Here at House of Coco we love far-flung escape and the growing trend for secret travel but we can’t ignore that our budgets don’t always stretch to the luxe long-haul break we crave or that our boss is always happy to sign off… bienvenue en France, a dreamy destination closer to home where a long weekend can take you to another world.
‘But the English, you have cheese after dessert, what madness?!’ is not necessarily the heated conversation I expected to have with a sommelier in a historic castle a mere 15-minutes drive from a markedly less luxurious campsite that I lived in one summer, learning French. Yet, there I was, dressed up for dinner at the stunning Château de la Treyne, overlooking the Dordogne river, my base for a long weekend of rediscovering the region. My grubby shared staff tent had been upgraded to the breathtaking Dordogne Master Suite with a terrace overlooking said river. If only my fellow kids camp animatrices could see me now.
The Château de la Treyne is part of the Relais & Châteaux family, meaning I was already dreaming of the luxe that awaited on our drive from Toulouse airport deep into the historical heart of France. Driving along in the mist of a November afternoon, the castle appears across the river, the tyres crunched over manicured gravel and the scent of delicious candles entered our noses as we were greeted by co-owner Stéphanie Gombert over a glass of fizz in the dark wood bar, in front of a crackling fire. Feeling not unlike a traditional Disney princess, I had arrived at my castle, butterflies in my stomach, drinking in the classic romance of it all.
You could very easily spend a week on and around the Château de la Treyne property itself with its heated infinity pool, extensive gardens, tennis court and walks across 120 hectares of private forests. But what would be better is to wake early to the ducks and mist over the river for a stroll around the gardens and a sumptuous, locally prepared breakfast, before heading out to explore
The beauty of this region of France is that it pretty much ticks all the boxes for reasons why you would visit France at all. Great food? Oui. Beautiful villages? Bien sûr. Nature’s finest? Exactement. A short drive from the Château will bring you to the medieval town of Sarlat, so well protected from modern life that you’ll be forgiven for going full-on Belle and wishing bonjour in a sing-song voice to everyone you pass. You’ll likely get some funny looks but, like I say, I reckon they’ll forgive you.
We drove into town on Saturday, market day, and it was buzzing with food and craft stalls – some more authentic than others and plenty of the town’s most famous produce – vegetarians and vegans please look away now – foie gras. With so much history, the town is packed with sights to see and museums to enter but the best experience has to be from taking winding cobbled streets at random and seeing where you end up. I entered the town with one vague aim, to track down the Bordeaux speciality, canelés and was rewarded with a dinky one on the end of a pick in my bière, sat in the winter sunshine outside Lemoin Canelé.
In fact, by hitting the road in this area you can visit numerous well preserved, evocative towns with towering castles like Beynac which you might recognise from the film Chocolat, Saint Cirque Lapopie which is consistently voted as one of the most beautiful towns in France and of course, the jaw-dropping Rocamadour teetering on a cliff edge, best seen at night as the lights sparkle. With deep religious and historical importance to many of the towns in the area, exploring the Dordogne region is a step away from modernity as development is fiercely controlled and tourism centres around what’s already there and not inventing new cheesy tourist traps.
A great example of where technology has been embraced to enhance the existing attraction is Lascaux 4 (24290 Montignac, lascaux.fr) which opened in 2016 at the foot of the hill where the original Lascaux was discovered back in 1940. The striking modern building mimics the landscape behind it and houses a replica of the original cave complete with the temperature, air pressure, scents and sounds from when it was discovered and became the most famous example of Palaeolithic cave paintings in the world.
In fact, a lot of the exploring to be done in the region is underground and you’re spoilt for choice with nearly every town including a cave attraction but don’t tuck into your evening cheese board without experiencing the epic Gouffre de Padirac (46500 Padirac, gouffre-de-padirac.com). On arriving at the Gouffre you’ll first be hit by the immensity of the chasm to the outside. Step by step, you’ll enter another world as the temperature drops and the light fades and you reach the floor, ready to enter the cave and onto a magical boat tour of the subterranean river. On our visit, we caught the last boat trip of the day meaning we had the awe-inspiring cave pretty much all to ourselves, which was incredible. Well, until a well-meaning staff member turned the lights out on clocking off…
Driving back to the stunning Château we were all quiet in contemplation at the wonders we’d taken in over just a short weekend and only a few hours from home. While we were staying at hand’s down the most incredible hotel in the region, the exploration of that luxe property and their flawless Michelin starred restaurant menu was only part of this seductive adventure. I can’t wait to escape to the Château de la Treyne again in warmer months for kayaking down the Dordogne, long walks and sundowners sat on the terrace, dreaming of upping sticks like Dick and Angel and starting my own romantic French adventure.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the stunning Château de la Treyne (chateaudelatreyne.com , phone: +33(0) 220.127.116.11.60 , email: firstname.lastname@example.org) in Lacave where unique luxury suites start from 200 Euros a night.
If you are travelling with a group, the family behind Château de la Treyne also rent out the jaw-dropping 4 bedroom 14th Century Château de Bastit (chateaudubastit.com) only a 10-minute walk across the main property so you can have your family gathering and pop to the main Chateau for dinner.
Not far from either Château you’ll find the family’s 17th Century period property which sleeps 10 people for a week of relaxation and exploration (chartreusedecales.com)