Easy trip to the Dordogne
A second UK flight to Brive makes an idyllic area of France even more accessible, says Peter Stewart
From dense oak woodland and limestone cliffs to fortified hilltop towns and vast stretches of undulating countryside, the Dordogne Valley is rural France at its best. Ryanair has now launched a service from London Stansted to Brive-Dordogne Valley Airport, which will make it even easier to explore the eastern section of this popular destination, which straddles the Corrèze, Lot and Dordogne départements.
The fortified town of Argentat makes an enticing first port of call. Its position straddling the River Dordogne helped to being prosperity when vessels transported wood to Bordeaux to be used for wine barrels and staking vines. Testament to the town’s trading roots is the replica courpet – a traditional open cargo boat – which is moored at a quayside.
Further downriver lies Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, where an abbey was founded in the 9th century by the Turenne family, who governed the area for nine centuries. Beaulieu (‘beautiful place’) lives up to its name, with its picture-postcard houses. All that remains of the abbey is the Romanesque church, which has a remarkable carved tympanum depicting the Last Judgment.
Two of the select Plus Beaux Villages de France are only ten kilometres apart. Collonges-la-Rouge has lavish residences built in the form of miniature châteaux by nobles and officers from the court of the Vicomtes de Turenne. To the west is the hilltop village of Turenne, where medieval towers built in grey-white limestone command wonderful views.
There are many food markets in the area, notably the covered Halle Georges Brassens in Brive-la-Gaillarde, where shoppers take their pick of seasonal produce on Saturday mornings. This is the land of black truffles, which are available – at a price – from December to March at markets in Martel, Cuzance, Gramat, Brive and Sarlat-la-Canéda. To wash that down, try vin paillé, a sweet wine produced by handpicking the grapes and letting them dry naturally before being pressed.
See Dormez Bien on page 92 for self-catering stays in the Dordogne.
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THREE THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA AROUND BRIVE
1. Visit the town of Sorges, the self-proclaimed truffle capital of the historical region of Périgord, which has a museum dedicated to the ‘diamant noir’ (tel: (Fr) 5 53 05 90 11, www.ecomusee-truffe-sorges.com).
2. Admire the natural beauty of La Roque-Gageac, one of the Dordogne’s most photographed villages, from the skies on a hot-air balloon ride (tel: (Fr) 5 53 28 18 58, montgolfiere-du-perigord.com).
3. Wander through the honey-coloured medieval streets of Sarlat-la-Canéda towards Place de la Liberté, where the food market in the former Église Sainte-Marie bursts into life every morning at 8.30. Take the lift to enjoy a panorama of the countryside (tel: (Fr) 5 53 31 45 45, www.sarlat-tourisme.com).
July Les Chemins de l’Imaginaire:
The streets of Terrasson-Lavilledieu fill with entertainers, circus troupes and musicians ready to delight passers-by.
July-August Brive Festival:
Music ranging from rap and disco to world folk all feature in this festival, which also has room for sporting events.
The village of Gignac hosts an eco-friendly festival of contemporary music raising awareness of sustainable development and the need to conserve energy.
Ryanair operates flights from London Stansted to Brive on Wednesdays and Saturdays.