The Land of Caves and Castles

Posted by Steve and Judie Burman – Caves and Castles

Welcome to the Vezere Valley and the Dordogne.

We’re Steve and Judie Burman, and we run Caves and Castles tours from our farmhouse in the Vezere Valley, part of the Dordogne. We love to share our passion for this wonderful region where early humans left their art and artefacts behind to puzzle and intrigue us.

Also, we’re the latest members of Slow Travel Tours, this informal association of like-minded Tour operators.  Between us all, we offer an incredibly wide and varied range of very special Tours where you are not just a number on the company representative’s list, but individuals. You enquire as a stranger, but we soon move on from there with helpful, practical advice and by the end of your Tour, we’ll be friends. That’s for sure, whichever Tour you pick.

On the Vezere river

We now live in the land of caves and castles.  For 36 years Steve was a teacher and practitioner of archaeology in the UK while Judie ran her own business producing vinyl graphics.  Life is different here!

The river Vezere which flows almost past our door rises to the north-east of Limoges on the Plateau des Mille Vaches (Plateau of the 1000 Cows). It meanders gently southwestwards from the Massif Central towards the Dordogne.

For at least 80,000 years it was a major migration route for tens of thousands of reindeer, horses, bison, mammoths and other animals from the icy mountains to the warmer coastal flatlands.

This was why Humans came here, pushed by the ice caps spreading over northern and central Europe, following their food. First the Neanderthals and then, about 35,000 years ago, a new species arrived….us. They liked what they saw around here.  There were plenty of shelters under the towering cliffs where they would be protected from the wintry blasts outside. After the last hunt of the autumn they would spend a few months here, building up reserves of food and tools, before moving on in the Spring. People came here in their hundreds from all over southern and western Europe, shared and swapped ideas, techniques and beliefs.  They also explored the caves, using them for ceremonies and rituals. This is where they painted and carved the cave walls with the earliest pictorial art in human culture.

Lascaux cave paintings

Some of the most famous examples of this art in the world are found here. Master artists used at least as wide a range of techniques as we would today.  At Lascaux, five metre-long aurochs (huge wild cows now extinct) frame the principal chamber of Lascaux.  In Rouffignac, the Patriarch Mammoth welcomes you; you are more than 500 metres inside when you meet him.  The bison at Font-de-Gaume process down the cave, huge muscles bulging from the rock. Imagine seeing these great beasts by the flickering light of a reindeer grease lamp.  They would have moved as if they were alive….scary! Just round the corner at Les Combarelles, a young child’s hand was placed inside a rocky hollow and someone sprayed ochre to fix the image.  This must have been a very special moment 13,000 years ago.

Imposing castles, relics of past wars, now dominate the peaceful landscape. There are more than 1000 chateaux in the Dordogne. Just 500 metres from our home is Chateau de Losse perched on its crag over the Vezere. You get an extra-special view, drifting gently past in a canoe en route to a delicious leisurely lunch at one of the many family-run restaurants in the area.

Chateau de Losse

There are many castles in the ‘unmissable’ category. Castelnaud is perhaps the finest, towering over the river. The views from its battlements are stunning; it is a magnificent example of castle building in the Dordogne.  Each is different and has its own charm and its own story.  Beynac, Commarque, Puymartin, Biron, l’Herm are some of the others; the list is seemingly endless.

Come and stay a while and explore the land of caves and castles.  We’re part of Slow Travel Tours because we share the same philosophy. Travel isn’t about ticking boxes and dashing from place to place. It’s about staying and at least temporarily becoming part of a community, making friends. Our neighbours produce the most wonderful walnut oil and love to meet new people and get a real buzz knowing their oil is gracing tables in far flung countries. But don’t be fooled.  Our Tours are leisurely, but they are also action packed.  You’ll see places you’ve dreamed of and others you didn’t even know existed. Come and find out.

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Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France.  Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours.  Small groups tours (up to six people) are based at their recently converted farmhouse.  Alternatively, they offer non-residential tours for a day or longer.

Professional archaeologist, Steve and his wife Judie love to share their passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’  Its history and culture are awe-inspiring.  The area is also famed for its gastronomy and wine. You won’t be disappointed!

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