Dordogne - Bordeaux
Medieval castles - superb gardens - glorious landscapes - last original 18000 years cave paintings that can be visited - superb food - delicious wines quaint villages - 18 Century wine capital of the World.
Just wanted to reaffirm to you how much we enjoyed and learned on our Dordogne trip with you! The entire experience was wonderful, with no mishaps...all went so smoothly.
We especially appreciated the fact that we were such a small group, and that you were the guide, driver, and organizer, all in one. Being such a small group (6), we were able to have real conversations about what we were seeing, getting to understand the background and history of the buildings and towns...all with the ease of moving around that is much more difficult with a large group.
Your selection of experiences was excellent... this area of France is rich with well-preserved medieval villages and buildings, and that gave us an excellent opportunity to understand how they "worked". We also had the opportunity to explore the natural terrain and geology with you, and we could see how that also influenced and shaped the planning and the architecture of the Dordogne region.
One great benefit of your "tour" was how you organized the dining experiences. Unlike most group tours, where the group meals are set menus of touristy items, we were free to choose whatever we wanted from any menu in any restaurant, even for the meals (most of the meals, actually) that were included in the cost of the trip. This enhanced the entire experience immeasurably, and a special "merci" to you for that!
I hope the rest of your summer in Europe goes smoothly, and that all of your groups enjoy their experiences as much as we enjoyed ours.
Bill and Janice Zoller
April 30-May 9, 2017
$4488 Per Person Double Occupancy
$550 Single supplement
Maximum of 7 participants.
7 nights in Dordogne - 2 nights in Bordeaux
9 Breakfasts - 4 Lunches - 5 Dinners with beer/wine
Transportation to sites - Entry fees to sites
A few books and maps
Tax - Gratuity
Pick-up and Drop-off at Bordeaux airport
Day 1: April 30: Depart US for Bordeaux. Airfare not included.
Day 2: May 1: Arrive at Bordeaux airport. Transfer to Hotel in SARLAT where you will have some time to visit the small town (depending your arrival time in Bordeaux), relax and freshen up before meeting for a group dinner.
In order to occupy our lovely time during day 3 to 8, here are what we could visit:
- I was able to make reservations to visit Fond-de-Gaume, a cave with extraordinary paintings that are 18,000 years old. The site is bound to be closed one of those days in the near future. I have been there over 50 times since 1952, remembering when the access was almost unlimited, to gradually prevent more than a few small groups of people a day. It will be a shame to not see it anymore, but visitors damage the paintings by bringing bacteria from the outside. Breathing is also a reason for the damages.
- One place where you will have time to wander and shop is during the Sarlat street farmers market, a colorful event full of noise and smells and beautiful hues, held on Saturdays from 7AM to 1PM. Sarlat. After the market and lunch we will go for a guided visit of this beautiful Renaissance city, very well maintained, and with a fascinating history. There are so many historically classified monuments that Sarlat is the city in Europe with the most historical buildings per square yard and an architecture over a 1,000 years old.
- The Castle of Beynac, on the banks of the River Dordogne, to the south-west of Sarlat was the traditional enemy to the Chateau de Castelnaud. Although mostly on the side of the French, it was taken by Richard the Lion Heart, King of England, who had received Perigord, the name of the duchy at the time, from his mother Aliénor d’Aquitaine. Perigord is crossed by the river Dordogne, which gave its name to the Department of Dordogne, equivalent in some ways to a county. France is made of 96 departments.
- The castle of Castelnaud, is as imposing as Beynac, 4 miles away as the crow flies, but this one belonged to the French during those long wars between England and France. Its rich past goes back to the 12th century and while the feudal fortress was considered impregnable, it was conquered by Simon de Montfort in 1214, during the crusade against the Albigensiens. Situated in English territory, the castle and village were considered as “the strongest rampart of Perigord.” Le Chateau de Castelnaud was involved in all of the religious battles of 16th and 17th Century.
The Castle is a museum of Medieval warfare. It has a great collection of war machines which were built by my oldest friend, Renaud Beffeytte (we met when I was 8 years old and he 7). He is the one who deciphered the lost language of the Medieval engineers, who communicated between themselves with a written language that could be a bit similar to hieroglyphs. That gave him the expertise to build war machines the way they were built in the Medieval period, with the tools of the time. His machines are powerful and very precise in hitting their targets.
- Château de Losse and gardens. A very pleasant Renaissance castle after transformation from a Medieval fortress. Beautiful furniture and décor and a nice pleasure garden overlooking the Vézère River, a tunnel of vines, a fine rose garden, a courtyard with squares planted with lavender, edged with rosemary, and guarded by cypress trees.
- The gardens of Marqueyssac, The park, designed for walking, is situated on a spur and overlooks the entire Dordogne Valley with its chalky cliffs. It reveals the most spectacular panoramic view possible of Périgord. The paths are organized into three circuits that lead to the Belvedere, 800 meters from the chateau. This is a fabulous balcony, 130 meters above the river, which unveils an exceptional panoramic view of the Dordogne valley.
- The gardens of Eyrignac are both French and Italian gardens, meticulously maintained. You will find one of the best examples in France of the art of Topiary making it one of the 'Plus Beaux Jardins de France' (most beautiful Gardens in France). On a 10 ha site of sculpted plants, visitors come to admire the delicate tapestry of the various shades of green that is box, yew, horn-beam and ivy together. The is the purity of the White garden, a kitchen garden and many flowers and fruits growing together in the new "Jardin des Sources" (Garden of Water Sources).
