Travel to the Dordogne Region of France – Episode 522 Transcript

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transcript of Travel to the Dordogne Region of France – Episode 522

Travel to the Dordogne Region of France - markets and castles, prehistoric caves, fake prehistoric caves, and Richard the Lionhearted

Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 522. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about markets and castles, prehistoric caves, fake prehistoric caves, and Richard the Lionhearted as we go to the Dordogne in France.

Chris: Today’s episode is brought to you by Select Italy. Select Italy can design custom itineraries and book a whole range of product services including state-of-the-art tours, wedding, honeymoon trips, ticketing services for museum and musical events in Italy. Visit selectitaly.com to learn more.

Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsor later on. I’m actually recording this sitting at a hotel room in Stockholm, Sweden. Sitting in the beautiful Sheraton Hotel on the waterfront with views of the beautiful city. We’ll be talking more about that trip in a later show. So first let’s talk about France.

I’d like to welcome to the show Laurence Norah from findingtheuniverse.com, blogger and photographer. Laurence has come to talk to us about the Dordogne. Laurence, welcome to the show.

Laurence: Hello, Chris. Thank you very much.

Chris: And I butchered the name there, but we’re talking about a region of France, so I’m gonna butcher a lot of things. Where are we talking about, first of all? Can you put it on a map?

Laurence: So it’s probably about five hours south of Paris if you were in a car and about two hours to the right of Bordeaux. I guess if you’re looking at a map of France about two-thirds of the way down. It’s quite a large region.

Chris: And why are we talking about it? Why would someone want to go to this region of France?

Laurence: Well, it’s a very popular region. I think the main attraction, it’s very pretty. They have some fantastic castles. It’s often referred to as “The Land of 1001 Castles.” So if you like really pretty castles, you know, all the sort of things that you think about, [inaudible 00:02:05] medieval villages, cafes to sit out and drink wine, it’s pretty much got all that kind of stuff.

Chris: Excellent. And you actually go there because your parents have retired there?

Laurence: Yes, that’s correct. I actually lived there for three years running a small campsite in the north of the Dordogne with my parents. So it is a region that I’m very familiar with and I enjoy a great deal.

Chris: And as Laurence and I are recording this, the U.K. just removed itself from the E.U. So that just happened like a couple days ago, but we’re not gonna get into the politics of that now. But when you say that a lot of people go there, a lot of British people go there but they won’t be leaving the island anymore, right?

Laurence: No, we have pretty much closed the doors now, Chris. Europe is, you know, something that we’re not thinking about anymore. We’re just gonna hang out on our little island and talk about the good old days.

Chris: Okay. So what would you recommend for an itinerary if someone were to head to the Dordogne?
Laurence: You know, Chris, the Dordogne is actually pretty big. I think, like a lot of France actually, when people are visiting in Europe, they maybe don’t realize that France is their second largest country, I think, in Europe after Ukraine. So it’s a big place. And Dordogne is also quite a big place. So I think it would make sense to sort of focus on regions. And my sort of personal preference is the northern part of the Dordogne, and largely that’s just because of where I was living. But it’s also one of the much less visited parts of the Dordogne.

In the sort of south parts of Dordogne, you have more famous places like Sarlat and these are the places with the Dordogne River, which is very famous, particularly for things like canoeing and so on. And those regions are very pretty. But I would suggest heading into the north because it’s going to be a lot less busy and you get pretty much everything you get in the south of Dordogne but with much less footfall.

What I’m talking about here is the area sort of Périgueux and north. Périgueux is a fantastic city in Dordogne. It’s an old Roman city so it’s got history going back over 2000 years. It’s got an old Roman amphitheater, it’s got Roman ruins, all kinds of stuff you can visit. It’s one of the largest cities in the Dordogne. From Périgueux, you can explore a whole range of interesting villages around.

Chris: And just for clarification, because I’m looking at a map now. When you say the name of the city that you’re talking about, Périgueux?

Laurence: Yes, it’s P-E-R…

Chris: It’s spelled the French way, so there’s lots of letters at the end that have nothing to do with the pronunciation?

Laurence: Yes, like most French words. Just to befuddle you.

Chris: So P-E-R-I-G-U-E-U-X?

Laurence: Yes, that sounds about right. I’m assuming you’re looking at a map which has a spelling on it.

