Have always wanted to see the Prehistoric cave drawing in the Dordogne Valley so we decided to plan a vacation around them. Front ended it with the excellent wines of Bordeaux and back ended it with Paris; isn’t that the perfect trip!
City of Bordeaux
Flew to the city of Bordeaux from JFK and set up a walking tour as soon as we arrived to get a feel for the city (not sure what we were thinking to start a tour after a 12 hour trip, but it worked). We were staying here for only one day before traveling to Saint Emilion (our home base in Bordeaux for wine tastings) and then back to the city for a day after our visit to the Dordogne Valley (going to take the express train from there to Paris). So wanted to see as much as we could in our short visit.
I used “Bordeaux Greeters” for the walking tour. Greeters are in most cities but I hadn’t used them prior; the tours are free and run by locals who want to share what they love about their cities. Olivier met us at our hotel and he was a glorious guide. You could feel his love of Bordeaux as he showed us his favorite haunts. He also gave us the history of the city and great recommendations for walks, museums and restaurants. Highly recommend him and Greeters.
Le Grand Hotel – Intercontinental: Was a beautiful hotel right across from the Opera House on a large walking square, and a perfect location to explore from. Rooms were lovely and staff friendly and helpful.
Racines, 59 Rue George Bonnac – small, casual restaurant with interesting dishes. Definitely not traditional french cooking. This Scottish self-taught chef changes his menu every week according to what he finds at the market. Small number of choices but all delicious.
Zephirine, 62 rue Abe de l”Epee https://zephirine.fr/ – my favorite restaurant period; the best one of the entire trip. Chuck keeps teasing me, referring to the restaurant as the Supermarket, as the front of it is a gourmet store selling to the public. He was hesitant to go in, but he quickly changed his mind, even before we tasted the amazing food.
The dining rooms (one indoor and one in the garden) have a bistro vibe; they call themselves “an Urban Inn”. It is a family affair with the chef at the helm in his open kitchen and his welcoming sister greeting you as you walk in the door. There is no fixed menu only a daily chalkboard as Chef Corbiere cooks with whatever local selection of food and seasonable products he finds at the markets. Dinner is fixed at 55 Euros and includes all three appetizers, a choice of main (which comes with all the sides he made that day) and a dessert. They have a wonderful pastry chef, Nicolas, dedicated to making you smile. You will never want to leave, so do not miss this restaurant.
Tours: Bordeaux Greeters – https://bordeaux-greeters.fr/en/
Saint Emilion is a charming medieval city in the heart of the Bordeaux wine region. It has world-famous wineries, beautiful architecture and great monuments all in this small commune. The whole village and the surrounding vineyards are a World Heritage Site given its long history of wine-making, Romanesque churches and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow cobblestone streets.
Bordeaux wines are the most famous red wines in the world (90% are made from Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small amount of Cab Franc and possibly Petit Verdot). Saint Emilion is a great base to visit the winerys on both the Right and Left Bank.
The Left Bank is known for its gravelly soils and graphite-driven red wines with a dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The most prestigious sub-regions in the Medoc include Pauillac, Saint-Julian, Saint-Estephe, Margaux and Pessac-Leognan. These are big and bold wines, perfect for aging. The five classifications for these wines are First Growth, Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth with the First Growth being the highest classification (only five have this honor; Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Margaux).
The Right Bank is known for its red clay soil that produce bold plummy red wines with a dominance of Merlot. The most well-known and sought after sub-regions include Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Saint-Emilion wines have four levels of classification. The top being Premier Cru Classe A (same honor as First Growth on the Left Bank; Château Cheval Blanc, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Angelus, Château Figeac and Château Pavie), then Premier Cru Classe B, The Grand Cru Classe, and Grand Cru. It is interesting that recently both Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc decided to leave the classification system, similar to some of the tops chefs in the world not wanting the Michelin Stars.
Hotel de Pavie: A beautiful stone hotel with stunning views of the medieval village. It is part of the Relais Chateaux Hotels and owned by Gerard Perse (who also owns Chateau Pavie, the Grand Cru Classe A winery). This was certainly one of the most charming hotels we have stayed in. They have a Two Star Michelin restaurant in their hotel and a Bistro, L’Envers du Decor, right across the street.
The food is hearty, meat, duck and foie gras focused, as it is the perfect accompaniment to their big red wines. Occasionally you may see seafood, but it is rare.
L’Envers du Decor, 11 Rue du Clocher https://www.envers-dudecor.com/ – we loved this restaurant so much we dined here twice. This historic wine bar is a relaxing bistro with delicious classic food and, as you would imagine, a great wine list. The magnificent baker from their 2 Star restaurant also bakes for the hotel and the bistro, so eat the bread and don’t miss the desserts.
