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Climbing in the Dordogne and Auvergne regions

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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
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.

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!

 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.

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?

 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!

 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.

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.

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
In reply to Adrien:

Adrien, sitting outside my tent below a wonderfully dark star filled sky on our last night in Auvergne, and I just wanted to say thank you again for all your advice and suggestions. I got to climb a couple of routes at Chateauneuf today before we drove into the Cantal Massif and walked the final bit up to Puy Mary. Stunning. We've been up Puy de Sancy too (yes, by cable car up the hard bit, but the two year old summited in the papoose with us!). Again marvelous even if as busy as you suggested. We walked into the Chaudefor Valley as well, lovely but I want to go back to climb now! Yesterday I tried to destroy myself doing a "tres difficile" VTT route, from Chastreix up and over and down into Mont Dore down to Bourboule, then back up and up and up again then back down to Chastreix. 49 kms, all off road, but 1300 mtrs of climbing in 30 degree heat that wasted me! The attractive young woman in the hire shop seemed genuinely impressed, which of course made it all worthwhile. ;-) I even got my grumpy teenage son to do three via ferratas with me (the one above Mont Dore on the Capucin was the best we agreed).

I've eaten lots of good cheese and saussicon too! Sarlat area for the first week was nice, but Auvergne is great. I want to come back in winter now. 

Thanks again!

 Adrien 06 Aug 2019
In reply to TobyA:

I'm glad you enjoyed it!! Yes the Puy Mary area is stunning (it's amazing to think that pretty much the whole Cantal département is a massive caldera), and yes I'm sure you want to climb in Chaudefour ;-) Hit me up if you come back, if I'm around we'll climb on the Dent de la rancune and the Crête de coq.

Well done on your bike ride! I don't cycle enough to do that but I really want to get on some MTB trails next time I'm there.

Your profile says you're into winter climbing, I understand the Cantal is good for that, both mixed and icefalls. From what I've read it's more Scottish-y than alpine. Some info here: http://cantalpinisme.com/glace.htm , guidebook is Escalade glace et neige dans le massif du Cantal. There's also some stuff in Chaudefour.

 Darron 06 Aug 2019
In reply to TobyA:

Milhaud (mentioned above) is in the 2018 Escalade dans le Lot guide. Good crag.

 Darron 09 Aug 2019
In reply to Darron:


In reply to Adrien:

Thanks for the link - it was about 25 degrees on the top of Puy Mary so the idea that it is the first place in that part of France to get snow seemed funny! I did notice on one of the tourist signs in one of the Cantal villages that it marked "Cascade de glace" along with a little symbol of an ice climber! I thought that was very much my sort of tourist info sign.

BTW, I was  impressed that in Riom-ès-Montagnes there were signposts for "Rocher d'escalade Chateauneuf" but also for other climbing cliffs - it's a town that obviously takes it climbing very seriously!

In reply to TobyA:

For next time:-

It's touristy, but Puy De Dome is cool even though it's got a massive transmission station on the top and a railway up it. We went on a family holiday in the 80's when I was a kid and it was the first time we'd seen hang gliders. You now get a train to the top rather than the road of the 80s.  You might want to check out the Cascade De Faillitoux - a waterfall over basalt columns like an upside down Giant's causeway. There's also a petrified forest somewhere by a road we stopped off at on the '80s trip but I have no idea where that was.

I like the look of the ridge walk leading east off Puy Mary (we did the tourist path up from the pass like you) - Breche Rolland.  The ski resort of Le Lioran was completely dead in May about 4 years ago - obviously between seasons. We stayed at a nice little cottage place at Les Chazes. Was cold for May though, freezing at night the day before we arrived. Plenty of snow lying around on the peaks too.

 Doug 10 Aug 2019
In reply to TobyA:

We've often visited the Massif Central, either as long weekends or when escaping from bad weather in the Pyrenees. Fond memories of  Chaudefour & its on my list of places to revisit.

Never climbed as have usually been with my non-climbing wife but did manage a 3 day ski trip back in one of the snowy winters in the early 2000s with a small group from CAF-Paris. Arrived on the night train & stepped into our bindings just across the road from the station that serves the ski area below Puy St Mary. Only removed skis for a couple of km waling into/out of the village where we stayed on our first night & at the end skied onto the platform after finishing on the pistes of Puy St Mary after the downhill skiers had finished for the day. An hour or two later we were on the night train back to Paris. Unfortunately its rarely been as snowy since & I think the night train no longer runs.

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