France Best Road Trips

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I was commissioned as co-ordinating editor and lead writer for France’s Best Trips, an exciting new launch title from the world-leading travel publisher Lonely Planet.

The book features 39 themed road trips covering the whole of France, from 2-day escapes to 2-week adventures, and forms part of a new series alongside similar guides to Ireland, Italy and various parts of the United States.

I was involved from the early stages of this project, developing trip concepts and layout ideas through to image selection, fact-checking, editing and compiling other authors’ work and writing a range of bespoke content – including the book’s introductory sections, city guides, itineraries and general background matter.

I was also commissioned to write a number of high-profile trips covering the Pyrenees, the Dordogne, northern and central France.

The book and individual chapter PDFs can be purchased directly from the Lonely Planet website.

France Best Road Trips – Writing Samples

Book Introduction

Iconic monuments, island abbeys, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage.

Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost amongst the snow-capped Alps or tasting your way around Champagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s made for road-trips. In this book, we’ve put together 39 unforgettable routes which will take you straight into France’s heart and soul.

There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. And if you’ve only got time for one trip, why not make it one of our nine Classic Trips which take you to the very best France has to offer.

Buckle up, and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Trip 35 – Gourmet Dordogne

Three Days, 138km / 85 miles
Best Time To Go: Sep-Oct for harvest markets, Dec-Mar for truffle season
Best Foodie Experience: Shop till you drop at Sarlat’s chaotic street market

The Dordogne is definitely a place that thinks with its stomach. This foodie tour indulges in the region’s gastronomic goodies, from walnuts and truffles to fine wine and foie gras. If you enjoy nothing better than soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of a French market, you’ll be in seventh heaven here. This region is famous for its foodie traditions, and immersing yourself in its culinary culture is one of the best – and tastiest – ways to experience life in rural France.

1. Sarlat-la-Canéda

Start in the honey-stoned town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, which hosts a wonderful outdoor market (open 8.30am-6pm) on Saturday mornings. Local farmers set up their stalls on the cobbled place de la Liberté, selling seasonal treats such as cèpe mushrooms, duck terrines, foie gras, walnuts and even truffes noirs (black truffles). There’s also an atmospheric night market (open 6-10pm) on Thursdays from mid-June to September, and truffle markets (open Sat morning) from December to February.

Even if you’re not here on market day, you can shop for foodie souvenirs at Sarlat’s covered market (open 8.30am-2pm daily), housed in the converted Église Ste-Marie. While you’re here, don’t miss a trip up the tower in the panoramic lift, overlooking Sarlat’s slate rooftops.

The Drive: Travel 9km east of Sarlat on the D47 towards the village of Sainte-Nathale\`ne. You’ll pass walnut groves and wooded copses lining the roadsides. The Moulin de la Tour is on a back-road north of the village, signed to Proissans, Salignac and St-Cre\’pin-et-Carlucet; you’ll see the sign after another 1.5km.

2. Sainte-Nathalène

One of the Dordogne’s most distinctive flavours is the humble noix (walnut). It’s been a prized product of the Dordogne for centuries, and is still used in many local recipes – cakes, puddings, pancakes and breads, as well as liqueurs and huile de noix (walnut oil). At the Moulin de la Tour, the region’s last working watermill, you can watch walnut oil being made and stock up with nutty souvenirs. Don’t miss the cerneaux de noix au chocolat (chocolate-covered walnuts) and gâteau de noix (walnut cake).

The Drive: Backtrack to the junction in Sainte Nathalène, turn left and follow road signs to St-Vincent-Le-P. / RD704. Continue along this minor road till you reach the D704A. Cross straight over and follow white signs to Le Bouyssou. It’s a drive of 8km or 15 minutes.

3. Carsac-Aillac

Alongside black truffles, the Dordogne is famous for its foie gras (fattened goose liver). As you drive around, you’ll see duck and goose farms dotted all over the countryside, many of which offer guided tours and de\’gustation (tasting).

One of these is L’Elevage du Bouyssou, a family-run farm to the north of Carsac-Aillac, where owners Denis and Nathalie Mazet run tours and demonstrate la gavage – the controversial force-feeding process which helps fatten up the goose livers. Afterwards, you can buy home-made foie gras in the shop.

The Drive: Travel south from Carsac-Aillac and turn left onto the D703 for 12km towards La Roque Gageac. You’ll have lovely views across the river, and the banks are lined with medieval villages dangling over the water. Stop for photos at the Cingle de Montfort viewpoint, which overlooks a picturesque bend backed by a medieval chateau.

