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Birthday in Bergerac

semi-overcast 19 °C

On Tuesday October 1st we commemorated a very special birthday in Bergerac. It was the day China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding as a communist country. China has come a very long way since October 1st 1949 and even here in Aquitaine in Southwest France the effect of the buoyant Chinese economy is noticeable. More than 150 of the best vineyards and many great chateaus are now owned by Chinese nationals. But someone else has come a long way since that date and here we are with her brother and his wife celebrating seven very successful decades...

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Our birthday dinner at l'imparfait restaurant was superb, but there are many fine eating establishments in Bergerac and we are doing our best to get around them all. Foie gras and duck are the most common menu items but we've also enjoyed sweetbreads, mackerel, goose and snails – all foods rarely found on Canadian menus.

The medieval city of Bergerac is just one of the numerous historic communities that straddle the Dordogne River and exist largely on tourism and wine today. Bergerac is particularly well known because of Cyrano de Bergerac, a soldier and poet whose enormous nose prevented him from professing his love for his cousin , (or so the story goes). Cyrano is credited with vanquishing the English from this part of France in the mid 1600s and he is celebrated with at least 3 statues in Bergerac. This one stands outside the main church...

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We are staying in this four story medieval house next to the chateau in the middle of the old city...

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Our lodgings have been comfortably refurbished with many more mod/cons than the original owners could ever have imagined in the 16th century. However, Bergerac has street after street of houses that were built in the middle ages – here are just a few...

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The Bergeracois have been very sensible in banning motor vehicles from most of the old city, although in truth many of the roads are smply too narrow and too tightly woven for all but the smallest vehicles. Don't try driving through here...

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However, the Dordogne River is a wide, though shallow, highway that gently meanders past the old city and has been used for centuries to carry wine and produce from the fertile valleys of the Dordogne and its tributaries to Bordeaux and ultimately to the world. Flat bottomed boats called gabarres were the traditional sailing vessels used for transport and we took a short river cruise on a replica gabarre from the town of Beynac which is built into the rock face. From the boat we were able to get wonderful views of chateaus and castles that were built nearly a thousand years ago when the English and the French were at war over this land. The French originally controlled one side of the river from the castle high above the river in Beynac...

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This seemingly impregnable castle was built in 1115 and was captured by Richard the Lionheart for England in 1194. And this is the English castle of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle on the other side of the river which was built about 950 years ago.

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Descendant of the original owner, Francois de Caumont, eventually grew tired of living in a monstrous and uncomfortable castle so he built Les Château Milandes nearby in 1489. This is the chateau that was eventually owned by Josephine Baker.
It would take months to trace the convoluted histories of these incredible places and we only have a week, but an interesting fact about the gabarres is that the Dordogne River usually flowed too fast for the boats to sail back upstream once they had delivered their goods in Bordeaux. So the boatmen would break up their boat and sell the wood for firewood. They would then walk the 200 miles home and build another boat ready for the next year's crop.

Posted by Hawkson 12:26 Archived in France

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Comments

Add a decade and another birthday being celebrated in Ottawa this week at Chez Meghan and Graeme. Not likely fois gras or snails on the menu but daytime temperature predicted to be same as Bordeaux for the week. Finally moi travels, eh?

by R and B

What a beautiful area. Loved the look of your hotel. You are going to come home very spoiled. Love the way you celebrate events.

by Sue Fitzwilson

"To have a relationship with a bearer of such a nose means their standards are extremely high and they tend to become a perfectionist." auntyflo.com

by Janet

How wonderful to see you celebrate your birthday with your bro and his wife. Not sure I would enjoy the food but the castles look fascinating! I showed the photo to Book Club this afternoon.

by Joyce

What a spendid way to celebrate your birthday! I love the fact that so many historic buildings have their original looks preserved on the outside but are modern and comfortable on the inside - a great way to preserve aspects of a culture without being stuck in an uncomfortable time warp.

by Shelley Tillemans

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