Sunday, August 10, 2008

The journey continues....

Pauillac to St Emillion to Sarlat la Caneda

We passed on breakfast at Cordeillan-Bages, though it looked lovely, set up in an open, stylishly decorated section of the hotel. A bit too much of a good thing! We settled for OJ from the fridge in the room.

Driving back on a lovely morning we stopped at one of Vauban’s forts, Fort Medoc. He was responsible for building these all around the edges of France for defence, and they were to become a recurring theme during our trip.

The powder magazine at Fort Medoc

Later we found the ruined Benedictine Abbey of La Sauve, with beautiful carvings on the capitals of columns and in a lovely setting. We spent some time there wandering on the daisy studded grass and photographing the stonework. I found myself getting a number of photos of Adam and Eve capitals in various churches this trip so that, too, became a theme.

Entry to St Emillion was confused, to say the least, by a recent change in the one way system of traffic. We ended up going through tiny roads squeezed between walls while I watched one side of the car “two inches clearance here” and Nick the other. How we did it without getting stuck between ancient houses is beyond me. The hotel was tiny, only a few rooms each floor, but blessedly had a lift. We looked out our back window at a little parcel of land growing grapes, no doubt appellation St Emillion.

We took the little white tourist train which we have often found to be most useful for orientation to a new town. We wended our way through vineyards, often premier Bordeaux growths, and I was surprised at how small some of the holdings are, sometimes only a few acres. Later, watching a video of the care of the vines we were startled to see the amount of hand tending required, often six or seven individual operations from pruning to tying to tilling the soil to spraying to culling the crop to eventual harvest. No wonder good wine costs so much. We then had fun choosing a few bottles of good wine in the Maison du Vin, a Moulin de Pierrefitte AC St Emilion and a Legerie Lussac-St Emillion. I am pleased to report that they tasted very good when we drank them later in Sarlat.

After lunch we toured the monolithic church of St Emillion which is underground and carved out of solid rock, built round the hermitage cave of St Emillion. The considerable knowledge of structure and ground water flows shown by the builders was later ignored, leading to build up of water and disintegration of the internal rock pillars which hold up the 380 tonne bell tower, so now they need to reinforce the underground pillars with steel corsets, not pretty but necessary.

Bell tower built over monolithic church

Heading towards Sarlat we stopped at Montcaret where a huge Roman villa has been partially uncovered. The church and village had been built over it, probably using some of the stones from the villa. Beautiful mosaics and the architectural plan visible in the excavations show a remarkable place. I don’t think they get many visitors; the custodians seemed very pleased to see us.

Part of mosaic floor

Adam and Eve, Montcaret church

Later we visited Monbazillac Chateau, a fairy tale chateau with towers and conical “hats” roses everywhere and a lovely view over the valleys and vineyards. The chateau was hosting the Morgan car club and they were all lined up across the front of the castle.
Monbazillac is a beautiful, sweet dessert wine akin to Sauternes. We drank some of that with a meal in Sarlat too.

Chateau Monbazillac

Chateau, vines and roses

The weather began to close in here. Driving along the still flooded Dordogne River we came to Beynac castle towering above its village. Privately owned, like many castles in France, it is still being restored. A grim place, built by the English to fight the French just the other side of the river, and lit only by window light or oil torches, as it would have been originally. Great views so you could see the enemy approaching. It helped develop our understanding of what castle life might have been like, with everything herded into the castle walls in times of danger and very little light even during the day.

Beynac village and castle

We liked the idea of the privy hanging on the side of the tower. A bit of a worry about how well it might hold up...

On to Sarlat la Caneda, a lovely medieval town where we were booked to spend a week in an apartment.

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