurous cycling trips—check the maps or email us if you wish some recommendations. You can hire bikes (racing, hybrid or mountain) from a small company, The Bike Bus, conveniently located just a few hundred metres away from Esparoutis at Camping Maisonneuve in Castelnaud. Joel and Kate from the Bike Bus can give you many recommendations for tours around the area. They even deliver the bikes to you!
If you prefer calmer waters, one of the nicest things to do in the area is canoeing on the Dordogne river, from where you will have wonderful views of the landscape and the chateaux. Go to any of the villages on the river (Vitrac, Cenac, Castelnaud, Beynac and many more) where you can hire canoes and kayaks. Go down river. Choose where you want to disembark, and the company will you pick you up and drive you back to where you left your car. Further afield, the Vezere river also provides a great opportunity for canoeing and kayaking. The Vezere is a smaller river, mostly running through woods and a few cliffs. Start in Montignac or St Leon.
First, there’s the pool at Leas Paroules for a refreshing dip and sitting in the rays of the setting sun with a drink in hand. Then there’s the Ceóu, a gorgeous stream running through fields and copses a couple of hundred metres from the house—cool spring-fed and clean (except after torrential rain). Then, for serious lengths, there’s the Dordogne with several sandy beaches—watch out for the fishermen!
Hiking & Climbing
A path which starts 100m from our door, takes you up to the base of the many climbs on the Falaise du Conte (10 – 15 minutes walk). The path continues to stunning views over the valley and Castelnaud. There are also a large number of caves and rock shelters along the cliff, some of which have been excavated by archaeologists (including one of the owners of Les Paroules, when he was a student).