Continuing on from the previous blog – while we were staying in Gourdon, we visited quite a few places in the Dordogne region. The countryside in this region is perfect for a relaxed road trip and this is exactly what we did most days. There are so many cute villages and chateaus in this area that it won’t really matter where you head, you will come across something beautiful.
My parents had some family friends who were also on holiday in the region at the same time. They were staying in the medieval town of Sarlat and one sunny morning we went to visit them. The main drawcard of this town was the huge food market which is packed into the winding streets, as well as indoors in a converted cathedral – very ingenious use of this beautiful, old building. The market is very focused around the local food specialities which are walnuts and foie gras, with almost every stall selling products that were some derivative of those items. Needless to say, due to my nut allergy and dislike for the foie gras process, the only food I was willing to purchase at the market was a huge punnet of delicious, sweet strawberries. The town itself was exceptionally cute, with tight, winding streets, rounded turrets, but was hardly a secret of the area as it was packed to the brim with tourists.
Another cute town we visited was La Roque-Gageac. The houses are built right up close to the sheer cliffs alongside the Dordogne river and have secret paths behind them which you can explore and find hidden gardens (they have signs pointing to them, we weren’t just in peoples backyards).
Just down the road from La Roque-Gageac was the spectacular Chateau de Beynac, a heavily fortified and imposing structure sitting high atop the cliff behind the cute little village, Beynac. For just €8 you get entry to the castle grounds where you can explore a surprising amount of the Chateau. This was most famous for being Richard the Lionheart’s castle in the 12th century. Unsurprisingly, given an English King took up residence here, there is a bit of a bloody history to the place. We visited here on the most beautiful, sunny day, so it really made it sink in how dark and dingy castles were back in the day as some of the rooms were almost pitch black, even with the sun sitting high in the sky outside.
Les jardins suspendus de Marqueyssac was an amazing find and well worth a visit if you are in the area. These are the suspended gardens of Marqueyssac which are famous for having over 150,000 boxwood hedges, sculptured into the most magical looking garden. The garden dates back to the 19th century, and many of the boxwoods there today are over 100 years old. Interestingly, despite the highly manicured look of the gardens, the hedges only need to be shaped once a year. The garden and chateau are perched atop a rocky spur, with panoramic views across the Dordogne Valley. We visited the gardens on the morning that the Brexit vote results came out so when the lady at the ticket counter asked where we were from, we definitely said New Zealand. The couple behind us were not so lucky as they were British so had to explain that they had indeed voted to stay in the EU.
Apart from the places mentioned above, the best part about this region is that no matter where you drive, you will come across something beautiful around every corner. I highly recommend just going for a drive around the countryside, taking your time, and stopping whenever you come across something nice. We generally took a packed lunch with us on our trips (french bread, cheese, charcuterie, tomatoes, and fruit) so we could stop and have a picnic at one of the cute towns we found. As they are generally fortified and built on a hill, they had spectacular views.
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and after a week and a bit, it was time for my parents and little sister to head back to New Zealand. We parted ways in Gourdon, with myself, Alex and my brother heading south to Toulouse for another day before flying home to London. We didn’t have much time to explore Toulouse, so I will just summarise the highlights below:
After dropping the car at the airport, we spent the afternoon just walking around the town in the sunshine. It was really a glorious day. We stopped in a cute little park by the river and enjoyed a caraffe of rosé in the sunshine. In the evening, we found a great steak restaurant called Meet the Meat. We had a seat outside under a tree on the street which was great for people watching. The waitress we had was extremely friendly, especially once she found out we were from New Zealand. We ended the evening watching once of the Euro games in an Irish pub just down the road from our hotel which was full of English supporters who had just found out their flights were cancelled and were stranded in France. They didn’t seem too upset about that. The vast majority of them did not even have tickets for any of the Euro games, they had just travelled to France to get amongst the atmosphere (I think Alex mentioned this in his last blog post regarding their experience in Lens).
The next day, we did some more wandering and enjoying the sunshine. We visited a few cathedrals along the way and stopped at a beautiful cafe for a beer under the shade of some trees when the heat of the day became a little too much. When we tried to get to the airport, all of the roads and the metro stations around our hotel were shut off because of some big demonstration. We had to walk for ages with our bags in tow to find a metro station that was actually open and going to the right place, but once we had that sorted, it was a very easy trip out to the airport. I always get jealous when visiting cities other than London when you see how close the airport is to the centre of town. Here, we routinely add in a 1 hour 20 minute bus/train ride onto our trip once we actually make it back to the UK.
We had such a fantastic time exploring France this summer, made extra special by being able to share it with my family.