choice to visit Ribérac (about 40 kilometers from Brantôme)
for your second day is not due to its beautiful, round-domed
Romanesque churches. What makes this market town unique
is that it's one of the last examples of what villages
used to be like.
reason is to experience the Hôtel de France.
Located on the town square, whichlike Brantômeturns
into a madhouse on market day, it's family run and is
a perfect example of what a provincial hotel should be;
to whit: creaky wooden floors, massive mahogany armoires,
no mini-bars replenished on the hour, and reasonable prices.
Dine in the restaurant, which is formal with 18th century
toile hunting scenes and china fit for The Ritz. Owner
Stéphane Jauvin's mother prepares the delicious signature
duck confit encased in a crisp, lighter-than-tempura crust.
If you're lucky, the chef will have picked "cèpes"
(wild mushrooms) that morning and sautéed them
in goose fat. The locals claim that goose fat guarantees
Visit the Monolithic Church at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne. Through
a circuitous route that only the hotel host, Stéphane,
will happily sketch out, you'll pass through the Double
forest. This is an area dotted with isolated villages,
huge felled trees, and sequestered little lakes which seem to be
hiding from tourists.
St. Jean Church
Aubeterre will delight you. The village is travel poster fodder with its maze
of squares and dead ends dotted with outdoor restaurants,
crêpe emporiums, and gourmet bake shops. It's fun
to lunch or picnic in the main square as you wait to visit St. Jean Church (a.k.a. Monolithic Church). Like
many places in France, it's closed for a two-hour lunch.
Awe-inspiring is the superlative that describes the entry
into St. Jean. The underground church was miraculously
dug out of a limestone outcrop by Benedictines in the
12th century. The monks continued their 800 years of hewing
and digging until they created a cathedral with a roof
as high as Notre Dame. The guide will lead you to the tombs,
the baptismal area and the crypt. The crypt, bones and
all, was discovered in 1961 when a wide-load truck plunged
through the road above.
During the tour, the guide will ask you to imagine François
I, King of France, who stopped here in 1526; John Calvin,
who paid his respects in 1534; the religious wars when
the Huguenots devastated most of Aubeterre in 1562 and
razed every church around (except this one); and the Revolution
of 1789, when the church was used for manufacturing gunpowder. Finally, peer through
the melancholy darkness and imagine those first, simple
Christians, steeped in faith, being plunged into the baptismal
font standing before you; then at their death, being
interred a few feet away. Being presented with the whole
circle of life in these surroundings is more memorable
than any historical event you could imagine.
Continue to Day 3