Dor­dogne

Af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Dor­dog­neshire’, this long-time favourite ex­pat hot spot is still as pop­u­lar as ever

Living France - - Contents -

For many years, Dor­dogne has been a firm favourite among ex­pats look­ing for a new life in France, and it’s easy to see why. Oc­cu­py­ing a prime po­si­tion in the south-west cor­ner of France, Dor­dogne has a lot to boast about; bu­colic pas­tures that be­long on a painter’s can­vas, honey-hued stone vil­lages where time seem­ingly stands still; lush vine­yards that snake off into the hori­zon; sub­lime, lo­cally grown pro­duce, and an av­er­age sum­mer tem­per­a­ture of 28°C all con­trib­ute to the area’s en­dur­ing ap­peal.

This land of plenty is the epit­ome of quin­tes­sen­tial France and has en­ticed so many Bri­tish ex­pats over the last 50 years that to­day it is af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Dor­dog­neshire’. What’s more, re­cent fig­ures re­leased by the French Na­tional In­sti­tute of Sta­tis­tics, INSEE, show that it is the most pop­u­lar place for Bri­tish buy­ers to live after Paris. But most im­por­tantly of all, the av­er­age prop­erty price in this pic­ture-post­card cor­ner of ru­ral France is just €118,300, mak­ing it an ex­tremely af­ford­able area in which to live.

The depart­ment of Dor­dogne is the third largest in met­ro­pol­i­tan France, mea­sur­ing 9,200km, and is made up of four ge­o­graph­i­cal (and colour­ful) re­gions. In the north lies Périg­ord Vert, and it re­ally is as green as the name sug­gests – it of­fers a real dose of the great out­doors with its thick green forests, tran­quil streams and rocky plateaux. One of the high­lights in this north­ern part of the depart­ment is the town of Bran­tôme, home to clus­ters of quaint stone build­ings and an im­pres­sive Bene­dic­tine abbey. The town is made all the more at­trac­tive thanks to the tran­quil River Dronne, which en­cir­cles the his­toric cen­tre.

Just a 20-minute car jour­ney away to the east lies St-Jean-de-Côle, one of 10 plus beaux vil­lages in Dor­dogne. Here you will find many quaint colom­bage houses, which once won the prize for the ‘finest roofs in France’. But the vil­lage’s calling card is the pic­tureper­fect Place St-Jean; here the at­trac­tive, 12th-cen­tury Château de la Marthonie nes­tles be­side a string of quaint, cot­tage-style houses and a Ro­manesque Byzan­tine church boast­ing an un­usu­ally rounded shape.

CHALK IT UP

Périg­ord Blanc is the name given to the cen­tral re­gion of the depart­ment, ow­ing to its chalk land­scapes. This mid­dle slice of Dor­dogne is home to the depart­ment’s cap­i­tal, Périgueux, which dates back to Ro­man times. The town boasts a de­light­ful old cen­tre where wind­ing, white lime­stone streets fea­tur­ing ev­ery­thing from fam­ily-run boulan­geries and tra­di­tional iron­mon­gers to haute cou­ture bou­tiques and lively cafés ra­di­ate out from the Gothic, multi-domed Cathé­drale St-Front.

Ves­tiges of the town’s Ro­man past fill the cité, Périgueux’s orig­i­nal old town. Lo­cated west of the me­dieval cen­tre, the cité is home to a ru­ined, gar­den-filled am­phithe­atre and tri­umphal tower, and the re­mains of a grand villa, which to­day form part of an im­pres­sive Gal­loRo­man mu­seum.

Although it re­ceives fewer vis­i­tors than other parts of Dor­dogne, Périg­ord Blanc still has plenty of ap­peal. For Robert Chap­pell, open­ing a B&B ( robert.chap­pell. free.fr) in Dor­dogne had been a dream for many years, but it was only by chance that he ended up in Périg­ord Blanc. “I ar­ranged to see a num­ber of prop­er­ties with an es­tate agent near to Les Eyzies, the vil­lage where I had stayed on a num­ber of vis­its to Dor­dogne. But the very first prop­erty was Le Moulin Neuf and I knew it was the one for me,” he says. “My B&B is in the vil­lage of Pau­nat in Périg­ord Blanc and I adore liv­ing here. I’ve man­aged to fully in­te­grate here and plan to stay for the rest of my life,” he adds.

PUR­PLE REIGN

Nes­tled in the south-west of Dor­dogne is Périg­ord Pour­pre. The area is char­ac­terised by fields full of sashay­ing sun­flow­ers, clus­ters of an­cient farms and gently slop­ing vine­yards, which pro­duce some of the coun­try’s most well-known wines. Two big hit­ters are Péchar­mant – a full­bod­ied red prized for its strong, el­e­gant aro­mas – and Mon­bazil­lac, a sweet white, with hints of honey, peach and aca­cia.

