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Writer Falls Hopelessly In Love With The Dordogne

Thea Euryphaessa visits Brive-la-Gaillarde, France

Published on June 17th 2011.


Writer Falls Hopelessly In Love With The Dordogne

Looking for a weekend break? Or a week-long holiday? Looking for medieval fairytale-esque villages; awe-inspiring Palaeolithic landscapes etched with Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon doodles; world class culture, ethereal gardens, action-packed outdoor pursuits, and Michelin-starred gastronomy galore? Well, look no further – this place has it all. And then some.

Words can’t convey just how fabulous this region is. I want to dress it in superlatives, shout about it from the rooftops.

Situated in the Dordogne Valley, Brive-la-Gaillarde and the immediate surrounding area has something for everyone – and I mean everyone. You will need to hire a car from the airport, but it’s oh-so-worth it. None of the places we stayed or visited were more than a 45-minute drive from the airport. Jet2 airways recently launched a twice-weekly flight direct from Manchester and with less than a two-hour flight time, you can be in your hotel, unpacked, and ready for dinner in next to no time (Brive Airport is petite and très efficient). And do make sure to pack appropriate evening attire as dining out here deserves it.

2011_0524Brive20110071[1]
Sat surveying downtown Brive from the elevated restaurant terrace of Château de Lacan, I had to pinch myself at the spectacular views. For more than ten years I’ve had a torrid tryst with Italy. But I think it’s fair to say that, on this trip, France more than turned my head.

The food at Château de Lacan was superb and well worth a visit whether you stay there or not. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many high-quality meals in such a concentrated geographic area – and this from a self-confessed Tuscany gastronome. I could’ve written several reviews on the food alone.

I do, however, know my limitations and although I appreciated the sublime quality and presentation of the cuisine, I humbly leave such tasks to gourmets who are more intimately acquainted with French fare – definitely a trip for the foodies, this one. The icing on the cake had to be an exquisite lunch at Michelin-starred Château de Castel Novel. Heaven wept.

If you’re looking for a romantic weekend away, though, I recommend three-star boutique hotel, Château de Lacan – a residence straight out of the pages of a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guidebook. It may not be right in the centre of Brive (ten minute’s drive out of town) but who cares when you’ve such über-cool rooms with a view?

For this drinks writer, however, aperitifs at Distellerie Denoix in the heart of Brive itself were an undoubted highlight. Step through the unassuming front entrance, breathe deep, and prepare to be intoxicated. Magical, it’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory but with booze instead of chocolate. I wanted to run amok through the olde worlde shop, buy everything, but settled on a bottle of their deservedly famous speciality ‘La Suprême Denoix 30°’ instead. Green walnut and Armagnac-infused liqueur never tasted so good (psst, dazzle dinner party guests by adding it to your crème brûlée – c’est magnifique). Not available to buy outside France you can, however, order direct from their website. www.denoix.com

Of the entire trip, though, a visit to Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire designed by Kathryn Gustafson most caught me by surprise. I’m not normally one for schlepping around gardens. J’adore the outdoors, yes, but to this uninitiated gardener a rose is a rose is a rose. This place, though, is enchanting in a Midsummer Night’s Dream way.  It even has an amphitheatre nestled in the hillside overlooking the Vézère valley and chocolate-box town of Terrasson (gateway to the Black Perigord). With countless mythic, poetic, and symbolic references – an Axis of Winds, a Theatre of Greenery, and a Water Garden – I could’ve happily whiled away a full day in its soul-soothing grounds. www.jardins-imaginaire.com

2011_0524Brive20110133[2]
A mere hop, skip, and jump away is Sarlat. A charming medieval town officially designated as Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Artistic and Historic Town), Sarlat is a must for gourmets and cultural aficionados alike and has served as a setting for countless movies including Luc Besson’s ‘Joan of Arc’. We lunched at Le Bistrot which is situated beneath the beautiful Maison de la Boëtie on place du Peyrou facing the Cathedral.

Next, a whistle-stop tour of Souillac – gateway to the South of France – and its 12th Century Romanesque abbey: one of the finest examples of its kind and well worth a visit (I’m aware I keep saying that, but such buildings are the stuff of dreams for Grail chasers and, well, geeks like me).

 That night we stayed at, and dined in, a converted château called La Terrasse in Meyronne overlooking the Dordogne River. The landscape here is so epic, so sweepingly Jurassic, you almost expect a dinosaur to saunter past while you dine on the terrace. And what a damn fine restaurant it is too. They even turned me on to the joys of lamb sweetbread before scorching my oesophagus with a glass of local speciality La Vieille Prune – an aperitif to put hairs on your chest. Or singe them.

