Image above: Bordeaux
As we have pointed out in recent articles on Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Porto in Portugal and some of our other favorite but less touristy cities in Europe (Annecy, Lugano, Matera …), surviving a deadly pandemic would have had to remind us to do things. and see the places we’ve been pushing back for far too long. Of course, we’re still so excited about the opening of an exciting new hotel in Paris; but there is obviously so much more to France than the capital and, well, Provence.
Namely, the glorious South West region, which admittedly puts a lot of Bordeaux on our tables every day, but is otherwise quite an enigma for American travelers – even those who might count themselves among the slightly Francophiles. Certainly, names like Aquitaine, Dordogne, Gascony or Midi Pyrénées still have an air of exoticism. And right now, the thrill of the new discovery is a lot like the ideal travel therapy, after eighteen months of staring at our same four walls, especially when there are imposing 14th century castles begging for nothing. to be impressed.
The southwest of France is above all a paradise for gourmets, known for its “Wines, foie gras, truffles, nuts, cheeses, duck, game, lamb and various spirits, including the wonderfully earthy Armagnac, ”says Elizabeth Seitz, originally from Dallas and founder of French Affaires. It is a singularly unique company, offering travel planning, lectures and courses, and wonderfully detailed trips, all with a focus on everything related to France. This fall, the agency is offering Autumn in southwest France, as well as a photo tour of southwest France – and Seitz insists it’s the perfect season to visit.
She describes the region as “still steeped in glorious French history and tradition, from medieval villages clinging to sheer cliffs to majestic fortified castles overlooking the Dordogne river to ancient cave paintings, exquisite topiary gardens and lush vineyards. incredible opportunities to travel through time and culture.
With France starting to welcome American travelers again last month, we hired Ms. Seitz to put together a list of southwest France’s favorites and must-sees, from castles to caves, sand dunes to Saturday markets. .
A French Business Guide to South West France
This city of nearly a million inhabitants is the largest in the region, teeming with awe-inspiring 18th-century architecture. Check in at the Grand Hotel Intercontinental in the city center and request a room with a view of the famous Bordeaux Opera House. Make your first stop at Maison Lemoine for one of the city’s famous fluted pastries… a mini cake caramelized on the outside and with custard in the shape of a bundt. Visit the very modern Wine Museum, which traces the history of winemaking around the world and offers special tastings, before witnessing the digital art sound and light show in the former German concrete submarine base of the Basins of Lights. Stop for a photo shoot on the magnificent 18th century Place de la Bourse, with its modern “water mirror”… and finally, take a night stroll on the romantic Pont de Pierre over the Garonne.
The medieval town of Sarlat is a must-see in southwestern France, even more so on Saturdays, when it really comes alive for the extensive weekly food market. You can recognize a French region by its food markets and Sarlat is no exception – duck, geese, local nuts, Périgord strawberries, regional cheeses and more captivate the eye and the palate.
Certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the “World Capital of Prehistory ”has fifteen caves and sites that tell the story of human civilization since prehistoric times. Rouffignac, Font de Gaume and Les Eyzies are among the rare authentic sites still open to the public. Even if caves and rock art aren’t your thing, you’ll be in awe of the rich artistry of humans from long ago.
Chateau de la Treyne
If I had to choose a castle to stay in France, it would be that of Treyne near Rocamadour. Located in a French garden overlooking the Dordogne river, it is surrounded by more than 250 hectares of meadows and virgin forests. Luxury, authenticity and comfort are the key words here, an experience carefully cultivated by the owners Stéphanie and Philippe Gombert. A favorite room is the Louis XIII suite, decorated with sumptuous fabrics and magnificent antiques, including the four-poster bed. The Michelin-starred restaurant is housed in a magnificent Louis XIII dining room, with the beef tenderloin and foie gras not to be missed.
The land is so precious for viticulture in Saint-Émilion that the vines extend to the city walls. Enjoy lunch in the elegant Logis de la Cadene in the heart of the medieval town, followed by a private tour of the fascinating monolithic church, which dominates the picturesque streets of the village. It is possible to obtain the key to the steeple of the church Saint-Emilion Tourist Office and climb the worn stone steps to the top for views beyond imagination.
Boat trip on the Dordogne
The main means of travel and trade in centuries past, the gabarre is a flat-bottomed boat which now offers visitors a unique perspective on the Dordogne valley, with many imposing castles rising from the cliffs above . Local companies offer boat trips from the picturesque “ports” of Roque-Gageac, Beynac and Bergerac.
Arcachon and the Dune du Pyla
West of Bordeaux, about 45 minutes, lies the charming seaside resort of Arcachon, with its magnificent natural wonder, the Dune du Pyla. A sand dune of epic proportions constantly growing with the Atlantic on one side and deep pine forests on the other, it is best to take your shoes off and start walking on this extraordinary pile of sand. Views from the top are well worth the hike.
The Médoc and the castle route
The Médoc is home to wide Atlantic beaches (ideal for walking, but beware of strong waves), imposing pine forests, hilly ranches and of course the legendary Route des Châteaux which crosses legendary wine villages such as Saint-Estèphe , Pauillac and Margaux, just to name a few. With vineyards as far as the eye can see producing wines that are among the best wine cellars in the world, wine tasting tours in the cellars (Château du Taillan, Château d’Arsac, Château Margaux) are a must here. Note that tours are by appointment and hard to find, especially at the best wineries, so ask a local guide or your favorite wine merchant to show you in – and order a few crates to ship to your own cellar. wine at home.
This sacred village carved into the side of a cliff overlooking a tributary of the Dordogne always surprises, no matter how many times you visit it. A private guided tour of this pilgrimage site, with its myriad of chapels and shrines, is an absolute must – as it is. tread the 216 steps of the Grand Staircase, which the penitents of yesteryear ascended on their knees in an act of voluntary or forced penance. Rejuvenate at the French restaurant Jehan de Valon, with its panoramic view of the valley below, and order the roast leg of lamb with garlic accompanied by a homemade potato gratin, drizzled with a red wine from Cahors. And the local goat cheese called Rocamadour is another terrific regional taste treat.
Monpazier, Domme and Eymet
Who would have thought that medieval town planning could be so beautiful? Southwestern France is home to the largest set of bastides in the country, generally defined as a centralized urban location with grid streets around a town square. Monpazier, Domme and Eymet are among the finest examples and offer great opportunities for strolling, dining and shopping.
Manor of Eyrignac
The Manoir d’Eyrignac is a magnificent French estate not far from Sarlat which has some of the most beautiful gardens in France. The property has been in the same family for over 500 years. While the ever-expanding gardens are generally considered the main attraction, with extraordinary topiaries, water features, tree alleys and more, being hosted for drinks inside the magnificent mansion by the Owner Mr. Patrick Sermadiras is a featured attraction for our travelers.
Land of 1001 Castles
The Dordogne region, also called Le Périgord, is home to hundreds of superb châteaux, which has earned it the title of “Land of 1001 châteaux”, which is no small feat in a country like France which abounds. Many are strategically perched atop formidable cliffs overlooking rivers, testifying to their dramatic role in the region’s history, especially during the 100-year war between the French and the English. The castles not to be missed are Hautefort, Castelnaud, Commarque and Losse. But nothing beats a visit to the medieval Beynac castle, so atmospheric, followed by a steep descent through the winding cobbled streets of the village below.