On a grey and rainy Friday morning in February, I arrived at London City Airport to catch a flight to Brive Airport in the Dordogne. I had a small case and a big bucket list and arrived at Brive just 124 minutes later with 48 hours to spend in this lovely part of France.
As I turned out of the airport gates, the sun shone, the sky was blue and signs of spring were everywhere. Within minutes I was deep in the heart of Perigord Noir, the very beautiful area within the Dordogne, so named for the proliferation of dark oak trees that grow here abouts. I passed an ancient aqueduct, its yellowed brick work mellow in the sunlight, an old stone cabane (shepherd’s hut), abandoned to the wild flowers that grew around its base. I was straight into the glorious Dordogne landscape.
First stop was Beynac, one of the ten “Most beautiful Villages of France” in the region (incidentally, the Dordogne has more of these officially classified beautiful villages than any other region in France). At the top of a steep winding road is a beautifully restored chateau . One of my friends was worried she might not make it but I told her, I know a lady whose 94 year old mother managed it so I was sure she ought to at least try. She did and was pleased because the astonishing views over the area and neighbouring castles on hill tops is absolutely worth the effort. The walk certainly built up an appetite and luckily, even in the spring when there are not the summer tourist hordes, there are plenty of fabulous restaurants to choose from.
Fortified, we drove on to the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac to see the fabulous teased and trained topiaries made from 150,000 boxwood plants that make this the most visited gardens in the south of France. In the summer you can catch an evening jazz concert and see the garden lit by thousands of candles – simply magical.
My base was Sarlat, the wonderfully preserved medieval capital of Perigord Noir and I stayed at the lovely Hotel Le Renoir (in the room above the one that Gerard Depardieu stayed in when he was there!).
The next day was Saturday and a chance to visit the famous Sarlat market. Brightly coloured awnings, friendly stall holders, the most amazing produce – huge sacks of walnuts, foie fras, cheese, saucisson and, not to be missed, the indoor truffle market! After a unique visual tour via the glass lift built into the town’s ancient church it was on to a vineyard for a wine tasting – and there are plenty to choose from in the area, the Sarlat Tourist office has a wealth of information on great places to visit.
That night we dined in Sarlat where a barbecue was being held in the town square, a band played, everyone danced – it was one of those magical spring nights with a full moon lighting the cobbled stone streets.
In the morning there was time to join in a festival in Sarlat in which 100 geese ran down the main street! We sipped coffee at a pavement café and watched the world go by before returning to Brive to catch a flight back to London vowing we’d come back soon.