- The small but beautiful Limeuil, where the rivers Dordogne and Vezere meet, is a little village that is well worth exploring. It is still partly surrounded by its original fortified walls, and is another of the ‘picture postcard pretty’ villages of the Dordogne. Cobbled streets wind through the village between the honey-colored houses and scattered gardens in one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. a group of selected villages by an association which aims to preserve their unique environment. At the top of Limeuil is a small but very interesting gardens that wants to help people to understand the flora of the area, with good explanatory panels.
- And if you are up to it because it is 1:35 minutes from Sarlat, there is an amazing aquatic gardens, where Monet was buying the water-lilies for his garden in Giverny. On the way back we could visit the quite astonishing Castle of Biron, and have dinner in the very quaint village of Montpazier.
- Chateau de Biron: For over 1000 years, the Gontaut-Biron family owned the south of the Périgord. Biron is a lesson in architecture showing different buildings still testifying today, not only to the bygone power of the family, but also to the extraordinary talent and inspiration of the best builders of all times. One can read three stages in the development of the castle from the 12th to the 18th c.
- Monpazier was founded in 1284 by Edward 1 of England. Its medieval center is preserved almost completely intact, and it is quite possibly the best of all the Dordogne bastide towns to visit and recapture life 600 years ago. (a bastide was a town built with perpendicular and parallel streets, like Manhattan in modern times. It was to allow better defense of the city in case of intruders and protected it from fires jumping from house to house). The arcades around the edge of the square are still present, as is the market hall.
- Gardens of the Imagination This contemporary garden, a public park of the town of Terrasson, was designed in 1996 by US landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson to present thirteen tableaux of the myths and legends of the history of gardens.
It uses simple natural elements; trees, flowers, water and stone to suggest the passage of mankind from nature to agriculture to the city. It uses a symbolic sacred wood, a rose garden, topiary art, and fountains to tell the story.
- We could have a quick look at the the probable ancestor of the White House. The architect, was working on the plans and drawing when, Thomas Jefferson,who later was involved in the White House’s design, met him in Bordeaux. He was appreciative of the architect's concept for a mansion and asked for copies of the drawings. German soldiers at the end of WWII, burned with phosphorus the inside of the mansion which was later restored and transformed into five apartments.
- We will visit Les Eyzies, a town considered to be the world’s capital for pre-history. People come from all over the world to visit the sights were early people where living about 28,000 years ago. It is in les Eyzies that the remains of the Cro-Magnon man where discovered. Cro means rock in ancient local language and Magnon was the last name of the property’s owner where the discovery was made. Beside the shelter of Cro-Magnon there is the very good National Museum of Prehistory.
- Gouffre de Proumeyssac, a huge cave with beautiful scenery. You access the bottom via staircase and walks or by going straight down in a basket.
- The shelter of La Roque-Saint-Christophe has seen people living within its confine for almost 40,000 years ending during the wars of religion in 1588.
Cap Blanc, is a shelter, meaning it was not enclosed but was created against the wall of a cliff, under an overhang. It shows an amazing small collection of stone carvings of animals some being full scale. They are incredibly life like sculptures, between fifteen and eighteen thousand years old.
Rouffignac Cave After getting on a small electric "little train," you pass by what were the nest created by bears to hibernate. Then a few minutes later, bout 3/4 of a mile into the cave, you will see an astonishing collection of about 158 drawings of mammoths on the walls and ceiling.
La Maison Forte de Raygnac is a house that was built into a cliff to become a small fortress, while housing a very powerful family, all the way to the beginning of the 20th century.
- Le Chateau des Milandes built in the 1400s, was owned by this young woman coming out of St Louis who became a superstar in France, Josephine Baker. She was an amazing entertainer and also a very courageous resistant during WWII. The castle is well kept and has all sorts of furniture, costumes and memorabilia related to Josephine Baker.
- The Dordogne/ Perigord area has 152 of the Most Beautiful Villages of France:
Belves is a medieval Bastide town in the heart of the Dordogne, with a preserved 15th century covered market hall. In the center of the town there are troglodyte dwellings that date from the 13th century, a medieval belfry and walls, a 14th century castle, seven bell towers’.
- Domme is located 250 metres (820 ft) above sea level on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Dordogne river. It is a Bastide town, which means that it was built on a grid like Manhattan. Founded as a stronghold in 1281 by Philip the Bold following his campaign along the Dordogne river, Domme obtained the privilege of minting its own currency.
In 1307, the Knight Templar were imprisoned in Domme during the trial against them. Hundreds of Templar graffiti still bear witness. There are stunning views across the Dordogne valley from Domme.
- La Roque-Gageac: Built against the Limestone rock-face at the foot of a cliff this lovely town is spread out along the Dordogne river. In the Middle Ages, the small town was practically impregnable, well protected behind its walls and prospered due mostly to the fishing trade. Wander the small lane ways and discover the fortified church and the Tarde family manor. At the extremity of the village is, Malartrie Castle, which was built in 19th century but in 12th century style, for Count St. Aulaire, the remarkable Talleyrand historian.
In La Roque Gageac we can hop on a “gabare” (traditional boats that transported goods to Lalinde or Bordeaux before being dismantled and brought back-up in pieces on mules because the Dordorgne river’s currents were too strong), and cruise the river which gives you a stunning view of not only this beautiful historic village but also the surrounding countryside.
Day 9: May 8: We will drive to Bordeaux, an extraordinary town, with amazing 18th century architecture. Night in Bordeaux.
Day 10: May 9: Bordeaux is on the Unesco list of World’s sites. We will have a guided visit of the city. Our last dinner together. Night in Bordeaux.
Day 11: May 10: You will be taken to the Bordeaux airport for your flight back home, which you should reach in the afternoon.
- There are several artists in the area who open their studios to visitors. It is fun to just stop when we see a sign for their galleries and always interesting to see what they have to offer and there are no obligations to buy. Some are very good some are pretty bad; it is all in the eyes of the beholder.