With its lush green forests, picturesque medieval architecture and gourmet food, the Dordogne is one of my favourite parts of France. Cutting a swathe through the heart of the region in the south-west of France is its namesake river. The magnificent Dordogne River flows for more than 300 miles from the mountains of the Auvergne near Clermont-Ferrand to the Gironde Estuary, just north of Bordeaux.
I first visited the Dordogne when I was around eight years old on a family holiday. We were staying in a caravan on a campsite and I have fond memories of riding through the campsite’s forest on my bike during the hot sunny days and being awe-struck by the epic thunderstorms at night.
So when my parents said they were renting a gite in the Dordogne for a week and would I like to join them, I jumped at the chance. We stayed in a lovely little house, just outside the bastide town of Monpazier, and from there we day-tripped to nearby Bergerac, the pretty medieval city of Sarlat-la-Canéda and the stunning Chateau de Biron (above). We also toured the nearby countryside, as well as the vineyards of the Lot valley and its capital Cahors.
France is renowned for its excellent cuisine and, in my opinion, the region’s gastronomy is among the country’s very best. Put simply the Dordogne is a foodie’s paradise. Home to deliciously ripe fresh fruits and vegetables (I discovered black tomatoes in a greengrocer’s in Monpazier), beans and strong cheeses. Duck and goose can commonly be found on restaurant menus, along with nuts in various forms – I enjoyed more than one walnut tart during my week’s stay. Foie gras is also a popular local delicacy, despite its notoriety, and you can find it for sale all over the region.
The Dordogne’s wines may not be as famous as those of the neighbouring Gironde, but it’s home to some very drinkable wines. Péchamant, from the Bergerac area, is a full-bodied red and this became our wine of choice during our week as there was a little shop selling cheap, drinkable boxes of it in Monpazier. The region also produces the Montbazillac dessert wine. To the south of the Dordogne, the Lot valley is home to my favourite wine, the Cahors.
But what I like best about the region is its traditional, relaxed way of life. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming, and there’s a slow, laid-back charm to the area. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet and relaxing, with a little bit of sightseeing, history, beautiful scenery and incredible food and wine, there’s no place better than the Dordogne.