Friends have often regaled stories about holidaying in the Dordogne.
“You simply must go,” they would insist.
I would nod and smile, masking my ignorance as to exactly where the Dordogne was located. Not any more. My French geography has been expanded following our own visit to the region.
For those similarly unaware, the Dordogne area is in south-western France and is named after the river Dordogne. It runs through the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees. It’s close to Bordeaux and well known for its vineyards and food.
We spent one week in the Dordogne in a large farmhouse close to the village of Gensac. The property was large enough to accommodate our party which consisted of 22 adults and 20 children! Yep, 42 of us. It was hectic at times but lots of fun.
In the heart of the French countryside, surrounded by vineyards, it was a tranquil spot (until we arrived) but in good reach of urban spaces such as Bergerac and Saint- Emillion. So what did we do on this week-long trip with so many people?
Much of our evenings were spent enjoying the local food and wine as the children slept soundly. We had a couple of nights when external caterers came in and a couple of nights out. For the remaining evening meals, we all mucked in and helped out. Breakfast was taken care of by two French ladies who laid out croissants, cereals and yoghurts for us and tidied up afterwards.
During the day we had a good mix of days out exploring the area and hanging out by the pool – a popular choice with the children! As there were so many of us, we broke off into smaller groups or simply did family outings.
Saint-Emilion was top of my list for a day trip. Its world-famous vineyards have made it a Unesco world heritage site. I’m a big fan of its wine and with 50 wine shops there’s plenty of opportunity to taste its produce. The town’s wine history goes back to the Romans who planted vineyards in the area during the 2nd century.
Saint Emilion’s steep, cobbled streets mean it’s not hugely buggy friendly so take a baby carrier if you have a young child.
We struggled a bit with our pushchair but Saint-Emilion’s historic buildings, piazzas and wine shops more than make up for its hilly position. We enjoyed wandering around the town and taking in the medieval buildings. Wander up to the 12-century Monolithic church of Saint-Emilion for beautiful views across the town. Climb its bell tower for even better vista.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without sampling its wine. We came across a fantastic shop, The Wine Buff, owned by an Irish man called Paddy (who else?) and his Spanish wife. He amused us with tales of rugby, France and wine as we sampled some of his wares. They even organised a tapas and wine evening for us at our property which went down a storm. Thanks Paddy and Pilar!
Another place famous for its vineyards and medieval old town, Bergerac proved a very pleasant city to explore and have lunch. Located on the banks of the Dordogne river (where you can take boat rides), Bergerac is also home to a wine museum and the National Tobacco Museum.
Just saying the word Bergerac triggers in my head the theme tune to the John Nettles’ detective drama (remember that?). Others may associate it with the 17th century French dramatist, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac.
His oversized nose has been parodied in modern literature and film by the likes of Steve Martin and Gerard Depardieu. They were adaptations of the 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand. Although there’s a statue of Bergerac in its old town, his links to Bergerac are tenuous and he may have only visited a couple of times – if ever.
It’s worth finding his statue though as surrounding it are quaint half-timbered housing.
The church, Eglise Notre-Dame, is also worth a visit. The 19th Century building is impressive from the outside and inside with some striking stained glass windows.
River Dordogne beach visit
I would have no idea how to find this tranquil beach again. It was thanks to friends that we discovered it in the first place. Very much a local beach, we went off road into a field to get there. After finding an opening in a line of tress, we descended down a muddy hill onto the banks of the Dordorgne river.
A near-empty beach greeted us where we settled down for a couple of hours. The quiet oasis was a world away from the jam-packed house we’d left.
Aside from a fisherman (who probably wasn’t best pleased with our presence), we were the only ones there. The children played in the water, some of the adults had a swim and even our youngest, Cheeky, had a paddle.
After our time at the beach we stopped off at a restaurant ‘La Taverne du Belvedere’ which caught our eye as it boasted beautiful views over the valley and the river.
The family-run restaurant had only just opened this summer (2017). As well as being in an incredible location, it served good food and delicious wine, made in their vineyards just up the road. The next day, we visited the small winery where La Tourbeille is made.
Set up by John and Mary (originally from the US) as a passion project, their hard work is paying off. John showed us around explained, in simple language, the wine process to my daughter. We happily took home a couple of cases and left a little more knowledgeable about how wine is made.
After a couple of evenings seeing the men slope off from the house under the guise of going to the supermarket – but then ending up in the pub (conveniently coinciding with kids dinner time), us ladies decided to do the same. Château Carbonneau was our destination, a boutique bed and breakfast set on vineyards and owned by a New Zealand/French family.
It was a sunny day so we sat outside and had some delicious cakes as part of our afternoon tea as well as sampling its wine produce. It was so good we took a case of white wine back to the farmhouse. A much needed break from the noise and energy of the 20 children back at the property.
There’s a snapshot of some of our highlights of our trip to the Dordogne. As you can imagine, there was never a dull moment with 42 people to entertain you.
Thank goodness I finally discovered the Dordogne. Good food, wine, medieval towns, miles and miles of countryside and a laid back vibe. Never been to the Dordogne? Why, you simply must go.
How to get there
We drove to Gensac from west London via the Eurotunnel, stopping off in the charming city of Tours overnight. Other families from our group got a flight to Bergerac.
Have you been to the Dordogne? What is your favourite part? If not, are you inspired to visit?
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