In Sarlat: the Domme loop - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

October 4, 2022

In Sarlat: the Domme loop

The day began just as we hoped it would - with scrambled eggs, coffee and granola in our hotel apartment, followed by a successful trip to the bike store.  I arrived at Veloland just past nine when the store was just opening up, their first customer of the week.  Only the mechanic was on site when I arrived.  He spoke no English, but pantomiming by pointing at the back end of the bike and showing him the dislodged brake pad did the trick.  He went back to the shop and surprised me at first by picking up a broom and sweeping the floor, but it’s just prep for him pulling out and opening up his bike stand.

I hand him the package with a new set of pads, which I’m sure helped the situation.  He may have been unfamiliar with them because he immediately takes them to his laptop and apparently reads up on them to make sure he knows how to install them, and then has at it.  It takes him a half hour and I’m starting to worry that he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he comes out and gives me a thumbs up.

I call Rachael to let her know the good news so she can start prepping for the day’s activity - a loop ride to Domme, the place we canceled our stay at yesterday because of the brake situation.

Hooray! It took longer than I expected and I was starting to get anxious but we’re back in business again.
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I’ve mapped us out a loop that takes us by or within viewing distance of the major sights that line either side of this amazing stretch of the Dordogne: Domme, a bastide high up at the top of a sheer cliff with a jaw-dropping view over the valley; the 12th castle at Beynac; the 12th century castle at Castelnaud built directly across the river from Beynac to oppose it - those two castles have been staring each other down for nearly 900 years now, still harboring hard feelings over their feud during the Hundred Years War; and the striking cliff village of Le Roque-Gageac, its own 12th century fortress improbably clinging halfway up the cliff above the slender village threaded between the cliffs and river.  All four are listed as among the most beautiful villages in France.

Really - is there another concentration like this in France outside of the major cities?  

I won’t say much about the sites themselves, since so much has already been written about them here and elsewhere.  Just a couple of comments specific to our experience.  First, we’re both really happy that the brake situation pushed us into revisiting Domme this way, as a day ride rather than by carrying our baggage to a hotel up there as we had been planning.  It’s a tough climb up to Domme, even without our panniers weighing us down.  In retrospect, planning on sleeping up there was never a great idea.  Much better to see it this way, stopping for lunch at the belvedere to absorb the views.

Second, we enjoyed a delightfully social time in Domme.  While I was off taking photos Rachael struck up a conversation with Javier and Cecilia, two native Columbians who moved to the District of Columbia many years ago.  They both bicycle - Manuel especially, who has taken tours along the Erie Canal and another regional trail I’ve forgotten the identity of.  We enjoyed a spirited conversation for fifteen minutes or more, and then moved on to a visit with another couple from Salt Lake City that led to the man and Rachael discussing the rivaling high schools they attended at roughly the same time.  And finally a third couple showed up, a young couple from New York on their first tour of France.  

And then finally, about Le Roque-Gageac.  This is our third time we’ve seen it - we biked and canoed past it in 1997 without enough time for more than an admiring glance, we stayed overnight there in 2008 after dropping down from Domme just before twilight, and we just biked through it today with only a brief spot because we were running low on time again.  We’ve never really gotten a good look at it though, even when we stayed overnight because we arrived so late in the day then.  This time it really caught Rachael’s imagination though and she wanted more.  When we got back to the apartment she immediately pulled up a map and started plotting a walk for herself.   By a reasonably direct route it’s less than twelve miles from Sarlat to Gageac and back, well within her normal walking range.  So we can look forward to a much better close up look tomorrow.

Crossing the Dordogne at Vitrac. In our first visit to the region back in 1997 we rented a canoe here and rode it downriver to Beynac - one of our favorite early memories of France.
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Looking across the Dordogne from Vitrac.
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After a steady, steep climb from the river we finally level off at the plateau above Domme. We’ve overshot Domme by about 400 feet on the route we’ve chosen today, for no obvious reason.
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After dropping 400’ we enter Domme through its western gate.
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The view of the Dordogne from the Belvedere at Domme is still one of my favorite views in France. We’re looking west and downriver here. If I’ve got my bearings right, far in the distance in the upper right corner is the castle at Le Roque-Gageac.
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A close-up of Le Roque-Gageac’s castle.
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The view north from the Domme Belvedere.
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In Domme, with our new friends Javier and Cecilia.
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Temporarily leaving Domme, through a false exit on its south side. There’s nothing on the far side but fields and cliffs, so we quickly turned back.
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A view back toward Domme.
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Descending to the Dordogne on a rough track that proved to be through private land. It was gated at the downhill end, and we were lucky to find a way past it rather than backtracking and climbing back up again.
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Approaching Castelnaud Chateau.
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Castelnaud Chateau, erected in the 1200’s to face off against Beynac, directly across the river. The two were at war with each other during the Hundred Years War.
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Riding along the white cliffs beneath Castelnaud, with the river just on our right.
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Looking across the river at Beynac.
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So many castles and chateaus here, it’s hard to keep them straight! I thought this must be Castelnaud for awhile because it’s straight across from Beynac, but it’s the relatively minor Feyrac Chateau.
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Entering Le Roque-Gageac. It’s astonishing how many A-list historical sites are here within just ten or fifteen miles of each other.
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Marlartrie Chateau, at the entrance to Le Roque-Gageac. This is the one we zoomed in on from Domme.
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Le Roque-Gageac is an amazing spot. We’ll get a closer look at it tomorrow when Rachael walks back down here from Sarlat.
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Along the Dordogne, on a quiet side road that gives us a break from the traffic for a few miles.
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Looking back at Domme from across the Dordogne .
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Entering Vitrac.
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The Dordogne.
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Montfort Castle, another impressive pile just upriver from Vitrac.
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An excellent Veloroute provides access to Sarlat from the southeast. We’ll get a second look at this when we leave Sarlat on our way to Gramat.
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Video sound track: The Best Is Yet To Come, by Grover Washington, Jr. and Patty LaBelle

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Ride stats today: 37 miles, 3,100’; for the tour: 569 miles, 38,700’

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 570 miles (917 km)

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David MathersGreat news about your brakes 👍 Fabulous collection of photos today…love the shot from the Belvedere at Domme!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo David MathersYup - two days on and the brakes are still good. That’s such a great diet from Domme. France has an unlimited collection of phenomenal settings of course, but I’m especially fond of this one for sentimental reasons.
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1 month ago
Jacquie GaudetSo beautiful when the weather is good! We got skunked on weather so we will just have to go back.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetThat’s really the most important aspect of tour management, I think - be lucky with the weather.
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1 month ago