Another week when I can't travel to France. 😞 If you're feeling a bit low about that, I understand and I'm with you. It can be so hard to accept that, for many good reasons, you just can't get to France right now. What I am doing though is my research and my planning!
What are you doing to keep the travel-to-France-dream alive? Are you planning? Journalling? Making wish lists? Are you reading those guidebooks and asking questions in Facebook groups?
I know armchair travel can feel so darn theoretical, but on some woo-woo level I think it's one of the best things you can spend your time and energy on. It puts you into that mental place where you feel so happy, so excited and so delighted. You can visualise what it smells, feels and sounds like to be back at that poolside, that Parisian view or sun-baked terrace with the grounded happiness of being in France.
These are the kinds of Francophile dreams I help with in the Dreamy places in France list. We're building a guidebook, a wish list of magical, beautiful and special places to stay, visit or wonder at.
So, Francophile, let's explore our wish list and build that guidebook! In this series, we put the beautiful and practical together so you can add to your travel wish list and explore before you've even got to France.
Today's post is about a seriously dreamy place to stay, to marvel at and to be in perfect peace. Do you like wine, beautiful natural surroundings and a variety of markets, bastide towns full of history and great travel connections? Great, you're going to love today's place!
Dreaming of places to live or stay in France, this has to rank pretty highly for me. Today's special place is in one of the most popular parts and départments in south west France, the beautiful Dordogne.
Let me tell you a story...
At Christmas, a few years ago, I received an excellent book, called Grape Expectations, all about the (crazy?) dream of moving to France and creating a vineyard, despite having no hands-on wine making experience, working in city jobs and no fluency in French. That story captured my imagination and possibly a piece of my heart as I've never forgotten it. Reading about a family who bravely set out to live their dream of making wine was kind of inspiring. The story starts in rainy Dublin where the Feely family live, working their city jobs, juggling life with a toddler and a baby, taking evening French classes. After some online house hunting and secret dreaming, it seems Seán and Caro had actually been building up a lot of courage to change everything at a point in their lives, when as a young family, it would have been easier and totally forgivable to just say, "not yet".
Of course since then, the phenomenal achievements of great wine, award-winning accommodation and tours seem just so inevitable, but that's the benefit of hindsight, isn't it? Reading all of the books you don't get that feeling, you're just willing them on; Caro's writing is beautiful and real and she doesn't sugar coat things. You can really sense how much they fell in love with this place, its views and its terroir (perhaps not at first sight of the farmhouse interior, but still...). It's not an expat "how-to" sort of book though and all the better for it, I think. (The other two books are Saving our Skins and Glass Half Full covering everything from winemaking and wine culture to skincare products full of amazing good stuff from grape skins, organic farming benefits and community as we follow Caro and Seán grow into their new winemaking roles and their new family lives.)
It encouraged me to start learning more about winemaking and what goes into wines all around the world. I learnt a little about organic methods and biodynamic potions and calendars and more. I wanted to know why I genuinely preferred the taste of the organic and biodynamic wines in city wine tasting events in London, where I lived then. It was all fascinating and from that one story, I too craved a view of mists in a lush green valley, listening to and working with nature and creating respectful environments for wine without unnecessary additives. I don't think I had the courage though.
I found Grape Expectations to be a great story, inspirational and very relatable. At that time I was parenting a little person and to read about someone who moved to France with two little ones into an unrenovated old farmhouse in the country was both inspirational and surprising in equal measure! Caro Feely's writing is very immersive and I almost felt like I was there too, being bold.
You know that moment in the film A Good Year, with Max and Fanny? You know, the bit where they say:
Max Skinner: This place does not suit my life.
Fanny Chenal: No Max, it's your life that does not suit this place.
Well, I can imagine that is how I'd feel working in a busy desk job and contemplating moving to France. I've been there enough to have that tiny seedling of a dream in my heart. Wouldn't you want to create a life around something you care about? In this case, a passion for winemaking and for France was enough to see Caro and Seán and their little children uproot themselves and take the leap.
It's an inspiring story of leaving those city jobs behind and being out in nature and creating something very meaningful and a beautiful, enjoyable product. They make organic and biodynamic wine at Chateau Feely and that has always been the goal. I like their passion! Now, they also run wine tasting courses, tours, have luxury accommodation to stay in and the eco-credentials to prove their commitment to green tourism.
These are passionate and knowledgable people who have been in the region for a while, so the deep sense of place adds Château Feely near Saussignac, Dordogne on to the Dreamy places in France list.
So if you haven't really sought out organic wine before, not too sure about whether biodynamic makes a difference, or perhaps would like to hear a winemaker tell you more about natural wine then read the books, visit, take a course and find out more. These books led me on to Alice Feiring's book too, link here for you to have a look, which was really interesting. If this takes you on to learning more about organic wine and methods, then you might also like the extra book list at the bottom of the post.
