With my parents living in Honolulu and my husband’s parents living in France, I consider myself super lucky that a visit to either “home” is never a bad thing. Not only do my hub’s parents live in France, but they live in the Southwest – home to some of the most pristine countryside I’ve ever seen, with rolling vineyards, lush forests, fields of sunflowers (absolutely glorious!) and more castles than anyone can keep track of.
Prior to meeting my husband, I’d never been to France, and all I really knew about was Paris. (Paris is like a completely different country to anyone living outside of it, and vice-versa – more on that another time.) We landed in Bordeaux for the first time and drove from the airport to just outside of Bergerac, and I went between falling asleep and gazing out at the incredible landscapes we were driving through. The Southwest goes from Bordeaux all the way east to Aveyron, and all the way south to the Spanish border (Midi-Pyrenees), including the Basque Country (Pays Basque). We spend most of our time at the family home in the Dordogne, the department named after the river that runs through it, which is an expansive region with so much to see – so I’m going to cover some highlights of the Dordogne here!
Historic villages are my favorite thing about Europe in general. It’s a collision of old and new – modern cafes with WiFi sit inside of buildings that are centuries old. There is no shortage of villages and bastides in France, and the Southwest is no exception – there are also about 1,0001 castles in the area! The above photo was taken in the medieval village of Sarlat-la-Canéda, often filled with tourists, but well worth a visit. Sarlat has a famous night market that should not be missed!
I’m not talking about secret dance parties (those are so 20 years ago) – the Dordogne has a network of underground caverns that are absolutely magnificent. Visit the Gouffre de Proumeyssac, called the Crystal Cathedral for the crystalline stalactites and stalagmites that have appeared over time. Troglodyte dwellings also line the rivers, used over the years as hidden living spaces for people during wartime. If you’re super into archaeology, don’t miss the Caves de Lascaux – cave drawings that were discovered by some local kids that happened to date back to prehistoric times!
While the weather in the Dordogne can range from gray to blue in one day, the idyllic scenery stays the same. You can see angles of this lush and serene view from all over the place. I took the photo above while we were walking in Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, a beautiful, well-maintained garden with a hiking trail that leads to a vista point above the river.
TONIGHT, WE FEAST
I never want for food when we’re in the Southwest. From foie gras to duck confit, to house-made preserves or olives (see above photo taken at the market at Eymet) – food is amazing here. Depending on the time of year, I get to have some of the tastiest strawberries I have ever had in my life, perigord truffles, foraged cepes (French porcinis), and chestnuts, and don’t even get me started on the cassoulet. Additionally, the Southwest (or Sudouest) is primarily a wine designation – there are six sub regions (Bergerac, Dordogne River, Garonne,Tarn, Lot River, and Pyrénées) that produce some of the best yet least-known wines out of France. Head to Monbazillac and visit Chateau Belingard and have the Comte de Bosredon lead you through a tasting of his portfolio. You will probably want to leave with a case or two!
This is just a tiny sampling of what the Southwest has to offer, and I’m constantly learning something new every time we visit. To learn more about the Dordogne area (the one I visit most), read the piece I wrote for TripCreator’s blog: 10 Reasons to Visit the Dordogne on Your Next Trip to France