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Dordogne and Bordeaux itinerary - help appreciated


Oct 20th, 2013, 06:13 PM
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Dordogne and Bordeaux itinerary - help appreciated

Hi all. Thank you for your past advice about our April trip to Barcelona and the Dordogne. We need to drop the Barcelona portion of our trip now (we needed to cut the trip down a few days and will go to Barcelona with my BIL another time, maybe after Christmas next year). For context, we're in our mid-60s, in good shape/ walk a lot on a regular basis, love gardens, architecture, history, good food, friendly hosts. We like to take our time more than race around to see everything. The places we stay are very important to me; we do enjoy relaxing and reading there (some people are out all the time and don't care - I do). And I would like to have a bathtub (shower too is OK).

This is my tentative new plan, and I'd love some help with it.

Sunday April 20 (Easter) LAX-Toulouse
Monday 4/21 overnight Toulouse (this is a French holiday, I think)
Tuesday 4/22 - Sunday 4/27 rent car, drive to the Dordogne (6 nights)
Monday 4/28 - Weds 4/30 drive to St Emilion (3 nights)
Thursday 5/1 return car at Bordeaux airport (this is also a French holiday, I assume the car return at the airport will be open)

In the Dordogne, I have bookmarked places to see including the caves of Lascaux, Manoir d"Erignac, les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Rocamadour, Sarlat. In the past we have enjoyed st-Paul-de-Vence, which I'm mentioning because St Cirq Lapopie looks wonderful to me, but I know St-Cirq here is not a fan. St-Emilion is interesting for the surroundings, and we'd go into Bordeaux for a day. While we love good wine, we're not that informed and wine-tasting is not our focus.

I think there's a bus from the Toulouse airport to the train station. I bookmarked the Pullman Toulouse Center Hotel (Accor) because it looked fine, was in a good location, and was well priced. This is one hotel I don't care as much about - we'd just crash then rent the car at the train station in the morning.

In the Dordogne, the following hotels/ B&Bs have caught my eye:
In Sarlat, Les Cordeliers http://www.hotelsarlat.com
Outside Sarlat:
Maison de Marquay In Marquay www.maisondemarquay.fr
La Roche d'Esteil, in Sainte-Nathalene www.larochedesteil.com
Les Granges Hautes in St-Crepin-Carlucet www.les-granges-hautes.fr

One of my questions is, would we be better off staying three nights in two places, like in Sarlat/outside of Sarlat; or find someplace south, closer to Rocamadour; or are these places central enought that we should just stay all six nights in one of them. They all get good reviews.

Another thing I want to avoid is driving cliff-side or way-out-there roads in the evening/night. We stayed at a fabulous place near Avignon once, but it had these drainage ditches on either side of a one-lane, dark road - with limited, hidden turnouts into fields... and my husband did NOT want to leave at night. I figure some of you are familiar with these little villages and can clue me in! It's one thing I liked about those in the country - they offered meals some nights, so we wouldn't need to drive for all dinners. I like being in the country more than in Sarlat, so if included Les Cordeliers it would not be for all six nights.

In St-Emilion, I have looked at
Pavillon Villemaurine http://pavillon-villemaurine.com
Les Belles Perdrix //www.chateau-troplong-mondot.com (this one looks wonderful, the vineyard house)

From there it looks like we could catch the train into Bordeaux one day, and drive around it to return the car for our late afternoon flight home.

Any comments? Thanks in advance!
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Oct 20th, 2013, 06:54 PM
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A few thoughts:

1. 3 nights in St-Emilion is way overkill. You can do it in half to three-quarters of a day. You will be bored out of your skull with 3 days, even using it as a bse for exploring (the exploring just isn't all that appealing). I don't see the point of staying there and "going into Bordeaux for a day" when you're headed to Bordeaux for the airport anyway.

2. Don't stay in Ste-Nathalène. Go visit the walnut mill there, but it's not a convenient location for a 6-day stay in the Dordogne. You want to draw a 30-km circle around Sarlat and choose someplace to stay that's within the three-quarters of that circle that is south, north, and west. Marquay isn't ideal, either.

3. The places you've listed you want to visit in the Dordogne are very minimal. Rocamadour isn't even in the Dordogne, but you can definitely do a loooong daytrip to there and Collonges-la-Rouge and Martel and the Gouffre de Padirac. But really, there are SO many places in the Dordogne (Roque-St-Christophe, Village Troglodytique de la Madeleine, Rouffignac, Domme, Cadouin, Monpazier, Beaumont, Lalinde, the cingle de Trémolat, Castel-Merle, St-Léon-sur-Vézère, Montignac, Limeuil.....)

