Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Recent Road Trip: Caves, Castles, and Canoeing
We recently set out on a five-day road trip to check out some renowned areas of France that are actually quite close to home. The first region, the Dordogne or Perigord, is known for its beautiful river, picturesque villages, gastronomy (all things duck and goose, walnuts, truffles, cheese), and prehistoric cave art. Then we headed to the countryside in the Tarn region for a couple of relaxing days at a gastronomic bed and breakfast.
We canoed the Dordogne River, passing the cute villages of La Roque-Gageac, Castelnaud, and Bénac. They are built into the rock cliffs, and each town has a castle dating from the Hundred Years’ War between the French and English. In the picture of me taken at the Castelnaud castle, there are replicas of the catapults that were used during the war. From the river below, the castles look very imposing as they are positioned high up on the rocky cliffs. The two & half hour canoe trip took us five hours! We floated for the first hour, stopped along the shore for a picnic, then stopped in La Roque-Gageac for an ice cream. Not to mention that Gilles did 90% of the paddling.
We visited two caves containing prehistoric art: Lascaux and Font-de-Gaume. The paintings in these caves are at least 15,000 years old. The artists painted mostly animals (horses, buffalo, bulls, reindeer) and symbols. Lascaux is the more famous cave, although the cave shown to visitors today is a replica of the original. After the original cave was discovered in 1940, so many people entered it that their body temperature and things they brought into the cave on their shoes aged the drawings more in twenty years than in the previous 15,000 years. They closed the cave and built a replica that is accurate to within a cm. The second cave we visited is the only cave containing polychromatic drawings open to visitors in the world. The number of daily visitors and group sizes are strictly regulated, so we were very fortunate to be able to get a glimpse of this amazing cave. Little is known of the people that painted these drawings: why did they do it? Why did they only paint animals? How did they create such realistic images in the dark cave, high up on slippery rocks? In all our travels, this is the oldest thing we have ever seen, and it was truly amazing.
In the next blog entry, I will discuss the foie gras farm that we visited. It was a very tasty and educational tour!