4. La Roque Gageac

The lovely D703 tracks the course of the Dordogne River and passes through a string of lovely riverside villages including La Roque Gageac. A great place to stay (and eat) is La Belle Étoile, a waterfront hotel-restaurant known for its sophisticated French food. Local specialities such as truffles, walnuts and foie gras feature heavily, and there’s a vine-shaded terrace for when the weather’s fine.

The Drive: From La Roque Gageac, St-Cyprien is 15km further west along the river. It’s a gorgeous drive that passes several medieval chateaux en route. Once you reach St-Cyprien, continue north on the D49 for another 6.5km, and look out for the easy-to-miss right turn to Lussac/Péchalifour. 

5. St-Cyprien

Continue west along the D703 to the village of St-Cyprien, where you can indulge in another of the Dordogne’s great gastronomic gems – the perle noire of the Périgord, otherwise known as the black truffle. At Truffière de Péchalifour, expert Édouard Aynaud offers truffle-hunting trips assisted by his keen-nosed hounds; the best time to visit is during truffle season from December to March, when he runs half-/full-day trips around the truffières (truffle-growing areas), including a chance to try the rarefied fungi over a picnic lunch.

If you have time, stop at the nearby Domaine de la Voile Blanche, where the Dalbavie family run tours around their vineyard.

The Drive: From Lussac, backtrack to the D35 and turn northwest towards the bustling town of Le Bugue, following signs to Périgueux onto the D710. It’s about 13km to Mortemart; there’s a sign to the boar farm just before the village.

6. Mortemart

Next up is Les Sangliers de Mortemart, where you can see wild boars being raised in semi-freedom on a farm just outside Mortemart. These porky cousins of the modern pig were once common across France, but their numbers have been reduced by habitat restriction and hunting.

The boars are fed a rich diet of chataîgnes (chestnuts), which gives the meat a distinctive nutty, gamey flavour. It’s a key ingredient in the hearty stew known as civet de sanglier, as well as patés and country terrines. Naturally enough, there’s a farm shop where you can buy boar-themed goodies.

The Drive: From Mortemart, the nicest drive to Bergerac follows the D45 and D21, a drive of 51km through classic Dordogne countryside. Once you reach town, leave your car in the car-park on Quai Salvette, and walk towards the centre along rue des Récollets.

7. Bergerac

It’s not as famous as Bordeaux and St-Émilion, but Bergerac is still an essential stop for wine-lovers. Vineyards carpet the countryside around town, producing rich reds, fragrant whites and fruity rose\’s – but with 13 AOCs (appéllations d’origines contrôlées) and over 1200 wine-growers, the choice is bewildering.

Thankfully, the town’s Maison des Vins knows all the best vintages, offers wine-tasting courses and organises vineyard visits.

The Drive: Creysse is 9km east of Bergerac along the D660.

8. Creysse

Many Bergerac vineyards are open to the public, including the prestigious Château de Tiregand, which is mainly known for its Pécharmant wines and runs tours and tasting sessions in its cellars. English tours run at 2.30pm from June to August.

The Drive: South of Bergerac, you’ll really start to get out into the wine country, with vineyards and chateaux lining the roadsides. Gageac et Rouillac is 15km southwest of Bergerac off the D14, not far from Saussignac.

9. Gageac-et-Rouillac

Bergerac’s largest vineyards lie to the south of town. Driving round amongst the rows of vines is a pleasure in itself, especially if you indulge in a bit of de\’gustation (wine-tasting). It’s worth detouring via the village of Gageac-et-Rouillac, which is home to Clos d’Yvigne, a small vineyard run by Patricia Atkinson, a British ex-pat who moved to France in 1990. She arrived knowing next to nothing about wine-making; since then, she’s tripled the vineyard’s size and written about her experiences in two bestselling books. Phone ahead to make sure the vineyard’s open.

The Drive: You could spend at least another couple of days touring the local vineyards, using Bergerac as a base.

Truffle Secrets

Few ingredients command the same culinary cachet as the truffe noire (black truffle), variously known as the diamant noir (black diamond) or, hereabouts, the perle noire (black pearl). The gem references aren’t just for show, either: a vintage truffle crop can fetch as much as €1000 a kilogram at seasonal markets.

A subterranean fungus that grows naturally in chalky soils (especially around the roots of oak trees), this mysterious mushroom is notoriously capricious; a good truffle spot one year can be bare the next, which has made farming them practically impossible.

The art of truffle-hunting is a closely guarded secret; it’s a matter of luck, judgment and experience, with specially trained dogs (and occasionally pigs) to help in the search.

The height of truffle season is between December and March, when special truffle markets are held around the Dordogne, including Périgueux and Sarlat.