Marie-Claire, originally from Brittany but a resident of Scotland for the last 40 years, headed to the Dordogne in September with her daughter Nathalie, to discover this beautiful region of France for the first time.
1.What is your walking history?
I have always been interested in cycling and walking but, to be fair, hiking is now what I do most. Some years ago, I did a cycling trip along the Danube from Passau to Vienna with a group of senior pupils from Arbroath High School doing their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, and the following year friends and I did a 7-day cycle tour in Holland, staying in a barge overnight, cycling and sightseeing during the day and ‘finding’ the barge at the end of the day!
I have now been retired for 3 years and have joined the Dundee ramblers. We have walks every Saturday in the Angus Glens, Perthshire or the Fife Coastal Path.
In April this year, a group of us completed the West Highland Way. Challenging but breath-taking scenery!
2. Why did you choose to walk where you did?
In September, my daughter Nathalie invited me to do an 8-day trip with her - Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne.I am French but I have lived in Scotland for 40 years. When the children were young, we would always go to Brittany, where I am from, during the holidays. That’s one of the reasons there are many regions of France I don’t know.Never having been to the Dordogne I jumped at the chance to discover the area.It was also great to be able to spend some time with her. Once your children have left home it’s not that often you get to spend a whole week with them!
3. How did you prepare for the trip?
My usual routine is a walk around the Monikie park 3 times a week (3 miles) and an 8-10 mile walk at the weekend.I think more challenging walks before going would have been a good idea!
4. What was your favourite destination on the trip?
It is difficult to pick a favourite destination. Two places stand out: Collonges la Rouge, which is aptly named as the whole town is built of red sandstones. It reminded me of Arbroath where I used to work, as a lot of the older houses are built with the same stone.
We were in Collonges on a sunny Sunday in the late afternoon and the light on the buildings was amazing.
Curemonte was another picturesque village and we had lunch near an orientation table, on a hill overlooking the village. We could see the whole village from there and it gave us a different perspective to the one we had when we were in the village itself.
There was a little shop at the entrance to the village selling organic home-made jam and chutneys, made with fruit and produce from the owner’s estate. I was puzzled as to the names of some of the produce and the owner explained to us that his son has a sense of humour and had come up with funny names for some of them.
One chutney which Nathalie bought was from an old Indian recipe and it was called “pipi o lit”- and it contained dandelion flowers! We did learn that you can also make jam, wine and beer from dandelions! Who would have known?
We also learnt that a “telefilm” called L’orange de Noel had been shot there in 1995. It is set just before the First World War and is the story of a young primary school teacher, Cécile, who arrives in the village to teach at the local state school. Up to then, education had mainly been the domain of the Catholic church, and Catholics called state schools “L’école du diable.”
The local priest had always managed to force the state school teachers to quit after a year but this time... he meets a young woman of character!
5. What was the best food and drink on the trip?
Delicious hearty food, foie gras, cassoulet, duck, walnuts, cèpes territory! Not a paradise for vegetarians or vegans!!
The first evening meal in Sarrazac was excellent: salade de magrets de canard, duck confit and an amazing cheeseboard! There were 9 choices on the dessert
menu, all home-made and Nathalie had ‘Flognarde de poires’, a speciality from the area similar to a clafoutis.
The 4-course ‘menu du terroir’ dinner in Carennac was also superb!
6. Did you have any nice surprises or serendipitous experiences?
On the way to Loubressac, we walked through a vineyard: Côteaux de Glanes. Eight wine growers work together and produce a ‘vin de pays’ which is absolutely delicious. It regularly wins medals and appears to be snapped up by restaurant owners in the region. The little ‘superette’ in Loubressac had none left when we were there. The owner explained that some tourists had bought their entire stock a few weeks before we were there.
We were lucky enough to sample it in Carennac and the traditional red went superbly with the lamb and of course the cheese!
On day 6, we visited the “Gouffre de Padirac”, a huge cave over 100 metres deep. You can walk down or take the lift, walk along the narrow passages and admire the way the underground river has carved the stone over thousands of years. After a 10-minute boat trip you continue your journey to ‘la salle du grand dôme’ and discover stalactites, stalagmites and amazing rock formations which are reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings setting.
7. What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
The heat made the trip challenging. Although we were in the area at the end of September, we had daily temperatures of 26-27 degrees. A week after coming back I was walking near Dunkeld and it was 2 degrees!
There was also more road walking than I was expecting... and I did get blisters!
Meyssac to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and Port de Gagnac to Loubressac were tough! I wished I had taken 2 pairs of walking boots with me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. More training beforehand would have been good!
Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne has daily departures from 1 April 2019, and is also available as a 10-day trip.