Take a tranquil drive through the Dordogne countryside in Périgord Blanc.
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, campingneuvicdordogne.com), 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, aubergedumusee.com), 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, campingdulac-dordogne.com), 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, britannyferries.co.uk); 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: tourismeperigueux.fr; dordogne-perigordtourisme.fr
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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