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RS Loire Valley to the South of France-Part 3

This is day’s 5-7 of my post of our RS tour in May. I’m trying to post the tour as seen and experienced through my eyes;

Day 5 Oradour-sur-Glane and Sarlat

The next few days were the favourite of my trip. We left Chinon and visited a small French village that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of. Nothing special about the village except that it was a small and rural. It is part of the RS unique experience to immerse you into the local culture. The town mayor who barely speaks any English toured us around. One of our tour members who has been learning French for the past few years in anticipation of her dream trip to France was our interpreter. I have a suspicion that our guide Virginie may have made herself scarce on purpose for this village tour as part of our immersion into French life.

After the village it was off to Oradour-Sur-Glane and to the memorial where on June 10, 1944 the Nazi’s murdered 642 men, women and children and then burned the town to the ground. The town has been left as it was on that day as a memorial and the new town was rebuilt next to it. I’ve never visited a concentration camp before, but I imagine I’d have the same feeling there as I had here. It was eerily silent. We only had about an hour to wander and I could have used much more. Some people on the tour; including my wife felt differently and didn’t want to hang around. In the cemetery you’ll find grave sites where all family members were buried together; Fathers, Mothers and children. And in the entrance to the town you walk through a tunnel with photographs of almost all the victims that died that day. All through France, you’ll find memorials from both World Wars and you get a real sense of what the French lived through in the first half of that century. It’s the one day of the trip that will stick with me.
We ended our day in Sarlat in the Dordogne region which will be our home for the next 3 days.

Day 6 is in the 'comments' section.

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Day 6 Cave Art and Canoeing

This was the day I was most looking forward to and had sold me on this RS tour; the Prehistoric caves in the Dordogne region. There are several caves and on the RS tour you visit Rouffignac Cave. It’s in the middle of nowhere and when you get there you take a train type shuttle down into the cave to see 13,000-year-old drawings on the ceiling of bisons, horses, rhinos and mammoths. Very cool and did not disappoint. I’m not really sure how to describe what I saw, it’s just a sense of wonder that I’m seeing something so old and wondering why someone would have crawled so deep into a cave to paint. When my son was young, he loved to draw and we put him in an evening art class, he loved it, but he never wanted to show his work to us; we had to sneak peaks while the teacher distracted him. I wonder if the cave painter felt the same way.
Next up was a canoe trip down the Dordogne River. Some of us were excited about it and some wanted nothing to do with it and I’d say only half of our tour members took it. The other half took a passenger boat and met us at the end in Beynac. When I read back on reviews of previous tours, there is a lot of people who mentioned the canoeing as the Wow moment of the trip. You paddle between Cenac and Beynac past a couple of villages and see some castles from the 100 years war in the hills. I was looking forward to it, but honestly, I felt I spent more time paddling than enjoying the sites. I wrote this in my tour review that we submit to RS that in hindsight, I would rather have skipped the canoeing and spent my day exploring Beynac. After the canoeing, we drove to the top of Beynac and wandered down the main (only?) road. At the top is a castle that Richard The Lion Hearted lived in for a time during the 100-year war, sadly we didn’t visit. For me, Beynac is the most beautiful town we visited, and I’d love to go back and stay there for a night or two to experience it in the evening, sadly we only had an hour and then it was back to Sarlat. By the way, Beynac is the town used as the backdrop in the movie Chocolat.

Day 7 is in the next 'comments' section.

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Day 7 Market Day and Lascaux Caves

Our guide Virginie gave us homework! Saturday is market day in Sarlat and we were told to shop at the market and buy stuff we wanted for a picnic the next day. This was an immersion into French culture and language that we had been learning everyday on the bus. Some vendors at the market spoke English but some spoke only French. Confidently, and using what we’ve learned so far, mywife and I managed to buy fresh fruit, cheese, vegetables and some nougat for dessert. We really learned today that if you at least try to communicate in French that the locals will give you a big smile and help you out. The stuffy French citizen stereotype is not true. The woman who we bought our cheese from spoke no English, but we managed to order what we wanted and pay. It was really my first experience to be totally immersed into the French culture and it was fun and gave me a boost in confidence moving forward. Up to today, my French had been restricted to asking for a table at a restaurant. I don’t know if other tours attempt to immerse you into the local culture like the RS tours do, but today’s experience was a lot of fun.
Some of us had expressed interest in visiting the Lascaux Caves which is the Blockbuster site in France for Prehistoric caves. Virginie arranged a taxi and tickets for six of us to visit. While I enjoyed Rouffignac, I loved Lascaux. This version of Lascaux is an exact reproduction of the original cave that was discovered by some students in the 1940’s. However, due to too many visitors and the environmental impacts, the original paintings were getting damaged. The solution was this reproduction. Some people on this forum get a bit snooty and say it’s not worth it because they’re only reproductions, but honestly, if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t have any idea. This was probably my favourite day of the trip. Lascaux is well worth a visit. One of the suggestions I put in my RS review was to skip Rouffignac and come here instead.

Days 8-13 to come on a new post as I have a chance write them.

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4453 posts

Thanks again, Allan. We, too, are looking forward to seeing the cave paintings when we take this tour.

And I'm glad you commented on how the French appreciate our attempts to speak their language. I certainly found this to be true on our RS France tours this year. I also appreciated it when they (gently) corrected my French. One waiter made a joke about how I changed my husband to female by using the wrong pronoun! We ended up bantering (in mixed French and English) all evening. Maybe not exactly a "back door moment," but close.

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219 posts

I have read about these cave paintings and someday hope to see them. Thank you for telling us of your visit, Allan.

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1676 posts

I'm glad you commented on how the French appreciate our attempts to
speak their language.

The one part of this tour that deserves more credit than it receives in the reviews is the 'french lessons' we received everyday on the bus. It covered language, culture and history. In my previous trips to European destinations I've been shy about trying to speak the local language because I didn't want to embarrass myself or insult a local, but our guide Virginie was able to give me that confidence to use my meager french to shop on market day in Sarlat.

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4532 posts

Thanks for this, Allan. Well written and entertaining as well as informative. We got to spend five nights in Beynac, a great base for exploring the Dordogne (though with fewer dining options than Sarlat). The castle was very good, you'll have to return to see it!

And I agree with you about Lascaux. Yes it's a reproduction, but it looks more like the original paintings looked when they were done. I understand that they used the same plant-based colors. Given that we can't go to the original cave for good reasons, why not visit this one? I've heard about Ruffignac and I'd like to see it too.

Looking forward to your next installment.

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1676 posts

We got to spend five nights in Beynac,

Dick, was there enough to do in Beynac for 5 nights to hold your attention in the evening?