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Trip Report Dordogne Trip Report

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We just returned from a week long trip to the Dordogne region of France. We were gone for 6 nights/7 days. There are 3 of us: me, my husband, and our daughter. I had asked for advice several months ago about the caves and claustrophobia. I am happy to report that none of us had claustrophobia, and we visited more caves than originally planned because we enjoyed them so much.

DAY ONE:
Arrived in Brantome around 5PM and checked into our hotel.

Hotel Restaurant Charbonnel
57 rue Gambetta
We had a quadruple room, which consists of 2 large bedrooms, and a large and clean bathroom. We were in a separate building from the main building, but our room still overlooked the Dronne River. This hotel is in a picturesque area, and is very convenient.

I didn’t keep good notes on restaurant names & what we had to eat unfortunately. The desk clerk recommended a restaurant with dining right on the river. It was very good; we were tired and didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Had pizzas & salads & wine. Reasonable prices. She also told us what restaurants to avoid, which was helpful.

DAY TWO:

We had breakfast at the hotel, but we think it was overpriced for 12 euros: average pastries, cereal, toast, some fruit, coffee, Juice, and an appliance that would hard boil or soft boil eggs, if you want.

After breakfast, we took a nice leisurely drive along the Dronne River to explore the villages. Our first stop was Bourdeilles, which we enjoyed walking around. It’s a very pretty town with an interesting bridge. It has a castle, but we didn’t tour it. Then we drove through Creyssac, & noticed an interesting structure right on the river just outside of the center (if you blink, you will miss the center!). This structure is 3-sided with a roof, and the water literally goes right up to the shed. There is a stone table inside. My daughter, who lives in France, thinks this shed is used for washing clothes. There is a small parking lot next to it. Then shortly down the road a farmer herded his cattle across the road to the river. A very idyllic scene!! From here we drove through Lisle, Montagrier, and stopped at a café in Tocane, where there was also a small market. We drove through Riberac, which is large & not very nice. The Roman church was closed. Our favorite village on this drive is Lusignac, very beautiful! Then we had lunch in Verteillac before heading back to Brantome.

Back in Brantome, we had a guided tour of the Abbey. If you want to climb to the top of the bell tower, you need to take the guided tour because the tower is high and stairs are steep. It is well worth the view of Brantome and the Dronne! Then we toured on our own the cliffside caves that are directly behind the abbey. When we were done, we wanted to go on a boat ride of the Dronne, but the rides had ended for the day. One thing to keep in mind about May is that sights aren’t open as long as they are during the high season (July and August).

At the suggestion of the hotel and my guidebook (Footprint France), we had dinner at Les Saveurs. It was too chilly to eat outside on their garden patio, so we ate inside, and the ambience is very nice. I didn’t write down what we ordered, but I remember we enjoyed our food very much and the service.

We really enjoyed Brantome and the surrounding area, which is very green and beautiful in May!

DAY THREE:

After having coffee and croissants at a nearby bakery, we checked out of our hotel and drove to Chateau de Hautefort. I think it was about an hour’s drive. We love Hautfort; the tour is self-guided, which is nice so you don’t have to worry about arriving there at a specific time. Except do keep in mind the hours during May & June. Many of these places close during lunch. The gardens are beautiful and different – lots of sculptured topiary bushes.

We had lunch at a bar/tapac in the village. This was our only bad meal. Our daughter warned us about eating at bars, but we were hungry & it was close to closing time for lunch so we didn’t have the time to search for a better place. Another tip: Many restaurants are only open from 12:00 to 2:00pm for lunch.

Then we drove to Montignac to purchase tickets for Lascaux II. You have to purchase the tickets at the Tourism Office in the center of town. We had about a 45 minute wait before the English-language tour. I admit I was a little doubtful at first about Lascaux because it is a reproduction; however, it is definitely well worth visiting, & it’s amazing that the artist was able to create such a beautiful reproduction. But I admit there were other caves we liked better, which I will get to later.

After our tour of Lascaux, we drove to Sarlat and checked in to the Villa Des Consuls for 4 nights.
Villa des Consuls
3 rue jean-jacques Rousseau
The Villa des Consuls consists of apartments, and is located in the medieval quarter (pedestrian area). We stayed in the Montesquieu, which has 2 bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen/living area with a patio. It sleeps up to 6 people, but we all agree it would be too small for 6 since 2 people have to sleep on the sleeper sofa & there is only one bathroom. The apartment is beautiful and clean, and the location is perfect. We would walk around Sarlat every night after sightseeing all day. The Saturday market in Sarlat is at the bottom of the steps!

We ate dinner at Le Bistro de l’Octroi, 111 av de Selves. Another delicious meal, recommended by the hotel and my guidebook.

DAY FOUR:
We had coffee & croissants at a nearby bakery. Then left for a full day of sightseeing.
First on our stop was Grotte de Rouffignac, one of our favorites. You take a train through the cave. We really like this cave because of the original cave drawings, the domes on the ceilings, and the hundreds of bear nests/beds.

Then we had lunch in Les Eyzies, which was an excellent meal. I wish I wrote down the name of the restaurant because the food was delicious, reasonable prices & great service.

