Posted October 03, 2012
During our stay at Gibeau, we planned an overnight trip to the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, sandwiched between visits to the caves of Pech Merle and the Château de Beynac.
We were up and out of Gibeau just after breakfast. It was a beautiful summer morning and the drive took us through gently rolling hills to more dramatic river bluffs and limestone cliffs. Descending into the cool dark of the Pech Merle caves, I felt transported to the time when the prehistoric paintings there were created. Cavernous underground spaces, illuminated paintings of horses, woolly mammoths and bison. Most marvelous of all were the painted outlines of handprints in red and charcoal. They served as a sort of signature, as if the artists were saying, I was here.
After the short drive to Sarlat, we settled into our hotel at the edge of the city’s medieval section, then headed out to explore. The 14th century architecture has been beautifully preserved and the cobbled streets were for the most part delightfully car-free. We lingered over aperitifs and dinner at an outdoor café in the main square, taking in the carved windows and doorways, the steeply slanted stone-tiled roofs. The warm afternoon light mellowed into a sweet orange. After dinner, we bought gelato from a shop at the edge of the square and ended the long day with an evening stroll through side streets and secluded little plazas.
The next morning, we drove the historic route to Beynac. The 12th century fortress is situated strategically overlooking the valley and the Dordogne river below. The approach to the castle from the valley floor was impressive, and the panoramic view from its wall of the surrounding countryside was stunning. We explored the ramparts and then the interior, its crafted doorways and fireplaces. The spiral stone stairways still bear deep grooves carved by the banging swords of soldiers rushing to the rooftop battlements.
Paired with our six days at Gibeau, our excursion to Sarlat made for one of my most vivid travel memories, each leg like opening in my mind like a favorite old book.