/ Climbing in the Dordogne and Auvergne regions

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TobyA 09 Jul 2019

I'm going on a family camping holiday in a couple of weeks, we are going to spend a week in the Dordogne, a bit west of Sarlat le Caneda but not as far as Bergerac, then a week in Auvergne near Bort Les Orgues. I've never been to either areas before.

I've looked on the UKC logbooks and there are plenty of crags near Sarlat le Caneda, and there is climbing in Bort Les Orgues itself - I was wondering if anyone has climbed around there and what their impressions are. Some of the crags have brief descriptions on UKC but no list of routes or photos.

My family are not super keen climbers but they may well tolerate belaying me on a few routes and even have a go themselves. Basically the ideal in order for me to get some climbing done would be somewhere close to the road, and safe for our toddler to toddle around a bit, single pitch so I can be lowered off on a 60 mtr rope, and with some 5 and 6s for me to do and maybe some 4s and 5s for others to try on a top rope. Probably others with families will know the deal - the type of place where you can almost get away with saying "we're mainly going for a picnic, but whilst we're there you don't mind belaying me for a half an hour do you?"

We will also probably do the via ferratas that are in those areas - my older kids are quite happy to do via ferratas so that requires less diplomacy - but if anyone here has actually done any of them I'd be interested to hear what people thought of them. I imagine they are smaller in scale than the alpine ones for example.

Post edited at 15:59
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phizz4 09 Jul 2019
In reply to TobyA:

I've done the VF in the grounds of this Chateau. https://viaferrata-marqueyssac.com/?lang=en

It goes horizontally from right to left along a cliff that overlooks the Dordogne. The use is included in the admission fee to the grounds, which are quite pleasant to walk around. My wife went for a drink in the cafe while I did the VF. South West of Sarlat.

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TobyA 09 Jul 2019
In reply to phizz4:

Thanks! I don't think that one is even on the via ferrate listing map that I've been using - https://www.viaferrata-fr.net/cartefrance.php so great to know.

> My wife went for a drink in the cafe while I did the VF

That sounds about perfect for my needs!

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Adrien 09 Jul 2019
In reply to TobyA:

Bummer that's the one year I'm not visiting my family in Auvergne, otherwise I'd have been happy to team up with you.

Bort-les-Orgues (which by the way is on the border with Auvergne but not in it, it's in the Limousin) was a lovely area... but part of the main/most accessible crag collapsed a few years ago, three weeks after I was there, and climbing is no longer permitted. There is another crag with long-ish routes but I think access is trickier and/or involves rapping off, so not very family-friendly I'm afraid. Some info (in French) here, including part of a topo: https://www.camptocamp.org/waypoints/103840/fr/bort-les-orgues-le-belvedere

Another option 30mn from Bort-les-Orgues is Châteauneuf (beware, there are three crags with this name in Auvergne) near Riom ès Montagnes (not to be confused with the Riom near Clermont-Ferrand). It's basalt, the walk-in is about 30 seconds, and it's very family-friendly. About 60 routes 4 to 6b, grades are stiff/strange though. Bolted, which is kind of a shame since the rock lends itself to trad (cams and hexes, not so much nuts). Some info in French here: https://www.camptocamp.org/waypoints/102920/fr/chateauneuf The names of routes are usually written at the base but are sometimes illegible. Guidebook is Escalade dans le Cantal. Route names and grades here: https://oblyk.org/fr/site-escalade/1829/chateauneuf#voies , pictures here: http://lespagnol.prod.free.fr/excursions/escalade_dans_le_cantal__chateauneuf.html Pretty high up (900m) and it's Auvergne so you won't die of heat. I've been there twice and didn't see a soul, really enjoy the place. Ah and you can set up topropes fairly easily. A 60m rope is plenty.

Around Sarlat, I've only climbed at Céou and Milhac (falaise des corbeaux). The walk-in to Céou might be a bit steep for young children but my memory is hazy. The walk-in to Milhac is nonexistent and the base of the crag is safe. Limited parking. The crag faces south so you'll be roasting pretty quickly! Some great routes from 5a to 8a I think. A 60 should do. Guidebook is Escalade autour de Sarlat en Périgord Noir and should be easy to find.

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TobyA 09 Jul 2019
In reply to Adrien:

Adrien - thanks so much for all that info! I hope no one was hurt when the crag collapsed - the maps make it look like its right over the town.

Our campsite is near a village called Singles at the north end of the reservoir where Bort-les-Orgues is at the other end, so maybe that's in Auvergne? I guess I read it on their website! Châteauneuf sounds great, I haven't climbed on basalt much but I do like cracks. I suppose the basalt is connected to it being the volcano national park around there - sounds really interesting.

If you are from Auvergne, or at least have family there, are there any non-climbing things, be it hikes or museums, castles etc. that as first time visitors we should definitely do or visit?

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Adrien 09 Jul 2019
In reply to TobyA:

Ah yes Singles is in Auvergne, and anyway I was being a pedant for pedantry's sake! (Plus several regions were merged last year, such that Limousin and Auvergne no longer exist per se)

I'm knackered and shutting off the computer for the day but I'll write a detailed list of recommendations tomorrow!