Chris: I am looking at a map when I say that. I would not make that up.

Laurence: It sounds made up, so that must be right.

Chris: It does. It does, indeed.

Laurence: And then from Périgueux, there’s a lot of places to explore.

Chris: But before we move on from Périgueux, so is this an ancient area where we’re going to fly into or are we gonna fly into someplace like Bordeaux or Paris and then take a train or a bus over?

Laurence: So one of the problems with France, like I said its size is very big, but the population is spread out. Regional airports are not as good, especially if you’re used to something like the U.K. where you have all of these little regional airports from where you can fly to all kinds of places.

So the easiest place to fly to is Bordeaux in terms of the number of flights and places they come from. But Bergerac in the Dordogne does have its own airport and you can fly to Bergerac relatively easy from at least from the U.K. and you could probably get there from Paris. But I don’t think it has a lot of flights, certainly not from the U.S. and other parts of Europe as well.

Chris: And this is where Cyrano de Bergerac is from that we’re talking about here in the southern part?

Laurence: Yes, exactly, that’s Cyrano de Bergerac, and also a very famous wine known as Bergerac is from as well there. So that’s a pretty famous village/town has an airport. So Bergerac would be one of the places you could fly to. You could also fly to Limoges which is in the next region up and it’s a short drive into the Dordogne, about an hour’s drive into the north of Dordogne from Limoges.

Chris: And you say an hour’s drive. You’re recommending we rent a car?

Laurence: It’s gonna be very difficult to explore the Dordogne is anything other than a car unless you were taking a tour. There is rail, but you’re not gonna be able to get to the little village and bus services are infrequent to say the least.

Chris: Okay. So you started us in Périgueux and we saw some Roman ruins. Are there other things we wanna see before we leave town?

Laurence: I would say the Roman ruins are the highlights.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: And that’s really what you want to visit Périgueux for. It’s also administrative thing… a lot of administrative stuff goes on there, so it’s where people tend to go to get pieces of paperwork filled in. But you’re not gonna be that interested in that. But yes, it’s the old town that you want to explore really.

Chris: Okay, excellent. And then they’ll go back to…you were heading us out of town.

Laurence: Yeah, I’m gonna take us out of town. And I’m gonna go north and I’m going to take us to Brantôme which is very often grandly described as “The Venice of France.” Have you been to Venice?

Chris: I have been to Venice.

Laurence: Okay. You would probably not describe it as “The Venice of France” or really the Venice of anywhere. It is a very pretty town. It’s probably one of my favorite towns actually in the Dordodgne. The river runs all the way around it. So the center of town is an island which is why it’s called “The Venice of France.” There is some water there. That’s about as far as it goes really.

In Brantôme, there’s a really interesting abbey. There used to be some monks who lived there and they were troglodytic. They lived in the caves. Because this whole region is…

Chris: Oh, okay, troglodytes, all right.

Laurence: Yes, troglodytes. This whole region is very famous for caves. There’s Caves of Lascaux in the Dordogne which you can visit the rest of. And yeah, so people used to live in these caves and these monks from the seventh and eighth century lived in the caves until they got a bit of money together and they built a very impressive abbey, which I think is where they live now.

Chris: Can you visit the abbey or you could just visit the caves?

Laurence: You can do both. It’s all part of the same thing. Because they built the abbey next to the caves. They were thinking let’s not move too far away in case we have to go back into the caves.

Chris: They lived in the caves because they were trying to live a simple life or it was just real estate value?

Laurence: I think it was more to do with not having the money to build a nice, posh abbey at that point.

Chris: Okay. And what else are we doing in Brantôme?

Laurence: Brantôme is actually a very popular place to go canoeing. One of the main rivers runs through Brantôme. I think it’s the Dronne. So there’s a number of big rivers in Dordogne which are very popular for canoeing. What a lot of people do is you go to Brantôme and you go with one of the companies there and they drive you upstream with your canoe maybe 10 or 15 miles and then you basically canoe back downstream back into Brantôme. That’s definitely one thing people do a lot of.

Chris: Any particular outfitting company that you recommend?

Laurence: There’s three. When I used to live there, we used to recommend all three of them to our guests. I think there were three, yeah, but they’ve got cunning names like Brantôme Canoe. They’re not hard to find. And I think they’re all roughly the same price and they’d offer pretty much the same service. So really it’s just a question of figuring out which one is the best value on the day. Especially in the busy season, you need to book in advance because they’re not going all day…

Chris: Busy season being summer?