The accommodation and views from my top-floor turret room was straight out of a fairytale; the stuff Rapunzel-like fantasies are made of. Down below, the Dordogne River begs to be canoed and rafted upon – and this from someone who normally gives such activities a deft body swerve. I’d like to have stayed here longer but the next morning we were whisked to the place I most wanted to see – Rocamadour.

As a student of depth psychology and comparative mythology, I admit, I couldn’t wait to visit Rocamadour. One of its seven churches and chapels has a Black Madonna I’d wanted to see since I first clapped eyes on another Black Madonna – Our Lady of the Pillar – in Chartres Cathedral last November. And clinging by the hairs of its chinny-chin-chin to a sheer precipice, this quaint little town does not disappoint. If you visit this region, make sure to visit. Better still, spend a night.

Belts were loosened as yet another delicious lunch was enjoyed at La Belvedere overlooking Rocamadour and the Alzou Valley (it also has 17 rooms with spectacular views aplenty), before we headed off to Gouffre de Padirac. Claustrophobics, look away now: Gouffre de Padirac is a colossal natural limestone chasm with a diameter of 35 metres. Leaning over it I couldn’t help thinking of Luke, Hans and company being dangled over the Great Pit of Carkoon in ‘Return of the Jedi’. Two elevators lower visitors 75 metres into the subterranean bowels of a watery netherworld that left my fertile imagination reeling.

Once below, our visit included a short trip on a punt along a river (103 metres below ground-level), followed by a walking tour of the vast internal caverns (the second largest open to the public in Europe). Whatever else you do during your visit, make time for this otherworldly geological gem – it rendered us all speechless. www.gouffre-de-padirac.com

Jardinsimaginaire3[1]
Our last night was spent in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne – also known as the Dordogne’s Riviera – which is famous for its strawberries, idyllic setting, and (yet more) fairytale architecture. We stayed in three-star boutique-style Grand Hôtel Le Turenne and dined by the Dordogne in the charming Les Charmilles. By this time, all belts were off.

Before we left, however, we managed to squeeze in guided tours to two of the most beautiful (officially designated) villages in France – Turenne and Collonges-la-Rouge (the latter entirely built with red sandstone, hence the name) – before lunching in abovementioned Michelin-starred Château de Castel Novel and one final tour of contemporary gardens – Jardins de Colette – dedicated to the French writer, Colette. www.lesjardinsdecolette.com

Words can’t convey just how fabulous this region is. I want to dress it in superlatives, shout about it from the rooftops. This assignment even had me rifling through the pages of D. H. Lawrence, Anaïs Nin, and Lawrence Durrell for inspiration. Whether a loved-up couple or family with kids, this region has something for everyone. I, for one, will most definitely be back – and with a travel bucket list as long as the Nile, it’s not often I say that. 

 

Thea flew to the Dordogne Valley (Brive) with Jet2.com.

Flights from Manchester Airport are twice a week – Tuesday and Saturday – with prices starting from just £39.99 one-way including taxes. www.jet2.com

Brive-Dordogne Valley Airport, France’s newest airport, is conveniently situated in the heart of southwest France at the crossroads of Corrèze, Lot, and Dordogne. www.aeroport-brive-vallee-dordogne.com

Accommodation:

Le Château de Lacan, Rue Jean Macé, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde, France. Tel: (+33) 05 55 74 79 79 Fax: (+33) 05 55 23 19 83 Web: www.chateaulacan.com

La Truffe Noire, 22, Boulevard Anatole France, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde, France. Tel: (+33) 05 55 92 45 00 Fax: (+33) 05 55 92 45 13 Web: www.la-truffe-noire.com

Hôtel *** Restaurant La Terrasse, 46200, Meyronne, France. Tel. (+33) 565 322 160 Fax: (+33) 05 65 32 26 93 Web: www.hotel-la-terrasse.com

Grand Hôtel Le Turenne , 1 Boulevard Saint Rodolphe de Turenne, 19120, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, France. Tel: (+33) 05 55 91 94 72  Web: www.leturenne.com

Restaurants:

www.chateaulacan.com

http://www.sarlat-tourisme.com/fr/fiche/Restauration/Le-Bistrot/RESAQU0240003888/

www.hotel-la-terrasse.com

www.hotel-le-belvedere.fr

www.auberge-charmilles.com

www.castelnovel.com

Tourist information:

www.tourisme-vallee-dordogne.com

www.brive-tourisme.com

www.ot-terrasson.com

www.sarlat-tourisme.com

www.tourisme-souillac.com

www.vacances-en-correnze.net

www.tourisme-lot.com

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Mark GarnerJune 21st 2011.

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