France: A Visit to La-Roque-Gageac

We are snuggled under down throws here in Northern Wisconsin tonight, waiting for The Big Chill of 2009, due later this week. They say it could reach a frigid 35 below.

We have mittens, gloves, scarves, Yak Trax, Cuddle Duds, Stormy Kroners, woolen balaclavas, leg warmers, long johns and flannel pajamas to keep us warm and safe no matter where we are and what we are doing. The larder is full, and I'll bake chicken tomorrow and try my hand at cabbage-and-sausage soup later this week. I still have some Calvados left. We are ready so Mother Nature, bring it on!

Would that we lived in a micro climate. La-Roque-Gageac, nestled under a cliff in the Dordogne, is such a place, by our experience about 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding area. While autumn was slowly coloring most of the Lot Valley, at the end of September to the north the Dordogne remained as green as mid-summer. Our trip up there, which involved a dizzying zig-zag drive past goose farms and through small crossroads, was like a trip into the recent past.

Because of the terrain, our 30-mile trip down and then up the mountain took more than an hour. It was after 2 p.m. by the time we finally found La-Roque-Gageac, after taking a wrong turn that sent us hurtling through corn fields toward a foie gras farm behind the cliffs. With help from the Garmin (is that woman inside dictatorial or what?), we crawled down a narrow back road and finally found ourselves there, under the cliffs at last, growing cranky in our search for a parking place.

La-Roque-Gageac was just as I imagined it would be, if a bit more tourist-y than I had hoped. We ordered cassis and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cones and wandered the main street, a line of cafes and hotels and gift shops highlighting the patés and walnuts and confits of the Dordogne.

We found a place to sit and watch the excursion boat traffic on the river, shedding our jackets as we warmed ourselves in the sun. The boats are gabares, the traditional flat-bottomed boats of the Dordogne. We were tempted to take an excursion, but the trips seemed a bit long, and we'd only put enough euros in the meter for a 90-minute visit.

Inhabited since pre-historic times, La-Roque-Gageac lies under troglodytic forts, which you can visit (although we did not). About 50 years ago, portions of the cliff face fell, killing some village residents. Today, there are exotic gardens tucked away under the cliff, behind the face La-Roque shows visitors, and these intrigued me. Stairways climb up behind buildings to lovely secret places. This is after all, one of the "most beautiful villages" in France.

Too soon and we were on our way back into the green hills and the mountainsides, heading south this time forward into autumn. It seemed odd to drive north to experience a nearly-Mediterranean climate when to the south the days were crisp with the scent of woodsmoke in the air.

But there is always a surreal quality to our too-short time in France.

And always it is tinged with bittersweet.


toni said…
Oh Mimi, what a lovely post. I was there with you, eating a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and exploring secret, tucked-away gardens. I've never been to this particular region of France, but this post made me want to drive there. Someday....
Toni, for the past few weeks I've been incredibly "homesick" for France. Perhaps it's the winter weather. I wish I could drive there!
Betty C. said…
I have great memories of visiting La Roque-Gageac. Your story about the climate up in that area makes me remember a trip I took to Sarlat in the spring of 1995. It was well over 70° in Sarlat and as we drove back into Aveyron, we encountered snow! This is for real!
sigh . . . yes dreaming of France with my eyes open. Wonderful photos. Yes make me "home" sick.
Anonymous said…
I adore these kinds of posts. Keep 'em coming. Hopefully one day I will be blogging FROM these locations. A girl can only dream.
It felt like high summer in the Dordogne, Betty. I loved it, but it was so very unreal. Our little village in the Lot if barely 30 miles away and we were chilly at night and in the morning. The contrast you describe is unbelievable, but I believe it.

Tanna, I've been terribly homesick lately. France will always feel like a bit of home to me, Even when I was a child I seemed to grasp that it was where it all began.

LT4, I have lots of French photos to mete out over the next 15 months until we find ourselves there again.
Chaz said…
I certainly feel your cold... I'm foolishly going to Milwaukee this weekend to have a massive party with 30 friends, hopefully something interesting will come from so many creative blogger, podcasters, videocasters, lifecasters and artists coming together...

... Though I'd much rather we'd do these thing in Mexico where it's WARM!!!!
Fiona said…
I enjoyed that day trip with you Mimi, La-Roque-Gageac must look very warm and inviting to you right now. I can't even begin to imagine how it feels in the temps you are having this week. You are looking after yourselves well with all your warm gear and the winter cooking. The cabbage and sausage soup will be interesting !
Milwaukee for the weekend. Brr. Pack lots of warm things, Chaz. I just looked at the thermometer outside and it is not 12 below.

Fiona, I hope to get that soup made tomorrow or Saturday!
Mary said…
This was a lovely post. I travel vicariously with you. Stay warm...spring is coming. That's a promise:).
Thanks, Mary. It's good to keep in mind that we are closer to spring than were were a few months back - when winter began! I think of January as the uphill trek to spring!
Eileen said…
How charming. My thoughts have been on the south of France also with our temps of minus 20 here in St. Paul, MN
Holly said…
I visited that area 18 years ago (wow time goes by fast), It was so nice. The food was unbelivable. I stayed at a friend's parent's chateau, it has a real Monet in the bedroom. and the toliet paper was the same lavender as the Monet!
Eileen, you are a good seven degrees cooler than we've been today. I wore longjohns to work.

Holly, I would like lavender toilet paper! I have seen a lot of pink stuff in France. Yes, the food is great - we always bring a lot back with us. This year, my husband had to pay for a heavy suitcase at CDG!
Erika said…
Oh, what a fabulous place! Thanks for sharing Mimi, it looks so warm and inviting!
Erika. it was warm and inviting! Certainly warmer than tonight in Northern Wisconsin
I found you via CityFarmer and
What a wonderful blog you have!
Being a Francophile too, I could linger here all day.
I love your stories of France and all your yummy recipes!
I will definetly be trying some and a BIG MERCI, since those recipes in French are more than I want to translate!
I look forward to visiting again.
Bisou for you!!
Thanks you Country French Antiques! After five semester in college and two in high school I struggle with French. If I could spend more than two weeks at a time in France, I might see some improvement!
Le laquet said…
I stopped in la Roque-Gageac (we were taking family to visit La Roque Saint-Christophe) in the summer and the stop just happenend to coincide with a food foire alongside the river. We grazed the stalls for an hour and then moved on. Lovely!
Le Laquet, what a piece of luck! Thank you for visiting and sharing that.
Farmgirl Cyn said…
Geez Mimi!
You could take those photos and sell 'em! They are stunning!

As for the weather, we have been pretty much snowed in for several days, venturing out only to the grocers and the local library!
Same weather up here, Cyn!

It's not my photos, it's the scenery! But thanks!
Christine said…
When Mr CC and I strolled up among the houses and very narrow lanes of La Roque, we found a banana tree growing against a warm cliff face. We found a stone bench on which to sit and raised our faces to the warm sun. It was magical. Thanks for stirring my memories, Mimi!
Perhaps it was the same stone bench, Christine. I do think we saw a banana tree, too.
Rob said…
La Roque-Gageac- wonderful pictures and delightful descriptions. Thank you. We lived in the UK for many years and spent summer holidays in the Dordogne, Provence and always in rural areas, loving them, touristy or not. Wonderful memories and sad we can't do it anymore. Amd your recipes look great.
Thanks, Rob. I'd wanted to visit LRG for many years, not realizing how close it was to the place we'd already stayed at. We went back three years later, and we will cherish our short visit there.

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