Laurence: The busy season definitely being summer. This is July and August in France. But August especially is the busiest time of year. And also because a lot of the French go on…most of the French in fact go on a holiday in August and a lot of them holiday in France. I mean the Dordogne is a popular region for the French. I mean a lot of Parisians have holiday homes in the Dordogne as well, so it becomes very popular, not just with Europeans but also French.

Chris: Is there a time of year that you think is the best time to go to the Dordogne?

Laurence: Oh, any time that isn’t July and August. I would say actually all the seasons May or September. Because you’re still gonna get the fantastic weather but you’re not going to get so many people. And, in fact, August isn’t a great time to visit France anyway because so many of the French people go on holiday, a lot of local businesses are closed.

Chris: Right.

Laurence: It’s a very strange place in some ways. And everyone goes on holiday and then of all the places you might want to go on holiday and visit are closed because the people who are operating them are also on holiday.

Chris: Right. Yeah, no, I definitely recommend avoiding Europe in August. It’s the worst weather, the highest prices, and the biggest crowds. But other than that…

Laurence: It’s great. I would also say that you don’t wanna visit in the off-peak season because there’s not a lot to do. A lot of the services close down, a lot of the attractions aren’t open. The majority of the castles you won’t be able to visit. So really May to September is when it’s happening.

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You made an offhand comment about visiting the replica of a cave and I’m not sure that anybody knew what you were talking about.

Laurence: Oh yeah, so the Lascaux Caves. I’m probably saying that wrong. They are gonna be, you know, one of the most famous cave systems in the world in terms of cave art. And these were discovered, people went in and looked at them, and it very quickly became apparent just people wandering around inside this 17,000-year-old cave paintings was causing all the damage. So rather cunningly, the French built a complete replica of their cave, it’s accurate to the nearest millimeter, and you can now visit that and imagine that you’re visiting the Caves of Lascaux. It’s in the same place. It’s just sort of a little bit along. So you don’t actually see the original cave but you see what looks like the original cave. It’s a bit of a strange thing but it’s an incredibly popular attraction.

Chris: And where is that?

Laurence: Oh, that’s about an hour and a half south from Périgueux.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: But and I’m going to say but because I think if you’re in the Périgueux region, you would be better off visiting the Caves of Villars, which is V-I-L-L-A-R-S, which is nowhere near as famous, a lot less busy, and are also very spectacular. I mean, the caves in these regions are all formed out of limestone in the same sort of way. They all have the same sort of cave formation. The Caves of Villars don’t have the sort of level of fame that the Caves of Lascaux have but they have a lot less people visiting them.

Chris: And that looks like that’s only, what, maybe 10 miles from Brantôme?

Laurence: Yeah. It makes a great trip when you’re exploring in this region. Getting form Brantôme to Villars is pretty easy.

Chris: Okay, excellent. Where to next?

Laurence: I’m going to suggest popping along the villages of Saint-Jean-de-Côle which was voted as having the prettiest rooftops in France. I am not an expert on rooftops and to me, they look quite similar to rooftops in other French villages. But it is a remarkably picturesque village. It’s just a little French village with really quaint, old streets, got a little castle in the middle that you can visit. It’s set by a little river. It’s just a kind of really picturesque, French village.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: It doesn’t have a lot going on, a couple of cafes. It’s not as busy as Brantôme, just very pretty.

Chris: Well and I have a great deal of respect, I should say, for Laurence’s eye. He is a wonderful photographer and you’ll have to check out his work. In fact, the main picture on Amateur Traveler of me was taken by Laurence when we were on a press trip to a Meteora in Greece so.

Laurence: That is true. But I have to also say that the picture on my Twitter header is taken by Chris of me in Meteora, Greece. So we would get a fair trade there I think.

Chris: There we go. When we’re in the village, are we doing anything specific? I mean, we’re wandering out around the old medieval streets and we’re taking pictures. Is there anything else specifically we should stop at?