Bastide towns and vil­lages dot the land­scape here, with Mon­pazier con­sid­ered to be among the most well pre­served in France. Founded by King Ed­ward I of Eng­land in 1284, the town se­duces vis­i­tors with its pic­turesque cen­tral square, home to ar­cades and stone houses that sug­gest all is much as it has been for the last 700 years.

Strad­dling the River Dor­dogne in the heart of Périg­ord Pour­pre is the cream­stone town of Berg­erac. It is renowned, first and fore­most, for its river­front old cen­tre, com­plete with foun­tains, half­tim­bered build­ings and lively cafés; but Berg­erac is in­creas­ingly con­sid­ered the gate­way to Dor­dogne, thanks to its airport. Reg­u­lar ser­vices op­er­ate from Berg­erac to a num­ber of places in the UK, mak­ing it easy for ex­pats to visit friends and fam­ily back home, and vice versa.

Périg­ord Noir is also known for its pre­his­toric caves, the most fa­mous of which is Las­caux in the Vézère val­ley

BLACK DI­A­MOND

Périg­ord Noir boasts the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of Dor­dogne’s un­spoilt vil­lages and lyri­cal land­scapes. In the south of this area lies the Dor­dogne val­ley, home to the idyl­lic vil­lage of La Roque-Gageac. Nestling be­tween a cliff side and the River Dor­dogne, the south­fac­ing vil­lage catches plenty of sun, which cre­ates a mi­cro­cli­mate that feels pos­i­tively Mediter­ranean. The balmy tem­per­a­tures have led to the cre­ation of an ex­otic gar­den half­way up the cliff side, home to palm trees, ba­nana plants, fig and lemon trees, bam­boo and cacti.

Just across the river lies Castel­naudla-Chapelle, which is topped by a 12th­cen­tury château com­mand­ing won­der­ful views of the coun­try­side. Fur­ther down­river on the north­ern bank lies Beynac-et-Cazenac, where nar­row cob­bled streets lined with golden-stone me­dieval houses lead up to the château. The fourth of these plus beaux vil­lages is the clifftop bastide town of Domme, where streets are laid out on a grid pat­tern.

It was the show-stop­ping scenery here that made Paul and Sarah Gal­limore, along with their two chil­dren, aged 11 and eight, swap Blighty for a new life in Dor­dogne.

“I took early re­dun­dancy at the age of 43 as I felt I needed a change of di­rec­tion. We de­cided to do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent and move to France. We have worked very hard to make it work, and after nine years here, we feel very set­tled now,” says Paul.

To­day Paul and Sarah run My Dor­dogne Gîte ( my­dor­dogne­gite.

com) rent­ing out their prop­erty near Beynac to hol­i­day­mak­ers. The Gal­limores don’t in­tend on mov­ing back to the UK any­time soon and are proud to re­port that their chil­dren are fully in­te­grated into so­ci­ety, with their daugh­ter en­gaged to a French­man and their son at univer­sity in Bordeaux.

The me­dieval town of Sar­lat-la-Canéda is this area’s pièce de ré­sis­tance. A cen­tre for trade in the Mid­dle Ages, Sar­lat is to­day a tourist hot spot with its twist­ing al­ley­ways and hid­den squares lined with honey-coloured build­ings that twin­kle brightly in the morn­ing light.

If you de­cide to move near to Sar­lat, your Satur­day morn­ings will never be the same again thanks to the buzzing food mar­ket; here you will jos­tle for space with savvy lo­cals to get close to tres­tle ta­bles groan­ing with ev­ery­thing from sunswollen, farm-fresh veg­eta­bles to boxes of gar­lic, truf­fles and trays of foie gras.

JOUR­NEY BACK IN TIME

Périg­ord Noir is also known for its pre­his­toric caves, the most fa­mous of which is Las­caux, lo­cated 25km to the north of Sar­lat in the Vézère val­ley. The orig­i­nal caves, dis­cov­ered in 1940, are closed, but a spec­tac­u­lar new replica, known as Las­caux 4 has opened nearby with state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy help­ing vis­i­tors ex­plore the pre­his­toric cave art.

Sally Mills has been liv­ing in the vil­lage of Mon­tignac, home to the Las­caux caves, since 2000, and de­scribes the new vis­i­tor cen­tre as “the ic­ing on the cake”. She ex­plains: “The new vis­i­tor cen­tre is amaz­ing – it al­lows us all to see thou­sands of years into the past in one of the most beau­ti­ful ar­eas of France.” And when it comes to her views of Dor­dogne, her feel­ings couldn’t be clearer: “Here in Dor­dogne we’ve got ev­ery­thing – good food, gor­geous scenery, great weather and amaz­ing his­tory. We re­ally are blessed.”

TURN OVER

For an es­tate agent’s view of Dor­dogne plus a se­lec­tion of homes for sale

Mon­pazier is one of Dor­dogne’s plus beaux vil­lages

Las­caux 4 is a full-size replica of the orig­i­nal caves

The River Dor­dogne near Domme

Castel­naud-la-Chapelle

Beynac

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