A Guest's Dordogne insights
In this blog I sought out a guest who, along with her husband, stayed in both of our properties located in the Dordogne Valley in the South West of France in 2018. Namely the villages of Berbiguieres- the cottage location, and Beaulieu- the townhouse location. Both houses are over 300 years old and lovingly restored. Rather than hear from me, I thought it would be interesting and enlightening to read her responses to 11 questions I posed regarding the region, the houses, the sightseeing, the driving etc. Her honest reflections after their trip to the region in 2018 are really well considered and insightful.
So this is Linda from Queensland and her thoughtful responses.
1. What was your first impression of the Dordogne region itself?
My husband, Rod, and I first visited France in June 2017. We had 10 days in this beautiful country and stayed for 3 nights at Beynac et Cazenac in the magnificent Dordogne. Oh my goodness, we fell in love with this amazing area of France.
I remember driving into Beynac and having our first view of the Chateau high up above the rocky cliffs on one side of the road and the magnificent Dordogne River flowing on the other side. We decided then and there that we needed more time in this spectacular part of France and set about arranging a longer trip in 2018.
We consider the day we found the website ourcottageinfrance.com to be one of the luckiest days we can remember. Within a very short time we had contacted Rae-Helen and Neil and arranged a 10 night stay in each of their properties in the Dordogne for July/August 2018.
The Dordogne region covers quite a large area and is extremely diverse - we saw everything from rocky cliffs, meandering rivers, amazing gardens, castles and chateaus, waterfalls, caves, churches and villages dating back hundreds of years. We had BBQ’s by the river with many local people on warm summer evenings, ate the most divine local cuisine and drank (rather copious) amounts of local wine.
To say this area is spectacular is a huge understatement.
2. Was the area difficult to access?
We flew into Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport) and very easily found our way to the train station where we caught a direct, fast train to Bordeaux. We then hired a car from the train station and drove to the cottage in Berbiguieres. We were given very good directions from Neil and had no problems at all finding the cottage.
The roads from Bordeaux to Berbiguieres are very good and, even though we were not skilled at driving on “the other side of the road” we felt quite comfortable on this drive. The roads are well sign posted so it was quite easy to get to our destination.
3. How was your driving experience in France?
This was our second visit to France and we found that driving was much easier this time. I do admit to finding driving on the other side of the road a bit stressful but Rod seemed quite comfortable after a few hours.
My biggest piece of advice would be to understand how the road tolls work and to have a stash of change in your car ready for payment of any toll. We did have a bit of a stressful moment trying to decipher the different lanes coming up to the toll booths and how to pay the toll.
Having said that, there are several different routes you can take to get to Berbiguieres and Beaulieu which do not have any tolls at all and give you the opportunity to see so much more of the amazing countryside.
4. Were there problems at all being non-French speaking travellers?
I had registered to complete a TAFE course in “French for the Traveller” before we headed off on our adventure, however the course was cancelled due to a lack of participants. So off we went with our translation book and phones to attempt to converse with the locals. We had a few problems understanding & being understood but we did have a go at the most basic requests- thanks & directions. I do feel that, had we been even slightly conversant in French, we would have had a more meaningful experience of living in another country for a month. I think we would have developed some nice friendships had we been able to converse more easily.
Of course there are some very funny experiences that do come from not being able to explain what you want. We ate duck hearts without knowing it, ordered what we thought was a ham and salad roll and received a dry baquette (no butter) with some lettuce and cheese, plus red wine when we wanted rosé etc. These are the things we remember and laugh about so if you only have a minimum grasp of French don’t let it stop you from travelling to this amazing country and particularly the regional areas such as the Dordogne.
5. You spent 10 days in both properties. Was it long enough?
Rod and I were so fortunate to have been able to spend 10 nights in each of Neil and Rae-Helen’s “Cottages in France”. The weather was magnificent in July/August and we easily filled in the days. We were very lazy, often not leaving the cottage to head out for the day until later in the morning so if you were to have full days out exploring, a week in each cottage would also give you sufficient time to see a lot of the surrounding areas and wonderful attractions.
6. Did the properties provide a good base from which to explore the region?
The two Cottages are very different, both in their physical aspects and also in their locations. Both are exceptionally based to explore the surrounding region.
As “country” people we favoured Berbiguieres which is based in a very small village with no shops and little noise (apart from the wonderful church bells ringing). The cottage is however, only a few kilometres to the town of St Cyprien which has a fantastic supermarché, patisseries and restaurants. Within a 15 minute drive there are many amazing sights to see & places to visit – Beynac, La Roque Gageac and St. Christophe, Domme, canoeing on the Dordogne, restaurants, spectacular gardens and chateaus, castle and caves. There are endless roads to meander through small villages, stop for a BBQ in a village on a summers evening, swim in the local creeks & rivers. So much to do, so little time.