Laurence: You know, in Saint-Jean-de-Côle, not really. It’s just the kind of place that you go to and you wander. It has some really nice restaurants. One thing, while we’re talking about restaurants, in France the best thing to do is to go out for lunch, not to go out for dinner. Because nearly every French restaurant has a menu of the day which they only offer at lunchtime. And for I would say between 9 and 15 Euros, you should be able to get a three or four-course meal sometimes including wine and coffee. And these offers are only valid in the daytime at lunchtime. They don’t have them at dinnertime. And the majority of French people, from my experience, in the countryside at least, go out for lunch, not for dinner, because of these fantastic offers around. So Saint-Jean-de-Côle or Brantôme would both be fantastic places to… And I’ve eaten in both places and they’re both fantastic. There’s…

Chris: And do you have particular restaurants you would recommend or regional dishes that we should try?

Laurence: Certainly regional dishes. The restaurants change from time to time in terms of how good they are. And Brantôme has so many restaurants. It’s kind of hard to go wrong. Saint-Jean-de-Côle only has two or three and I think the one I used to go to a lot closed. So I wouldn’t give a recommendation for somewhere that’s closed.

But in terms of what to eat, the Dordogne region is particularly famous for duck. You have a cassoulet of duck so you have the duck. It’s not very healthy like much French food, but they have a famous duck dish where they take the duck and they deep fry it and they put it in sort of a white bean casserole. So there’s that and there’s always foie gras, which is very popular in that part of France which is also… You know you might as well eat chunks of butter. It’s about that healthy probably. So yes, the duck.

They also have a variety of salads. One of the salad is very popular, I think they call gesiers. If my dad ever listened to this, he’s gonna just bemoan my massacring of the French language. And it doesn’t sound very nice. It’s sort of the part of the chicken, I think it’s the gizzard or the crop. Anyway, it’s a part of the chicken that you wouldn’t normally think about eating but it’s actually very tasty in the sort of warm salad.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: The last food item that I will mention that is very famous in the Dordogne, is the mushroom. They have a very famous kind of mushroom called a cèpe which is a massive mushroom that grows from the forest. It’s often quite expensive. It’s about 20 Euros a kilo if you buy it in a shop but most French people just go out into the forest and find their own. Some of the few mushrooms that’s very, very recognizable, very easy to spot. You know you’re not gonna eat one that’s gonna kill you by mistake. They’re pretty obvious. So my parents actually used to go out and harvest these and cook them. And one of the most popular ways to have them is in an omelet. So you’ll often see this advertised, a cep omelet, and cep I think is just C-E-P.

Chris: Okay. Well and you mentioned in the forest, it looks like the northern half or northern quarter or whatever of the region is all forest?

Laurence: Yes. There’s a lot of forests and sort of… It’s rolling hills, forests, little villages dotted here and there. There’s not a lot of open land, definitely not.

Chris: Okay, excellent. Where are we heading next?

Laurence: I’m gonna take us up to Nontron, which is N-O-N-T-R-O-N, and I have to say that these are sort of well-known villages but being in the north, they are much less visited. But Nontron is famous predominantly for one thing which is a folding knife. And so the French folding knife, it’s the knife that folds in on itself. And one time in sort of, I think, the 17th and 18th century, Nontron was the place in the world where if you wanted a knife that folded in on itself, you got it from Nontron. There was an unbelievable number of knife shops or like knife makers. Something like 200 shops actually making these knives that fold up.

That is not quite the case anymore. There is one place left that makes the famous Nontron knife, but it’s doing pretty well. I think they make something like 60,000 to 80,000 knives a year and it’s actually pretty interesting. You can go into this room and you can look down on the people and see them making the knives. And it feels a little bit like a knife-making zoo. So you pop in, big glass windows, and you can look down and watch the whole knife-making process. And it’s a bit strange because you’re not sure if you’re watching the knife makers or if the knife makers are watching you. But it’s very interesting to watch the whole process of like how a knife is made. It might not sound very exciting, but it is pretty interesting. And it’s something that they’ve been doing for a very long time and it’s quite unique to that town.

Chris: And how big a knife is it? Are we talking about a medieval version of a Swiss Army knife?

Laurence: So the knife is, I would say, it comes in all sorts of different sizes which is what’s interesting about it. And they actually have a competition where they tried to make knives as small as possible. And they think they make them out of cherry pits. So cherry pit, they make the knife as small as the cherry pit. And, you know, the blade itself folds back into the cherry pit. And you can buy them in all kinds of sizes up to quite large. I mean not quite machete size but nearly that big. But your average person who is looking to buy a knife will buy one that is more like a Swiss Army penknife, yes.