4. It's true I have no love at all for St-Cirq-Lapopie, and it's a schlep from the Dordogne. If you're going to see Pech-Merle in Cabrerets, it might be worth it, but really, once you've hiked up the hill in Domme and seen all the schlocky artisan shops there, it's just redux in St-Cirq-Lapopie, though arguably better geography. If you decide you want to split up your time between the Dordogne and the area around Rocamadour/Cahor/Martel/Collonges, etc. check out the Domaine de la Rhue.

5. You do not want to "drive around" Bordeaux. It has great public transport and good parking lots, but "driving around" will be painful, unless you want to get out of the city and visit Arcachon, Cap Ferret, and the Dune du Pylat.

6. I can't think of any roads in the Dordogne that are "cliff-side" or truly dangerous, but it's true that street lighting is scarce and roads are dark and winding. I'm used to them and know my way around without thinking about it much, but if you have apprehensions then book a place out in the country where you can just hunker down for a night or two and not have to drive - the Table du Terroir just outside Montignac in La Chapelle-Aubareil, for example.
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Oct 20th, 2013, 08:44 PM
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Wow, thanks St. Cirq, that's a big help. To take your points one at a time, the first one last:

2. Thanks, will leave out St-Nathalene, this is why I was asking.

3. I'm fine with the other places you listed; I am using an EyeWitness Guide to give me some ideas. I had looked at the Domaine de la Rhue, as a matter of fact - just wasn't sure if it was just as easy to day-trip to that area.

5. We never planned to drive around Bordeaux as a sight-seeing option; I was referring to the ring road "around" Bordeaux to get from St-Emilion to the airport.

6. Thanks on the info on the roads.

Finally, #1. Are you saying that Bordeaux is a more interesting place to see, and make a day trip to St-Emiion, or is it not as worth it as somewhere else? I ask because we have about 10 nights for this trip. Originally we wanted to fly into Barcelona for 5 nights, fly to Toulouse, drive to the Sarlat area for six nights, then fly home. I changed it because I was thinking maybe the Bordeaux area was something special. I can change it back, or go somewhere else in France after the Dordogne. We've already been to Provence and the Loire, and were in Paris in April. Have never stayed outside Paris, though, or seen Chartres, Vaux le Vicomte, Versailles.

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Oct 20th, 2013, 09:26 PM
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If you have any interest in art or architecture, give Toulouse a minimum of 1.5 days during a time when its museums are open. Maybe more. And don't skip Albi, which merits at least a day trip, if not an overnight. I chose to spend several days in Toulouse and Albi and I skipped St. Emilion; I have no regrets, but also can't give you any comparative comments.
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Oct 20th, 2013, 09:50 PM
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You may be interested in my 2011 trip report that starts in Brodeaux; click on my name to find it.
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Oct 20th, 2013, 09:51 PM
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I would fly into Toulouse, stay in Toulouse the first 2 nights (because Monday will be a holiday - plus lots of things close on Monday anyway). I'm a West Coast person also, and need the jet-lag recovery time, and usually stay for 2 nights at the first destination. Toulouse and Dijon are our two favorite cities in France - after Paris.

Then on Wednesday, drive to Pech Merle and visit (reserve ahead). Then on to St Cirq Lapopie (we like it more than St Cirq does). Then drive along the Cele River to Figeac. Figeac is one of our favorite villages in France. Get a walking map at the tourist office. Then on to Rocamadour (visit in the late afternoon), and stay at Domaine de la Rhue for 2 nights. Next morning, visit Gouffre de Padirac, Loubressac, Autoire, Carennac, and then Martel.

On Friday, drive to the Sarlat area and stay for 5 nights.

After Sarlat, leave early in the AM and spend the morning in St Emilion. On to Bordeaux and return the car, and spend the night. Fly home the next morning.

Stu Dudley
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Oct 20th, 2013, 11:23 PM
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Stu, what is if about Toulouse that makes it one of your favorites?

I had looked into Albi, but not extensively. Perhaps we can focus more on Toulouse, Albi, the Sarlat area. Two nights Toulouse, two in Albi, five-six near Sarlat. Last one up for grabs but could be Bordeaux. - Could cut one from Sarlat to do that, maybe. Or not. Michael, I'll look again at your trip report.

