Arriving, Eating, and Exploring in the Dordogne Valley
Last Wednesday I got up bright and early, headed over to Stansted Airport and hopped on a plane to Brive, ready to start a trip around the Dordogne Valley. We visited food markets, ate everywhere from small auberges to Michelin star restaurants, explored Medieval towns and stayed in chateaux. I’m so excited to share the trip with you all, and to kick it all off I want to share some of the fantastic food we ate, towns we explored on our first afternoon, and where we stayed on our first evening in the Dordogne Valley.
After the airport, our first stop was the beautiful Chateau de Lissac, set up in the hills for a much needed drink and bite to eat. There are more Chateaux in the region than in pretty much the rest of France, and a lot of them have been turned into some pretty beautiful boutique hotels.
The kitchen table was laden with plates of different mini dishes, the sort of thing you can have eaten in three or four bites. We managed to avoid the rain, and sat out on the terrace with glasses of local wine and our first flavour of the Dordogne. Some of the combinations were familiar; salmon and cream cheese tartines, and sun blush tomatoes with cured ham and burrata. Others were hyper local; cured duck (the region is all about their duck) with braised peas and broad beans, and French bread with rich and creamy foie gras.
For sweets, we dug into the most creamy and fresh raspberry panna cotta, coffee people enjoyed coffee puddings, and we all fought over the petit fours. For a first meal in the Dordogne Valley, the food was bloody fantastic, and really gave us a flavour for what was to come (many courses, and lots of duck!)
Before heading off to our own hotel, we took a little tour of some of the rooms at Chateau de Lissac. Each had its own theme and colour scheme (a mix of modern and traditional), with some of the most dreamy bathrooms I’ve ever seen. I’m one for bathroom porn, and the chateau had plenty. A room at the Chateau starts at around £92 a night; incredible value if you think of my attempts to stay somewhere in East London the night before, finding I’d be spending at least £300 and ending up at an uncomfortable airport hotel!
Would you not want to stay in this stunning room on the third floor just so you can have a soak in that incredible bathroom? Green stripes, whitewashed walls, glass soap jars and his and her sinks? Beautiful.
While Chateau de Lissac was beautiful, I think we were all more than happy with our rooms at Hostellerie de la L’Imaginaire, a pretty 17th century building in the heart of the town of Terrasson. Every room was simply and elegant, mine with a super comfortable (seriously, those pillows!) duck egg accented bed, armchair in the corner, beautiful stone bathroom and Nuxe toiletries. I slept incredibly well, even after enjoying a rather wonderful, 6 course meal in the hotels restaurant, headed up by award winning chef François Adamski. If you’re looking to stay, my room cost about £95 a night in low season, and around £135 during high season.
Even though the hotel was in the middle of the town, and my balcony looked out over the square and the surrounding valley, it was beautifully quiet there for my whole stay. You know people live there from the odd car, or when you see people go into their businesses and houses, but when we visited it is like the town had been left for just us to explore, otherwise completely devoid of tourists or crowds.
Hostellerie de la L’Imaginaire are famous for their beautiful gardens, but sadly we only arrived after they’d closed for the day. So, after washing the journey off, settling into our rooms and changing for dinner, we decided to explore the town a little before the downpour the sky was promising started.
Most of the pretty painted shop fronts were closed for the evening as we climbed up towards the church, but the local glass maker was still open and we passed some time watching him blow, turn and decorate some of the simply stunning wine glasses he was working on. It was mesmerising to watch, and next time I’m in town with a car rather than having caught a flight, I want to stop buy for a whole table full.
Even if you’re chasing the rain, it is worth making it right up to the church for the view out over the town. You can look out over the river, across the valley, down on Medieval wall tops, spot frescos on the sides of the buildings from your birds eye view up there, and enjoy the topiary in the church gardens.
Dinner started with champagne and canapés in the drinks lounge in the back of the restaurant space, which in the past has also been used as the town post office and stables. The canapés were just a whisper of the thing to come. I stuck to the rounds as they were the two cheese free options; a mouthwatering crispy and creamy ham number, and little black balls of rich, wondrous warm foie gras.
When we arrived at the table, we started with a poached egg in a cup of delicate cream. Now, as many of you probably know by now, I don’t cope well with cheese made with cows milk, and while I can handle most other dairy products fine, some restaurants interpret that dietary need as dairy free. In some restaurants I find I end up missing out on dishes I really want to try because of it, but actually, that evening on some dishes I think I got a better deal. My egg was sitting in a pool of a rather wonderful red wine jus.
We ate a lot of asparagus (especially white asparagus) in the Dordogne Valley as it is wonderfully in season at the moment, and everywhere. Here, we had it served with morels (wonderfully perfumed and flavoured mushrooms which were also in so many other items we tried) and hazelnuts, which created great contrast.
Foie Gras is one of my favourite foods, and I’d never had it like this before; delicately shaved into thin ribbons, and curled so that it had a familiar flavour and texture to what I am used to, but also so different and unexpected. One of my favourite dishes from the meal; foie gras is not usually this fresh and bright.
For our main, we had red snapper with its beautifully luminescent orange and gold skin crisped to perfection, sitting on a bed of vegetables and black olives. Our server came to the table and filled each of our bowls with a fish bisque reduction which really pulled the whole thing together.
Before we move onto the sweets, a note on the wine. I did not pay too much attention to what was being poured into our glasses (I was practically falling to sleep at this point, thanks to the lack of sleep the night before!), but I do want to note it as it was very representative of our region. It was not all local, but the reds were all slightly oaky and complex, and the whites sweet, but still absolutely drinkable with food.
While everyone dug into a very rich and creamy coconut panna cotta with a fresh coriander foam on top, I hit the jackpot. I know it was only sweet local strawberries, lemon and a bit of sugar, but it was frankly an explosion of flavour. Sometimes a simple treatment of the very best ingredients is just perfect.
Next, everyone else enjoyed a creamy pineapple concoction which really divided opinion. They all liked the dessert, but were slightly unsure about the wood smoke the dish came domed in. Some people really enjoyed it, and some were slightly unsure. I however was distracted by my beautiful plate of fresh fruit and berry sorbet everyone seemed to want to photograph. Light, fresh, and the perfect end to such a big meal.
Finally, breakfast the next morning was a lovely affair in a quaint little breakfast room down the hall from our rooms. Perfect if you’re into a continental affair; as well as a fruit salad, orange juice and a choice of coffee, each table was laden with fresh bread, croissants, pain au chocolat (with homemade jams in every flavour from apricot to melon), and homemade cakes (lemon, chocolate, and chocolate chip madeleines).
I hope here I’ve managed to give you just a taster of our trip and some ideas if you’re looking to head to the region. Check back soon, as next I can’t wait to share with you probably one of the best places I’ve ever stayed overnight (as if Hostellerie de la L’Imaginaire was not enough), a stunning UNESCO world heritage site, a visit to Sarlat on market day, a focus on lots of the pretty towns and villages in the region, and a showcase of some of the fantastic local food producers we visited.
I was a guest in the Dordogne Valley of Brive and Bergerac Airports and the local tourism boards. Thank you to Chateau de Lissac and Hostellerie de la L’Imaginaire for their hospitality.