For anyone dreaming of meandering amongst the chateaus and ancient villages of pastoral Southwest France, the valleys of the Dordogne River and its tributaries provide the perfect destination.
There is almost a surreal feeling as you drive along the winding roads and lanes, past the rolling fields and vineyards that stretch to the horizon. Then, almost magically, you find yourself passing through an ancient gateway into one of the quaint gray stone villages that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
En route to a chosen destination, your GPS might send you down a delightful one-way country lane, just wide enough for one car. However, that does not preclude the possibility of encountering a farm tractor happily coming towards you, as the driver heads back to one of his fields. He will no doubt wave you back, and sure enough, after you have reversed for a short distance, there will be a section with a grass bank where the two vehicles can squeeze past.
The French are mad about cycling – particularly on holidays (of which the French have plenty). It is always wise, whenever you round a corner, to be prepared for a group of spandex clad figures bent over their bikes as they hurtle along with dreams of the Tour de France peloton.
Give a good-natured wave for those that you meet and perhaps you will see them again at the market, or bistro in the next village.
Getting around is pretty straightforward, since main roads and back roads are all well signposted, and it is difficult to get lost, even without a GPS. The towns and villages that have been identified as tourist destinations have nearly all adjusted to their newfound popularity, by providing spacious car parks on the edge of town. Since the towns are quite compact, this is convenient starting point to start exploring their amazing historic squares, buildings, and quiet back lanes.
The Medieval Bastide towns of the Dordogne region are unique for having been built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to a specific pattern. They all have a central market square, with an adjacent church, and with the streets set out in a grid format from that central square. To simplify access from one street to the next, the builders connected them with inviting alleys and passageways interspersed with small courtyards just waiting to be explored.
Many Dordogne villages have been formally recognized in France’s listing of its most Beautiful Villages. To be recorded as a Beautiful Village, a village must also have a population of less than two thousand, plus have some historical significance. The selected villages all proudly display a sign at their entrance to inform visitors of their inclusion in the prestigious list.
Although there are regional similarities, each town and village in the Dordogne has developed its own unique personality and charm. Indeed some differences are quite striking. The beautiful village of La Roque Gageac is nestled beside the Dordogne River with houses built way up and carved into the side of the cliff, as a measure of protection from enemies.
It is quite distinct from that of its picturesque Bastide neighbour, Domme, perched on a hilltop, a mere ten minutes drive away.
Each town in the Dordogne valleys has wonderful, colourful market days, with stalls selling an extensive range of local produce and crafts. Market Day is a social event, and its party atmosphere certainly transcends the mundane chore of purchasing supplies. Visitors mingle with locals as they check out what the local farms, cheese makers and wineries are offering, and strike up conversations with neighbours and friends who have all come to the weekly gathering.
If the atmosphere of the market becomes a little overwhelming, the market square is ringed with small cafes, bistros and boulangeries, all offering the opportunity to sit back and watch the show over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and an amazing pastry.
For the more active, there are numerous identified paths for hiking and cycling, and places for swimming, and horseback riding. If you fancy taking to the river, when it is low in the summer, just look for one of the clusters of colourful kayaks for rent on the riverbanks.
If your interest is attuned to the really ancient, you will discover that the valleys of the Dordogne river and its tributary, the Vezere, have been home to humans for over half a million years. With its temperate climate and lush vegetation, it is not that surprising that some of the very earliest humans migrated to this region to settle amongst its abundance of food, and the readily available shelter in the caves of the limestone hills.
The natural composition of the rock eventually resulted in slides that completely sealed those prehistoric cave homes, until they were discovered during the past century. Resulting in amazing dwellings with incredibly preserved artifacts and paintings that date back to the dawn of prehistory. Visitors are no longer permitted to enter the original caves themselves, because of the damage their expelled carbon dioxide would do to the rock faces with its paintings. However, there is a remarkable prehistory museum built right into the cliffs at Les Eyzies in the dramatic Vezere valley, with the troglodyte village of La Madeleine just to the North.
Of course, no Dordogne town or village would consider itself respectably French, if it did not offer a selection of small restaurants and bistros, where one can soak up the local atmosphere at an outdoor table overlooking the main square.
French meals are an integral part of their culture, and establishments offer a daily set meal, posted on a board outside. With lunch in the Dordogne being a leisurely two-hour affair, there is no pressure to eat and leave, and some of the most enduring memories are of sitting at a table finishing a glass of wine, and soaking up the local ambience.
