If you’ve ever dreamed about living the good life in rural France: a table beneath the fig tree, spread with local produce, a glass of the local red in your hand, sunlight filtering through the leaves and the only sound you can hear is the lowing of a cow or the sound of running water, then you’ve been dreaming about the Dordogne.
For the traveller to this region it’s as much a region of the imagination as it is a geographical area. It’s also known as Nouvelle Aquitaine or the four regions of the Périgord, but it’s around the name Dordogne that the region’s special charms have coalesced. It’s an area largely untouched by industrialisation where you can lose yourself on tiny roads, where ancient woodlands open onto vistas of undulating pasture or perhaps a Romanesque church or medieval water mill; where sleepy little hamlets of extraordinary beauty leave you feeling as if you’ve stepped back in time.
If you enjoy old buildings you can gorge yourself on chateaus, castles and churches, perched on cliffs, hidden in valleys or crumbling romantically beside a gently flowing river. It’s hardly surprising that this is the most popular tourist area in France outside of Paris: there is simply so much to enjoy.
The most popular tourist destinations are those which lie close to the Dordogne river, one of the longest, most beautiful and historic rivers in France. Some come to see the numerous and astonishing caves, many of which contain extraordinary examples of prehistoric art.
Others to visit the ancient towns like Sarlat, where the narrow streets and honey coloured buildings give one a sense of what life might have been like hundreds of years ago.
If you are travelling with children there’s no shortage of exciting outdoor activities to take part in, such as canoeing down the Dordogne or one of the smaller rivers, like the Dronne; or climbing or mountain biking or horse riding, all of which can done in the most beautiful unspoilt surroundings.
There are of course plenty of grown up pleasures too, after all this is France and for many the food and wine are quite simply the best in the world. Truffles, walnuts, mushrooms and foie gras are likely to appear on most menus and no visit to the Dordogne would be complete without a visit to a market, when quiet little towns are transformed into bustling labyrinths of the finest produce you’ll see anywhere.
As I’ve said, one of the charms of the Dordogne is the number of delightful old buildings which have survived and what better way to immerse yourself in the spirit of the place than to stay in one of them: there is a huge choice of postcard perfect gites to choose from or if you really want to live the dream, why not rent a chateau. The department of the Dordogne is one of the largest in France and there’s so much to see that you really do need a car or a bicycle. In the Dordogne, the journey is part of the delight, for you never know quite what you’ll find around the corner.