Rolling countryside, lazy rivers, quaint villages with bustling markets and imposing châteaux all typify the Dordogne and the Lot-et-Garonne and make it one of France’s most loved areas. Add in the history, vineyards, fabulous local produce and plenty of family friendly attractions and you have a huge amount to see and do in a week or two in the area that we now call home.
The countryside ranges from densely wooded valleys with limestone cliffs, to gently rolling countryside filled with fields of crops, none more iconic than golden sunflowers or row upon row of vines in the multitude of vineyards.
You’ll come across a number of well preserved medieval bastide towns such as Eymet, Monflanquin and Monpazier and the area boasts several of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, which along with Monpazier and Monflanquin include Domme, Belvès, Beynac-et-Cazenac, La Roque-Gageac, Pujols and Villeréal.
Many of these towns and villages have colourful weekly markets selling a wide variety of local produce. Our particular local favourites are Eymet on a Thursday, Villeréal on a Saturday and Issigeac on a Sunday. In July and August there are a number of atmospheric night markets and soirées gourmandes with plenty of food available and usually some entertainment on offer.
The châteaux in the region are well worth a visit. The château in Duras dates back to 1137 and has great views from the tower. It was bought by the local community in 1969 and extensively restored from its run down state and now you can explore almost every part of it. The Duras area is also well known for its wines, Duras itself has a Monday market, a few bars and restaurants and there’s a fabulous artisan chocolate producer www.maisonguinguet.com a kilometre or so from the château. Along the Dordogne you’ll find the imposing châteaux of Biron, Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. Château des Milandes www.milandes.com is worth a special mention, the former home of Josephine Baker it chronicles her amazing life. Château des Milandes also has some lovely gardens, a popular café/restaurant and wild bird displays, the entrance fee is modest and includes an audio guide in a variety of languages.
The area boasts many wonderful places to visit, whether it’s strolling through Sarlat-la-Canéda or Bergerac old towns with their restaurants and bars, wandering along the narrow paths winding their way up from the banks of the Dordogne into La Roque-Gageac or Beynac-et-Cazanac or visiting the spectacular pilgrim village of Rocamadour. Boat trips on gabarres are available at many places along the Dordogne, in particular in Bergerac and Beynac-et-Cazanac, and there are several places to hire canoes and kayaks where you’re taken upstream to then follow the river back to your starting point.
If it’s gardens that you like then head to Les Jardins de Marqueyssac www.marqueyssac.com where you’re also rewarded with a spectacular view back towards La Roque-Gageac from the 130m high viewing platform. Towards Duras the lovely little rose garden of Boissonna www.jardindeboissonna.com is well worth a visit.
The region is of course most famous for its Bordeaux, Bergerac and Duras wines with a multitude of wine producers only too happy to let you taste their wines and buy directly. Monbazillac, with its picture postcard château, is only a few kilometres from Bergerac airport so it’s well worth a visit if you have some time to kill, you can see it perched on a hill south of Bergerac as you come into land. Saint-Émilion is of course the ‘go to’ place for wine enthusiasts and is well worth a day out.
Hand in hand with wine goes the huge variety of local produce. The region is best known for its duck and fois gras, truffles, walnuts, figs and prunes, not to mention the almost bewildering choice of cheese. And of course if you don’t fancy cooking there are plenty of great restaurants to suit all tastes.
If you fancy looking for antiques then there are many local sales called vide-greniers, these are usually advertised locally so look out for posters on the edges of villages. There are also plenty of antique shops, ‘brocantes’, that can be found in many towns.
The area is great for photographers with the obvious popular tourist spots, huge skies, extensive landscapes, wildlife and picturesque villages, the sunsets here are some of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen. Stargazers will benefit from the clear skies, absence of light pollution and warm summer evenings.
If you fancy a round of golf then there’s a fabulous 27 hole course at Chateau des Vigiers www.vigiers.com where there’s also a spa, a challenging and hilly 18 hole course at the Villenuve-sur-Lot Golf and Country Club www.vslgolf.com and a lovely 9 hole course at Tombeboeuf www.golfdebarthe.com where you’ll be assured of a warm welcome. If you’d like to get out on a bike along the quiet country lanes then there are local companies such as Bike Hire Direct www.bikehiredirect.com and The Mountain Bike Hire Company www.themountainbikehirecompany.co.uk who will deliver to your holiday accommodation.
There are many festivals held throughout the summer months including the 24 Hours of Swing jazz festival at Monsegur, the Duras and Rocamadour balloon festivals and the seafood and oyster festival in Eymet, plus various medieval and arts festivals found throughout the area.
There are plenty of family friendly attractions, ranging from lake beaches with inflatable assault courses (Lac de Clarens, Casteljaloux) and theme parks (Parc Walibi, Agen) to go-karting (both Bergerac and Agen), zip wires www.accrobranche47.com not far from Duras and attractions such as Chateau Bridoire www.chateaudebridoire.com and Chateau le Stelsia www.lestelsia.com with the largest mini golf course in Europe plus lovely restaurants.
If you fancy a day out at the coast then a couple of hours drive will take you to the Atlantic coast where you’ll find Arcachon, home to Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dunes in Europe, Biscarosse with its miles and miles of golden sand and Cap Ferret, famous for its seafood.
The region truly has so much to offer, made all the more enjoyable because of the warm climate, the quiet roads and the gentler pace of life. We love living and working here and although we’ve only scratched the surface, we hope that this has given you a taste of what this part of France is all about.