Monday, September 19, 2011

Doing Dordogne - Day 8

Tuesday, September 13th
      We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast this morning. Just a little way up the street I found a tabac that offered cafe-creme and a croissant. Jane went across the street to a patisserie to get a croissant and a small orange juice, then joined me on the terrace in the bright sunshine that had rapidly dissipated the early morning fog.
      We set off up the very steep cobbled lane that we had followed on Sunday, stopping several times to rest and marvel at the vistas across the Dordogne Valley. We finally approached the Chateau de Beynac, and bought admission tickets.
      As we wandered past walls within walls and gates beyond gates, and crossed a drawbridge over a 20 foot deep pit whose bottom was covered with sharpened wooden spikes we were impressed with the attention to security.  
        As early as the 16th century they even had the capability of conducting chemical warfare. Above two inner gates there were protected wooden extensions out from the stone walls to allow defenders to dump buckets of caustic lye on attackers trying to breach the inner defenses..

     The oldest part of the fortress was the castle keep, a five story tall tower. Whoever was occupying the chateau could retreat here behind all the layers of defense, and pull up the ladders through a narrow trap door, making it very difficult to reach. The English King Richard the Lionheart used the castle keep as his residence for several years after capturing Chateau de Beynac.
      The Dordogne River marked the approximate political boundary between the English and the French during the Hundred Years War, and Chateau de Beynac in spite of its impressive layered defenses had been captured and changed possession back and forth between the English and the French nine different times over the years.
      We explored the various levels of the chateau, including the quarters for the soldiers, the spiral staircases, the huge kitchen, the baronial living quarters, and on up to the topmost ramparts. From there it was a dizzying vertical view to the village and river far, far below.

      We stopped for lunch at the restaurant "Les Ramparts de Chateau" before heading partway back down the same steep lane we had ascended earlier. We came to an overlook where the path split, and taking the left branch we descended to the old port of Beynac on the riverside, and then walked back to the hotel along a welcome flat path along the edge of the river.
      Late in the afternoon we met Bill and Miriam to walk down to the riverside dock across the street from the hotel, where we boarded a "gabarre", a replica of a river boat used here in the 1800's (with the exception that this one was powered by two large, quiet, but powerful Yamaha outboard engines.) The boat, filled to about half its 50 passenger capacity, moved almost silently upstream from Beynac past the port toward the castle of Castelnaud on a fifty minute trip that also provided beautiful views of the castles of Fayrac and Marqueyssac before reaching a shallow part of the river and turning back again.

      We turned our evening meal around backwards, eating ice cream and sipping peach wine at a riverside bistro before hopping in the car for a short ride to "Auberge des Chateaux", where all four of us dined on omelets and shared a carafe of nice local red wine.
     Our last experience of the evening was seeing Chateau de Beynac silhouetted against a fading orange western sky as a full moon rose above a wooded ridge in the east.

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