Next stop was Grotte du Grand Roc. It’s filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and some strange formations. It was nice, but not one of our favorites. Then we visited La Rogue-St. Christophe, which we loved. My guidebook describes it as “a sinuously curving cliff face 80 meters high and nearly 1 km long.” This was a city during the Middle Ages; very impressive with great views!

My husband has to have Asian food at least once on every trip, so we ate at Petite Saigon in Sarlat for dinner! Food was good and very reasonable.

DAY FIVE:

Our first sightseeing stop for the day was a Dordogne River cruise on a river barge with Gabarres Norbert. The scenery along the river is spectacular with the cliffs and castles. This is a great way to start your sightseeing in this area.

Then we went to Marqueyssac Gardens (a hilltop formal garden) and arrived in time for the English-guided tour, which was informative and enjoyable. After the tour, we walked through the gardens on our own, and made our way to the Belvedere, where you have spectacular views of the Dordogne River, castles & the valley! There are over 150,000 hand-clipped box trees in this garden. For lunch, we had delicious salads in the restaurant/tea room by the mansion. It was cool & breezy, so we did eat in doors, but still had great panoramic views!

After lunch we drove to Beynac Castle, which is one of the highlights of our trip. It is a medieval fortress with very few furnishings, and feels primitive and mysterious to us. A renovation began in 1980 and is scheduled to end in 2030. We had a self-guided tour with a pamphlet that was sometimes difficult to follow, but we managed. My husband loved seeing the room that Richard the Lionhearted slept in.

Next on our stop was a tour of a duck farm in Marquay. I have mixed feelings about this; I didn’t know how the ducks were force fed, so this wasn’t too pleasant for me to watch. We also had dinner at their restaurant, and of course it’s primarily duck on the menu. For my entrée (appetizer), I had the omelet with cepes, which is probably the best omelet I’ve ever had!

DAY SIX:

Our first sightseeing for today was Gouffre de Padirac!! This might be my favorite of all the caves!! It was spectacular. I have never seen such gigantic stalactites and stalagmites with so many strange formations. First we descended into the sinkhole via a combination of elevator and stairs. You can take the elevator all the way down, but we wanted to walk part way down because it was so pretty with greenery growing on the sides of the sinkhole. Then we took a small boat (holds about 12 people) along the subterranean river with spectacular views of the galleries. When the boat ride ends, you walk up and down many stairs to see more formations; at times the ceiling is 100 meters high. It’s a breathtaking sight! The tour lasts about 90 minutes. Our guide told us in summer the wait is typically 2 – 3 hours; we walked right in.

Then we began a drive to some beautiful villages in the area: Loubressac, with its breathtaking views, where we had lunch at the only hotel/restaurant; then on to Autoire, very tiny & maybe not as “well-groomed” as Loubressac? And our last stop is Carennac, where we followed my daughter’s guidebook and did our own walking tour – another beautiful town!

Our last night in Sarlat – we ate dinner at Le Presidial, 6 rue Landry (recommended by my guidebook and Stu Dudley). We sat outside in the landscaped garden, and had one of the best meals of our trip. Indoor seating is in a city landmark historic home, where the king’s officials once lived. We wanted an elegant setting for our last dinner in Sarlat, and this was the perfect place.

DAY SEVEN:
We spent a few hours in the Sarlat market on Saturday morning. It is huge! I think it’s one of the nicest markets I have seen with good quality products. We’ve been to the market in Ile sur la Sorgue on a Thursday and loved it; went back on a Sunday and it was much too crowded for us with lots of junk. So we love the Sarlat market.

Then we checked out of our hotel and drove to Peche Merle, another one of our favorite caves with original drawings and paintings, and stalagmites and stalactites. I especially love the spotted horses panel, the handprints, and the footprint of the adolescent boy.

We then returned to our daughter’s home, and this is the end of our trip to the Dordogne.

GENERAL INFORMATION:
If you can travel in May, I highly recommend coming in May. There were no crowds whatsoever; we never had to wait in line or wait for tables at restaurants. The temps were in the 60’s and 70’s, with sun just about every day.

The food is delicious – lots of duck, foie gras, truffles, mushrooms & chestnuts. It is possible to get steak, pork, or some fish (such as salmon or trout) but the menus predominantly feature duck. I tried different flower-flavored ice cream – lavender, violet, rose and daffodil!!

The Brantome area was very green and lush when we were there. The roads in the whole region are small, narrow, & windy roads going up and down mountains. I can’t imagine what traffic must be like in the summer. When we drove to Peche Merle (Lot Valley), we noticed this area is more remote and wilder than the Dordogne. We saw just a handful of villages along the way to Peche Merle, and Cabrerets (where Peche Merle is located) is very small.

We thought prices were reasonable, such as food, hotels, & car rental. Many times we ordered the 2-course or 3-course menus because you just can’t beat the prices! And it’s fun trying different dishes. Of course now I will have to go to the gym every day!

Our favorite caves - We would rank them like this:
Padirac, Peche Merle & Rouffignac – top 3 – I think Padirac is my favorite.
Then Lascaux – it is beautiful but knowing it is a reproduction makes it drop down on my list.
La Rogue-St. Christophe
Then Grand Roc

We did stop at Font du Gaume the day we were in that area, but they were already full for the day. They only allow 180 people in the cave per day.

I hope this trip report helps travelers planning their trip to the Dordogne.

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