Staff Review

Exploring the Dordogne

by The Kirker Team

My colleague Edward and I flew to Bordeaux, tasked to research a small characterful 3 star in the city. The Continental fits the bill perfectly as a charming little hotel located in the heart of the pedestrian centre - ideal for a short break. We were also tempted up to a charming hilltop village above the city called Bouliac, otherwise known as 'the balcony of Bordeaux' where we visited the St James hotel, now managed by a friend of Kirker. Anthony Torkington used to welcome our clients at Le Mas Candille in Mougins and now runs this wonderful little luxury property with breath-taking views over the Gironde river floodplain and the city beyond. The contemporary gastronomic feast we enjoyed for lunch here was out of this world and to sit 'al fresco' on the terrace in October was a real treat. The hotel has modern eye-catching rooms, a state-of-the-art cooking school and 2 wonderful restaurants. 'We then ventured into the Dordogne to our first hotel, the charming Chateau des Vigiers. Bergerac, just twenty minutes' drive from here, is the main airport for the region and is well served from the UK. The region around the hotel is well known for its vineyards and the Vigiers estate produces its own red wines served in both of its restaurants. Kirker clients will be accommodated in the 12th Century Chateau which is set amongst the 27 hole golf course and extensive parkland. The rooms are charming and give guests a real sense of history. The fine dining restaurant is also in the house itself whilst the more informal brasserie is in the former barrel store.'After a delicious breakfast (the chef here is meticulous in sourcing local ingredients) we headed further into the Dordogne region to its principal town of Perigueux. A major settlement in Roman times, the remains of a large villa and a temple to the Gallic goddess Vesunna are in the western half of the city, and a large selection of artefacts are displayed in the museum which takes her name. Increasingly popular as a place of pilgrimage in the early Middle Ages, Perigueux also boasts a stunning array of churches, in particular the Cathedral of St Front. We enjoyed a most informative, and highly recommended walking tour of the pretty medieval streets and through several of the churches. The best hotel choice in the area is the 3 star Chateau de Lalande, 10 minutes' drive along the L'Isle river. Your hosts here are the charming Catherine and Yves Staebell and nothing is too much trouble. They have renovated this little chateau to an incredibly high standard, with comfortable and sumptuously furnished rooms, whilst Yves prepares delicious local food with an Alsatian twist, reflecting his family roots. The hotel overlooks a lovely shaded park with an outdoor swimming pool and a gazebo for summer dining.'The charming town of Brantome on the banks of the river Dronne, otherwise known as 'the Venice of the Perigord' was to be our next overnight stop. Our hotel, the Moulin de l'Abbaye, is the former mill that produced electricity and flour for the town. We were given a lovely room overlooking the river and the waterside terrace where we enjoyed a delicious dinner that evening. This northern corner of the Dordogne region is known as 'Perigord vert', its rolling hills the most verdant of the whole Dordogne region.'Journeying south, the key historic focus of the Dordogne is on the Vezere river, around the modern town of Les Eyzies and the picturesque village of Montignac, where an extraordinary number of pre-historic sites have been found in the last 200 years. The most famous caves are at Lascaux, believed to have been a place of worship over 17 millennia ago, and are painted with very detailed murals of animals - in particular bulls and horses. The cave was discovered by chance by local children and was briefly open to the public until experts noticed the paintings were being damaged by condensation; an exact replica of the cave is now visited at Lascaux II, entered via steep steps in a forest clearing, where guides give detailed informative tours in French or English. Just 10km further along the river, a vast area of dwellings built into the cliffs at Roque St Christophe provided security for thousands of years, including most recently in the late Middle Ages. Very helpful guides can be arranged to show you around the rough and ready site and give a flavour of how life was; this is especially fun for families in the summer when there are regular demonstrations of the anti-siege equipment.'Within 30 minutes' drive from Lascaux we unearthed a hidden gem of a hotel. Chateau la Fleunie has been sitting serenely in the Vezere valley, just outside the village of Condat, since the 12th Century. Now it is a charming hotel making use of the eclectic character of the old castle and the more contemporary wings, surrounded by acres of gardens and plenty of outdoor activities for all ages, including a large swimming pool and tennis court.''As we continued, the strong early Medieval legacy remains visible with numerous Crusade-era castles and strongholds still proudly surveying the Dordogne river. The opposing hilltop fortresses of Beynac and Castelnaud are two of the most spectacular, and make for a fascinating twin visit. By virtue of being the most secure spots on the Dordogne river, the keeps are not very easily accessible but the climb to the top of the towers is more than worth the effort. There are weapon demonstrations and examples of the way life would have been when the local community retreated to the citadel, and around the fortresses a pretty, well-preserved hamlet has spread.'The most impressive of all the castles on the Dordogne is Chateau de la Treyne. Approaching from the modern town of Souillac, known for the many surrounding caves, the Chateau appears across the river like a picture from a fairy tale. An imposing exterior gives way to an impressive, yet welcoming interior, with high beamed ceilings and stone floors. Owned and operated as a luxurious hotel now by the Gombert family, the building offers numerous cosy lounges with large fireplaces and just exploring the halls and gardens alone could easily occupy many happy days. The grand dining room still hosts dinner, and the food served at all times of day is exquisite, as is the exemplary service. With the airport at Brive-la-Gaillarde just 40 minutes away by car, Chateau de la Treyne is a destination in itself.'Returning from the dizzy heights, a stroll through the cobbled streets of the more peaceful and immaculately preserved 14th century town of Sarlat-la-Caneda was the perfect tonic before our flight home. Every building, expansive square and narrow lane in the old town exudes history, kept alive thanks to large investment from the French government. We agreed it is probably the most charming and beautiful place that we have seen on our travels in France; a sentiment that certainly covers not just the town of Sarlat but the entire Dordogne region.

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