Chris: Interesting and does it come with the spoon and the toothpick?

Laurence: You can buy the whole set, yes, absolutely. More than just the knife, you can buy the fork and the spoon and all that. But I think most people just go for the knife. You can also buy a cheese board and a cheese knife. And they’ve expanded beyond the original marketing.

Chris: Which is why they’re the ones who are still around, excellent. Are we doing anything else while we’re in Nontron?

Laurence: Most of these French towns have sort of at least one thing to visit and the knife place is one. But also there’s a nice little free museum of art. Just below the museum of art, there’s what’s called the Jardins des Arts which is a garden with sculptures in, which is also nice.

If you visit on, I think it’s a Saturday. Saturday morning is Market Day. Every town in France has the day allocated to Market Day. So you just need to figure out in advance which day it is. Normally it’s set and it doesn’t change ever. So Nontron is Saturday. I think France is on a Friday. All the other towns have a Market Day set. I would say if you visited Nontron on a Saturday, go to the market. It’s one of the nice markets in the region. Other than that, Nontron actually just has a big supermarket. So if you were looking to stock up on fresh things for your trip, then Nontron is a good place to do that.

Chris: Okay. And then where are we off to?

Laurence: This route isn’t particularly logical. There are some really nice chateaus in the area. So like near Villars, for example, is the Chateau de…I’m gonna pronounce it terribly badly again, I think it’s Puyguilhem, which is P-U-Y-G-U-I-L-H-E-M, which is built somewhere in the beginning of 1513, 1514. So that’s an interesting chateau that you can visit and that’s open for touring. I mean a lot of these French chateaus, they’re more large manor houses than Norman style of a chateau. They’re not like expensive chateaus like you have. They’re more Disney-style castles. But I would definitely say if you’re leaving Villars, then it’s worth having a look at the chateau there.

Just north of Nontron is a town called Piegut, which is spelled like pie gut, which is why I mispronounce it. So P-I-E-G-U-T. And if you are actually looking for a market, Piegut has the best market in the northern Dordogne, by a long way. Held on a Wednesday morning, it’s absolutely massive. And if you’re looking for, you know, a market which has everything from fresh baked bread through to handmade arts and crafts, then Piegut is a great town. It also has an old castle but only the very central sort of defensive tower is left and that’s nice visit. But [inaudible 00:21:30] but if you’re there on a Wednesday it’s definitely worth going to the market. I’m just trying to think of what else we can do on our adventure.

Chris: Well, you know, you promised us 1001 castles and I’m feeling a little disappointed so far.

Laurence: A thousand and one castles.

Chris: If you had to rate say the best three in the Dordogne, what would they be?

Laurence: Okay. So I think top three castles is pretty difficult because there are a lot of amazing castles in the Dordogne, and not only in the Dordogne but around the Dordogne. So Chateau de La Rochefoucauld, for example, Chateau de Rochechouart. There’s a chateau called Jumilhac within the Dordogne that looks like your perfect, sort of Disney-style castle with the turrets and so on.

If you’re looking for a more traditional-style castle, then you’ve got Beynac Castle which is Beynac-et-Cazenac, which is somewhere to the south. And again, this is another one of these really beautiful villages in France. There’s actually an association called the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, which means the most beautiful villages in France, which Saint-Jean-de-Côle is part of. Beynac-et-Cazenac is another one of the villages. And again, that has a fantastic castle. Castelnaud Castle is another medieval castle.

A lot of these castles, obviously they built them for defensive purposes so they build them on top of these hills. So they have very expanding views. If you think the Rhine Valley, it’s a similar sort of thing. And there tends to be two types of castles in France. There’s these more medieval fortresses which are built in the 12th to 14th century from around the time of Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades, and they were building these very big defensive castles. And then in the 16th and 17th centuries, you have the more picturesque-looking castle.

Chris: When you were saying in the time of Richard the Lionhearted, when this wasn’t part of France?

