Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sunday, April 12, 2015 - Exploring nearby - St. Cyprien Market, Lemeuil, Trémolat, Cadouin Abbey

When we awoke this morning, it was all foggy, but the forecast was for sunny with a high of 73. The fog burned off by the time our morning walkers (Dave, Dale and Barb) had returned with 12 croissants, 2 Parisiens, and 2 baguettes, and a pain de Paques (Easter bread). Why so much bread, you ask?

Well, you see, the bakery is closed on Monday and so last week we didn't have any croissants for breakfast on Monday. We had managed to buy a large round crusty bread which we could toast, and that worked fine. It just wasn't croissants.  So this time, the Sunday purchase included a pain de Paques and 6 extra croissants which we put in the freezer. It's an experiment. I'll let you know Monday how it works to thaw and reheat croissants.

It's Barb and Dale's first day in the region and only third day in France, so we decide to explore locally rather than do something really strenuous. Janis and I suggested we check out St. Cyprien's Sunday market and Dave suggested we check out a couple of nearby towns that have made it into "The Most Beautiful Villages of the Dordogne" book, a copy of which is on the bookshelf of our farmhouse. The idea is to take it easy today, but with Dave in charge, the touring can go on longer than our stamina. But off we go anyways. The morning is chilly to start, so long pants and sweaters are needed for the moment.

The St. Cyprien market is really large for a village so small. We are surprised and delighted to have such a robust market so near, The market includes the usual foodstuffs - several fruit and vegetable dealers, several cheese merchants, olive merchants (including Lucques - won't be so difficult to find after all), regional specialties like duck, and all kinds of clothing, shoes, and household linens. Our grocery list isn't large, but we find lots of stuff we can't resist. Dave and Clark add a few bottles of wine to the collection. "Quelle surprise!"

A quick stop at the Carrefour supermarket for lunch meat and paper supplies and then home to unpack, make lunches and then fill the backpack for the day's explorations.

Limeuil is our first stop - perched at the top of a hill at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers, it has been inhabited since Cro-Magnon days. In fact, there's a hypothesis that this settlement could even have sustained a pre-historic art school, based on the discovery of many stone tablets with engraved pictures of animals. One historian has posited that these mobile drawings could have been a sort of artist's portfolio or drawing book of the day. Hmmm.

The confluence is marked by the two bridges at right angles to each other.

The parking lot at the base of the town is under construction, so we find a blue P sign around the corner and slightly up the hill. The map there suggests an alternate path going up the hill to the top to start.  We head off that direction.
Parking lot for naive tourists? But there is a sign with a diagram...

Climbing the goat path to the "haut village" (the upper town)

The map didn't note that this was a goat path, steep narrow and grassy, still wet with the morning dew. The rest of our party are already mountain goats, so had no trouble making their way up. I on the other hand, huffed and puffed and struggled over the really steep bits that required longer legs. But I got to the top. Once there, standing on a paved road, panting, a man working in his garden smiled and commented on the difficulty of the climb. It will be improved he tells us. Good thing, we comment back.

We enter by one of the three town gates and are delighted to find a numbered signpost (although it is number 5) explaining what we are seeing in this location. Barb reads from the sign and we congratulate her on her excellent and coherent translation. She then confesses that she's reading the English off the sign.

Court and holding cells for rowdy sailors
who break the peace
We are now looking for a picnic spot as it is noon. We continue up, charmed by the houses we pass. We stop at a building that was used as a court and  jail for disorderly sailors.

front of St. Catherine's church - Limeuil
Then we make our way up hill to the church. We're surprised that everything here is in English only to discover that it is the church for an Anglican congregation. This area seems to hold a concentration of English residents.

Side view of the St. Catherine's church
Just inside the gate going out of town.
A gate just past the church leads immediately out of town - no more buildings, just farmland.

View from our picnic bench.
This 3 bedroom, 3 bath house is for sale if any of  you are interested.
Walking back down the hill, we find a 6 person bench under a tree and pick that for our picnic spot. It is next to the entrance to the city garden which is built on the grounds of ruins of a former castle, the highest point in town.

There is almost no remnant of the castle left and there's little known about what it looked like. Its fortified walls however still define the hilltop. There's a small area with tables serving the snack place which also serves as the pay station to enter the gardens from which you can have a panoramic view of the confluence of the two rivers. However, the gardens are closed from noon to two and the cost, when open, is 7 Euros 50 to get in. We decide to forego the wait and the cost of the panoramic view. But we do use the free toilet that is on these picnic grounds.