The Beaulieu townhouse, on the other hand, is located in an ancient, walled town which has a lovely vibrant feel but still is really- a large village. There are numerous exceptional restaurants and cafes, pubs, patisseries, boulangeries, a very large supermarché only a couple of kilometres out of town, retail stores, pharmacies and everything you could possibly require.
Again, within a 20-30 minute drive there are so many amazing natural wonders to see and explore – caves, waterfalls, parks and gardens, historical sites, villages, chateaus and castles. It really has so much to offer.
Both properties provide an exceptional base to explore the surrounding region.
7. You stayed in the cottage in Berbiguieres first. Was your stay comfortable and what you expected?
We stayed in the Cottage in Berbiguieres for the first 10 nights of our holiday. We had had some lovely, long conversations with Neil and Rae-Helen prior to our visit and the cottage was everything we had expected and hoped for. It is cute, quaint, quirky and creaky and we loved it. The view from the lounge room and bedroom windows is picture postcard perfect. The timber floors and furnishings give it a lovely, homey feeling and we felt so comfortable from the moment we walked in the door. The cottage has everything you require including laundry facilities which is a luxury when travelling. The bed was comfortable and the bedroom was very spacious with plenty of storage. We felt being able to unpack and not have to move to another property each day or so was wonderful. We literally did not want to leave after the 10 nights. We could easily have stayed another 10. We even wandered around the village and found a property that “in our dreams” we could have bought and become dual country property owners too, haha.
8. Then you moved on to the townhouse in Beaulieu. How was this experience different to the cottage?
After our stay in Berbiguieres we then drove the 100km trip to the town of Beaulieu sur Dordogne. There are some spectacular sights to see and things to do on the way so we stopped and explored gardens and castles and made a day of it.
The townhouse in Beaulieu is extremely spacious (sleeping 6 people) over three levels with beautiful river breezes to keep cool. We encountered very hot weather when we were in Beaulieu and spent many hours on the river bank having a refreshing glass of wine, eating local produce and watching the world go by.
The townhouse is extremely well maintained and, again, has everything you could want or need. All the bedrooms are spacious and well-appointed and we enjoyed being able to look out of our window onto the cobblestone street below and watch people go by. There are very few cars allowed within this part of the city walls so traffic noise is non-existent.
We loved being able to wander just a few minutes away to the village square and sit and “people watch” whilst enjoying the local fare. Often there were solo musicians, duets or bands playing in the square which added to the ambience. It was a very vibrant, happy atmosphere and so easy to spend a few hours there.
The beautiful Cathedral is only a short 100 metre walk from the townhouse and I was lucky enough to hear the choir practicing one afternoon. It was such a beautiful experience for me. The doors of the Cathedral are open for tourists and locals alike to visit and admire the architecture and/or sit in quiet contemplation.
9. What were the highlights of your trip?
This is definitely the single most difficult question I have been asked in a long time. There were so many highlights – every single day of our adventure there were highlights. The magnificent Marqueyssac Gardens lit up with more than 2000 candles lining the paths of hectares of gardens leading to spectacular lookouts is a memory I will always treasure. Spending time with locals and joining in their summer BBQ’s on the river bank enjoying local produce & wine, bands playing, children and adults dancing. Traversing 75 metres underground and then taking a boat ride through the underground caves at Gouffre de Padirac is something that has to be experienced to be believed. A day spent canoeing on the Dordogne river, stopping when we felt like it to relax on the riverbank or have a snack, was a wonderful way to see many castles and chateaus from a different perspective. I highly recommend this experience.
Then there is the food and wine and beer! I’m sure we ate and drank our way around the region. Rae-Helen and Neil are a wealth of knowledge on the best local restaurants and patisseries and we made it our mission to try to experience as many of their suggestions as possible. We were never disappointed.
There were so many highlights that I could fill a book! – the Dordogne region needs to be explored and experienced to really know how magnificent and diverse it is. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed if they had the opportunity to base themselves in either (or both) of these two properties and explore the surrounding region.
10. Any low points?
I can honestly say the only low point of our trip occurred in Paris when Rod was robbed of his wallet on the subway on the last evening of our trip. We felt so safe and secure in the regional Dordogne area and, naively, did not take sufficient safety precautions with our belongings when we arrived in Paris. Lesson learned there.
11. Do you have anything further you’d like to comment on?
Neil and Rae-Helen Fisenden were such an amazing couple to work with, giving invaluable assistance in getting our trip planned. They not only provided our accommodation, which we absolutely loved, but they helped with advice on flights, trains, car hire, tourist attractions, restaurants, gardens and even how to find that little creek to swim in on a hot day. They are remarkable hosts and their properties are so welcoming and comfortable. My greatest wish is that Rod and I have the opportunity to re-visit this spectacular part of the world and stay in their houses again!
Thank you Linda for taking the time to write your responses. We'd love you and Rod to come back à bientöt! ourcottageinfrance.com