of the most addictive pleasures in life abound in the
Dordogne region of France. These include miles of verdant
farmland and forest, fortified medieval villages, prehistoric caves with Neanderthal
and regal châteaux that seem to make a mockery of modern
billionaire dwellings. Mix all of this in with roadside
stands offering foie gras where you'd expect to find sweet
Although the Parisians and Brits are sweeping up properties
in Southwest France, the heart of Dordogne, west of
Bordeaux, is relatively tourist-free, partially because it's not easy to reach. Days can go by before you see a single tour bus lumbering towards the
next photo opportunity. One of the reasons is that it's
not easy to reach. The best way to get there is to take
the luxurious TGV from Paris for the three-hour ride to
Angoulême, where all the major car rental companies have
offices. If you don't drive a stick shift, reserve an
automatic car at least one full month in advance.
You could spend your whole life exploring the Dordogne
and not see the same thing twice. Ergo, for a 72-hour
experience, it's best to concentrate on the Dronne Valley.
From the River Dronne, the valley's lifeline, you can drink in the best of the region. The river passes gently through
farmland with cows, meadows full of sunflowers facing
in one direction as if commanded by some unseen drill
sergeant, and leafy forests where you can sit under a
shady tree and not feel guilty about reading a book. If
you could capture the spirit of the Dordogne in a single
word, it would be serenity.
Moulin de L'Abbaye
for Brantôme, which is about an hour and-a-half
drive from the car rental offices in Angoulême. Brantôme
sits on both sides of the Dronne, which is why every guidebook
calls it "the Venice of the Dordogne." Certainly
there are picturesque bridges crossing the river, but
Brantôme still wouldn't be considered Venice unless it were
designed by the Swiss. The streets are clean, there's
plenty of parking, and you won't find tour groups descending
on every ice cream stand.
Consider this your splurge day and check into Le Moulin de L'Abbaye, situated just as you enter
Brantôme. This eight-color postcard of a property
is part of the Relais et Châteaux group, which means
you'll get the best of the best of Dordogne. Le Moulin
is made up of three romantic buildings steeped in history
and overlooking the river. This was the home of Abbé
de Brantôme, author of the scandalous "La Vie
des Dames Galantes." Le Moulin de L'Abbaye rivals any
palazzo in Venice for romance and cuisine.
Brantôme is virtually an island in the River Dronne
and the most dominant building is the Benedictine Abbey.
There has been an abbey on this site since 769 and, although
it still functions as a church, the main building has
been given over to the Hôtel de Ville and art galleries.
Another structure is a former monk's dormitory, which has
an amazing wooden ceiling and a large display of prehistoric
it's Friday and market day. Everybody from fishmongers
to mattress salesmen elbow each other for space, and Brantôme
turns into one huge gourmet flea market. Cheese
merchants offer various cheeses wrapped in diaphanous paper; these fromages are made daily by farm women. The rôtisserie master
offers hot roasted chickens soaked in onion gravy that
shame those you'll find in most restaurants. Fishmongers
abound with local, live salmon trout swimming in tanks
set on the back of trucks or station wagons. Do not forget
to take home a bottle of the ambrosia-like walnut oil,
which is milled locally and is a Brantôme specialty.
a leisurely picnic accompanied by the delicious local
Bergerac rosé, drive along the River Dronne to
Bourdeilles to visit the Château le Bourdeilles.
These castles, situated on a romantic curve of the river,
are 10 kilometers from Brantôme and should not be
missed. The complex consists of two structures: one from
the 13th century and the second from the Renaissance.
The castle has wonderful views of the entire area, so
don't forget your camera. The omnipresent Pierre de Brantôme
was born there in 1540 and rose so rapidly in the church
that Mary, Queen of Scots chose him to accompany her on
the ill-fated journey to Scotland in 1561.
to Day 2