Cycling Southwest France - Biking the Dordogne

Day 6 - Vitrac to Rocamadour - 33.4 miles

After three rather short, but hilly days, the last two days promised to long and hilly. I was a bit anxious about the upcoming hills as we left the hotel in Vitrac on a misty morning. The elevation profile in Cycling France said that we had a long flat ride followed by steep long climbs towards the end. In reality, neither description seemed right. There were significant climbs in the beginning, and the long climbs at the end weren't so bad.

Our hotel in Vitrac had been full of cyclists. I think everyone there was on a bicycle. The clerk assumed we were headed to Rocamadour. "It's a scenic ride along the river here," he said.

Retrieving our bikes at the hotel in Vitrac

The road from Vitrac along the river

The supposedly flat road climbs above the river

The sun comes out as a castle appears in the distance

Coming down back to the river we were looking for a bike path that was indicated in Cycling France. For a few precious miles we enjoyed a serene path on a beautiful Sunday morning. It was the only time on this trip that we had the advantage of an isolated path for bikes.

A lovely bike path

Further along the path

All good things end, and so did the bike path. However, for a while afterwards the biking still was quite pleasant. Other cyclists were enjoying the day also, as can be seen in this almost typical picture.

A group of cyclists passes by

On a bike, by the river, by a bridge, on a lonely road

A little after noon we reached the moderate-sized town of Soulliac, which had a Sunday-morning look. There wasn't much traffic and the only stores on the main street that were open seemed to be serving brunch. I saw a Coke machine, and stopped to get a can for my lunch. I couldn't figure how to put money in the thing. I glanced around me -- was anyone observing my incompetence? Eventually, I succeeded, feeling like the dummy I was.

A little outside of Souillac our route again climbed over the river and we stopped at an overlook for lunch, again consisting of purloined goods from the breakfast buffet.

Lunch on the road east of Souillac

We were now approaching a critical point where Cycling France assured us that there would be a long, hard climb. As we coasted down the penultimate run-up to this climb, we surveyed the upcoming terrain.

The long climb to Rocamadour lies ahead

As I indicated earlier, the climb wasn't as bad as advertised. It was definitely long, but had a consistent, moderate slope, leading to a peak elevation of 1042 feet, our highest thus far. We stopped to watch some lambs (doomed, undoubtedly) at the top of the long hill, and then continued straight to Rocamadour.

Our first view of Rocamdour from this height was spectacular.

Rocamadour comes into view

Here I was saying to Len that it was a good thing that we had approached Rocamadour from the high elevation, so we wouldn't have to bike up that cliff we were looking at. How wrong I was! I had been thinking that our hotel was up here on top, but in fact it was down below, and we were going to have to bike down to the bottom and back again to get out of that place!

Reluctantly, we coasted down the incline to the town level of Rocamadour below. It was adventurous ride, particularly for Len, as the road passed through a very dark tunnel. In the middle of the tunnel, stuggling to see anything at all, Len met cars going both directions with almost no room for the bike. It was scary. It was even scary for me, and I didn't meet any cars.

Down the road there was an entrance gate to the ancient city of Rocamadour.

Entering Rocamadour

I was blown away by the setting of the city as we walked our bikes down the single street in the side of the cliff. As we walked, we had to make way for the sole mode of transportation in this narrow passage.

The little train that could, in Rocamadour

Walking along the single street of Rocamadour

Our hotel, the le Terminus de Pellerines, was located at the very end of this street. Outside the hotel we got to talking to an English couple who had been transferred by their company to a nearby town in France. The woman said to me that we were lucky that we were Americans, because the people here "hated the English." This was surprising to me, because I thought that Americans were on top of the list. I'm still thinking about that comment.

In the hotel we were greeted by a woman who seemed to run everything in the small hotel, and she gave us two rooms at the top of the stairs. She was tending bar when we arrived, later would serve us dinner, then tend bar, and was there in the morning to serve us breakfast and check us out. I admired her work ethic, but felt a bit sorry for her. I hope she had some other life.

Our rooms had balconies that overlooked the void facing the cliff.

The view from my hotel room balcony

I stared at this view for quite a while, thinking that the next morning I would have to bike up this cliff, after descending to the very bottom. My balcony was already halfway up the hill. It was a stressful thought.

We went out for a walk along the little main drag, looking for some good ice cream, since it was a few hours before dinner. The earliest any hotel served dinner on our trip was 7:30pm, and we always got this first seating. It did seem, however, that in this biking country everyone else was eating at this first seating too.

Len wanted to walk up the 172 stairs, or whatever it was, to the next level of Rocamdour. I thought I'd done enough climbing for the day already. But when in Rome...

Climbing the stairs at Rocamadour

At the top of the stairs there was an ancient church with considerable history. In one nave of the church there was a small figure known as the "Black Madonna." I forget why it was named that.

Here, once again, we ran into our new friends from North Carolina -- the Greenbergs. I thought it was great that the father could bike with his grown sons. The problem is that sons in their 30s usually have full lives and responsibilities that make it impossible to share such times with their fathers. I was jealous.

We run into the Greenbergs again at Rocamadour

This was our third meeting, and demonstrates that this rural country is really a small place. Every tourist, every biker, visits the same cities, and they are small enough that you run into each other again and again.

Back at our hotel for dinner we poured over maps for the route of our last day. This was to be the "unknown" day, as I had no elevation data and no idea what, if any, tourist attractions lay on the route. The Michelin map indicated steep hills on the way, and we sought alternative ways to avoid those hills.

Len borrowed a map from a couple at an adjoining table. They, it turned out, were walkers. At another table was a young couple from England who had one of those baby monitors prominently displayed on their dinner table. They were biking with two children on the backs of their bikes -- a one-year old and a three-year old. The one-year old was upstairs sleeping. I couldn't imagine how they managed. At another table were six middle-aged people talking about biking and about medical research. Everyone at the hotel seemed to be a biker or a walker, and was speaking English. Outside the hotel our bikes were among many arrayed by the door. And this place was on top of a cliff!

One last look at Rocamadour as night fell.

Rocamdour is deserted at night


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