Steep streets are lined with limestone houses

We make our way down through the town, which is supposed to now support a community of artisans. We do pass closed shops - we're likely too early in the season. There are only a few people in town and the open restaurants are sparsely filled or empty. Which makes it a lovely time to be in town. You can imagine the village as it once was rather than as a tourist destination.

A few signs help us understand the commercial street where vendors used to open windows in their houses and place their wares in the windowsill.
Example of a medieval store front. Owners would
open the wooden window next to the door and shout their
wares down the street

Finally in the lower town, we see the Mairie (Mayor's Office) and tourist office (closed of course for the weekend) and a park which gives lovely views of the river. This town truly deserves its designation as a "Most Beautiful Village" of the Dordogne.

Back by road to the Parking where we left our car, then up the hill and around the bend of the river to find Trémolat.

St. Nicolas
The attraction here is its fortified church, currently named for St. Nicolas, patron saint of boatmen. A monastery was begun by followers of  St. Cybard (6th century) and had become an important abbey by the 11th century. The original fortified church was built in the 9th century to resist the Norman invasions. The current church was built in the 12th century over the site of the original which was destroyed. By the 11th century, it had become an important abbey.

Side view of church. Holes in wall would have supported beams for attached buildings, such as a cloister
St. Nicolas nave
During the Romanesque period, the wooden roof was replaced by round stone domes. The inside is spare, architecturally speaking, in the benedictine tradition of austerity. Its fortress-like appearance was no coincidence. This church was built to shelter all the people of the village and all the pilgrims visiting in times of danger.

Pilgrims came because this church housed a holy relic given to it, so it's told, by Charlemagne. They own the shirt of the Infant Jesus. There's no mention of the relic existing today in any of the church's information.

St. Nicolas altar

The outside temperature is pushing 80 this afternoon but walking into the church whose walls must be at least a meter thick is like walking into air-conditioning. It's unadorned white walls and soaring height immediately cause you to look up toward the meager source of light through windows narrowed to provide additional support when the wooden roof was replace by stone.

Your eye is drawn next to the front of the church where a simple altar and pulpit are lit by the stained glass above the altar.

 Though the cloister is completely missing, the remaining buildings suggest how the abbey would have looked.

Moving along the river, we are now in search of the Cingle de Trémolat, "cingle" meaning "cinch" in English. This is a panoramic viewpoint at the top of one of the two horseshoe bends made by the Dordogne in this area. As usual, both on the drive and at the panorama, the scenery is beautiful.
Hopefully this map will help you see the 2 "cingles" of the River Dordogne at this point.
We started from home about 15 miles east of Limeuil, stopped at Trémolat, then drove the the Cingle de Trémolat

Cingle de Trémolat

The Dordogne looks lazy at these horseshoes made by the river.

When we've finished here, it is only 3:30, so Dave suggests we extend the day by stopping at Cadouin Abbey which is only a few miles out of the way. So much for an easy day for Barb and Dale to ease into French time.

By 1154, Cadouin is the seat of a Cistercian monastery and the church has been consecrated. The church deviates somewhat from the austerity of style of the Cistercians, probably because construction was begun before the affiliation with the Cistercians. Nevertheless, it's massive presence and mostly unadorned style suggest a site worthy to be called a pilgrimage church.
Abbatial church Cadouin

Interior of Cadouin Abbatial Church

Already by 1214, it is known that the abbey was in possession of a relic worthy of veneration by pilgrims: The Shroud of Cadouin, believed to be the shroud from Christ's head. A sure way to riches. A 1934 evaluation found that the writing on the colored bands of the cloth bear ancient kufic (early Arabic) inscriptions to Allah and a caliph who lived in the 11th century. Oops! Since it's been relegated to a less than holy relic, it is now displayed in a museum off the cloister.

The monastic buildings but not the church were ruined in the 100 Years War (1337-1453) and the cloisters were subsequently rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries in Flamboyant Gothic Style.
Cadouin Abbey cloister, 15th century flamboyant gothic

Once again, while the heat of the square outside these buildings is in the 80s, the insides are cool or even cold. There's a calm and a reverence that settles on you if you allow yourself to be still and contemplate what you are seeing and feeling.

Walking around the cloister arcades, you are energized by the vaulting

and the carvings showing virtues and sins of ordinary mortals.

See the grapes? Oh, dear. 

Janis tries out the abbot's chair. It's too big.

Dale tries out the abbot's chair. It's just right!

We're home in about a half hour and ready for aperos and leftovers.
Wishing you sunshine and satisfaction from the Dordogne

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