Bordeaux to the Dor­dogne

David Jack­son-Grose takes us on a jour­ney from Bordeaux through the breath­tak­ing Dor­dogne re­gion, stay­ing in ro­man­tic châteaux and vis­it­ing some of France’s most beau­ti­ful me­dieval vil­lages.

Provincial Living - - Contents -

Ev­ery­one has to ex­pe­ri­ence Paris at least once. But if you want to en­joy another beau­ti­ful French city within easy reach of many of France’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary at­trac­tions, Bordeaux is a must!

The Aquitaine (lit­er­ally “land of wa­ter”) re­gion of­fers a won­der­ful cli­mate, gas­tro­nomic de­lights and beau­ti­ful scenery. It pro­vides mem­o­rable glimpses back into pre­his­toric, me­dieval and Re­nais­sance times. Mil­lions of French cit­i­zens as­pire to live in Aquitaine’s cap­i­tal, Bordeaux, lo­cated one hour’s drive from the At­lantic coast on the Garonne River.

Bordeaux is classy and con­fi­dent. It is a ma­jor city and an ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sure-trove but, com­pared with Paris, it moves along at a much more leisurely, re­fined pace.

The his­toric part of the city is on the UNESCO World Her­itage List as “an out­stand­ing ur­ban and ar­chi­tec­tural ensem­ble” of the 18th cen­tury. Land­marks in­clude the Place de la Bourse and the Grand Theatre, both built in the 17th Cen­tury.

Bordeaux also boasts some mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural won­ders and has been given new life in re­cent years. As a Mel­bur­nian, I feel right at home here, glid­ing past the won­ders of the city in a new tram.

Bordeaux is not only fa­mous for its ar­chi­tec­ture, of course. As ev­ery­one knows, this is the home of the world’s most soughtafter red wines.

Travel just five min­utes from the cen­tre of the city and you will al­ready find your­self among vine­yards. Not just any vine­yards, ei­ther; these are spe­cial. Each plot of land pos­sesses unique char­ac­ter­is­tics. There are sub­tle, yet sig­nif­i­cant, dif­fer­ences to be found even in wines pro­duced from vine­yards lo­cated on two dif­fer­ent sides of the same pic­turesque hill.

Spend­ing at least one night in a château nes­tled among the vines is a must when vis­it­ing Bordeaux. The re­gion is sim­ply full of châteaux – a word that the French use to cover cas­tles, man­sions, manors and other his­toric prop­er­ties of sub­stance. Here, you can live like roy­alty with­out pawn­ing the crown jewels – there are just so many to choose from.

Lo­cated right in the mid­dle of the vine­yards, the iconic Re­lais de Mar­gaux is si­t­u­ated just 43 min­utes from the air­port and 50 min­utes from the cen­tre of Bordeaux. With 88 rooms, in­door and out­door swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course and a spa, this ho­tel has ev­ery­thing.

One château I have very fond mem­o­ries of is the beau­ti­fully re­stored Château de Vayres over­look­ing the Dor­dogne River be­tween Bordeaux and Li­bourne. Once owned by the Kings of Navarre, it has an ex­quis­ite Re­nais­sance gar­den and court­yard. This gor­geous 13th Cen­tury castle pro­vides the per­fect fairy tale back­drop for a wed­ding, as it did for my own!

As ev­ery­one knows, this is the home of the world’s most soughtafter red wines.

[Sar­lat] is the per­fect base from which to fur­ther ex­plore this part of the Dor­dogne.

Sar­lat

Travel in any di­rec­tion from Bordeaux and you’ll dis­cover trea­sures of all kinds. To the north is the area of Poitou with the cities of La Rochelle and Poitiers. To the south is Biar­ritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the pil­grim­age cen­tre of Lour­des.

Trav­el­ling east, you will come to my favourite part of France – the Dor­dogne, and my favourite me­dieval town, Sar­lat.

