My two friends and I made it to Dordogne in last May. We rented a flat in Sarlat and used it as our home base from which we took day trips to different parts of area. We had a blast even when the GPS from our rental car took us the long way to get to our destinations. We named the GPS Georgette after the Jersey cow because she tended to take us to “greener pastures” where no road signs existed and we were required to go through someone’s private rear yard before hitting a somewhat legitimate road. After a few trials, we relaxed and trusted that eventually she would take us home and were delighted to see the real back roads of Dordogne.
The areas were full of medieval fortresses and hillsite dwellings. The first we saw was Maison Forte de Reygnac. It was a “Chateau Falaise” built into an existing cave dwelling. The manor was fully furnished with articles used in the period’s daily life. The top of the building was left with parts of the prehistoric dwelling and a magnificent view.
The next day we trooped through the Cabanes du Breuil. These were wonderful 19th Century architectural exercises in stone building. The lower walls were stone with mortar while the conical roofs were dry stacked corbelled vault under stone roof tiles.
Dordogne was littered with gardens and castles though the castles were not as glamorous as the Loire Valley castles but nevertheless, they were worth a stop. One couldn’t skip the Chateau de Marqueyssac. The gardens were a tribute to the art of topiaries. The 150,000 boxwoods were cut and trimmed, some were grouped to resemble flocks of sheep, while some were of the geometric shapes served as garden ornaments. The property was beautifully situated, perched on a hill overlooking the Dordogne valley and river. A walk around the garden took us through different plant groups, different vistas and some water features.
Not too far from the gardens of Marqueyssac was where you could take the barge trip- Gabares Norbert – down the river at La Roque Gageac. The languorous pace of the barge was a nice way to end the day after the energetic walk up above the hills at Marqueyssac.
Rocamadour was also a not to miss attraction. The village was also a pilgrim’s destination with the Grand Escalier, leading to the Chapelle de Notre Dame with the black madonna statue and the Romanesque-Gothic Basilique of St Sauveur. The town itself was also very picturesque as seen from afar and up close. One could also visit the Maison de Saucisse and shops selling the famous Rocamadour goat cheese on the way back from the church visit.
France was full of “most beautiful villages of France” but some were not as prosperous as Rocamadour. We went to see Autoire and it was quite desolate, at least when we were there.
Josephine Baker’s Chateau des Milandes. The highlights were the Art Deco bathrooms! The tour inside the chateau gave us a glimpse of Ms. Baker’s enormous attraction and what a life worth living!
Another castle to squeeze in the itinerary: the Chateau de Hautefort. The care that went to rebuilding the chateau after a fire was astounding. The garden won best supporting garden in my view but the entry court was no less of a bold move.
Alas, the Manoir d’ Eyrignac. A tour de force in garden design.
Castle visits were my thing so we went to see yet one more at the Chateau de Losse overlooking the Vezere river complete with moat and terrace with quaint gardens. This was a more manageable manor. One got to see how a minor lord lived.
The best town where we stayed was Sarlat La Caneda. We saw Sarlat on market days, Sarlat on slow days, and Sarlat in the early mornings. Sarlat had so many little streets, and gorgeous details including a remodel by Jean Nouvel at the Ste Marie de Sarlat Church converting it into a market hall.
One did not go to Dordogne and not think about food. Here was the Perigord, the Acquitaine, but most of all, Foie Gras Country. We went to different towns on its market day and got to sample canned foie gras, bought porcini mushroom products, fragrant oils, and fresh foie gras. Sarlat also boasted the premier Patisserie Mertz. We had milles feuilles, eclairs, and other goodies.
At the end of each day, exhausted from the day trips, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sites but at the same time sated from the leisurely pace that we took to savor it, we would ask ourselves: “who gets the milles feuilles after dinner?” and thought to ourselves how this could not be more perfect.