With Mademoiselle Baker’s seductive tones warbling midst the cackling of ravens as they built their nests in tiny alcoves in the nearby chapel, I knew it would be a repast to remember. Bathed in sunlight on the terrace brasserie at Chateau de Milandes we dined midst the budding Tilleuil trees contemplating our day’s itinerary.
So far we had seen Grotte de Font de Gaume, one of the prehistoric caves with paintings, attributed to the Magdalenians and at least 12,000 years old. This cave is the last in the whole area that is still open to the public. It has around 200 works and, though there weren’t many of them available for our viewing, they were a moving sight and the atmosphere was added to by an emotional and enthusiastic guide. It’s extraordinary to contemplate what it must have been like all those thousands of years ago with only a flame to aid their efforts. As Picasso was wont to remark upon seeing ancient paintings for the first time, “What have we learned?”
We decided to leave the Milandes chateau and return for the bird show later; thus we found ourselves at Beynac, beneath the chateau perched atop an outcrop overlooking the Dordogne, as many other chateaux are. We walked along the riverbank and halfway up the hill, delighting in the photographic opportunities provided before we headed back to Mms. Baker’s residence.
She had been a singer of international renown with an extraordinary career. Born in the States in 1906, she emigrated to France and became a citizen in 1937 when she married a Jew, but not before knowing the street life in America where she’d had to sleep in cardboard shelters and scavenge in garbage bins.
For ten years she was the lead in the Folies Bergeres, and admired by all who saw her. Shirley Bassey once said, “I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer.”
During WWII She won the Croix de Guerre for her work with the French Resistance. When the Germans invaded France she moved to the chateau where she helped Belgian refugees and ultimately adopted 12 children.
She was the first Afro-American to star in a major motion picture (Zouzou) and was the only female speaker in the civil rights march to Washington with Martin Luther King and was offered the lead in the movement when he was assassinated but she declined.
When the builders refurbishing the chateau sent her almost broke, Grace Kelly, a close friend, offered her accommodation on the Riviera.
Still, we had returned to the chateau to see the birds and there were some wonderful specimens, including my favourite which was a large beautifully coloured owl. However, the highlight was an eagle but, unfortunately he wouldn’t alight in the area of the show. Though he was a regular, there was something that had him spooked. What could it be I thought?
It later transpired that someone from Australia with a tripod and large lens, who wishes to remain nameless, frightened the critter with his mere presence. When I later twigged what had happened (or not as the case may be) it was embarrassing and explained why one French lady gave me a stare portending death as she left the show. Still, since the entire commentary was in French, I felt like I wasn’t really all to blame.
Our next pinnacle of call was the Chateau Marqueyssac, whose gardens of renown, listed as an historic monument, were the main attraction, along with the splendid views from the Belvedere across the valley of the Dordogne from a vantage point of 192 metres. We spent quite a few minutes ogling the verdant countryside just beyond the sparkling waters of the Dordogne.
Set on a long rectangular ridge the topiary has walkways either side and down the middle so you can either view the panoramas or admire the gardens. We did both at this, the most popular garden in Perigord, designed by a student of André Le Notre – famous designer of the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles.
Altogether there are 150,000 hard pruned box trees in the gardens and, no, I didn’t count them to check. After the swirling box patterns there is a long alley of clipped rosemary and santoline (lavender cotton). Altogether there are 6 km of walks divided into three main paths: a cliff path; a high walk and the great walk. All of these lead to a large viewpoint at the end of the garden. The great walk also has a shuttle in high season to transport you to the belvedere if you need it.
We then treated ourselves to a cuppa and ice cream on the balcony of the 17thC chateau and pondered what it must be like to be here in July to the end of August when the gardens of Marqueyssac are open every Thursday evening and lit by candlelight, 2000 of them, and a hundred other light sources, to highlight the beauty of the cliffs and the park. In different areas of the park musicians play. A truly magical evening.
Next we headed down by the riverside to the attractively situated Roc de Gageac whose buildings are seemingly precariously situated against a sheer sandstone rock face that towers way above the village. In fact, some are actually in the rock itself. It’s troglodyte heaven, if you are so inclined.
Here we had dinner at a hotel that turned out to be the only downside of the day, re-enforcing my saying that, “eat at a pub, get pub food.” Though not always correct, it so often is. Still, it was nice just being there watching the gabares (river boats with mast near the bow) ply their way along the river with their tourist passengers, somewhat few in number at this time of the year.
We also climbed up one of the narrow roads and discovered a shop. Inside the shop was liquor (amongst other things) and Lorraine got some free tastings while the absolutely delightful lady who owned the store explained how it had taken her nearly a decade to get the shop up and running.
Next day we headed south.