One way of reach­ing Sar­lat from Bordeaux is to take a de­tour north from Berg­erac to visit one of Europe’s most fa­mous me­dieval cites, Périgueux. Its iconic Musée Ve­sunna, in which Gal­lic-Ro­man arte­facts are beau­ti­fully pre­sented, brings a very event­ful past to life.

Com­plet­ing this de­tour, travel south­east from Périgueux to Sar­lat via Les Eyzies and an area of spec­tac­u­lar rock for­ma­tions and pre­his­toric sites, in­clud­ing Grotte du Grand Roc and Grotte de Las­caux.

If time is lim­ited, how­ever, and you sim­ply want to see as many ro­man­tic vil­lages as pos­si­ble, travel east di­rectly to Sar­lat-laCanéda (sim­ply known as “Sar­lat”). This is the per­fect base from which to fur­ther ex­plore this part of the Dor­dogne.

Grace­ful and charm­ing, Sar­lat fea­tures nu­mer­ous me­dieval build­ings, cob­ble-stoned streets and a lovely old cathe­dral. There’s also a great lo­cal mar­ket on most Wed­nes­day morn­ings and a lo­cal fair on Satur­days.

While there, be sure to try the lo­cal spe­cialty – foie gras. Sar­lat is the home of foie gras and the goose is the sym­bol of the vil­lage and the sur­round­ing re­gion.

One of the most charm­ing ho­tels in Sar­lat is La Couleu­vrine, a splen­did 18th Cen­tury res­i­dence set within the city walls. The de­light­ful host­ess here is Madame Is­abelle Lebon. As La Couleu­vrine is par­tic­u­larly famed for the qual­ity of its pro­vin­cial dishes, I highly rec­om­mend stay­ing here on a half­board ba­sis.

Domme

Less than 20 min­utes south of Sar­lat, perched on the top of an im­pos­ing hill, Domme is re­mark­able for its strate­gic lo­ca­tion. Founded in 1280, it pro­vides one of the best views in France and over­looks the Dor­dogne River.

Right in the heart of Domme is Hô­tel L’Es­planade. Hostesses Monique Gil­lard and her daugh­ter So­phie of­fer a very in­ter­est­ing se­lec­tion of lo­cal dishes in­clud­ing foie gras (of course), truf­fles and wild mush­rooms.

…even if you re­turned a dozen times, you still could not ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing this amaz­ing re­gion has to of­fer.

La Roque-Gageac

Trav­el­ling 10 min­utes west along­side the Dor­dogne River, you ar­rive at the beau­ti­ful me­dieval vil­lage of La Roque-Gageac. Built into the side of a cliff, La Roque-Gageac is your dream me­dieval French vil­lage come to life. It is sure to re­main with you as one of the most en­dur­ing im­ages of your jour­ney through the Dor­dogne.

Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castel­naudla-Chapelle

If you con­tinue another 5kms along the Dor­dogne River, you reach Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castel­naud-la-Chapelle. This is an area where history comes alive.

On the north side of the river is Château de Beynac, which Richard Lionheart seized way back in 1197. Nearby, on the other side of the river, is Castel­naud-la-Chapelle (or sim­ply “Castel­naud”). The in­hab­i­tants of these two cas­tles fought each other on and off for most of the Hun­dred Years’ War be­tween Eng­land and France.

For a unique last night in the Dor­dogne, con­sider im­mers­ing your­self in history at the Bal­con en Foret, lo­cated within the vil­lage of Beynac it­self. Hosts San­dra and Bau­douin Ko­erts welcome you to stay in one of their ex­tra­or­di­nary, price­less suites or, as the French say, “cham­bre d’hotes”.

As you make your way back to Bordeaux amidst the peace and tran­quil­lity of the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, you’ll have col­lected a wealth of won­der­ful mem­o­ries. Yet, even if you re­turned a dozen times, you still could not ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing this amaz­ing re­gion has to of­fer.

Château Pon­tet-Canet, Con­seil

des Crus Classés en 1855

Sar­lat

Photos: Bigstock.com – Elenathewise, An­drew Nor­ton, OSTILL, Javar­man, Ilo­lab

Domme

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