For escapist reading, for a moving-to-France story with likeable people, enjoy this trio of stories around winemaking and all its ups and downs along with family life, what it is like to be new to an area and building relationships with your local community, while learning the language too.
Right now is a great time to hone those wine-tasting skills! You might like to undertake some virtual wine tasting with Caro to learn more and, crucially, try some delicious wine! You can find out more here.
If you've read the books, you'll love seeing the real place and if you haven't you can enjoy as much or as little of the winemaking side of things as you wish. You can relax in the holiday accommodation, eat organic fruit and vegetables and the delicious produce of the region and explore. There are even bikes included so you can go for a ride very easily!
For more information on the ecological and green credentials, check out their website here. For more information on the wines and fabulous VIRTUAL visits you can make right now, then check out this fabulous intro video and website. Doesn't it look absolutely stunning?
I can just imagine myself enjoying a very fine breakfast, perhaps some cycling in the countryside and some quiet walks through the vines. This is beautiful country and in any season, I think you could find something wonderful to do. Bergerac and Bordeaux are close at hand and much more besides. If you want to wander around bastide towns, medieval streets or food markets, swimming lakes or golf, there's plenty to do. Like many places in France, you can do as much or as little as you like.
What would you want to do here in the south Dordogne?
Château Feely, La Garrigue, 24240 Saussignac, Dordogne, France
Village / commune: Saussignac, Dordogne, located just south west of Bergerac, the largest town in the Dordogne (around 18.5km, around 20 minute drive).
Nearest International airport: Bergerac airport 20km, Bordeaux airport 100km.
Nearest rail station: Gardonne (4.5km, direct links to Bergerac and Bordeaux.)
Nearest TGV rail station (high speed train): Bordeaux St Jean (only 2 hours from Paris) connects with the local trains (TER) to Gardonne and Chateau Feely can collect you.
If you need help looking into rail journeys in France and how they might connect to your departure point, I always recommend starting with this informative website.
Car hire: helpful in this area for seeing many of the sights, towns and villages. Available at the airports and some railway stations. For example: https://buggscarhire.com.
Places to note and things to do:
This area is rich with history, impressive river valleys, rolling hills and vineyards, medieval market towns and in the summer, night markets and producers' markets galore!
Beyond the beautiful vicinity of the vineyards there are châteaux to explore, of course, as this is the so-called Land of 1001 Châteaux ! (including Château de Monbazillac (16km), Château de Bridoire (18km), Château des Milandes (85km) with beautiful gardens and great history of Josephine Baker, Château de Hautefort (126km) and many outdoors activities including kayaking, canoeing, horse riding, cycling and walking. If you love gardens, the amazing perched gardens at Marqueyssac are around 80km away (just over an hour's drive) and have stunning views.
There's truly something for everyone here and you can do as much or as little as you like. A day by the pool, some yoga (I'd need a private lesson from Caro, I think, as she's a YTT certified yoga teacher and I am a bit rusty!), some wine tasting, market shopping or a wander around some beautiful gardens...it's all possible. Some nearby highlights include a wine shop in Eymet (20km), in case you want to do some side-by-side tastings, in a riverside medieval bastide town which is beautiful and popular. There's an organic produce shop there also as well as many good bistro and restaurants. This video gives you an insight into the night markets which usually occur in the summer (filmed in 2017.) The beautiful Issigeac is another great place and has a renowned market (around 30km away.) Other bastide towns to note nearby include Villeréal, Monflanquin and Monpazier.
Office du tourisme / Tourist office: Bergerac has all the region's details and is located in the centre of town. For planning ahead, they have a comprehensive range of guides, maps and brochures for you to download (mostly in English or French) here. There is a regional Périgord Pass for many of the popular sights, including some of those mentioned here. Find out more here. You're also very close to the Lot et Garonne so plenty of information can be found here and here.
More Books (always a good idea)
Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally Isabelle Legeron
When Wines Tastes Best 2020 Matthias Thun
and if you're really getting into this, then perhaps you might enjoy this how-to for growing your own grapes! Organic Backyard Vineyard 😃
Where to next?... see you soon with another Dreamy place in France.
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N.B. Distances are provided as a guide only and are based upon a car journey rather than as the crow flies. If you require more detailed information, it is recommended to contact the Tourist Information Office for the area. All research is my own, as, of course, are my opinions however fanciful. Affiliate links are used for books available at Amazon and other retailers, which supports the site with a small commission, at absolutely no cost to you. By using the links, you're supporting the podcast and blog - thank you so much!