SOURCE/CREDIT: Vancouver Sun, by PHILIP GARDNER
NOUVELLE-AQUITANE, FRANCE – This region might be best known for its quality Bordeaux wines, but its food is an epicurean’s paradise. To the east of Bordeaux, the department of Dordogne (historically known as Périgord) is best known for its gourmet foods. With more than 2,000 years of history and numerous regionally protected products, there’s a plethora of choices to keep any food lover happy.
Truffles: Native to the Dordogne, the black Périgord truffle is coveted by gourmands worldwide for its complex aroma. From November to March, the expensive delicacy can be purchased for a fair price from Perigueux’s Place St-Louis market and Sarlat’s Saturday market. Connoisseurs of the black diamond are known to visit Sorges, about 19 kilometres northeast of Perigueux, to learn about the fungus at its charming truffle ecomuseum and area truffle farms. Or attend Sarlat’s truffle festival on the third weekend of January.
Foie gras: Despite its controversy, the traditional skill of force-feeding geese and ducks is still practised in Périgord and remains part of the department’s identity. Foie gras, a.k.a., fattened goose or duck liver, is served at most restaurants and found in specialty shops in Sarlat. There’s even a Route de Foie Gras for those wishing to meet the more than 60 producers of the specialty. Look for products labelled “Indication géographique protégée” (IGP) which guarantees the high quality product is strictly from Périgord.
Dordogne strawberries: Delicate, candy-sweet and a treasure of the region, the excellent, large-fleshed Dordogne strawberries are the only strawberries protected by the IGP geographic status. Thanks to ideal temperatures and soils, the region enjoys a long season that lasts from April to October. The main strawberry varieties, including Gariguette and Darselect in the spring, and Mara des Bois and Charlotte in the fall, can be found at most markets.
Traditional macarons: Ursuline nuns brought the traditional macaron to Saint-Émilion in the early 17th century. Although they’re made with the same ingredients — egg whites, sugar and almond flour — as their gussied-up sandwiched Parisian cousins, the rustic confection is chewier, straddling a soft biscotti and almond cake. Many shops sell traditional macarons, but the original recipe (a carefully guarded secret that’s only passed down to the business’ successor) is only available at Les Macarons de Saint-Emilion.
Caviar: A pioneer in river sturgeon breeding in Aquitaine, Domaine Huso in Neuvic sur I’Isle is one of three production sites in the Dordogne that specialize in high-quality caviar. Using methods that create minimal environmental impact, the prestigious products are processed and packaged, then marketed as Caviar de Neuvic. The 7.6-hecatre farm is open to visitors seven days a week. Tours of the facilities (that concludes with a caviar tasting) are available, but pre-booking is required.
Walnuts: Since the Paleolithic era (with evidence found in Cro-Magnon habitations from 17,000 years ago), walnuts have been widely celebrated for its many uses. At area ecomuseums or walnut-oil mills including Moulin de la Veyssière, you’ll find products such as vin de noix, a sweet and rich liqueur made from the green nuts, walnut flour, and walnut oil that’s been pressed from cooked nutmeal. For quality and authenticity, look for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)-certified Périgord walnuts.
This is a land of castles with any number of grand houses to visit. Here is our selection of the best.
The fascinating history of the Dordogne from medieval to modern times is brought to life by the grandeur and mystique of some of its splendid châteaux. When you visit these medieval fortresses, Renaissance palaces and grand family estates you will encounter a rich tapestry, revealing accounts of love and war, ambition and tragedy, fairy-tale romance and escapism. Here is our selection – but many more fine examples await travellers looking for inspiring architecture and remarkable stories from days of yore.
This imposing fortified castle sitting on a dramatic cliff top location overlooking the River Dordogne has seen almost a thousand years of history played out against its stone walls and courtyards. It is one of the best-preserved in the region.
A beautiful 15th-century château near Bergerac, once neglected but now happily in private hands and undergoing a small renaissance. Many restored and furnished rooms to view as well as medieval-style games. Popular with families.
Near Monpazier, in the south of the Dordogne, this dramatic château from the 12th century is perched on a hillside overlooking the Périgord and Agenais countryside. Visitors will appreciate its many beautiful architectural features.
The site of one of the four baronnies of the Périgord, this is an impressive château with a spectacular tower overlooking the River Dronne in the north of the Dordogne near Brantôme. The château and surrounding village are worth a visit.
In the heart of the Périgord Noir this is a medieval fortress with a military history. In keeping with its past life, today it houses a museum of medieval warfare. Enactments of Cathar history take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in summer.
Closer in appearance to a Loire château, the golden age of this majestic building in the north of the Dordogne was during the time of the Marquis de Hautefort in the 16th and 17th centuries. The beautiful formal gardens are a must-see.
