Smelling the Roses: Dordogne

10 Jun

What a foreign expression this was for me,’Taking the time to smell the roses’. I’m notoriously task-oriented and even travelling I move quickly from one activity to another, eager for the next sight and experience.The only roses I stop to smell are usually in a bouquet. And as you’d know, store bought roses rarely have a perfume.

Surprisingly one of the positive effects of veering from our planned itinerary to achieve Stuart’s complete recovery has been the freedom to stay longer periods in rural locations. This past week we’ve inhabited a ‘sechoir’, a wood and stone Dordogne barn used to dry locally grown tobacco. Of course it has been carefully converted into a ‘gite’, comfortable self-catering family accommodation, but it’s a barn nonetheless. It sits one kilometre from the road in ten acres of red poppy strewn meadows and woods. The only sounds we hear are birdsong and the neighbouring farmer’s dogs barking occasionally.

Without wifi or mobile phone reception in the barn we’ve made good use of the closest hotel cafe, six kilometres away. Hotel du Pont is by the bridge spanning the Dordogne River at Grolejac. It’s run by the fourth generation son, a middle-aged man, who laments that his own son has no interest in continuing the family tradition, a tradition that includes growing beautiful, scented roses that adorn the cafe tables. The hotelier also holds one of only two commercial licences to net fish in the river. Post cards on sale at the bar show a photo of a man casting a fine mesh net from a small wood dinghy. Lit by sunshine he appears to be throwing a white veil over the river.

We’ve hit the peak of rose season. Climbing roses are ubiquitous and ridiculously lush, covering pale yellow stone houses with bright splashes of fragrant pink and red flowers. Rose bushes run to yellows, whites and shades of apricot. On our walks we never pass without smelling a few blossoms and most times are rewarded with varied and penetrating scents. It becomes a competition to see who can find the most delicious fragrance.

This region, the Perigord Noir in Dordogne, is still predominantly agricultural. In just a week we’ve observed farm workers transform relatively small fields from freshly turned loam into serried rows of bright green seedlings of maize or tobacco. The wheat is already hip high. I confuse our closest farmer by gaily waving at him each day as I drive past on the way to morning coffee. He has gone from a quizzical expression to a tentative raised arm.

The Perigord is most famous for producing ‘foie gras’, black truffles and Domme wines. Force feeding geese to produce swollen livers sickens me and I have yet to acquire the taste for truffles so they are both wasted on us. And where once we would have made a real dent in the local wine production we’ve kept to our greatly reduced alcohol consumption goal and passed up the wine tasting on offer. On the other hand the walnuts are wonderful!

The weather has been changeable but we pick our days. We walked two of the yellow routes following the ‘Randonee’ maps, one up to Castelnaud, an early 1200s castle held by the English for a time in the 100 Year War. We canoed 30k down the river from Grolejac to Beynac passing more magnificent chateaus, a Trogolodyte fort, and stone arched bridges and we cycled the green route on the repurposed railway track from Sarlat to Chateau Carlux and back, all done at a leisurely pace with long picnic stops and forays to pick wildflowers. Boules on our driveway is a challenge, no two throws land the same cancelling out Stuart’s usual dominance of the game.

Tonight we’ll have a last dinner at Hotel du Pont and a final chance to smell Monsieur’s roses before driving back to Bordeaux tomorrow. I’m hoping our neighbour is on his tractor as I go by so I can bid him adieu!

Photo Notes: We were impressed with the free book exchange program we see in many towns. These are small clear plastic boxes where people leave and borrow books. The A on the map marks Veyrignac, the closest village to our accommodation. The first few photos are of our barn. And Ladies, check out the armour sequence. Even in the middle ages men exaggerated their attributes.

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