Loop ride in Périgord Vert - Stress-free Cycling the French Countryside - CycleBlaze

September 9, 2019

Loop ride in Périgord Vert

Saint-Alfonso’s is renowned for their organic pancakes – made from a secret family recipe that includes a small amount of kefir milk. Bérénice prepares the dough the previous day to allow fermentation, and the result is both delicious and healthy. Dieter’s special contribution to breakfast is coffee – a smooth roasted cappuccino, espresso, or Americana. A breakfast of two pancakes with butter, maple syrup and fruit compote is enough to fortify any cyclist for a day in the saddle. I joined Odile and Alain for breakfast and we continued our engaging conversation from the previous evening – mostly about cycling, mostly in Franglish. After exchanging contact information, I bid them farewell and bon route.

After breakfast, Dieter and I sat down to discuss possible destinations for my bike ride today. The area has numerous marked circuits of varying distance and difficulty, and I considered doing one of those. Another option was riding up to La Rochefoucauld to visit the Château de la Rouchefoucauld which, according to the Angouleme tourism is the “crown jewel" of the region that “deserves to be ranked among the most spectacular in France.” As I was more interested in cycling than castles, I took advantage of local knowledge and asked Dieter for suggestions. He directed me east, into the Périgord Vert region of northern Dordogne. Although his favorite village, Brantome, was a bit too far for an out and back, we did come up with a circuit that would give me a flavor of the area and pass through some classic French villages, the “ancienne France” as he likes to say.

 Périgord is an historic appellation for a region of France that covers most of what is today the department of Dordogne. The area around Nontron was first referred to as Périgord Vert by Jules Verne, due to the forests and meadows that are characteristic of this region. Later, the name was adopted by the department of Dordogne and used to designate one of the four tourist regions in Dordogne: Périgord Vert; Périgord Blanc; Périgord Noir; and Périgord Pourpre. Of the four, Périgord Vert is the region least visited by tourists, which to me is part of it's charm.

I left Feuillade a little after 10, following the Bandiat River. As I climbed away from the river views of the surrounding countryside opened up, revealing farmland and forests. Stopping for pictures in the small hamlet of , I chatted up a man and his wife as he was enthusiastically chopping wood to add to their already impressive supply. The route then took me down a small stretch of dirt road before returning to tarmac, where I came across the largest dairy operation I’d seen in France. Interestingly, the cows were all Holstein, a breed prevalent in the US but not one I associate with France. The first vehicle of the day to pass me was a large farm tractor. Similar to my experience in Iowa, I found it best to defer to these behemoths, so I stopped and moved to the side of the road with a smile and a wave.

A send-off to Odile and Alain
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Almost every village I passed through has a large display of the cycling and hiking routes in the area
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I stopped to admire this woodshed in La Grauge
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Exchanging pleasantries with the woodchopper and his lovely wife.
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My route took me right onto the dirt road and through the agricultural fields
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Most of the crops have been harvested at the lower elevations near the Charente-Dordogne border.
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A small patch of sunflowers seems to be the only remaining crop
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The first vehicle to pass me this morning was on their way to the large dairy
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At the cross-road village of La Chapelle Saint-Robert, I stopped at the Eglise Saint-Robert, a small 12th century church with a simple spirit.  I bumped into Ben and Sarah, a delightful couple from London who were out biking along one of the designated circuits. They were also staying at Saint Alfonso’s and we had met earlier today over pancakes. I left Ben and Sarah lounging on their picnic table, and headed toward Varagaines where I hoped to buy some lunch supplies at the local epicerie. After a sweeping downhill, there was a short but steep climb up to the village center where I was greeted by a giant turkey in front of the post office. The town looked pretty closed up, and the epicerie had closed for the day. I made do with bread and cheese left over from yesterday and then was on my way.

Eglise Saint Robert
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Interior of Eglise Saint Robert
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Interior of Eglise Saint Robert
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Sarah and Ben
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Varagaines post office. I don't think the turkey is a letter box...
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Varagaines is closed for today
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Having crossed from Charente into Dordogne, the hills were higher and there was more forest than open space. It was in the forest that I saw a very large, brown, and hairy animal cross the road in front of me – something I surmised was a bear. Although I remembered that there are no bears in France, I was fairly certain that this was a potentially dangerous animal so I kept my head down and pedaled as fast as I could up the hill – determined not to get off and walk as it would no doubt put my life in danger.  Later, Dieter told me that it was probably a wild boar, which really didn’t comfort me all that much.

The cycling was a real delight, curving uphill and down on near traffic-free roads. The region is as described by Jules Verne, a mix of forest and open fields, with vistas of each appearing at the top of each rise. Villages were perched high, or snuggled low along the rivers. The sounds of sawmills and tractors peppered the air and reflected the local industries. My legs were feeling the climbs and I took a mid-afternoon break in Teyjat, finishing off my remaining bits of baguette. The last ten miles back to Feuillade were mostly flat, and retraced some but not all of my route out. I finished the ride tired but happy with the distance and elevation achieved, feeling that everything was moving in the right direction.

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One of the last of the unharvested wheat fields in the area
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Vivien George found a nice spot near a lake with an interesting wall
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Vincent was more interested in the berry bushes
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Saint-Estéphe - another lovely but closed up village on a Monday in Périgord Vert
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Fall is in the air, and the trees
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Afternoon rest stop at Place des Anciens Combattants in Teyjat
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Harvesting dust and the roar of tractors permeates the fall air
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Heading back to Feuillade
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Back at Saint Alfonso’s, Dieter offered me a cappuccino, a piece of cake, and an invitation to join everyone for a campfire at the off-grid cabin he had built a short walk away. Ben and Sarah brought sausages, Berenice her homemade baba ganoush, and we all enjoyed the comfort of fire and friendship.

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Today's ride: 31 miles (50 km)
Total: 56 miles (90 km)

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Betsy WestI can imagine Bruno, Chief of Police, following a case here. Bon!!
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