Laurence: Yes, so it’s a little bit confusing. The Aquitaine region, which I think the Dordogne Falls inside the Aquitaine region, so Eleanor of Aquitaine. So yes, Richard the Lionheart actually lived and spent a lot of his life in this area. And I believe he didn’t really visit England or even speak English, just one of those Hollywood lies. But he actually died in the town Chalus which is just across the border in the Limousin region, I think. So it’s just across the border form Dordogne, but just like two or three miles across the border. And that’s actually only a 15-minute drive I would say from Piegut.

There’s a nice castle there and it’s the castle where he was shot. He was besieging the castle I think. He was walking around it to test it for defensive weaknesses and he was just doing this on his own a little bit arrogantly. And an archer just sort of popped his head up and thought, “Oh, there’s a bloke wandering around. I’m gonna shoot him.” So he did and so Richard the Lionheart was killed in the town of Chalus. Part of him is buried there. So I believe the French didn’t necessarily like him or the people who were fighting against him obviously didn’t like him. So I think his gizzards are buried there and then different parts of him are buried in other parts.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: So if you’re a Richard the Lionheart fan, there is actually a route, a driving route called the Richard the Lionheart Driving Route. And it goes to Chalus which is obviously where he was killed, but then a number of other interesting places from where he was involved in battles or castles that had a link. Yeah, so if Richard the Lionheart is something people are interested in, then that part of the Dordogne/Limousin region would be very interesting.

Chris: Well and you mentioned that he didn’t speak English. I don’t know if he spoke it, but it certainly wasn’t the language of the kings of England until Henry V. Although, I’m absolutely sure he got to England because it was at the end of the movie “Robin Hood” and we know that that much be historically accurate.

Laurence: Yes, and he sounded like Sean Connery.

Chris: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

Laurence: If you don’t mind me straying outside of the Dordogne just briefly… I know we’re supposed to be focusing on Dordogne, but there is somewhere I think people might be interested in visiting which is just a little bit north of the Dordogne.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: And this is the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which is…I think French people know about it but it’s not that well-known outside of France. And this is actually…it’s a very, very moving place to visit. It was the site of the largest civilian atrocity during World War II France. So it’s the village… a retreating Nazi Panzer Division was sort of leaving France and they understood that there were resistance factors being harbored in this village, in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. And they came into the village in this sort of morning, rounded everybody up, I think over 600 people, and executed them all. As I said, it was the largest atrocity of the civilian in war-time France.

And it’s very interesting because the village has been left in exactly the same state as it was on the day that the Nazis left town. So other than stopping the buildings from falling down and stopping the weeds from growing, it’s a whole village with no one living there. Just the houses are there, their tram tracks are there. There’s signs up saying, you know, who lived in each place and where people were killed, a very moving memorial. One of those places, it’s not like cheerful to visit, very somber. But for me, it’s a fascinating place to visit because it really puts it sort of scale. Because when you’re walking through a village, you really get an idea of like the number of people who died.

You know, I’ve visited other places like Auschwitz and it’s really hard to get your head around million even like… You visit and you just can’t sort of put it because it’s… And also somewhere like Auschwitz, it’s very manufactured. You don’t visit it and think, “Oh yeah, so I visited a modern day place where we kill people on mass.” We’re not used to it so it’s hard to kind of understand it because the mass murder of human beings isn’t something that, thankfully, we sort of have down the road from us.

Whereas if you visit a village, it’s very easy to put that into the human scale. I’ve lived in a village this size. Imagine if all these people were killed. So yes, like I said, it’s not a very happy place to visit. But if you have an interest in wartime France and that side of things and memorials then Oradour-sur-Glane is very much worth it.

Chris: Excellent. What’s gonna surprise me about the Dordogne?

Laurence: How cheap the wine is.

Chris: Okay.

Laurence: of course that’s not anything. I think the food and the wine are very cheap. You might be surprised by…And I’m not sure, this might not be common to all of France, but certainly you need to have some grasp of French. And I don’t necessarily mean that you have to know everything, but definitely knowing how to say, “hello, bye, thank you, can I have the bill please, can I see the menu,” and having an idea of what different food sizes are so that you can order the food. In the more touristy restaurants and sort of the more touristy villages, you will certainly find people who can speak English or there will be menus translated into English, but definitely having a phrase book on hand and…

My advice for France, because a lot of people have, you know, negative experiences with the French possibly being rude or something. My advice is to start off with a friendly, “Bonjour” which will instantly make you obvious as a foreigner. Because however good you are, and I spent like I said, some three years living in France. And I pretty much spent a lot of that time trying to perfect the word “Bonjour” so I sounded like a French person and I completely failed as far as I can tell. Because what happens, inevitably, when you say bonjour as a foreigner is one of two things. One, the person you’re speaking to will instantly start speaking English. Somehow, they just know straight away that you’re not French. Or they will grimace and attempt to make things work. They will be like, “Okay, this person can’t speak French, but I can’t really speak English, so we’re gonna muddle through this together.”

