There’s something about islands anywhere. We love the finiteness and inclusion of a place that requires at minimum a bridge to come and go. Our adventures in Hawaii are made more interesting because we’re at a place in the middle of the sea, a safe distance from the daily life that we escape every time we go.
In France, islands have a very distinct flavor. Most were truly separate communities until the age of ferries and then bridges. As we learned at the Ile de Noirmoutier last summer, they developed their own character, their own style and even their own salt and potatoes. In a country of haute cuisine, knowing what island your potatoes or salt come from matters. We like that.
We were invited to spend a few days at the Ile de Ré on our way back from our trip to Perigord, and we weren’t about to pass up the opportunity.
Full of history
The Ile de Ré is just off the coast from the city of La Rochelle, one of the more important ports on the Atlantic Coast of France. It is the largest city between Bordeaux and Nantes and as such, was an important place of occupation for the Germans in World War II. In fact, it was one of several ‘fortress cities’ passed over by the Allies during the liberation of France. The Allies simply blockaded well-defended cities, known as Les Poches (The Pockets) until it was convenient to accept the surrender of those cities, long after Paris was free. Read more
Today was our last full day in Perigord and we saved the best for last. We timed our rise, breakfast and drive to be at the ticket window when it opened at 9:00am. We heard beforehand about crowds but were surprised to have no trouble getting tickets for the 10am tour in English.
Lascaux celebrated its 70th anniversary two years go, which is a funny statement when you consider that the cave paintings are 17,000 years old. The anniversary is of its discovery by four teenagers who were in the woods with their dog. The dog fell down a hole in some brush and when the boys realized it was an unknown cavern, came back with equipment to explore the cave.
They told a teacher about their discovery and the teacher contacted a well-known specialist in prehistoric man. It wasn’t hard to find such an expert, since Cro-Magnon man was found very close by in Les Eyzies. They had an amazing adventure and are now famous in France. Read more
Still tired from the previous day, we slept in a little more and got a late start to our next adventure, the Gouffre de Padirac (Cavern of Padirac). Located in the west of the Department of Lot, we were technically out of Perigord by a few kilometers where the land is less wooded and the valleys more open.
Arriving at Padirac, we knew we’d slept in too late as the line stretched across the parking lot and took nearly two hours to navigate. If the line made us question the value of the cavern, once we were inside the enormous chasm, we were glad we suffered the wait.
The initial chasm is nearly 35 m across (115 ft) and drops 75 m straight down. From there the cave system begins. While we were only allowed to travel 2 km (l.2 miles) underground, the entire system has been explored up to 15 km (9.3 miles). We used a combination of stairs, pathways and a section that we took by small boat to reach the end of the tourist section. Read more
The following is a continuation of Perigord in July 2012 – Saint-Nazaire to Sarlat-la-Canéda.
Our first full day in Perigord was our chance to begin to tour the countryside nearest where were staying. We decided to head to the Roque de Saint-Christophe, a city that once had as many as 1,000 people living in a cliff overhang along the Vézère River in Perigord (yes, two accents…), the Château de Commarque, an ancient ruin, and to finish our day in Sarlat-la-Canéda, a medieval city near our B&B.
Roque de Saint-Christopher
This site is remarkable for how old (55,000 years) it is and how much of the cliff has been modified over the thousands of years people have lived along it. Almost a perfect defensive spot, the Roque de Saint-Christophe touches the river itself and provided a perfect place to see invaders long before they were a threat. Read more
Jeanne vacationed in Perigord with her family when she was a child and talked it about so often that we knew we had to go there together. With three weeks in Brittany this summer, we finally a stretch to spend a good amount of time in this region famous for its cave art, castles and food.
On the road
As always, we packed our lunches for the road trip and left her parents’ in the early morning. After heading down the familiar highway to Nantes, we took a turn to the south toward the world’s greatest wine region, Bordeaux.
Taking the tollway in France isn’t nearly as scenic, but with a trip of over 300 miles, it was a matter of practicality. We were in Bordeaux for lunch. Read more
The Normandy Coast is just a few hours drive from the West Coast of Brittany where we spend our summer vacations. We’ve talked many times about seeing Mont Saint-Michel and this time we were determined to make it part of our plans.
We packed a lunch of white asparagus, baguette sandwiches of jamón serrano and butter, a couple of flatto peaches and a few bottles of Badoit sparkling water. There’s nothing quite like a French packed lunch.
Arriving at Mont Saint-Michel
A few kilometers before arriving at Mont Saint-Michel, the remarkable fortress Abbey comes into view. Its steeple rises 150 m (500 ft) in the air, made more distinct by the fact that the entire structure sits on a granite ‘island’ in the middle of an enormous bay. In ancient times, it was cut off from the mainland at high tide. Even if you’ve seen the pictures, the sudden appearance of something so large and so architecturally stunning comes as a surprise. Read more
We’re very fortunate to live so close to Eaton Canyon. Only blocks from our home, we hike there several times each week and it has been our preparation spot for bigger hikes like Mt Whitney, Mt Shuksan and even the Himalaya of Nepal. One of the greatest adventures in our own back yard is canyoneering down Lower Eaton Canyon and its myriad of large and small waterfalls.
People who never venture out of the city don’t realize how natural and ‘alive’ the canyons are just above their city.
Before you read further, please know the following: This is one of the best day adventures in the San Gabriel mountains but ONLY for those with climbing skills and the right equipment. This should also NOT be confused with attempting to climb the sketchy trails that go up the canyon (that often end in rescues and have resulted in deaths).
You should have, as a minimum, the following gear:
- Full length climbing rope (50 m/160 ft)
- 30 m (100 ft) of webbing for anchors
- Rappel devices like an ATC or Figure 8
- Dry bags for anything that can’t get wet
Sometimes the most amazing adventures are found really close to home. If you live in LA, there are few more beautiful places to visit as close by as Santa Barbera County Wine Country. And there are few better ways to see it than by motorcycle. Santa Barbara is just a couple of hours away but is a world apart from very busy Los Angeles.
We loaded up the bike in our truck (we don’t ride on freeways) to take it first to Jalama Beach, an amazing Santa Barbara County park on the sea just south of Vandenburg Air Force Base, the site of most missile launches on the West Coast. What makes Jalama special is its isolation. It sits at the end of a beautifully winding 22.5 km (15 miles) road that keeps away the traffic, as the only destination for anyone traveling this stretch is one of the few farm houses or the park itself. Read more