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Adrien 10 Jul 2019
In reply to TobyA:

Right, here's some random advice and personal favorites:

-I'd say the one place not to be missed in Auvergne is the Chaudefour valley, though it's an hour's drive from where you'll be staying. It's a beautiful glacial cirque with two very distinctive lumps of rock, the Dent de la Rancune and the Crête de Coq. While both feature single and multipitch routes, the approach is long-ish and they probably wouldn't be fun with a toddler. However just walking to the heart of the valley makes for a lovely, 40mn (one-way) walk. From there another 20mn takes you to the Cascade de la Biche waterfall, or you could just picnic and relax in the heart of the valley where it's really open. It's a popular spot and finding a parking spot can be tricky in the afternoon, I recommend getting there before noon (also avoid bank holidays: July 14, August 15). The visitor center sells one or two climbing guidebooks for the Puy-de-Dôme département (which includes Chaudefour and Roche Tuilière (see below)). There's also a restaurant/bar which is supposed to be good opposite the carpark.

-One of the most scenic vistas is the view over the Roches Tuilière and Sanadoire, close to the Guéry lake. From the viewpoint a ~20mn downhill walk (road then easy trail) will take you to the base of Roche Tuilière (the one on the left) and its unique rock, think massive turtle/crocodile scales. It makes for unusual climbing with lots of underclings. Mostly easy routes, there's five 3a routes on the left and then it gets gradually harder as you move right, several 4s and 5s then a handful of 6s. I really enjoyed it. Helmet recommended. Also a 100m 3a multipitch. Roche Sanadoire only has multipitch climbing and the approach is definitely not toddler-friendly.

-For authentic local craftsmanship, check out Artisanat rural in Tauves. Woodwork, metalwork, lavastonework (?), etc..

-Again, a bit of a drive (an hour) but the Pavin lake is a gorgeous high altitude volcanic lake with wonderful colors (no swimming). Walking around the lake takes maybe an hour and it's flat. There's a small crag (basalt columns) by the lake but access is tricky and some routes are right by the water (or may not be accessible depending on the level of the lake...). Very popular so get there early, although I doubt the carpark can get full. While you're there you could go to Besse, a quaint little town which has a medieval feel.

-The highest summit in the area, Puy de Sancy (1,886m), tends to be overcrowded because of the lifts from Mont-Dore and Super-Besse. I wouldn't bother going to the top, BUT there's two walks/hikes in the vicinity that will be far less crowded and which I really enjoy. You could start from above Chastreix, basically where the road to the ski lifts ends, and follow the ski lifts which, granted, is kind of boring, but eventually you get to a "ridge" overlooking the Fontaine salée valley. The trail then follows the cirque to the left, there's a bit of exposure, nothing too bad but it's up to you to decide whether it's safe or not. Go as far as you like then return the way you came. You could also take the lift from Super-Besse (your typical touristy ski resort) and, from the top, walk to Puy Gros and back, it's a quiet trail and the view is great.

-Food: Saint-Nectaire is probably my favorite cheese (also a town with a gorgeous church and a nice via ferrata), also Cantal (especially mixed with potatoes, which gives you a truffade) and Salers (another quaint little town but a bit of a drive). Saucisson (dried sausage) is probably the type of meat I miss most now that I'm vegetarian.

(I realize several of these recommendations are quite a distance from where you'll be staying, but with my family being from around Picherande I'm more familiar with the heart of the massif...)

And while I'm at it, around Sarlat:

-the castle of Castelnaud is great! I've no doubt children will love it, the view from the top is very pretty, there's some cool antique weapons (including several types of catapults, one of which they even demonstrate) and you'll hear stories of Franco-British enmity

-I wouldn't bother with the Marqueyssac gardens, we thought it was nice but a bit boring and overpriced

-Any village with limited parking, get there early. Think La Roque-Gageac or Beynac et Cazenac.

-I don't know whether they do visits in English, but Font-de-Gaume is an absolute must: it's one of the last prehistoric caves that you can visit in France. It's limited to 60 (or is it 80?) people per day, with 10 people per visit (with a guide) and I don't think you can book, so just get there early (and I mean before it opens). I don't know about the toddler though. Very moving.

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TobyA 10 Jul 2019
In reply to Adrien:

Adrien - merci beaucoup! I will print all that off, and take it with me and start looking on a map at where the places you suggest are. Despite some other members of the family disagreeing, I want to "do things" on holiday, so an hours drive from where we are camping is absolutely fine in order to "do things" and "see stuff" that is interesting! What's the point of going somewhere new if you're not going to explore once there.

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to write all that out.

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phizz4 11 Jul 2019
In reply to TobyA:

I can recommend the cave at Peche Merle, east of Cahors. Park in the village and enjoy a pleasant walk up to the cave entrance. Also, think about a canoe trip on the Dordogne or the Vezere, and this is worth a visit with youngsters: https://www.northofthedordogne.com/roque-saint-christophe.php

Post edited at 10:25
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