Take a tran­quil drive through the Dordogne coun­try­side in Périgord Blanc.

France - - Bienvenue - Gaye Lamouroux

Your jour­ney be­gins in the small town of Saint-astier, just south-west of Périgueux, cap­i­tal of the Dordogne dé­parte­ment. This part of Périgord Blanc is dot­ted with quar­ries where lime and tin­stone were mined to pro­duce the lo­cal spe­cial­ity, pewter, but once you get on to the D3 to Neu­vic, the scenery im­proves dra­mat­i­cally.

Soon you are driv­ing through glo­ri­ous coun­try­side dot­ted with pale stone houses, where herds of creamy coloured Charo­lais cows scuff up their hooves, rais­ing clouds of the lime-white soil which gave this re­gion its ap­pel­la­tion.

Dom­i­nated by an ele­gant Re­nais­sance château, Neu­vic shim­mers in the dis­tance like a mi­rage as you leave the D3 and join the D39.

Claim a shaded pitch, or rent a mo­bile home at Camp­ing Le Plein Air Neu­vi­cois (mo­bile home from €70 a night, camp­ingneu­vic­dor­, a charm­ing lit­tle camp­site over­look­ing the River Isle, then visit the cas­tle.

Built in 1520 for the child­less chate­laine An­net de Fay­olle, this Re­nais­sance citadel – in a strange twist of fate – now be­longs to the Périgord Or­phans In­sti­tute. Spend half an hour wan­der­ing through the cas­tle’s mag­nif­i­cent, mul­lion-win­dowed halls packed with an­tique fur­ni­ture, and then stroll through the vast botan­i­cal park to ad­mire the gar­den sculp­tures that were made by the chil­dren.

You will find plenty of chil­dren across the square from the church at Lom­iné’s, a boulan­gerie and pâtis­serie that has been mak­ing marsh­mal­low since 1852. The shop’s owner, Alain, will tell you that sim­i­lar sweets – pro­duced by boil­ing pieces of the marsh­mal­low root pulp with su­gar un­til it thick­ens – have been around for thou­sands of years, but the mod­ern ver­sion - made with egg-white and gum Ara­bic – was in­vented in France.

Af­ter chew­ing your squashy strips of marsh­mal­low, fol­low the river to the market town of Mus­si­dan. If you still have an ap­petite, head for the Au­berge du Musée (menus from €13, auberge­du­, a cosy lit­tle restau­rant with a shady gar­den, and or­der their spe­cial­ity Salade Périgour­dine, made with gésiers de ca­nard con­fits (ducks’ giz­zards).

To see tra­di­tional arts and crafts, browse the shops sell­ing knives and other iron­ware made in neigh­bour­ing Non­tron. Mus­si­dan is on the Saint Jacques de Com­postelle route to north-west Spain, so ex­pect to see pil­grims weighed down with ruck­sacks, their canes tap­ping on the cob­bled pave­ments.

Keep fol­low­ing the River Isle (mainly on the D6089) and you will reach the Moulin de Duel­las, a 19th-cen­tury wa­ter­mill that houses an art gallery and a water­front café. It is also a de­par­ture point for trips in a gabare, the flat­bot­tomed boats that once car­ried co­gnac to the At­lantic coast.

Float­ing down­stream, you can spot ot­ter-like ragondins (coypu), that are used to make a strongly flavoured pâté, and rare, web-footed cis­tude ter­rap­ins that come to the river to breed.

From nearby Saint-mar­tial-d’artenset, the wind­ing D708 road leads deep into the Forêt de la Dou­ble. This vast area of

oak and pine for­est stud­ded with lakes was cre­ated by me­dieval monks when they drained the marshes. Stay at the Camp­ing du Lac (car­a­van pitches from €16, camp­ing­du­, a camp­site with fabulous views over the beaches of the Grand Étang du Je­maye. Al­ter­na­tively, check into Le Bistro­tel (rooms from €56, tel: (Fr) 6 79 87 47 11), a com­fort­able five-room ho­tel over­look­ing the lake. Rent moun­tain bikes at the camp­site and set out along a war­ren of sandy tracks to the Cis­ter­cian abbey of Notre-dame de Bonne Espérance in the next-door vil­lage of Échourgnac.

There are seven ser­vices a day and, if you are lucky, you will ar­rive in time for the Gre­go­rian mass, chanted by the res­i­dent Trap­pis­tine nuns. The abbey shop sells rose petal jam and La Trappe, a rich and fruity cow’s cheese that the nuns have been mak­ing since 1868. From La Je­maye, take the D41 back to Saint-astier and then fol­low the scenic D6089, which winds its lazy way along the River Isle to Périgueux.

A great way to get around this pretty town is to take the lit­tle train which leaves from Boule­vard Mon­taigne. Rat­tle through cob­bled streets to the Re­nais­sance quar­ter, and then get off near the Ve­sunna Tem­ple, con­structed in 2 AD, which stands next to an award­win­ning Gallo-ro­man mu­seum.

This spec­tac­u­lar glasshouse, built over the re­mains of two an­cient villas un­earthed in 1959, was de­signed by lead­ing ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel. Cre­ated around the re­mains of the an­cient town of Ve­sunna, the mu­seum is packed with fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hibits. Af­ter­wards, join a gus­ta­tio (tast­ing ses­sion) to sam­ple honey-sweet hy­dromel, salty garum sauce and other drinks and dishes that the Ro­mans en­joyed while liv­ing in Périgueux 2,000 years ago.

End your Perig­or­dian jour­ney with din­ner at La Ta­ble d’eu­génie (menu from €12, tel: (Fr) 5 53 82 45 23), a gourmet restau­rant half an hour’s drive from Périgueux, in the charm­ing ham­let of Sourzac. Or­der the menu du ter­roir and tuck into home-made poêlée de boudin de ca­nard (fried duck sausage), fol­lowed by moëlleux de porc en croûte de Trappe d’échourgnac (creamy pork slices cooked in Trappe cheese) and raise a toast to Périgord Blanc. GET­TING THERE: Brit­tany Fer­ries op­er­ates ser­vices from Portsmouth to Caen or Le Havre, both around a 6hr drive from Périgueux (tel: 0330 159 7000, bri­tan­ny­fer­; The near­est air­ports are Berg­erac (55min), Brive-la-gail­larde (1hr 10min) and Bordeaux (1hr 25min); Trains from Lon­don to Périgueux via Paris and Bordeaux take 7hr 10min.

TOURIST IN­FOR­MA­TION: touris­; dordogne-perig­ord­

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ABOVE: The town of Périgueux on the River Isle; IN­SET: The château at Neu­vic

ABOVE: The Forêt de la Dou­ble makes a pic­turesque stop on the Périgord Blanc trip; BE­LOW: Try the marsh­mal­lows at Boulan­gerie Lom­iné in Neu­vic

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