In my mind, the worst thing you can do is start off by saying hello because the French, they don’t want to know. You’re in France. They would like you to try speaking French. As soon as you try, they will decide that you can’t and then they’ll help you.

Chris: Well and the other thing that you’re saying that I think people need to know, too, is that the niceties in France are when you come into a shop, you do say bonjour.

Laurence: Oh, absolutely. I mean one of the nice… I think it’s one of the nicest things actually about France is if you walk into a post office, there’ll be a queue of people there. It’s kind of expected that everyone says hello. You say bonjour. Everyone says bonjour even though you’ve never met any of these people in your life before and will never meet them again. It’s very common to be friendly, in fact, everywhere you go in France.

Chris: Right. And if you come in and you don’t say that, you’re actually being rude without realizing it.

Laurence: Yes, absolutely. Even if all you can say is bonjour, I guarantee the French will realize that you’re not French. And they probably won’t expect you to speak perfect French but they will definitely appreciate that you try.

Chris: Excellent. One warning you would give?

Laurence: I think don’t try and get too much in. The French road system in rural France isn’t great. You can cruise along and it’s so pretty, but you’re not having nice, long, straight roads and, you know, Joe carriageways or interstate style roads when you’re in the countryside. So don’t try and fit too much in. It may not have sounded like I was giving a lot of things to do there, but that’s at least two or three days’ worth of exploring just in that small region of the Dordogne. And there’s much larger parts to explore beyond that. So, yeah, don’t try and pack too much in. Have a leisurely lunch. You know, the French take like two or three hours to have a lunch. So do that.

Chris: Okay. What do the guide books recommend that you skipped over because you don’t think they’re worth going to?

Laurence: I haven’t actually been to Lascaux the caves but I have spoken to a lot of people who have been and I think it’s quite a busy attraction. So I think I’ll probably knock that. A lot of people go canoeing on the Dordogne River, and I would suggest instead going on one of the less busy rivers. A lot of people go to Sarlat, it’s so pretty and the Dordogne Valley, where the River of Dordogne runs, and that’s the most touristic part.

Chris: Okay. And that’s the southern part east or west?

Laurence: Yeah, that’s the southern part. And I would suggest exploring away from that, presumably less busy. But if you visit it outside of July and August, then I think you would find that most of the Dordogne is relatively quiet.

Chris: Okay. Before we get to my last four questions, what else…

Laurence: Four questions? Wow!

Chris: What else should we know before we go to the Dordogne?

Laurence: If you’re driving yourself, you’re probably gonna struggle to get an automatic car. So you’re going to get a stick so that might be possible. The currency is Euros same across as most of Europe or England which apparently isn’t in Europe anymore. I would say internet access is becoming more prevalent. The Wi-Fi and so on at these places is quite easy. In terms of accommodation, my recommendation would be there’s a website called chambres d’hôtes (www.chambres-hotes.fr), which is my sort of preferred way to stay in France. They’re like…

Chris: So we’re staying in a private room in somebody’s house?

Laurence: Yes. It’s basically a bed and breakfast, usually not a suite. You’ll get a very friendly reception. You’ll get a nice breakfast, the prices are very reasonable. It’s sort of the preferred way of traveling to the French as well.

They’re limited on this number of rooms they can have for rent. I think it’s only five is the maximum, so it’s gonna be a small experience. It’s not going to be a 20 bedroom hotel. That would be my recommendation.

Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Dordogne?”

Laurence: I’m not sure if this is unique to Dordogne. But what I love about… In the summertime, the French love to have barbecues. The essential ingredient for a French barbecue is a deep fat fryer. Because if it’s not served with chips, then it’s not a barbecue. And I sort of get the suspicion in fact that you could have a barbecue without the barbecue at all in fact and just have a deep fat fryer.

