Author: Rob Shepherd, previous guest at Pagel.
Sometimes it’s difficult to leave Pagel. Not so much in a Hotel California way as in a Narnia way. You fall under the Pagel spell, time passes and you forget there’s a world outside. That’s certainly how we felt on our stay last May. Outside didn’t matter so much; there was no need of it.
Except that something deep inside reminded us that we were in the south-west of France. That we love browsing lazily through French markets in the morning sun. That we were in a land of mediaeval walled towns and castles, nestling in some of France’s most alluring countryside. And that our five-year old daughter likes nothing more than extreme risk as high above ground as possible.
So, we tore ourselves away from the pleasures of Pagel and we went out for the day. Our morning destination was the charmingly ancient Cahors, about 30 minutes’ drive away. We found parking easily enough close to the centre, despite it being market day (which was why we’d chosen Saturday – we could also have opted for Wednesday), and headed straight for the stalls which, like so many French markets, were to be found in the streets beside the city centre cathedral. According to the tourist website for the departments of Lot and Dordogne, Cahors is “one of the finest markets in the South-West” and it certainly seemed so to us, with a wide range of larger traders and small local producers packing the narrow lanes and side streets. Why, we asked ourselves for the thousandth time, as we marvelled, sampled, squeezed and shopped, is there simply nothing like this, and nothing like this extent and variety of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, back home in England?
Cahors dates back to Celtic times and its mediaeval old town sits comfortably with its ancient Roman heritage. The market-dominating Cathédral-St-Étienne is a national monument, there are Roman walls and there is even the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Though a reasonably small town today (population about 20,000, swelled by bustling tourists and shoppers), its past, character and atmosphere are assuredly camera-ready.
We didn’t have time for any of that. One of us demanded his coffee, we all needed to rest our feet and eat, and one of us was far too bouncy, energetic and, well, five, to traipse round history after spending too long sniffing artichokes.
But after lunch we did make time to roam the banks of the River Lot – in whose meander valley Cahors nestles, surrounded by steep arid limestone hills – in search of the best views of the fairy tale (and World Heritage site) Valentré Bridge, passing en route the turreted Cénevières Castle that hangs from a cliff 50 metres above the river. We weren’t disappointed.
Then it was our daughter’s turn. The afternoon took us about 15 minutes away to the Cap Nature Parc de Loisirs – a leisure park hidden in the forests of Pradines that offers everything from canoeing and kayaking to laser quest and paintball, all set around the very respectably sized (and sometimes very high!) network of tree skyways – our destination for a couple of hours of heavenward forest adventure.
The staff were very friendly, welcoming, patient with newbies and, thankfully, unabashedly safety-conscious. Our little one was kitted out with helmet, gloves, an elaborate safety harness and, strapped to it, the twin carabiners that ingeniously meant she could travel the tree-strapped rocking walkways, swinging bridges, wires, tunnels and obstacle courses that would pass way above adult heads, all without ever having to unstrap. And because she was five, daddy was similarly kitted out and, with some trepidation, taken through the safety training course before being let loose.
We had a choice of four routes, graded for difficulty and height, and we set out on the easiest. I say easy – maybe so when you’re about three feet tall, know no fear and can get through any opening on all fours but not when you’re twice the height and have to shimmy through ten foot-long tunnels on your stomach. cramped and feeling all the while like Indiana Jones squeezing out through that cave entrance just before the door slams shut, only to find yourself emerging hundreds of feet above the forest – but without the hat … or, to be fair, anything even vaguely Harrison Fordish.
The wobbly walkways wobbled, the swingy bits swung and the ground looked a long way away but it was exhilaratingly great fun, and not just for our daughter. To be thoroughly recommended as a day out on its own or with Cahors as a double bill.
We loved our stay at Pagel. We also loved our day out, whether prodding plums or traversing the trees. And for all those things, we can’t wait for the opportunity to return.