Chai Pascal, 37 Rue Guadet https://www.chai-pascal.com/ – this cozy, very friendly restaurant and wine bar is popular with locals in the wine trade. Food was delicious and wine recommendations were perfectly paired to our dinner choices. Loved the Duck two Ways, the braised Lamb, Foie gras and the house Terrine.
L’Antre Deux Verres, 1 Rue de la Prte Sainte-Marie – a local, family owned casual restaurant with dad and mom in the open kitchen and the daughters serving. Friendly and welcoming, we ended our meal with the father joining us and telling us tales of his NYC adventures. Food and wine was great also.
Chateau Pavie https://www.vignoblesperse.com/en/ – the hotel arranged a tour of their vineyard located within walking distance. Chateau Pavie is a Premier Cru Classe A wine and after tasting it you knew why. It’s mouth-filling, offering a fabulous intensity of flavors that often resemble plums, blackberry, truffle, chocolate, licorice, blueberry, and spice, with minerality. Pavie pairs elegance with power and the ability to age and evolve for decades. In fact, Pavie is not a great wine to drink young, often requiring more than 15 years of age to soften and develop its complexities. Of course we sent home a half-case but won’t be drinking it too soon!
The chateau is considered by some to be controversial due to its flashy, attention-grabbing, marble-laden reception area for guests. The new chateau was designed by the noted architect Alberto Pinto and estimated at the cost of 15 million Euros. I thought it was breathtaking.
Chateau Clos Fourtet http://www.closfourtet.com/en/ – the hotel also recommended a visit to this Premier Cru Classe B vineyard that was visually quite the opposite of Pavie. Casual, old chateau with the manager and his dog roaming the grounds.
Located a few steps from our hotel, over a series of deep, limestone caves, where the wine is stored. What an interesting journey down into the caves to see the wine making and storage of this wonderful wine. It is mineral-driven, dark berried, fresh, ripe, opulent, flamboyant and offers intense rich textures, and spicy aromatics with hints of licorice.
Clos Fourtet is much better with at least 10-15 years of aging in good vintages. Young vintages should be decanted for 2-3 hours or more. This allows the wine to soften and open its perfume. Sent a case home but this time purchases so older wines so we could drink them when they arrived.
Left Bank Tour:
The Left Bank wines are my personal favorite and have been for many years. The Chateau’s are magnificent; think sipping a glass of wine on the limestone terrace of an 18th-century castle! If you love red wine, this trip cannot be missed.
Château Lascombes https://www.chateau-lascombes.com/en/home/ – Château Lascombes is a second-growth winery in the Margaux appellation. It has a delicate nose of black fruits (like black cherry) and acacia flowers with subtle oak notes of subtle barbeque smoke. The palate displays fine tannin, which gives it a velvety finish. Chateau Lascombes can be enjoyed on the young side with decanting, due to its round forward style. Young vintages can be decanted for 2-3 hours.
Château Gruaud Larose https://www.gruaud-larose.com/en/ – Château Gruaud-Larose is a second-growth winery in the Saint-Julien appellation. It is a powerful Bordeaux wine, produced in a traditional style, allowing it to age, evolve, and improve for decades. Its full-bodied palate has flavors of cassis, earth, plum, and black fruit.
Chateau Gruaud Larose is not a wine to drink on the young side. The wine is usually far too tannic and closed during its youth. Young vintages should be decanter for 2-4 hours, allowing the wine to soften and open its perfume. Older vintages might need very little decanting, just enough to remove the sediment.
Château Lafon Rochet https://www.lafon-rochet.com/en – Château Lafon-Rochet is a fourth-growth winery in the Saint-Estèphe appellation. Dark, spicy and soft textured, there is fresh blackberry and cassis with accents of licorice and espresso. Chateau Lafon Rochet can be enjoyed somewhat early. However, the wine is often better with at least a few years of bottle age, depending on the vintage.
This region is known for its food, the Prehistoric Caves in the Dordogne’s Vézère valley, and beautiful villages.
Food wise, Dordogne is very famous for foie gras, truffles, Bergerac wines, strawberries, walnuts, and ceps mushrooms. And we ate and drank our fill of all of them.
The caves contain some of the oldest artworks known to man. At some point in remote prehistory, roughly 12,000 years ago, a group of men and women crawled into the labyrinth of Rouffignac cavern in the Dordogne’s Vézère valley. Once in its deepest recess, they lay on their backs and, in flickering candlelight, started painting on the rock ceiling 3 feet above them. More than 60 images of mammoths, horses and ibex were outlined, each animal depicted in simple, confident lines that reveal startling artistic talent.
