I’m a born and raised coastal Canadian, used to defining geographical borders by shorelines. I can point to ‘where I’m from’ with a clumsy finger on a satellite photo to Nova Scotia and the ocean frames the answer with the high tide line. So, when I first traveled to the Dordogne my question was: where are its borders? What makes it The Dordogne?
Water-biased as I am, ‘the banks of the Dordogne river’ was my tacit understanding. With boots on the ground in Tremolat, beginning my Freewheeling reconnaissance, it was time to build my mental map. Squinting at a satellite picture I had judged the place as verdant, fertile, and alluvial. All that was true in person, but those 2D images completely missed the utter delight that is the topography. The way one travels in the Dordogne is at the mercy of the cliffs and outcrops: meandering like a stream through this limestone labyrinth (where finding the way out is an afterthought). There’s just so much texture to the landscape. Smooth river courses rippled by canoe paddlers, craggy escarpments with colourful streaks of smoothed stone from eons of erosion. And if all this wasn’t enough of a sight, I was only looking at one side of the coin. Because exploring the Dordogne can (and definitely should!) take you underground. This is the region of cave paintings, but the natural formation of caves makes its own art one brush-stroke of mineral-rich water drop at a time.
I was fortunate to have enthusiastic underground explorers join our Dordogne & Lot Bike trip on my subsequent visits. We visited a grotto used by nefarious highwaymen to hideout from the law. Tiny cliff openings that lead to vast underground networks, and I was humbled by the 25,000 year-old paintings in Le Grotte de Peche Merle. I have become less interested in knowing the borders of the Dordogne now that I can see it in my minds eye. I hope you will join Freewheeling to Walk or Bike and sketch your own mental map.