The Château de Jumilhac is to be found in the north of the Dordogne, on the route of Richard the Lionheart. With its picturesque turreted Renaissance roofline this imposing château strikes visitors as the quintessential romantic castle.
In the Périgord Pourpre, this château dates from the Middle Ages but also boasts some fine work by Italian craftsmen who later helped transform some parts of it into a Renaissance palace. It has been owned by the same family since 1732.
A beautiful 15th-century castle in the heart of the Dordogne valley, made most famous by former owner the American chanteuse Josephine Baker, who lived here with her 12 adopted children. Famed for its birds of prey displays during the summer.
Here, just south of Bergerac on a proud hilltop, you can combine a pleasant dégustation of the famous dessert wines with a visit to the small yet impressive château with Renaissance interiors and views over the vineyards.
A Renaissance jewel in the north of the region, Puyguilhem is an elegant building with classic proportions and Loire-esque turreted rooflines. Hard to believe it was once abandoned until the French state intervened in the 20th century.
Only opened to the public in 2013, this is a Louis XIII château overlooking the River Vézère not far from the Lascaux caves. The owner will often be on hand to share his special interest in prehistoric artefacts.
From France Today magazine
If you’ve travelled to or from Nice on the train, you may remember the train station there as a rather dismal and somewhat confusing place. People crowding together to get through to the platforms, bumping elbows and closely guarding pockets and purses. Always a “traffic jam” by the entrance to the platform as a horde of travelers tried to navigate through the crowd to stamp their tickets, as required, in the little yellow machines.
The ticket office stood off to one side, awkwardly designed so as to require queuing up in a long line to wait for an agent.
Outside and below this office, a lone and uninviting restaurant with few other options nearby.
In fact, I think many would agree that the whole area in and surrounding the Gare de Nice was one to simply get away from as quickly as possible.
Now, dear past and future visitors to Nice, all that has wonderfully changed! This once disheveled building and its environs has had a major facelift.
The building itself has been lovingly restored. The ornate grillwork over the main entrance has been polished up, and the lovely set of arched doors now enter into a spacious, open and light-filled room. The large square ceiling has been painted like a chapel and the platform doors to the trains are now opened up, giving travellers the freedom to come and go. No more crowds squeezing through a limited area.
The train schedules are projected onto the side of one wall giving it all a clean updated feel, and there are other bright new schedule signs throughout.
And those little yellow machines to stamp the tickets now sit rather sheepishly by the platform doors, still pretty but humbled.
To the left of the main waiting room is a new Relay store for your magazines newspapers and candy; to the right, a shiny new sandwich shop where you can stock up before boarding your train to Paris or Avignon.
The far end of the station is now the ticket office, complete with a ‘take-a-number’ machine and bright décor – purple and yellow chairs for waiting and tables where you can plug in a laptop.
All these changes are refreshing and welcome! But there’s more. The exterior of the station has also had a makeover. The huge open plaza in front is now home to a modern tourist office and a Paul boulangerie/patisserie.
These changes to the station have had a larger impact on the entire area near the Gare, with people relaxing at restaurants across the street. From super sketchy to stylish, it is a remarkable transformation!
The overhaul of the Nice Gare is not complete; the work goes on. But already the new look and feel of this busy station on the Côte d’Azur will make landing in this charming city a treat.
CREDIT/SOURCE: By Mary Kay Seales – FRANCE TODAY
For the cake:
- 225g dried dates chopped
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 50g dried walnuts, roughly chopped
- 275g plain flour
- 225g caster sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 75g butter
For the icing:
- 5 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
Grease and line a 23cm x 30cm tin. Heat oven to 180ºF.
To make the cake:
Put the chopped dates in a bowl and pour over a breakfast cup of boiling water. Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir in. Set aside. Cream the butter with the sugar in another bowl. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter, sugar and egg mix, then the dates and incorporate well. Scrape the batter into the baking pan and spread it right to the edges. Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. To make the topping: In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and cream over a low heat. Bring the mixture to the boil and boil gently for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Pour over warm cake. When cool, store in an airtight tin.
Credit/Source: Julia Watson, The Bugle
- It’s illegal to name your pig Napoleon
- Drinking alcohol at work is forbidden – unless it’s wine, cider or beer
- Unlimited self-service ketchup is banned in school cafeterias
- It’s illegal to kiss through the window of a train while it’s on a platform
- You “can” marry a dead person, but you first need to get the president’s permission
Source/ Credit: The Bugle