The Great Ceiling of Rouffignac is one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful art galleries. We have few clues as to who created it, though it was probably the work of the Cro-Magnons, the first members of Homo sapiens to settle in Europe 45,000 years ago and survivors of the Ice Age. Nor do we know why these artists picked such an inaccessible spot to display their genius – though fortunately it can be reached easily today. A tiny electric train runs from Rouffignac’s entrance to the Great Ceiling, the floor of which has been lowered to allow visitors to gaze up at its wonders.
In the 25km of the Vézère valley between Montignac and Les Eyzies there are 15 caves – including Rouffignac, Lascaux and others – which have been rated Unesco World Heritage sites because of their prehistoric art.
Hotel De Bouilhac https://www.hoteldebouilhac.com/fr/hotel-restaurant-dordogne?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=mybusiness – In the small-town of Montignac, with a quiet road separating the hotel from a pretty park and the Vézère River, is this stunning 17th century boutique hotel. Hotel De Bouilhac has ten lovely suites that mix original architecture with contemporary design. There’s a well-equipped spa and wellness center, and the restaurant and bar, presided over by chef Christophe Maury, was a delicious surprise.
Restaurants: We visited a bit after season and has issues finding restaurants that were open in the town. Some actually took my reservations but were never open! Luckily the restaurant in our hotel was wonderful so we dined there multiple times.
Bouilhac Restaurant – Chef Christophe Maury serves lunch (two-/three-course menu) and dinner (three-course menu) daily year-round. His cuisine is local and seasonal, rich in flavour and invariably organic. Expect a fresh spin on classic French dishes such as crispy pig with a herb-laced salad, lightly smoked sturgeon with local black caviar and crystallised fennel, a feisty beef steak for two, or a simple salade gourmande du jour. Dine either in the romantic candlelit courtyard or inside beneath 17th-century cream-stone vaults in a room inspired by nearby Lascaux Caves. We loved Chef Maury’s cooking so much we dined here three times (and a fourth for dessert after a disappointing meal at La Chamiere).
Hotel Restaurant La Roseraie – The restaurant we supposedly had reservations in was closed so we walked the small town in search of a place to dine. Even though we loved our hotel restaurant, we couldn’t face dining there three nights in a row. We happened on this Hotel, set in a 19th century bourgeois mansion alongside the Vezere River, and decided to take a chance. It was a great experience. The owners were very welcoming and charming, the food delicious. We dined on the regions specialties of Foie Gras tatin with fig confit, Venison and Steak with Cepes and, of course, a great red wine.
La Chaumiere – The nicest thing I can say about this restaurant was that the service was friendly and it was very reasonable. It’s know for its cassoulet, and it looked delicious when it arrived at the table, but there the joy ended. It was drastically overcooked with mushy beans and overcooked sausages and duck confit. Didn’t eat much, returned to our hotel and had wine, cheese and dessert at their beautiful bar in front of a wood burning fireplace. We definitely salvaged the evening.
Perigord Welcome – Caves & Villages Tour http://perigord-welcome.com/en/ – Highly recommend this tour company and their guides. They put together a private tour of the prehistoric caves and two charming villages. Our guide, Myriam, was lovely, friendly and very knowledgeable of the area. She took us to the Rouffignac and Lascaux IV Caves and two beautiful villages, Saint Leon sur Vezere and Vezere Village.
Rouffignac Cave was fascinating but I would skip Lascaux (the most famous one) as it is a reproduction and the actual cave tour was crowded. Felt like I was in Disneyland. Not pleasurable.
Loved both villages and Myriam made recommendations for ones to visit the next day when we were on our own.
On our own for two days and had worked up a list of villages, castles, chateaus and a museum we wanted to explore. Everything is in close proximity and driving was easy. Was two really fun days exploring.
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac Village – Located at the base of limestone cliffs just above the the Vézére and Beune Rivers. This picturesque little town has become what many have called the World Capital of Prehistory with a Prehistoric Museum (closed the day we were there) and the Poie d’Interpretation Prehistoire (lab, documentation center of prehistory) which we were able to tour and was very interesting.
Chateau et Jardins de Losse – Overlooking the Vézère River, the Château de Losse is a splendid residence castle built in the 16th century on the basis of a medieval fortress. You can tour the large dwelling furnished with period furniture and its gardens entirely reconstructed in Renaissance style, the defence towers, the moats, the underground passages, and the park.
