With the Behind the Capital posts I put the spotlight on the places beyond the capital cities. Do you ever gaze at those £9.99 offers on budget travel websites and wonder what the hell one can do in places like Trieste, Gdansk or Brive? Last time I gave you the low-down if you’re flying to Eindhoven and what happens in Brabant.
Today we’re talking about Dordogne Valley in South West France. When visiting France, most travellers make a beeline for famous cities like Paris, Nice or Cannes, but some of the country’s dreamiest holiday destinations are actually the tiny, little-known towns and villages. If you don’t believe my word for it: Lonely Planet named Dordogne as one of the best of Europe 2017 destinations, so if the holy book of travel says it … it must be worth it (of course Tea’s recommendation is better right?)
You can fly in and out Brive or Bergerac but see if you can fly into one and fly back into the other for the ultimate road trip feeling. And here is my guide on how to see the best of South West France in less than four days.
The drive from Bergerac airport to the medieval town of Bergerac takes about 20 minutes and is an excellent intro to Dordogne Valley. If you like cities with a historic city centre and buildings that look like they belong in fairy tales then Bergerac is for you. You can soak up the cobblestone streets and half timber stone houses and sit on one of the terraces on the city square and see the people go by.
Alternatively, you could head for the Monbazillac Chauteau and enjoy their famous sweet wine that goes well with Casse Croûte, that’s French for ‘afternoon snack’. Monbizzalic Chauteau itself is a museum where you can sneak a peak of how the owners throughout the centuries lived as well as a history of the wine and how it’s made. Don’t skip the cellar where you can get a glimpse of how the original ovens and cooking tools where the food magic happened.
Once you’ve had your share of the white elixir, it’s time to hit the road and (have the designated driver) drive towards Sarlat. Where you must stop in Beynac. Not only because Johnny Depp walked the streets but to take in the view.
The rest of the evening you have time to explore Sarlat and maybe enjoy the local speciality roasted duck at Le Presidial.
If the weather conditions allow it you must hire a canoe and see Dordogne Valley from the water side, complete with paddle.
Alternatively you can visit Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, a huge garden on top of a cliff with views over the beautiful Dordogne River Valley. You can take different routes and spend hours exploring the quirky little places and getting lost in a labyrinth.
Then off to the World Heritage-listed Rocamadour, dating back all the way to 900 ago, is pretty bloody impressive. The medieval town built into the side of a cliff, you’ve probably seen it on a lot of must see lists. Way back it used to be just for worshipping and pilgrimaging – mainly due to the special relics it housed, and people travelled from all across Europe to get up close with those holy objects. But today, pilgrims have been swapped for tourists, who want to soak up the history and snap one of those ‘perfect French castle town’ shots for a few likes.
In the morning you might want to check out a cave, the Dordogne area is filled with caves. The Padirac cave is a must-visit, and it’s wonders like these that keep reminding me how incredible nature really is. You get to be the captain of a gondola-style boat that whisks you through part of the cave, from where you head on venturing on foot.
After all of the darkness you mind want to enjoy some fresh air, pop into Loubressac for stunning panoramic views of the village as well as a journey back in time as you wander the historic streets.
Stop in Autoire for a local onion soup and walk through the village and If your legs are up for 30-minute walk you will find a waterfall. A great place to catch a breath and sit down for a little cool down after the hike, and watch the waters flow on by.
Time to hit the road, to Brive this time. If you’ve got time to spare, Collonges-la-Rouge, a charming historical town famous for its red sandstone houses, little towers and narrow streets. It’s really as picturesque as it gets, there’s no skill requirement for taking a good photo here. You might want to grab some of those sugar roasted walnuts as a souvenir.
In Brive you might want to book your room at the centrally located Truffe Noir. From there you can easily walk into the centre. Brive famous for its yearly festival which puts on over 100 concerts and shows, including French and international variety shows, theatre, circus, dance, jazz, opera and classical, 80 of which are free, in prestigious venues around the city in the month of July.
Check out the the weekly market with on one side fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. I was so surprised about the cheap prices they offer, they put city farmers markets to shame, on quality, price and atmosphere.
If this all sounds too healthy then you might head to chocolaterie Lamy, a coffee and sweets hotspot and the place to be for chocolate related presents for the home front – or you know … just yourself.
Before you head towards Brive Airport there is one more stop to make: Turenne, this tiny, pretty village has to be the region’s best-kept secret and from what I heard it’s often bypassed for the larger and more famous spots. Which is a no doubt a good thing as you’ll almost always have its snoozy, old-time charm and castle (with a garden) all to yourself.
Have you been to Dordogne Valley? Do you have any tips? Would you be interested to check out the area?