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