Sarlat-la-Canéda – One of the most intact unique medieval cities in Europe. It is in possibly the most beautiful area of the Dordogne. Sarlat is the region’s capital of the Perigord Noir and in 1962 it was lucky enough to become the trial town of a new law called the ‘loi Malraux’. This law set about protecting the heritage of French towns. Money was provided to restore Sarlat’s fine buildings and it now has the highest density of ‘Historic Monuments’ and ‘Classified Monuments’ of any town in France. Sarlat is classified as a ‘Town of Art and History’ and as a ‘Plus Beaux Detour’ – a town meriting a visit for its beauty.
La Roque – Gageau – one of the most photographed villages in south-western France. Listed as one of France’s most beautiful villages, the riverside town is built along the right bank of the Dordogne River against a towering limestone cliff. This unique setting of narrow streets and cliff-dwellings also enjoys a subtropical microclimate. It is believed that the site of La Roque-Gageac has been inhabited since Prehistoric times, and developed particularly during the Gallo-Roman period. Confronted with the threat of Viking invasions and numerous wars, the protection of La Roque-Gageac was greatly enhanced by the development of a new sort of fortification. Being nestled into the high, south-oriented cliff face means the fortress is naturally impregnable.
Castelnaud Castle – Built on a rocky outcrop in the heart of the Périgord Noir, Castelnaud Castle offers a magnificent panoramic view over the Dordogne Valley. Built in the 12th century, it is an example of a medieval fortress and also a very impressive museum of war. Today, the castle houses a large collection of weapons and armour. Along the bastion, the most powerful siege engines from the Middle Ages have been recreated and placed in attack positions.
Domme – Perched on a hilltop 150 metres overlooking the Dordogne Valley below, the views from the village of Domme are unrivalled. You can see the valley stretching before you in every direction, the Dordogne River meandering through it and disappearing into the horizon in a stunning panoramic vista. This is of course, why fortified medieval towns were built in such places, in order to see enemies approaching and to have the high ground in case of attack. Constructed in 1281 at the behest of the French King Philip III, Domme was to serve as a key strategic defence in the Hundred Years War between England and France. Eventually captured by the English in 1346 for a time, the town came through the Hundred Years War relatively unscathed and today this walled village is a stunning reminder of this past.
We have vacationed in Paris multiple times and I have other Posts that list all the sights you should see, restaurants to dine in… so will do a compact list below.
One event to mention, that we love and have been to twice, is the Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival (Oct 5-9 and usually around the same time each year – right after harvest). More than 40 bars and restaurants in the 18th arrondissement take part in this event. There are lots of special activities: concerts, street entertainment, tastings of artisanal and regional products, a dance, walks, vineyard visits, exhibitions, and of course great food and wine.
Bistrot Paul Bert – Their menu is torn straight out of the classic bistro playbook, with options like steak frites, andouillette, soufflé and tarte Tatin. Owner Bertrand Auboyneau is a real wine lover and supporter, and his list is a joy to drink from. It’s not quite at the level it once was, but would recommend it for anyone wanting to experience a classic bistro in Paris.
Semilla – https://www.semillaparis.com/ – One of our favorite restaurants in Paris. One cold evening, I tasted four slow cooked dishes based on venison, beef and pork. Warmed you right down to your toes. On another trip, during a heat wave, I was cooled off by a bright green salad with nectarines, and many other dishes made with summer ingredients for the sweltering temperatures. Rarely does a restaurant respond so well to both the season and the needs of their customers. It has a convivial atmosphere, trendy decor and, in the kitchens, a young and passionate team, who work exclusively with hand – picked suppliers. Delicious and well done!
Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes – https://www.auberge-pyrenees-cevennes.fr/ – Chef Pierre Négrevergne cooks traditional french food taken from his grandmother’s recipes. Cassoulet is the speciality and is served at most tables. Other great dishes are the terrine, duck confit and blanquette de veau. All this is served in this charming house that is over 100 years old. It was a treat to eat here.
Le Mediterranee https://en.la-mediterranee.com/ – Once a favorite spot of Cocteau and Picasso, this restaurant is one of the most elegant fish restaurants in Paris, that is also affordably priced. We have been dining here for 23 years and during that time it slowly slipped in quality but came right back to life with its new owners, Denis Rippa, formerly of Le Divellec, l’Ambroisie and Taillevent. All the dishes are wonderful and you can’t go wrong no matter what your choose. In summer dine outside beneath the azure blue awning.
Marcello https://www.marcello-paris.com/en/ – This lovely local Italian restaurant was a lucky find as we looked for a place for lunch. It’s garden and dining room is set below the street for some quiet in a busy Saint-Germain neighborhood. And a nice break from all our french inspired meals. Excellent fresh pastas and appetizers. The atmosphere is very warm and unique. A must try.