France ~ Bordeaux + Dordogne

07 June 2024

View over part of the gorgeous Dordogne from the hilltop village of Domme.
To explore more of western France, I started with Bordeaux and then the Dordogne Valley. The next post will continue with Nantes, Brittany, and Normandy.
Bordeaux is famous for its 18th-century architecture and of course for its surrounding vineyards.
  • Top: Bordeaux's big Place de la Bourse, built in the 1700s in French neoclassical style.
  • Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux, a magnificent Gothic church dating from the 11th century, renowned for its sculptural works and stained glass.
  • Rue Sainte-Catherine, claimed to be Europe's longest pedestrian street (0.8 miles; 1.2 km long).
  • Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, an enormous opera house opened in 1780.
  • At the popular Le Bar à Vin. with Jakob, a smart Lithuanian guy I met on the flight to Bordeaux, and his wife Mariia and sister Augustė.

Departing Bordeaux, I joined two Canadians and two Texans on a Classic Journeys trip headed east through the Dordogne Valley.
In Bordeaux visiting a winery is obligatory. We started at St. Émilion, a picturesque medieval village that has been a center for wine making for centuries.

Among the many vineyards near St. Émilion is Château Franc Mayne, a highly regarded winery where we had an interesting tour and wine tasting. Above are photos of their wise wine specialist and part of their huge underground storage "quarries."

Going farther east into the Dordogne Valley, we saw splendid views from the hilltop village of Domme. (See also the photo at the top of this post.)

Houses here were centuries old but meticulously and handsomely styled.

So many colossal castles! This is one of the ones we toured: Castelnaud.

Forget flowers. You can make a fascinating garden with hedges as they did here at Château de Marqueyssac.

Views from the Château de Marqueyssac estate were dazzling.

One of my favorite days included a delicious picnic lunch by the crumbled Commarque Castle. Like so much of the Dordogne, this site mixes the prehistoric (a cave dwelling is at the base) with the middle ages (a castle from the 1100s-1700s). Also note: I was fortunate to have these smart and upbeat fellow travelers sharing this journey.

We saw many charming old towns that looked as if we'd been transported back many centuries. One was St. Leon-sur-Vézère with its Romanesque church dating from the 11th century. We had a delicious lunch by the Vézère River.

Rather than litter towns with campaign posters, all signs were arrayed in one row. The election for EU representatives would be a couple of days after we departed but the breakthrough winner turned out to be Marie Le Pen's National Rally party (which I now see happens to be on the far right on my array above). The National Rally won a plurality throughout the Dordogne.

Classic Journeys often picks unique lodging quite grander than my usual modest shelters. The Hôtel de Bouilhac in Montignac, for example, was "not bad." 

Each day included a beautiful long walk such as this one near Les Eyzies.
The Dordogne region has a phenomenal concentration of over 100 Paleolithic sites. Lascaux is the most celebrated and was my favorite. To safeguard its incredible treasure of ancient paintings from thousands of tourists, the French created perfect replicas of the 17,000-year-old Lascaux paintings in a duplicate long cave: Voilà "Lascaux II" with identical horses, stags, aurochs, ibexes, bison, and more.

The hillside at La Roque Saint Christophe has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, but was especially significant as a troglodyte village fortress for protection against Viking raids. (I never knew Vikings raided so far into the interior of southwestern France.) The insert shows the ingenious, complex town that was built into the limestone cliffs here.

Reflections on my eight sunny days in Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley...
I came away especially surprised that:

  1. The French people we met were so unfailingly friendly and happy to speak some English or at least pantomime with a smile!
  2. The food is every bit as delicious as you dream it might be!
  3. So many charming, medieval, old towns remain pristine and unblemished by modernity!
  4. So many prehistoric sites have been found in this part of France! (My few selective photos above do not begin to cover all the many sites we saw.)

Vive la France!