An independent, self-guided walking tour in France’s magnificent Dordogne Valley is soft adventure at its best. Recently, my husband and I explored this exceptional region on foot on Uniquely Europe’s seven-night “Walking Rocamadour” tour.
South of Paris and east of Bordeaux, the Dordogne Valley boasts a dramatic landscape of castles, fortresses and villages perched on limestone outcroppings. The area is also rich in prehistoric caves, megaliths and dolmen. The valley floor is covered with vineyards, fruit and nut trees and tidy farms.
Our walk began in Souillac, easily reached by a 4½-hour train ride from Paris. From Souillac, we followed daily itineraries with maps and well-prepared route notes. Much of our route was waymarked by the familiar Grande Randonnee symbols. This walk, labeled moderate, covered up to 12 miles per day. While most terrain was gently sloping, there were occasions of steep ascents or descents, sometimes on loose, rocky surface. Route notes are well balanced to provide sufficient information without taking away a sense of adventure.
Each day’s trek was rewarded by a delightful three-course dinner at our pre-arranged hotel. Innkeepers regaled us with regional specialties: duck, quail, fish, homemade jams and pastries, fresh vegetables and local wines. Hotel rooms may be small and basic but all have private facilities. Air conditioning and elevators are rare. Hospitality and charm, however, more than compensate for any shortcomings.
Two highlights of the Dordogne region, Rocamadour and the Gouffre de Padirac, are featured on this walk. We spent two nights at Rocamadour, a pilgrimage site built on the rugged face of a limestone cliff overlooking the Alzou Canyon. The faithful traditionally climbed the 223 steps of Roca-madour’s Great Stairway (Via Sancta) on their knees. While Rocamadour is a tourist mecca today, it is still worthwhile for its rich history and unique position.
The Gouffre de Padirac is an enormous underground chasm formed by a subterranean river. Visitors descend by a series of elevators and staircases and board small boats to explore the underground galleries with their stalagmites and stalactites.
An important feature of Uniquely Europe’s walking trips is the luggage transfer. Each day our baggage was transported to our next hotel. We carried only daypacks with water and picnic supplies.
Our walk ended in St. Cere, a small town without rail service. We asked our hotel to arrange a taxi to take us to Figeac where we picked up a rental car to further explore this excellent area.
Travelers will not want to miss Lascaux II, a reconstruction of Europe’s premier prehistoric cave renowned for its drawings. Lascaux is located northwest of Souillac where our tour began.
This was our seventh independent walking trip in Europe, the fifth arranged by Uniquely Europe. A division of Europe Express, Uniquely Europe also made our air and rail arrangements.
Gayle Christensen is a travel consultant with Alamo World Travel, in Alamo, Calif.
19021 120th Ave., N.E., Suite 102
Bothell, WA 98011
The Walking Rocamadour package includes seven nights hotel, daily breakfasts, six dinners, luggage transfer, maps and route notes and local contact. Rates per person: $849.
This walk would appeal to the active, fit traveler who appreciates an in-depth regional experience. Lest others think that this trip is intended for the young and athletic, we point out that we celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary during this special week. History buffs, bird-watchers, nature lovers and photographers would also take pleasure in this walk.