To think that Dordogne almost didn’t make it on our itinerary is a shame. Protected by its relative inaccessibility, the region of Dordogne is full of unspoiled beauty and sites unlike anywhere else in France. Filled with prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, and the best foie gras in Europe, Dordogne was an easy area to fall in love with, and the perfect place to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.
A near five hour drive from Amboise, we took our time getting to Dordogne, enjoying the views and stopping for a roadside picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches with pork rillettes, whole grain mustard, and cornichons, and the best market strawberries on earth for dessert.
Arriving in the region in the late afternoon, we started our Dordogne adventure with a scenic drive through the eastern part of of the area, wandering through the sleepy towns of Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire, and pausing for a Belgian pint in the well-preserved medieval town of Martel. After our drive, we made it to our bed and breakfast nestled near the river in Castelnaud, and it was there where the true magic of our Dordogne adventure began.
Our stay at La Tour de Cause was nothing short of perfect, and it’s partially because of this inn that Dordogne will forever have a spot on our itinerary each time we visit France. Our room and the grounds were lovely, the food was impeccable, and the inn owners had a gift for making us feel right at home.
After forcing ourselves from the too comfortable beds, we’d start each day with freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe cheeses, buttery croissants, homemade jams, creamy yogurt, decadent hot chocolate, and some other French or Belgian delight perfectly prepared and served by Igor and Nico, our hosts and new friends.
We’d sit around in their stunning kitchen long after we’d finished eating, sipping our coffee and chocolate, chatting, and finalizing plans for our day. After breakfast, we’d slowly get ready and enjoy some time on the patio, before venturing out into the countryside to explore the best sites this part of France had to offer.
On our first full day we explored the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Canéda where we shopped the stalls at the bustling Wednesday market. As one of the most important market towns since the Middle Ages, not only did the Sarlat market offer us a wonderful culinary tour of the area, but it also offered a downtown rich in architecture and history, a great introduction to this historic region.
At the market we bought cheese and cured meats, tasted walnut liqueur, and spoke to the merchants in broken French. We stocked up on foie gras and terrines, and purchased fruit, wine, and baguettes for lunch. When it started to rain, we ducked into the church to sit and pray, before heading on to the more adventurous part of our day.
Once the rain passed, we headed down the road to start our nine-mile, lazy canoe ride down the scenic Dordogne river. Paddling at a relaxed pace, we took in views of lush forests and towering limestone bluffs, and then of castles and cliff-dwelling villages.
Docking our boat at the foot of the first village, we stepped onto dry land to explore the beautiful town of La Roque-Gageac, a quaint little place where we later returned for our anniversary dinner. From there, we paddled on past Castelnaud, where our bed and breakfast was located, before ending our excursion with a tour of one of my favorite castles, the mighty 12th century fortress of Beynac.
Hiking to the tip top of town, we enjoyed our walk up the narrow cobblestone roads, surrounded by historic homes and rose covered buildings, before being rewarded with sweeping views of the river valley area below.
Nestled 500 feet above the Dordogne River, Château de Beynac was used as a defense fortress by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and having been recently restored, gave us a great glimpse into what life might have looked like in this area during that time. Much different than the newer, more luxurious palaces we saw in the Loire, the fortress of Beynac was one of the coolest châteaux we visited in France, and is perhaps one of my favorite châteaux I’ve seen in all of Europe thus far.
Winding down from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to our bed and breakfast where we had one of the best meals we had during our entire stay in France. Starting with aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres on the patio, I knew right away that our decision to stay in for dinner was the right choice. Igor and Nico serve up a lovely breakfast, but it’s dinner where their talent is truly able to shine.
Gathered around the kitchen table with Igor and Nico and two other guests, we enjoyed herring crostinis with creme fraiche and fresh dill, duck pâté croquettes topped with fried parsley and lemon, sausage stuffed quail with a wine and fruit reduction, sauteed zucchini, and a melt in your mouth polenta. The wine flowed freely, the conversation never stalled, and before we knew it, we were no longer a table of strangers, but instead, a table of friends.
After dessert, more wine, and then a pot of tea, we collapsed into bed, happy and full, and never wanting to leave.
Day two of our Dordogne adventure was another special one as it was also the day of our 5th wedding anniversary. As if dinner the night before hadn’t already been perfect enough, we were greeted at breakfast that morning with cheers and music and special, anniversary waffles. With Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage playing in the background, we celebrated with our new friends, feeling loved, and so happy to be in France.
Though maybe not the most romantic way to celebrate an anniversary, we continued our day and our Dordogne adventure by exploring the region’s biggest attraction and touring two of the hundreds of prehistoric caves that are scattered around the area.
The first cave we visited, Lascaux II, is an exact replica of the area’s most famous cave, Lascaux. Just feet away, the original cave was closed to the public in 1963 to help preserve the art. After being discovered in 1940, changes in the environment caused by human visitors did more damage to the art in the 15 years it was open to the public than in the estimated 17,000-20,000 prior. This cave is most famous for The Great Hall of the Bulls, a section of the cave which depicts colorful paintings of bulls, equines, and stags, as well as the largest painted animal discovered so far in cave art, a 17 foot long bull. Next we saw original and newer (though certainly not new! est. 13,000 years old…) cave art at Rouffignac, which is well known for its engravings and drawings of mammoths, bison, horses, and other large animals. Our visit to these caves was a highlight of our trip, and though maybe not romantic, was a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.
After our cave excursion we enjoyed a late picnic on a quiet riverbank next to an 11th century Romanesque church, before heading back to our bed and breakfast for a nap, and then on to another memorable French meal.
While I would be happy celebrating marriage anywhere on earth with my dear hubs, our 5th wedding anniversary is definitely a day I will never forget, and it’ll take a lot to top this year’s memorable celebration. On our third and last day in Dordogne, we cracked open a bottle of Chimay before noon, and enjoyed one more chat with Igor and Nico gathered around their kitchen table. We talked politics and about our work, and most importantly, about food. I shared with them some of my favorite recipes, and walked away with some of theirs. Too quickly the bottle was empty and the hour was late, and we still had one last castle to visit before leaving for our next town. Sadly saying our goodbyes, we packed the car and went down the road to visit Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle before heading on our way.
I cried a bit when leaving, sad to move along so soon, but also excited for what was next to come. I read the paper Igor had given me, a recipe for the waffles we enjoyed on our anniversary, and smiled knowing we’d forever be able to have a bit of Dordogne in our lives, wherever we may go.
My new go to waffle recipe, these are great for breakfast, dessert, or a late night snack. Though I call them anniversary waffles, they’re really just a great Belgian waffle recipe that came from some amazing Belgians in France, perfect for anniversaries, or any weekday or weekend meal. We like them best warm and very crisp, served with a smear of apricot jam, and washed down with a chilled glass of champagne.
Makes 9-10 Waffles
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
3/4 cup water
10.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1.5 teaspoons dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
dash of vanilla (optional)
dash of salt
In a large bowl, mix together sugar, water, and yeast, then mix in all other ingredients, except for the salt. Loosely cover batter and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.
After your batter has rested, mix in a dash of salt, and cook waffles according to your waffle maker instructions. I like to cook mine on the hottest setting, allowing them to become extra crisp. Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, or my favorite, a high quality jam.