In Gramat: to Rocamadour - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

October 7, 2022

In Gramat: to Rocamadour

I had a pretty miserable night last night, wrestling around in my narrow bed with its miserably thin mattress.  It’s bad enough that it was hard to get to sleep and my back aches this morning.  The idea of two more nights of this is haunting.  

This morning an unprintable oath filters out from the bathroom of our apartment.  Rachael somehow managed to soak some of her clothing that she had put on the floor - for the second time.  This happened last night too, which she misattributed to water leaking from the shower she’d just taken.  This morning though she hadn’t taken a shower, so we looked again.  It’s the toilet - it leaks around the base when it flushes.  It must need to be reseated with a new seal.

That’s it, the final straw.  We aren’t particularly picky, and must stay in over a hundred different accommodations every year with widely varying quality.  I can’t remember the last time we bailed on one for quality issues - maybe four years ago in that awful place in Caltanissetta?  I’ll have to check.  This is the one though - we need to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do. Between the bed, the toilet, the terrible lighting (Ralph really does need to get an electrician out here), the unruly dog, the absurd bath towels that seem more like very thin velour baby blankets than towels and won’t absorb water, we’re throwing into the towel.

It’s too late to cancel and too late to really do anything today, but we decide we’ll leave a day early and just eat the cost.  We look around at what else is available.  We find a couple of hotels that we consider, and in the meantime Susan calls to find out when we’re leaving for our ride to Rocamadour.  While they’re talking Rachael mentions what we’re doing and Susan reminds her that her B&B has a vacant room next door to her.  We decide that we’ll hold off deciding where to book until we meet her for the ride and look at her place.

We leave a message for Ralph that something has come up and we’ll be leaving a day earlier, and slip out the door quickly and quietly.  We don’t really want to encounter him or Bonzai and be held up for another fifteen minutes or more in what’s likely to be an awkward conversation.

Socks up! It’s time to leave for our ride to Rocamadour.
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The room at Susan’s place is available, seems fine, costs only about half of the hotel rooms we’d been considering, and the host Mark is extremely agreeable.  We quickly decide we’ll stay here two nights and move our belongings over here as soon as we return from the ride.  Fifteen minutes later we’re out the door and biking through Gramat, on our way to Rocamadour.

The market hall in Gramat. Susan’s B&B (and now ours) is just on the other side of the square.
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For the next seven or eight miles we bike across the causse, passing stone walls and fields of cows we saw yesterday - literally the same ones at first, because for the first several miles we’re backtracking yesterday’s ride from Sarlat, following the course of the TdF time trial.  This time is different though because we have Susan with us - meaning among other things that we frequently stop to commune with the cows.  Today she educates us on the social behavior of the various breeds - Limousins are the most curious and social, but haughty Holsteins will hardly give you a second look.

On the Causse.
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Oh, here are some Limousins now!
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Know your cows! According to Susan, this is a Limousin. If that’s wrong, blame her.
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Keith AdamsI figured a Limousin would be longer, with tinted windows. Shows what I know: I'm a child of the suburbs and ignorant in the nuances of livestock.
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1 month ago
A window onto a wall.
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Nearing the start of the descent to the Alzou. Our first look at Rocamadour is just around the bend.
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Today is the second time Rachael and I have been to Rocamadour.  The first was in 2000, on our ride from Clermont-Ferrand to Biarritz.  We visited it then on a day ride also, from Carennac.  We came away with a very sketchy journal entry, some poor photos that don’t begin to do the place justice, and a vague memory of it as an impressive place we’d like to see again if we’re in the area.  So here we are - it’s only ten miles away, and we’re going.

Susan has never been to Rocamadour and wasn’t even sure if she was planning to this time.  Even though it’s one of the most visited attractions in France and receives over a million visitors a year, she wasn’t sure about it after reading lukewarm reviews from Rick Steve’s site of a place so awash in tourists that you can’t appreciate it.  She doesn’t take much arm twisting though, and we quickly agree on the route I’ve proposed for today’s ride.

As it turns out, there are good reasons that Rocamadour is so heavily visited.  As we’re sharply descending toward the Alzou River with Rocamadour clinging to the impossibly steep cliff on the opposite wall of the canyon, stopping every fifty or hundred yards as we round the bend and a bit more of it comes into view, I realize I’ve been using adjectives like stunning, incredible and jaw-dropping too liberally.  Rocamadour really is jaw-dropping.

