Cycling Destinations: The Dordogne: A Gentle Cycle Tour in Classic French countryside
A gentle cycle tour in classic French countryside; picturesque scenery, masses of historic towns and villages and - naturally - excellent food and drink.
The Dordogne is one of the great rivers of France and this tour weaves in and around its valley, starting and finishing at Souillac in the Departement (roughly the French equivalent of a US State) of Lot.
It’s a region brimming with historic towns and villages and renowned for its culinary specialities.
Cycling is not only the best way to appreciate its beauty but also a great way to work up a suitably hearty appetite. And it’s all within a day’s train ride from London (Eurostar to Paris), then on to Souillac.
It was autumn when we went, the end of the season, and most of the roads were virtually deserted, but you still needed to wear a helmet. One of my most vivid memories is a rattling shower of acorns as we stopped to check the map.
And then there’s the intoxicating cider smell that flooded up as we rode over windfall apples.
More memories: the swooping descent on the first day on a road slung across 120-metre (400ft) limestone cliffs; at its end, nestled under the crags, a lovely hotel at Gluges. The pleasure of arriving each night to find our heavy bags already waiting for us.
The parade of perfectly-preserved mediaeval villages: Martel, Collonges la Rouge, Curemonte, Carennac, and more.
Highlights: a perfectly-graded 4km (2.5 mile) climb up to Loubressac (another lovely village, though it had the one and only disappointing hotel). Hill-top castles as dramatic as film-sets; stiff climbs were required, but always rewarded with an excellent descent.
And the pilgrim town of Rocamadour, clinging to its overhanging cliff like something from a fantasy tale.
Off the bike it was as good as on. The extraordinary subterranean world of the Gouffre de Padirac made it the best show-cave I’ve ever seen. And, being France, there was plenty of memorable food and drink too.
A simple, exquisite picnic of crusty bread, fresh figs, air-dried ham and local cheese was a particular delight; so was the five-course dinner served in a stone-floored farmhouse outside Rocamadour. And thanks to the bikes, I didn’t gain an ounce.