As regular visitors to Walt Disney World, we have been fortunate enough to give our tribe some unforgettable, long haul, family holidays, but we also want our children to have different experiences of visiting other parts of the world, where they are introduced to broader aspects of cultures, beliefs, languages and different ways of life to their own. One of the places we have found our teens love to visit is France, and particularly Bergerac; a lovely, smallish city in the South West region of the country.
Visiting France is great from a UK point of view for a variety of different reasons,
- it’s on our doorstep in terms of travel, and is easy to get to from where we live in Bristol, and
- there are lots of local flights from airports close to us which take us to the bigger cities like Paris and Marseilles, but also fly into smaller cities like Bergerac
- French is taught in our children’s schools, so for them (and us!) it’s an opportunity for them to practise their conversational French with the French people, who are happy to help us if we are not pronouncing it correctly! We have found that the locals always appreciate us attempting to speak to them in their language.
- It’s also a short journey from Bristol to Paris (about 1hour 30 minutes) and Bergerac is less than 2 hours, so in comparison to flying to the US, which our tribe are very used to, it seems as though you are arriving as soon as you have departed!
Our base for our holidays to Bergerac over the past couple of years has been the very beautiful, but not necessarily well-known to travellers, Chateau Riandaule.
This little hidden gem of a place is situated in La Force, about 20 minutes from Bergerac’s airport, and when we say it is a hidden gem, we actually mean it! Chateau Riandaule is accessible through a private coded entrance, and the house itself is surrounded by a huge number of large imposing trees, so the grounds and house feel perfectly safe for your tribe to go off exploring or play a game of football.
When you first see the Chateau, you are simply stunned by how authentically French it is, even down to the beautiful blue window shutters, and the house is welcoming, warm and provides everything that your family needs to settle in very quickly and feel as though it is home from home. The American owners have spent huge amounts of time, energy and love into making Chateau Riandaule a family friendly and very accommodating house, in fact it works really well for big groups because of 5 bedrooms, so for our tribe it was perfect. There is always a welcome bottle of wine, milk and little bits in the fridge to start you off on your holiday, and the owners encourage you to make use of whatever provisions there are in the cupboards and bathrooms of the house, from herbs and spices from the store cupboards, to medicine in the first aid kit, to the toiletries in the bathrooms upstairs – they want you to feel relaxed and at home from the get-go.
Outside in the grounds of the house there is a beautiful view of the River Dordogne, where people in canoes and little boats wave as you sit and watch from the family swing with a glass of wine in hand. There is also a fantastic pool, as our picture below shows, even as big as our tribe are getting, they still enjoy having a splash around and there are lots of toys and floats to throw in the pool if you want to just play, rather than swim, which is probably best as the pool isn’t really designed for Olympic swimming stars!
Now, you could if you wanted to spend the whole week relaxing around the pool, sitting out and people watch on the river, play board games which Chateau Riandaule has in abundance, there is also the computer if the kids get bored, and yes there is also wi-fi, although it can be a bit hit and miss. That sounds like a perfectly relaxing and enjoyable holiday, and you would certainly feel a little bit hidden away from the world (which can be a good thing) whilst you stay there. However, with our tribe, we felt getting out and about was a good way of keeping them entertained, so we made sure that one day during our holiday we spent the day browsing the shops and eating lunch in Bergerac, we also visited Chateau Monbazillac, which is famous for its sweet dessert wine, and had a guided tour. We visited the local supermarche and boulangerie, to make sure we were using our French, and used our hire cars to drive out somewhere practically every day.
One day we decided to canoe down the River Dordogne, which for one of us in our party was slightly nerve-wracking as they cannot swim, but with the assurance of the rest of the tribe they kept calm and canoed on! We did our planning the night before, and decided that we would drive to Beynac (about 2 hours away from Bergerac) where a pre-arranged canoe hire company minibus would then pick us up and take us up river to the starting point of our canoe trip down the river, which would be a 2 hour trip back to our car. All safety equipment is provided and once you’re set up and ready to go, you’re off! Our tribe was divided into 4 canoe’s, so there was a degree of competition between us all which added to the fun, but the really great thing about this experience is the beauty of the surroundings. It was a hot August day when we canoed, and the weather couldn’t have been better, in fact it was probably a bit too hot! There are lots of places where you can stop en route, have a rest, a drink or picnic, and everyone is really friendly, with lots of “Bonjour” and “Ca va?” to ask as you make you way along the river.
There are some lovely little villages along the Dordogne, some you may miss as you are concentrating on canoeing, so try and take it all in, as it is really spectacular even when busy with people all doing what you are doing!
After over 2 hours, more like 3, with very sore arms (feeling as though they were made of stone!) and having laughed so much at the rest of our tribe getting into scrapes and mishaps along the way (we loved that bit particularly)! we arrived back at our cars famished, exhausted, and a little sunburnt, so don’t forget your sun lotion. The river is a bit of a sun trap and you are pretty exposed while you are on it. As we drove back home, even with very weary arms, we decided to stop off for some lunch, by now mid afternoon, and found ourselves stopping on the way back to Bergarac at a place called Martel.
Isn’t it stunning?!!! Famous for it’s walnuts and truffles, Martel is quaint, old fashioned and typically French. Lots of little side streets and outdoor cafes dominate this little town alongside it’s Medieval walls and buildings. Wow, was our reaction when we walked in to the town! We were really lucky to find a great little restaurant (Le Crepuscule) which served us Café Gourmand, strong French coffee served with an arrangement of different little desserts, absolutely delightful, and a real treat. “When in France” so they say, and the energy from the sweet desserts alongside the caffeine from the coffee was enough to keep us energised and ready to tackle the rest of the journey home – arms still aching!
Looking back now, we think it was one of those perfect days that you spend with your family. Yes, there was driving involved, and for those not so used to French roads and the Peage (road tolls) are frequent and rather annoying at times on busy roads when you want to just get on with it, but the canoeing was such fun, and we laughed our heads off from start to finish. There were times when it was just you and your companion, and the River Dordogne for company; sometimes it was so quiet you could just hear the birds chirping, and it was almost eerie. The river is generally kind to you in that section which we canoed in, and didn’t cause us too many problems, although there were occasions when we came up to some faster water which took us down the river as if we were wide-water rafting – whilst going backwards! So if you do decide to canoe, keep your wits about you, and make sure that one of your party has an eye on your tribe at all times.
Martel is a definite go to afterwards. It has a wonderful charm, almost as if time has stopped still there, and looks completely unspoiled by modern life. The Café Gourmand was a welcome refreshment, and sitting al-fresco watching the locals walk by gives you a slight respite on your journey home, if you choose to stay in Bergerac that is.
We made very fond memories that day, and thinking about the laughter, screaming and even cursing at times (adults, not kids!) still puts a massive smile on our faces!
- We flew to Bergerac with Flybe, which flew out of Birmingham Airport and stayed the night before in the Premier Inn Hotel, Birmingham International Airport.
- Accommodation at Chateau Riandaule available on the Airbnb website https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/2145305. Also links to the Chateau on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/riandaule