As one of the great sites in France and a UNESCO world heritage site, there is a wealth of information about how Rocamadour came into existence when the intact remains of Saint Amadour miraculously were found here a thousand years after his death.  Hard to believe, and of course churches chapels and shrines were called for to host his relics and accommodate the millions of pilgrims that would make their way here over the centuries to come.  So it’s famous and important for religious and historic reasons.

For us though it’s primarily its jaw-dropping appearance that captivates us.  And we’re in luck because we could hardly have better conditions for appreciating it to its fullest.  First, there’s today’s perfect weather conditions.  Next, there’s the season, with the monuments and limestone cliffs high-lit by the reds and golds of early autumn.

Best of all though is the route we chose.  We have a long drop down the opposite side of the steep walled canyon, with a bit more of Rocamadour slowly coming into view as we round the bend.  Every fifty yards or so I’m compelled to stop and look again, each time telling myself that this must be the best view of the place - until the next view is even better.

Amazingly enough, this road is almost empty.  I’m pretty sure we saw more bicycles than automobiles on the descent.  And once we bottom out and start climbing up the other side we lose the traffic entirely.  Where are all the masses of tourists?  We find our explanation soon enough after laboring up the steep road that peaks out at 17% and then comes to the lowest of the stacked tiers of churches and chapels - and to a long flight of stairs.  There are no cars coming this way because you can’t drive through.  You can’t even bike through.

Our first view of Rocamadour. We can just see the edge of it, plastered to the side of the canyon wall.
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Rocamadour.
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Scott AndersonTo Keith AdamsHuh. That’s what we all said.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThat’s more creative than Wow. None of us thought to say gadzooks, appropriate though it was.
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1 month ago
Dropping to the Alzou.
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Across the Alzou, just before climbing up the opposite wall. Just ahead the road makes a sharp hairpin and starts climbing at 17%.
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Looking up at Rocamadour from below.
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The lower gate to town. Maybe the Rick Steves crowd would be more taken with the place if they entered through the back door like we did.
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Rich FrasierShhh! Don't tell them!
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1 month ago
The nice thing about the way we arrived is that it clarifies decision-making. The only reasonable choice is to hoist the bikes and start climbing.
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Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonNot recommended with panniers or a heavy eBike.
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1 month ago
Suzanne GibsonEven without panniers and with a lighter bike - I admire you
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1 month ago
The people, tour buses and the like are all up top, and we start encountering them as soon as we pop up from the stairs.  We’re here on a good day though and it really isn’t too crowded to appreciate the place.  We spend the next half hour or so poking our noses around various corners and into chapels, awed by everything we can see.  It’s awesome, incredible, jaw-dropping.  You should come.

Video sound track: 

When we feel like it’s time to move on we find a bench in the sun on the rim of the canyon to enjoy our lunch, and then move on.  The ride back to Gramat is similar to the ride in, and includes another steep descent and climb as we cross the Rignac.  Even without Rocamadour as the draw it would have been a wonderful outing.

Looking down at the river as we leave Rocamadour from the top.
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Along the way.
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Keith AdamsThose roof tiles almost seem to be rippling in the breeze.
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1 month ago
Dropping to the Rignac.
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Passing through Rignac, I think.
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In Rignac?
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This surprised me. I don’t remember seeing lavender cultivated this far north before.
Heart 5 Comment 2
Jen GrumbyThat log looks a bit like a big lizard from a distance.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYes, or a puppy. Quite an endearing look.
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1 month ago

So I’m out of time, and it’s time to move on.  We made it back to Gramat.  We quickly moved our belongings, avoiding being bowled over by Bonzai or letting him escape as he came bounding down the driveway when we entered the gate.  We gathered our belongings, cleaned up, left a second note to Ralph (who still hadn’t responded to our first one) to say that in fact we’re actually leaving now.  We checked in to our now room, loafed around until dinner, and then walked with Susan under a clear sky max nearly full moon to a restaurant just outside of town for a delicious dinner and excellent visit.  Perhaps Susan will say more.

Moving on from the Bergeracs.
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Ride stats today: 28 Miles, 2,200’; for the tour: 678 miles, 46,300’

Today's ride: 28 miles (45 km)
Total: 679 miles (1,093 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 12
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Jen GrumbyLove that video .. what a spectacular ride and incredible place!
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1 month ago
Suzanne GibsonWish I were there!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonWe do too, Suzanne. We all miss you!
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1 month ago