That’s something I’ve found quite funny coming from the U.K. where we love the barbecue but we would never have a deep fat fryer and ideally it’s raining. But in France, yes, barbecue will have barbecue. Normally it has what they call Merguez sausages which are these… They’re quite spicy sausages and it has chips. So you’ve got to have a deep fat fryer at your barbecue.

Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot in Dordogne. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Laurence: So if I was standing in the most beautiful place in the Dordogne, and there are a lot, but I actually think Bourdeilles, which I didn’t mention and I should have done. It’s just next to Brantôme. It’s a beautiful, old medieval village, and it has a 13th century fortress up on the hill as well as a Renaissance chateau. So basically, everything you could possibly want in a very small space.

And you can go up on the hill, you get a fantastic view of the village. The castle is just gorgeous to explore, there’s these nice gardens around the chateau. It basically has everything you could want in a really compact area. So I’m probably pronouncing it wrong but it’s B-O-U-R-R-E-E-I-L-L-E-S. It’s probably about a 5, 10-minute drive from Brantôme.

Chris: Okay. And since you’re a photographer, your favorite picture that you’ve taken in the Dordogne?

Laurence: My favorite picture I’ve taken in Dordogne I think was in Saint-Jean-de-Côle. There’s an old millhouse on the river and I got a lovely picture of the mill reflecting in the river. I think it was autumn was coming in and, you know, the leaves were going yellow on the trees. I really like that picture.

But I would also say Brantôme is fantastically picturesque. Because the river goes all the way around it, there’s reflections everywhere you look. So Brantôme is also… It’s very hard not to get a good picture of that.

Chris: Excellent. Finish this sentence. You really know you’re in the Dordogne when… What?

Laurence: There’s about 15 different types of duck on the menu and also people are wandering around with gigantic mushrooms in hand.

Chris: And if you had to summarize the region in three words, what three words would you use?

Laurence: So as a Brit, it’s very popular with Brits. So I would say ex-pats, ducks, and wine.

Chris: Okay, excellent. And Laurence, our guest, again, has been Laurence Norah. Laurence, where can people read more about your travels or see some of these lovely pictures we’ve been talking about?

Laurence: So I actually have two blogs. My main blog is Finding the Universe which is obviously findingtheuniverse.com where I write mostly about my sort of travel adventures and share a lot of my photography pics. And I also write a couple of focused travel blog, Independent Travel Cats with my wife, Jessica. So that’s the two sort of websites. And if people are interested in following my photos, the best place is on Facebook, at Finding The Universe. Just put “Finding the Universe” on Facebook, you will find me there.

Chris: I was gonna say and if they like their photos and wanna take pictures like it, what would you do?

Laurence: So I actually run an online photography course and you can find that at superstarblogging.nomadicmatt.com where I basically share all of my secrets in hard-to-take photos like me. It’s a course I’m actually really, really proud of. It took me about… well at least half a year to put together and it’s everything I know about photography in one place. Right from the very, very basic through to how to become a professional and make money from your photography.

And students get direct access to me, which is I think one of the things they find most useful. So I get emails all the time. I have homework assignments, people send me their photos, I get feedback on them. And yes, it’s been going really well. So if people want to learn how to take better pictures, and they would like to learn that from me… Having listened to me go on about the Dordogne and think I might be interesting to listen to in real life about photos, then yes, they can do that with superstarblogging.nomadicmatt.com

Chris: Laurence, thanks so much for coming on the show and telling us about your love for the Dordogne.

Laurence: Thank you for having me, Chris.

Chris: News to the community, I’m gonna keep this pretty short this week. As I mentioned that I’m in Stockholm, at the beautiful Sheraton Hotel and just finishing up with the TBEX Europe Conference here, the Travel Blog Exchange Conference where I was speaking. And I’m getting ready to get on a Viking Ocean Cruise. My wife is flying in today and we’re going on a 15-day Viking Ocean Cruise in the Baltic and we are excited. So I wanna to get out and explore Stockholm. So I’m gonna get this show posted just a little late this week but I hope you can understand why.

Remember, the transcript of this and every episode is sponsored by Jayway Travel, experts in European travel. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can also follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram as @chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

Travel to the Dordogne Region of France - markets and castles, prehistoric caves, fake prehistoric caves, and Richard the Lionhearted

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

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