Tuesday 4 August 2015

The Dordogne Valley, Inntravel cycling holiday, France

One of a dozen or so cycling tours organised by the "slow holiday" company Inntravel, this seven day jaunt around the Dordogne Valley makes for a fairly challenging, but rewarding, trip for a family. Inntravel sells the holiday on a half-board basis and, although the accommodation can be a bit basic, you'll be well fed each night. You collect your sturdy hybrid bikes at La Vieille Auberge in the pleasant old town of Souillac - the start and end point for a loop, potentially taking in almost 200 kilometres of hilly and picturesque French countryside. Inntravel provides excellent and extensive directions and notes, which you can store in a plastic case on your handlebars, making it easy to navigate. Your luggage is transported from hotel to hotel by taxi, but you can carry a few essentials (such as water, a raincoat and the lame puncture repair kits) in your panniers. Note, the provided locks are very skinny - bring your own. On a typical day you'll ride for about three hours (including stops), leaving time for a leisurely lunch and sightseeing, caving, canoeing down the Dordogne and whatever else takes your fancy.

Heading up on to the causse
On the first day, you head south alongside the Dordogne and across the river, passing the fine châteaux of Treyne and Belcastel. You climb through the scenic Ouysse Valley past an old working flour mill, Le Moulin de Caugnaguet, before rising on to the causse (limestone plateau) to reach Hospitalet, which is near the famous vertical village and religious sanctuary of Rocamadour.  Your ultimate destination is the secluded and spacious Hotel Le Troubadour in Hospitalet where you spend two nights. On your second day, Inntravel suggests exploring Rocamadour or doing a 30km circuit to the pleasant town of Gramat, concluding with a hair-raising, but very enjoyable, descent down towards Rocamadour. If you go all the way to the bottom, the climb back up is pretty stiff.

The picturesque climb towards Loubressac  
The third day is the best. The route takes in Gouffre de Padirac, a spectacular and watery cave system deep below ground, Cirque d'Autoire, a natural amphitheatre peppered with waterfalls and the harmonious historic village of the same name, before climbing to the fortified hill-top town of Loubressac and your slightly soulless hotel, the Relais de Castelnau. This last ascent, taking in a couple of hairpin bends, winds up a lovely road offering beautiful sweeping views across some timeless countryside.

Arriving in the hilltop town of Loubressac 
On day four, you descend back into the Dordogne Valley heading west through the modest medieval village of Carennac, following the meandering riverside road to the village of Gluges, which shelters under a cliff-face, and the eccentric Hotel Les Falaises, where you spend two nights. You then have the option of a rest day, which you could spend canoeing on the river, or riding along some lovely lanes north of the Dordogne to the atmospheric and well preserved medieval town of Martel, which is a good lunch stop. The final day - the ride back to Soulliac - involves a hard climb or two, but the scenic countryside more than compensates.
The climb out of Gluges towards Martel
Although the accommodation can be a bit disappointing, this is a well designed and varied holiday that strikes a good balance between exercise, gastronomy, scenery, culture and time by the pool. The route follows very quiet roads, so you should feel safe enough. But on hot days you will quickly go through water and many of the hamlets don't have shops, so bring plenty of fluids and cereal bars. Enjoy. 8/10