Thank you, everyone!
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Oct 20th, 2013, 11:26 PM
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And forget my musings about Chartres, etc; we'd need to keep the car and drive, and it's too far. Would rather stay closer and save it for another time.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 01:32 AM
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We had a very bad experience at Les Cordeliers in Sarlat so I would highly not recommend them. There are plenty of other nice places to stay there. I DO recommend basing in Sarlat, just not there. Suffice to say that if all goes well I guess they are wonderful hosts and therefore high up on tripadvisor. If there is a problem....... well then it is a whole nuther story.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 04:22 AM
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My two centimes...
1. Stay in Sarlat or south/southwest of Sarlat. Staying north of Sarlat means you have to go through or around Sarlat if you want to visit the valley of the five chateaux (Beynac, Castelnaud, Les Milandes, La Roque Gageac, go canoeing, etc.), Domme, bastide towns of Belves/Monpazier/Villefranche.
2. If you're worried about narrow, windy, hilly roads, the countryside is full of them. If you want to visit Pech Merle, St. Cirq-Lapopie, Domme, Rocamadour, you'll be driving on them. They don't bother me at all, but I do understand that if you are used to driving in flatlands or on a grid (like in the midwest, Texas, etc.), it can be nerve-wracking. If you're looking at rural B&Bs, look carefully at a map to be sure you won't be worred about driving back to the B&B at night after dinner.
3. St. Emilion is charming -- for lunch at Huitrier Pie and a walk around -- but not worthy of a three-day stay unless you are planning on serious winetasting. Same with Bordeaux: like nearly any city in France, it has a nice older part, and a cathedral, but very ordinary otherwise. Again, I would only spend time in either of those towns if I had a serious interest in wine. Spend more time in the real Perigord.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 07:59 AM
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>>Stu, what is if about Toulouse that makes it one of your favorites? <

Beautiful "golden" architecture, lots of interesting churches/cathedrals to visit, lack of traffic in the center of town, wonderful central town square, nice restaurants/cafes, great shopping (minimum chain stores), "lively" feel. Get the Michelin Green Guide & follow the several walking tours suggested. We've stayed in Toulouse for 5 nights over 4 trips.

We spend 2 months in France most years. We've stayed near Albi for two weeks and in the Dordogne area for 10 weeks. IMO, there is more interesting stuff to do in the Pech Merle/St Cirq/Cele River/Figeac/Rocamadour/Padirac/Carennac area than in the Albi/Cordes/Gorges de l'Aveyron region. I would spend my 2 nights (outside the Sarlat area) in Domaine de la Rhue/Rocamadour region - not the Albi region - although we love Albi.

I would say that Albi & Figeac are equally interesting. Unless you are a big-time wine person, St Emilion is less interesting than these two.

Stu Dudley
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Oct 21st, 2013, 09:20 AM
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I guess we need to decide which we'd like more - Toulouse or Bordeaux - as our second choice. I do think we'll fly into Toulouse, as it seems to be the most convenient; just need to determine if we would make it a circular trip (Toulouse-Albi-Dordogne-fly from Toulouse), or a straight line (Toulouse-Dordogne-more time in Bordeaux, skipping Albi).

I need to do some research, I guess. Opinions are welcome, thanks for yours, Stu.

I took a 1:200,000 map and noted all the locations St Cirq listed above, which was a helpful visual aid. And I found another B&B close to Sarlat that I like a lot, L'Ombriere in Monfort/ Vitrac. It looks lovely and is just off the D704, which seems to be a good central location.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 09:39 AM
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Toulouse, IMO, is far more interesting than Bordeaux (except for serious oenophiles), and the landscape between the Dordogne and Toulouse offers a lot more interesting stop-offs than the landscape between the Dordogne and Bordeaux IMO. I don't know l'Ombrière, but Vitrac is adorable.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 10:30 AM
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If going to Toulouse don't miss nearby Carcassonne, one of the finest medieval-looking ramparted fortress citadels in Europe - OK it's Ersatz being basically rebuilt from rubble in the late 1800s I think but its pristine condition lets you see how such a medieval citadel looked in its prime.

Toulouse I too really liked - a university town lends it a bit of pizzazz.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 10:38 AM
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>>>I guess we need to decide which we'd like more - Toulouse or Bordeaux -<<<

>>Toulouse, IMO, is far more interesting than Bordeaux<<

I agree. No comparison, IMO. We've visited Bordeaux 3-4 times, and they have made some wonderful civic improvements in the last 10 years - but still, nothing like Toulouse.

Stu Dudley
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Oct 21st, 2013, 10:43 AM
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Oct 21st, 2013, 05:46 PM
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We recently followed Stu's very good advice--2 nights at Domaine de la Rhue and 5 nights in Sarlat at La Villa des Consuls. Absolutely loved Domaine and liked Villa des Consuls. Staying in both places allowed us to not have so much driving back and forth.
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