down in the dordogne
Golden sunflowers blur alongside barley crops which sway lazily in the summer breeze. Around you the gently rolling hills are ablaze with colour, and intermittent natural woodland breaks up the expanse. Journey down from the higher ground towards the nearest settlement, the small river-side town of Le Bugue, and you are accompanied by the smell of wild lavender and the faint chiming of church bells. Find a café on a side street just off the main concourse, and as the morning sun warms your face, take in the quiet activity of the residents buying their morning baguettes, and elderly French men talking over their coffee and paper. As the idyllic French world goes about its business, a simple café au lait and croissant will never be more enjoyable.
Nestled alongside the banks of the lazy river Dordogne, in the south-western corner of the country, are some of France’s worst kept tourist secrets. Once only reachable for the majority of tourists by car, the Dordogne region has recently been invigorated by air travel between UK hubs and Bergerac. The same things that have made the area a favourite with British expats, also act as a draw for tourists. The wine, food, beautiful countryside steeped in history, and relatively reliable climate combine to make the Dordogne one place in France that if you haven’t already visited, you really should.
Most French towns and villages will have their own market days, and often the more low-key affairs can be as, if not more enjoyable than the larger ones. However, travel to the medieval town of Sarlat for one of the region’s most bustling markets, and some of the most iconic buildings in the area. Take the opportunity to wander through the tiny back streets, enclosed by Sarlat’s traditional sand-coloured stone and ancient houses which were used as a backdrop for two Hollywood films. Venture into the centre of the old town and your senses are bombarded as stall-holders display their wares. Traditional French boar sausage is sold down the street from melt-in-the-mouth nougat; while supposedly must-have kitchen gadgets rub shoulders with vendors selling hand-woven blankets and throws. As the summer sun reaches its zenith, retreat into one of the many restaurants boasting tables shaded by trees on the cobbled squares. Order steak frites and a carafe of the house red, and try to think where else you would rather be than here.
Come back west towards Le Bugue and you will encounter the delightful town of Limmeuil. Its steep streets are interspersed with local craft and artisan shops which fall away to the banks of the river where La Vezere meets the Dordogne. Here French children come to paddle in the cool, clear waters, whilst their parents watch from the green banks. If the heat gets too pressing, then visitors can take a detour to one of the underground grottos and caves, or troglodyte dwellings which litter the area. The Gouffre de Proumeyssac is located near the heart of Le Bugue, and takes you down to a subterranean world of mineral deposits and glittering formations. If you fancy splashing out, take the gondolier through the roof of the cavern and enjoy the view whilst suspended in the cathedral of colour. This attempts to recreate the method of the caves discovery, and is coupled with a dazzling light show for a truly immersive experience. The included audio guide ensures that you resurface informed as well as cooled.
As the sun begins to set to a chorus of crickets in the long grass, take a drive deep into the Perigord countryside to the Auberge de Layotte. The slightly eccentric chef and owner of this establishment sources all his ingredients locally, and forages the majority of themselves himself. The menu is the same for all diners, yet the five courses, cheese board, regional wine, and home-brewed liquors will ensure you want for nothing once all is finished. The coarse pates and cured meats, along with the more curious addition of edible flowers are a true taste of traditional, yet forward-thinking French cuisine.