As I head to Stanstead airport for a 6.30am Ryanair flight, I wonder what madness this is, setting an alarm clock for 3.45 am. I know I’m going to see the country-side of southern France, its’ petit villages, windy narrow roads, and lush vineyards, but beyond that, I’m a little foggy. The reality – as Marty DiBergi might say – “I got that, but I got more, a lot more.”
We arrive at Bergerac International Airport nice and early. I’m tired, but not so tired as to pass up the opportunity to give the place a smart-aleccy new name, “Bergerac International Shed”. Which in hindsight, is a compliment. To their credit, our passage through customs and immigration is 20 times faster and more pleasant than the one at Heathrow the week previous.
The drive to our farmhouse, Masion D’Albine, on the grounds of Château Cazenac, near the village of Coux-et-Bigaroque, is about 45 minutes, but we are not due to meet the owners to get the keys for about 8 hours, which leaves 7 hours and 15 minutes to kill. Time to set the tone for the week and find a purveyor of fine coffee and pastries.
The town of Bergerac is surprisingly appealing, from the Paroisse Notre Dame church, through narrow cobblestoned lanes that lead past the statue of Cyrano, down to our first look at the Dordogne river. The 45 minute drive to Périgueux provides a glimpse of the week to come – rolling hills of forest, medieval villages, stone walls and castles on every cliff-top. By the time we reach the Maison, we’re excited enough not to notice the dark clouds that will hang over the region for the entire week.
Not a day goes by without us visiting a castle, medieval village or local market, all washed down with the six vital components on our daily shopping list – coffee, pastries, champagne, baguettes, cheese and smoked meats – plus a drop of red at night. Driving on the wrong side of narrow, twisting French roads is charming at best, alarming at worst, but it doesn’t dissuade us from exploring nearby hamlets.
We’re never 100% sure of the pronunciation, but we become intimate with the nearby villages of Coux-et-Bigaroque, Le Bugue, Le Buisson and farther afield, Sarlat and Rocamodour.
When the week is over I have to be dragged from the place, a task all the more difficult due to the fact that I’m about five kilos heavier than when I arrived. Hopefully that won’t be a problem at check-in for our budget airline return flight.
Heading back to the airport we air out dreams of one day buying our own farmhouse in the Dordogne, lovingly renovating it, and returning once a year to escape the worst months of our dreary Southern Hemisphere winter. With each day that passes, the dream seems like one of those ones you smoke, but it just won’t die.
So when planning a trip to France, the names that usually spring to mind include Provence, the Riviera, the Alps, perhaps Burgundy, and of course, fabulous Paris. The Dordogne may not be as high on that list, but spend a week there and you’ll discover a region to rival any the French have to offer.
Now cue the other famous line from our friend Marty Dibergi – “Enough of my yakking! Whaddaya say? Let’s boogie!”.
No idea what that means.
What a week.