Everyone knows Paris. Many daydream of Provence. And the Côte d'Azur is widely known and coveted as the playground of the rich and famous. But have you heard of the Dordogne Valley?
This beautiful region in the south-west of France is well-known within in its own country and amongst English holiday-makers for its beautiful landscapes dotted with enchanting medieval towns. And it's reputation is spreading fast. Perhaps most importantly (depending on who you ask, and I'm firmly in this camp)... it is the home of the most famous variety of truffle, the black Périgord truffle.
Following my recent visit to the region, I've compiled my top ten things to in the Dordogne Valley.
Visit the medieval town of Sarlat
Visiting this wonderfully preserved town is truly like stepping back in time to the 14th century. Wander the streets to admire the architecture so beautiful it has been used as a backdrop for a number of medieval films. Don't miss a trip up above the rooftops in the panoramic lift inside Sainte-Marie church bell tower for a 360 degree view of the UNESCO world heritage site. As the gastronomic centre of the Dordogne, you are sure of a good meal here.
Canoe down the Dordogne River
The 472km Dordogne river is incredibly picturesque, winding its way through medieval towns, past quiet beaches and enchanting castles. There are several routes for beginners and more challenging options along the stretch of water. Day trips and multi-day holidays are available.
Hunt for truffles
Truffle hunters flock to the Dordogne to sniff out (well, have a four-legged friend sniff out) the coveted "black diamond", the black Périgord truffle. The season is December to March, and hunting experiences are available at a number of farms in the region.
Visit Jardins de Marqueyssac
22 hectares of gardens with six kilometres of paths and 150,000 boxwoods. You could lose yourself for hours in the jaw-dropping Jardins de Marqueyssac - and I very nearly did, amongst the maze of hedges. Every Thursday night in July and August, the gardens stay open late with candlelight along the paths and musicians to entertain - a magical evening.
River boat ride through town of La Roque-Gageac
Widely considered one of the most picturesque villages in all of France, La Roque-Gaceac is a cluster of golden stone houses nestled at the foot of a towering cliff. The best way to view this postcard perfect town is from the water. Traditional river boats, replicas of those that used to carry goods up and down the Dordogne, now carry visitors along the river for hour-long cruises with commentary.
Taste the local food
It's France, so you know the food will be wonderful. The Dordogne specialises primarily in foie gras, walnuts and truffles, and you'll find all of them regularly popping up on the menu. My skinny jeans were decidedly snug after a few days in the Dordogne. But hell, France is about exquisite indulgence... the gym will be waiting back at home. There are a number of food markets where local farmers come to sell fruit and vegetables, cheese, meats, and wine.
Drink walnut wine at La Distillerie Denoix
With walnuts abundant in the region, walnut liquors are a local speciality. No one does it better than the Denoix family. They have been running their Brive distillery since 1839 and have won countless plaudits for their Suprême de Noix. Visit the beautiful distillery, sample the delicious product, and just try to leave without armfuls of liquors. Find more info on the website.
Another of the Dordogne's famed medieval towns is Périgueux. The town has ancient origins and was at one time a significant Roman centre, but much of the town was lost during the Hundred Years War. There is still fascinating medieval buildings dating back to the 16th century to be found, and a precious block of the Roman architecture remains, including the Vesuna Temple, which dates back to 2 AD.
Have your Disney moment in a castle
Castles are commonplace in the Dordogne, each one more magnificent than the last. My personal favourite was Chateau de la Treyne, a beautiful 11th century castle overlooking the Dordogne river that is now a hotel. It looked straight out of Beauty and the Beast.
Find a sunflower field and run through it
What is it about fields of sunflowers? They're impossible to resist. There are plenty of these fields of sunshine to be found around the region, seek one out and get your Instagram moment.
This article originally appeared on my website, Some Kind of Wanderlust.
All pictures from Some Kind of Wanderlust, unless otherwise stated.Suggest a correction