How To Spend a Day in the Dordogne
Unlike the day we spent in the Loire where it was cold and wet, and the time we spend in the Lot where it was sunny but cool, the sun was properly out and we enjoyed some real late-spring hot weather when we explored the Dordogne Valley before checking into our hotel in the foodie capital of the Perigord: Sarlat (but more on that in some more foodie posts coming soon!) There are really four things to do in the Dordogne: food, caves, chateaux and gardens, and as we had the food covered in Sarlat and we’d been down a couple of caves in the Lot, we figured that we’d spend the morning exploring the famous topiary gardens at Eyrugnac before going for a climb up to a chateau with a view out over the silver ribbon that was the Dordogne river.
As you can probably tell from these beautiful swirls, the gardens at Eyrignac are some of the most famous topiary gardens in this part of the world. Now, we visited in the spring where some of the hedges were not looking their smartest (we got to watch the team of gardeners do their trimming on one border with military like precision, all rulers and measuring tapes!) and not many of the flowers were out; the Chinese gardens (which you’ll see below) which are supposed to be a riot of white and green with the striking red pergola in the middle were just green, but the gardens were so impossibly quiet. Go in high season, and while all the blooms will be out, so will the buses of tourists; the car park is impossibly big which is never a good sign!
What is funny about the gardens is as well as their being an attraction for visitors and local gardening enthusiasts, they’re also someones home. The family who own the gardens still live in the main house made from beautiful, bright yellow local stone that you can walk right up to, and spy from various viewpoints around the gardens. There is a route to follow through the gardens so you get little surprises as you walk through, from unexpected topiary sculptures or little peeks through the trees at something wonderful. I mentioned the pros and cons about visiting in high season or just before, and I think the gardens are more magical when they’re quiet, so you can really take in the peace and beauty of it all.
Once you’ve made it through the main gardens and taken in the beautiful view out over the Dordogne from the Chinese pergola, things start to get a little bit more wild as you step down into the wildflower meadows, the gardens that are still works in progress and one of my favourite parts of our visit, the topiary nursery where they’re working on sculptures that are works in progress to be moving into garden displays later. Not only are these squirrels, hens and cats (or is this a dog? I just think it is a cat because it looks like Camilla!) fantastic works of art, but it is really interesting to see them take shape in the form of ones that are only half finished.
My other favourite part of the gardens was the little cottage vegetable garden that was not only set up oh so prettily with grape vines twisting in and out the garden fence and lettuces planted in alternate colours, but also in a really practical way with the beds working chronologically with planting and the harvest. Also, next door another similar garden was laid out full of varieties of flowers specifically designed to be cut and taken indoors.
The Dordogne is famous for it’s beautiful gardens so if you’re at all into that sort of thing take the time to visit one on your trip – I really enjoyed it just as someone who is really into aesthetics, but my mother and father were really interested in some aspects of the garden, discussing ideas to take back home. The property they recently moved into has simply stunning gardens (as I’ve shown on Instagram!) that under their previous owners used to be opened to the public, so it is a big responsibility looking after them!
What To Eat For Lunch
I must admit that I failed slightly in writing down exactly where we had lunch; we just stopped off in a town somewhere between Eyrugnac and our next designation. However, I don’t think it really matters. I know the old wisdom that you just simply don’t get bad food in France is no longer strictly true, I still think getting the plat du jour anywhere is a pretty solid bet. Just stop off in a small French town or village between 12pm and 2pm local time, and find somewhere to eat with a blackboard advertising plat du jour outside. There you’ll get a delicious, cheap local meal that will be sure to satisfy. Typical around the Dordogne is duck confit and chips for lunch (usually served with salad but my father being my father he asked to have them without!), and as my mum and I were waiting for dinner in Sarlat for our duck overload we went for a local speciality, cepe omelettes. You’ve not tasted an omelette until you’ve tasted a French omelette.
Chateau de Beynac
When I visited the Dordogne Valley with their tourist board in 2016 we drove past a beautiful chateau up above a pretty old town that we stopped to take photos of but did not have time to stop and properly visit. We’d already done the chateau thing in the Loire Valley, so it really did not matter to us that there is not really much to see inside Chateau de Beynac, it is the view you want to visit for. Now, I warn you; the climb up through the little town is very steep and not easy going (though, that being said none of us are in the best shape and we all made it without regrets, so did a couple of spritely pensioners) and while you can sometimes drive to the top, there is no guarantee of space available in the little car park, and besides. We were exploring France in a Range Rover, there was no way that was going to fit through the narrow passageway!
Next we’re headed to Sarlat where I’m going to give you the run down on the best places to try local dishes in the town, where to stay, how to deal with their slightly tricky parking situation in the old town centre, and how to get the most out of their famous Saturday morning market. For now though, you can find all of my posts about the Dordogne Valley to help you plan your next holiday (both from 2016 and 2018) here.