The entrance to the Padriac cave in the Dordogne is large enough to swallow a house.
Imagine yourself in a beautiful and quiet part of rural France. Come along with Richard and Alexandra Johnson as they take you on an imaginary day out walking in the Lot and Dordogne.
You’ll come across wildflower meadows, walnut groves, limestone cliffs and walk through some of the most beautiful villages in the region.
Many visitors to France will be familiar with the Dordogne department but if you travel a few kilometres east you will discover in its neighbouring department of the Lot, a countryside that has retained a charm and warmth that in these days of mass tourism can be hard to find.
Our walking holiday is based in one corner of the Lot department where history stretches from prehistoric times, through the Roman empire and medieval kingdoms to the brave resistance of the locals during the second world war. Combine this with wonderfully picturesque villages and an abundance of flora and fauna and you have a perfect walking landscape with as the locals say “a surprise around every corner”.
Named after the area our B&B is called “Jardin du Segala” and our renovated farmhouse offers comfortable ensuite accommodation together with delicious home cooked dinners around the table with other like-minded guests.
Let’s imagine you are on one of our selected self-led walks. The walk is about 15km and starts at Loubressac, one of the many “Plus Beaux Villages” of France that are nationally famous in the area. Perched on a promontory with magnificent views across the Dordogne valley and the surrounding castles, the village with its white stone houses is a photographer’s dream. Pausing at the edge of the village, the view across the valley is breathtaking and in the mid-distance is a fairytale castle and its village built in an unusual red stone.
Continuing down a small road dotted either side with meadows and walnut groves you begin to spot some of the species of orchid that grow in abundance here. From May to July we have counted some 10 different species on this walk.
Eventually you emerge from the tree cover to a limestone cliff towering above another “Plus Beaux Village” nestling in the valley below. Here you have a choice of walking along the top of the cliffs where the habitat is perfect for wildflowers and an immense variety of butterflies. If you are lucky you may spot the family of peregrine falcons that nest each year on the side of the cliffs. For the more energetic you can take the path that plunges down into the valley to walk around the village of Autoire before a short but sharp scramble back up the cliffs. Where the two routes rejoin you can rest a while high above a cascade tumbling several hundred feet to the valley floor.
Your walk now takes you across the “Parc Naturel Regional des Causses de Quercy” an area that was once farmed with small dry stone wall enclosures but has since become a protected area due to its rich diversity of wildlife. The rocky path makes easy going but a hat and plenty of water are needed as the route is very open to the elements. Even in peak season you’re likely to encounter only one or two other walkers on the whole route – you have the countryside to yourself.
At about 10km you suddenly emerge into a very different location. You have arrived at the famous caves at Padirac which, with its sideshow of restaurants and souvenir shops, is one of the most visited attractions in south west France. Take a minute to look down the enormous chasm in the ground, 35m across and 75m deep, large enough to swallow a house, that is the entrance to the caves. You make a note to return for a guided tour as you will need two hours to see everything.
Your route now turns back towards your starting point and follows ancient tracks used by the locals to move stock around the patchwork of enclosures. The tracks are bordered with many kilometres of dry stone walling that must have taken years to complete. Keeping an eye out for buzzards and kites that circle above, your path runs across a ridge before gently falling down to the village of Loubressac.
Time to relax at one of the small friendly bars in the village before returning back to “Jardin du Segala” for a relaxing four-course evening dinner in the company of your hosts and other guests. A good night’s sleep is virtually guaranteed in this idyllic peaceful location.