Stepping out onto the very wet runway at London City Airport on a cold February Friday morning it felt as though the world was taking a bath. It was the wettest February on record in the UK and the morning’s newspapers carried headlines like “battered Britain” as all across Europe storms and heavy rain were causing misery and havoc.
I was at London City Airport to catch a flight to the new Brive-Dordogne Valley Airport in the south of France. As the rain lashed down, I mounted the steps of the plane and wished I’d packed another jumper to combat the cold. We took off and up above the thick grey clouds the sun shone and the sky was blue – such a relief after the relentless damp but I knew it wouldn’t last, I’d seen the forecast for Dordogne and it didn’t make for happy reading.
A mere 2 hours later we touched down in France at Brive Airport which lies on the boundary of three regions: Limousin, Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine. Imagine my surprise to alight to a pleasant 16 deg C, blue skies and sunshine!
The airport is very modern and very friendly but the best bit for me was driving out of the gates and within seconds being able to drink in the sight of the beautiful countryside, rich architecture, a yellow brick aqueduct on one side, hillside medieval villages on the other and the sign I was looking for – Beynac!
I planned to be in this little area for just three days and with a hire car from one of the five vehicle rental companies located at the airport you can pack a huge amount of sightseeing in!
Most people visit this area in the summer months – with good reason, it’s absolutely stunning. The colours of the ancient buildings, mellow and yellow in the sun; the buoyant and vibrant market places with their colourful striped awnings and gregarious stall holders; gorgeous gardens, fabulous chateaux, set against a backdrop of the azure blue sky of the south of France – what’s not to love.
I wanted to see what it was like in Dordogne in February, in possibly the gloomiest month of the year, on a typically dull wet weekend, would it still be alluring?
My plan was to take in several villages, a wine tasting, visit a farm, the gardens of Marqueyssac and Sarlat market. I wanted to join in the fabulous fest’Oie – an amazing celebration of the goose which takes place each February and is a gourmet event the like of which are not often seen (including a 15 course, 6 hour long lunch!), go to a truffle market (and buy a truffle for my sister) and meet some locals.
I wanted to know what it was like when there were no tourists around; who lived there and what did they do when the hordes of visitors were gone…?
I based myself in Sarlat, a gorgeous medieval town and I knew that the Hotel Le Renoir was going to be just perfect as soon as I walked in and saw famous French actor Gerard Depardieu! Okay, he wasn’t there in person at that point but there was a photo of him sitting by the door – of course I had to sit in the same chair – he is my favourite actor! I chatted to the friendly lady on reception who told me that there are often film crews in the area and Gégé (Gerard’s nickname) stays at Le Renoir when he is filming, as does Jean Paul Belmondo and many other celebrities. I couldn’t resist leafing through the visitor book – it was a who’s who of the rich and famous of France and the US. “Which room does Gerard stay in” I asked, “Room 36” came the reply “overlooking the pool”. It wasn’t my room but it was close enough!
So – three days, a dozen places to visit and a lot of things to do, a forecast for rain and wind, in one of the most beautiful areas of France… how did it go?
The Sarlat tourist office are a brilliant source of information and help – they go out of their way to help visitors arrange accommodation and things to do – you can find them here: www.sarlat-tourisme.com
Flights to and from Brive Airport here: www.aeroport-brive-vallee-dordogne.com