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.
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.
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.
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.
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