Inspiration

A few days in… Dordogne

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Andrew Eames

5 min read

What is now the départment of the Dordogne was formerly the Périgord, a huge county which comes in four colour-coded descriptives, still widely used. Périgord Vert (green) is known its boar-rich forested hill country across the top of the region; Périgord Blanc (white) covers the chalk fields and pale-stone villages in the centre and west; Périgord Pourpre (purple) refers to the red wine country of the south west around Bergerac, and Périgord Noir (black) is truffle country, in the south east. All are within the Dordogne, and I planned to visit each in turn.

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Day 1 – Brantôme and the caves 

I started up in Périgord Vert, by the village of Brantôme, on a Dordogne tributary called the Dronne. The village had originally been settled by monks taking advantage of its natural limestone caves. They then built a massive abbey and dammed the Dronne for fishponds and watermills, so now Brantôme is the Venice of the Dordogne, laced with waterways and gardens.   

There is another, more famous, cave in Périgord Vert at nearby Lascaux, containing paintings so precious that visitors are diverted into a perfect carbon copy. The depictions are almost entirely of animals, and the artists cleverly used the contours of the rock to express shape and movement, creating a sort of prehistoric Sistine Chapel, which I found even more remarkable when I realised that they would have been mostly working in the dark.  

Day 2 –  Beynac, châteaux and chocolat  

From Périgord Vert I moved down to Perigord Blanc to stay in one of the region’s thousand-odd châteaux. These buildings are more manageably sized than their show-stopping Loire cousins, they are everywhere, and they make excellent places to stay. Many have overseas owners who’ve fallen in love with the region, including Americans Don and Jennifer Macdonald who host guests in their immaculately restored eight-bedroomed Chateau de Belet, which commands its own little valley.   

Stay at Chateau de Belet >

From here I drove southeast through the Dordogne’s web of wiggly roads into Périgord Noir, via spectacular riverside towns like Beynac, which piles up the hill to an imposing castle and has regularly appeared in films such as Chocolat (starring Juliette Binoche).  

I ended up eventually in Sarlat, Dordogne’s tourism hotspot, wandering wide-eyed with the crowds through its medieval labyrinth of cobbled alleys and truffle boutiques. It is beautifully preserved, and with musicians in the Place de la Liberté and market traders on Rue de la République it felt like a fiesta, but for Sarlat, this was just another day. Apparently, it can get impossibly busy in midsummer.  

Day 3 – Monpazier, vineyards and bastide towns 

For the third night of my journey I headed for the purple zone, into the rolling riverside hills around Bergerac, where every slope seems to have been preened with a fine comb. Here I was staying in a different kind of château – one which grows, matures and bottles its own vintages. Château Feely is run by Irish/South African couple Sean and Caro Feely, who also have a couple of self-catering lodges with exemplary views out over the vineyards.  

Stay at Château Feely Organic Estate >

From here it was an easy jaunt south to Monpazier, the best preserved of the Dordogne’s typical bastide towns, laid out in a grid format during the Hundred Years’ War and little changed since. To me, its wide-arched arcades around its central square felt like something out of medieval Spain.    

Day 4 – Roque-Gageac, terraces and toasts 

On my last evening, I returned to the river, to the storybook cliff-hugger of a village that is La Roque-Gageac, for a salutary drink on a riverside terrace. Watching the canoeists drift past, I realised that there was so much more I could have done, but for now it was time to refresh the glass with mellow Bergerac, and to raise a toast – to the Dordogne.  

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Andrew Eames

The grandson of a Scottish crofter from the Isle of Skye, with a father from the Channel Island of Guernsey, Andrew Eames was born with his hand-luggage packed. Andrew is an experienced travel writer, and regularly contributes to a wide range of magazines and national newspapers. His most recent publication "Blue River Black Sea" was rated one of the top travel books by the Sunday Times.
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