Friday, August 23, 2019

A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF MEDIEVAL AND PREHISTORIC FRANCE

Global Traveler

France’s best preserved medieval village and the world’s most significant prehistoric site was the focus of my latest exploration.

Following a guided tour in Southern France I ventured on my own to the medieval town of Sarlat, one of the most interesting and significant places I have ever visited. Sarlat sits in an historic area that was once the scene of the 100 Years’ War between France and England. Thousands of castles once occupied this area, and some remain to be visited. It is considered the best example of a former medieval city in France. Sarlat has the highest concentration of medieval and Renaissance facades of any town in France. The town has remained intact in its original state since the 17th century

Sarlat has many cobblestone roads that wind in an irregular pattern through the old city. Many houses of historic charm remain. I was fortunate to stay in a 16th century house along a street that leads to the central plaza. It is surrounded by medieval buildings with turreted towers, as well as some of the finest restaurants in France. It is one of the few places that has vividly retained its past in an authentic form.

I also visited the fortified town of Domme, a place I have visited three times in the past. It is another walled city with medieval cobblestone streets and old buildings. It has a beautiful bluff that affords splendid views of the meandering Dordogne River surrounded by lush meadows and an alluvial valley. Its vivid panorama is one of the prettiest I have ever seen. Domme, itself, has a huge entrance gate and the city is another one that is well preserved and authentic. The writer Henry Miller once visited Domme and described it as perhaps the nearest place to paradise on Earth. I tend to agree.

Nearby is the town of Roque-Gageac, which is perched along and under huge limestone cliffs overlooking the Dordogne River. It was once voted the prettiest town in France. Many of its houses are lodged in the hillside, while others sit along the river banks.

The next excursion was to see the world famous cave of Lascaux, which is often called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art. The cave was discovered in 1940 by boys looking for their dog. The cave’s paintings date from an amazing 17,000 thousand years ago. While the original cave is not open to the public, there is a full sized exact replica that the public can view in its dark, dank interior which gives one the real sense of being in the original cave. The replica is authentic and beautiful, and I would rank it among the ten places worth a journey and a visit that exist anywhere in the world.

Lascaux’s walls and ceilings are covered with vivid paintings of bison, horned elk, plump horses, deer as well as geometric symbols. They are acknowledged to represent the finest example of prehistoric art.

The area around Sarlat include a number of castles, as noted, that date from the 100 Years’ War. Ones worth a visit include Castelnaud and Beynac. There are also a number of other medieval cities and bastides that are deserving visits in the vicinity.  Other prehistoric caves can also be seen in the surrounding area. These sights, plus the pastures and vineyards make it a colorful place to explore. I rank the area an A+ to see.

Dave Pattison has lived in Marco Island since 1999. He has traveled to every continent and over 100 countries, and still takes five-six trips annually. Dave is a well respected travel writer, winning first place in a Florida Press Association contest. Dave was a lawyer/lobbyist for the insurance industry, and had worked in the White House for four years before retiring. A widower, Dave has four adult children and five grandchildren.

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