Back in August, my Bodum French Press shattered over my bare leg. Eight cups of near-boiling water poured down my leg leading to severe second-degree burns from the back of my thigh to the top of my foot. It took weeks of daily dressing changes, four visits to the hospital and a drugstore-worth of bandages and pain meds before it finally healed. Luckily my parents, both registered nurses, happened to be visiting and I was well taken care of with only my passion for Bodum permanently damaged.
A bit over a week after the accident we had a train to catch taking us down to the Dordogne for a week of exploring the ancient painted caves and medieval villages speckled throughout the Southern region. I had longed to visit the Lascaux caves since I studied them in Art History; imagine standing before the Paleolithic hand prints of someone living some 17,300 years before. How majestic!
So with daily improvements (albeit minor) in the healing of my seared leg, we decided the trip would go on even if it meant sometimes I stayed behind in the car with my leg propped up on a bag of frozen Dauphin potato balls to combat the swelling. The burn sometimes made walking unbearable, but I was still more than able to explore the region via my stomach and from behind my lens. Lucky for me the Dordogne is one of the most picturesque regions of France and the French capital for foie gras and truffles.
The region is best explored by car as many of its highlights are not interconnected by rail. We took the train down from Paris to Brive-la-Gaillarde where we picked up our rental car. From there we drove through the rocky countryside to Sarlat, stopping in Montignac to purchase our tickets for Lascaux II. Unfortunately the original Lascaux cave is plagued with a harmful fungus which requires it be sealed up for protection and is indefinitely closed even to scientists and scholars (despite this, in 2010 Sarkozy visited Lascaux, deciding it would be a good site to campaign for “funding for National Treasures” although entering the cave with his entourage and camera crew obviously caused quite the scandal).
The Dordogne is a great region to visit for the those interested in the earliest stories of France, even of mankind. The countryside is speckled with cave paintings and Medieval villages still inhabited today, providing a rich treasure trove of history and secrets. No wonder the region has served as muse to many writers and producers, from Chocolat to Ever After. Amid the rolling hills stand the sandstone fortresses strategically perched for the sweeping views of the surrounding fields, a defense against enemy approach. We set off by car weaving across the Dordogne River stopping at La Roque Gageac, Beynac and the gardens of Marqueyssac. Limping, I managed to climb the steep cobblestone streets of Castelnaud, narrow paths leading to the top where the ruins are the oldest. At the summit I was in another time, my imagination stretching back to the Middle Ages, long before the splendor of Versailles, when a medieval king would be leading his cavalry to advance the kingdom.
I was constantly aware of my injured leg, instinctively on guard each moment. But the warm sun of the Dordogne and the fresh air away from the busy streets of Paris was probably the best thing I could have done for myself aside from extra TLC. Walking through the local markets and little villages at a slower pace helped me take a closer look and enjoy the nuances that make the Dordogne such a wonderful place to visit.
Have you been to Dordogne? What were your favorite sites?