The Dordogne: Little Britain
Come summer, we descend on the Dordogne in droves. But have we ruined its Gallic charm? Who cares! D J Taylor can't stop going back
Sunday 15 January 2006
My best attraction
This part of south-west France is a speliologist's dream. The prehistoric caves at Les Eyzies and Lascaux in the Upper Dordogne win on size and prestige, but the Grottes de Villars, not far from Brantôme, with their stalactites and stalagmites, plus a few Lowry-like, pre-historic paintings, are well worth a visit. It gets cold down there, so wear a sweater. Occupying the same territory is L'église Monolithe at Aubterre-sur-Dronne, a church carved out of a cliff in the 12th century.
My best nights
No part of the British countryside is quiet these days. But, despite the lorries with UK number-plates on building sites, the fields along the Dronne are largely undisturbed after sunset. At night, the silence is monumental, the only sound is made by footsteps on the road.Most rural properties are home to animals that like to spend the night chewing things. On honeymoon 15 years ago, we woke to what sounded like a chainsaw. It was a mouse making a meal of the floor-mat.
The Franglais way: An insider's guide
It's all in the timing
Village shop opening hours are unpredictable. The big roadside ones tend to shut at 8pm. Another tip: the French for "supermarket" is "intermarché" or, for the consumer arenas of E LeClerc and co, "hypermarché". There is no food at a "bricomarché".
Invest in the market
Held all over the region in the summer, with fare from cheap fresh food - fish especially - to crockery and leatherwear. Markets start early - no point in arriving at lunch-time - and English visitors with outsize vehicles are advised to park as far away as possible.
The heat is on
Not as bad as southern Spain, but even in average summer temperatures, children will find the early afternoon sun overpowering. Best to do something energetic with them in the morning, followed by a siesta and a gentle diversion in the late afternoon.
Down by the riverside
You'll find them all over the place, with ample scope for swimming (not in the Dordogne, which usually has too rapid a current) and canoeing. But avoid jumping in where a pipe can be seen sticking out of the bank - it's almost certainly a sewage outflow.
Wildlife is abundant, despite the amount that falls prey to traffic. Look out for eagles drifting on thermals, and there are deer in most woods. Lizards scamper over pool loungers and at night you are likely to hear protected dormice above your head.
Want to meet Brits?
In striped shirt, march purposefully through a street market with 'The Daily Telegraph' under your arm (title page outwards), while occasionally shouting at your children and advising your wife, inspecting the stalls, to "come away from all that tat".
Don't want to meet Brits?
Sit inside a pavement café rather than outside, reading a local newspaper. Remove the children's baseball caps and order them citron pressé instead of Coke. Stand silent and respectful as you listen to the guide deliver a lecture during a tour of the local chateau.
Pick up a pinta
If you want proper fresh milk - see adjoining article - get in early and don't be surprised if it has already been nabbed by English house-party hostesses buying in bulk. Few of our native foodstuffs are outside the compass of the average 'hypermarché'.
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