There are many places to visit within the local area. Those detailed below are simply some of our favourites and are all easily done within a day with no more than an hours driving.
St Jean de Cole: One of Frances most attractive villages. Dating from the middle ages, the amazing architecture includes a Byzantine church, a Water Mill and several ancient bridges with wonderful houses dotted about.
Every year during the weekend closest to the 8th of May St Jean de Cole has a flower fair (Les Floralies) where more than a hundred exhibitors exhibit and sell plants and garden products. It is a very colourful event and a great time to visit the village. Worth a trip out, especially if combined with lunch in our favourite restaurant in St Pardoux or a trip to the caves (Grotte de Villars) in the area.
Brantome: A real gem. The clear river Dronne encircles the town, with the 8th Century Benedictine monastery dominating one side and the medieval town on the other. The Friday market is excellent and canoeing from here is particularly picturesque (Link to 'Things to do'). Alternatively, wander through the narrow streets, along the river and then drive down to Bourdeilles, a sleepy village completely out of scale to the massive heavily fortified chateau within it. The river here is particularly suitable for young children as it is crystal clear (with massive fish swimming about) and shallow enough for safe paddling. Stock up at the Brantome Friday market with picnic food and then escape the crowds to eat on the Bourdeilles river bank. Several benches are dotted along one side of the river.
Angouleme: Located on a plateau overlooking the Charente River, the city is nicknamed the “Balcony of the Southwest”.
Formerly the capital of Angoumois in the Ancien Régime, Angoulême was a fortified town for a long time and was highly coveted due to its position at the centre of many roads important to communication so therefore suffered many sieges. From its tumultuous past the city, perched on a rocky spur, inherited a large historical, religious, and urban heritage which attracts a lot of tourists. The old part of town is lovely to wander around with many small bars and bistros squeezed into the wonderful buildings. Angouleme is also the centre for French comic art with its own museum, worth a visit if you are currently, or were in the past, a fan of this graphic art form.
More importantly, in my opinion, Angouleme hosts the truly fantastic ‘Circuit de Ramparts’, a race circuit through this medieval city. Used once in 1939, this urban race track returned after World War II as part of the Grand Prix season from 1947 to 1951, hosting events where famous drivers could be seen, such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Maurice Trintignant, Raymond Sommer, Robert Manzon, André Simon and the like.
Today it is still a successful event, usually in September, that gathers historic car enthusiast (think lots of Bugatti, Porches, Maserati etc) raced on the original race track. It also features a “Concours d’Élégance”, a concourse of car restoration to wander around. Although busy, this event lacks the pretensions of many races, and you can marvel at the cars, chat with the drivers and feel very close to the racing. Its brilliant!
Perigueux: Founded in 200 BC, Perigueux is now the administrative centre for the Dordogne. It is easy to become lost within the maze of small alleyways with their boutique shops, patisseries and bars. Find one of the many squares, grab a table and people watch. There is a certain sophistication to Perigueux, and when we tire of country living, we often head there to remind ourselves that there is civilisation nearby. Try one of the many restaurants, peruse the busy markets (Wednesday and Saturday) visit the Cathedral and several museums.
Nontron: Founded by Phoenician explorers in 1100 BC, the lower part of the town still has many old buildings and narrow streets. However, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect to Nontron is its knife production.
Many artisan knife makers are based here including the world famous Nontron knives. The methods and techniques used in making these have remained virtually unchanged since the fifteenth century when they were first in manufacture. In fact the workshop where they are hand made by local craftsman is the oldest continually running cutlery forge in France.
It is certainly worth a visit to this exceptional piece of local history, still in the making. In Augusts Nontron hosts a Knife festival, where artisans from across Europe gather to demonstrate their techniques and sell their hand crafted wares.
Nontron also celebrates what must be one of the weirdest festival in France. In early April, the towns people celebrate the ‘Bellows Festival’ (le Carnaval des Soufflets) by dressing up in nightshirts, cotton caps, clogs, masks and, last but not least, carrying the all-important bellows. The tradition dates back to the carnival celebrations of the Middle Ages, when the people of Nontron used their bellows to purify the city air and free it from bad spirits. Nowadays, this festival marks the end of Lent.
There is also a large and recently refurbished partially open-air swimming pool.
Limoges: China (not the country!) connoisseurs will already be familiar with the legendary name of Limoges. For over 200 years, this elegant city has been the preferred place for the French upper crust to pick up their tableware, and several factories around the city still produce France’s finest china. You can see some stunning examples at museums and galleries as well as public spaces around town.
Compact and lively, Limoges is easy to explore on foot. Historic buildings and museums cluster in the medieval Cité quarter and radiate out from the partly pedestrianised Château quarter in the city centre. If you come by train you’ll be arriving in style: the city’s grand art-deco Gare des Bénédictins, completed in 1929, is one of France’s most resplendent railway stations, graced by a copper dome, carved frescoes and a copper-topped clock tower. Even if you have no train to catch, its worth a wander to view the wonderful architecture of this station.
Thiviers: Known as the Capital of Foie Gras in the region, Thiviers remains a lovely town to wander around, with a museum dedicated to Foie Gras! Reason enough in my view to visit. If you are into truffles, Thiviers has dedicated markets for this elusive fungi during the winter and spring months. St Jean de Cole is close by if you are up for a day of culture!
La Rochefoucauld: The town is best known for its 11th century castle, the Chateau de La Rochefoucauld, with its dominating position over the Tardoire river. Combine with a visit to one of the several restaurants in the town.
Rochechouart : The town labels itself as ‘the countryside of the meteorite’, because a mere 214 million years ago an enormous six billion tonne meteorite smashed into this spot – probably one of the largest meteorites ever to hit the earth, although little evidence now remains of this catastrophic event (Chez Bigot provides all its guests with FREE meteorite insurance!). Dominated by the massive Chateau which is now home to the interesting Museum of Modern Art, both indoors and in the surrounding gardens.
Oradour Sur Glane: It can sometimes be easy to forget that this area had a difficult time during the war. The dense woods and deep valleys lent themselves to pockets of resistance during German occupation. Repercussions against such local resistance was usually swift and brutal, but what happened in this town is a truly remarkable demonstration of the wanton destruction that both sides were capable of. The SS Panzer Division Das Reich, responding to a resistance attack, destroyed this village killing 642 people and today it is preserved, as it was after the destruction. A remarkable reminder of when the world appeared intent on destroying all humanity.
Chateaux to visit: We have briefly detailed the Chateaux in La Rochefoucauld, Rochechouart and Bordeilles above. In addition, the following are all within an hour and worth a visit if castles and their grounds are your thing!
The Chateau de Jumilhac, sometimes called the 'sleeping beauty castle' and famous for its multi-spired roofline;
the Chateau de Puygilhem, unusual in being a renaissance period castle - most Chateaux in this region are medieval in origins;
and the Chateau de Hautefort - often claimed to be the most beautiful castle in the Dordogne, Hautefort also has very impressive views.
There are many more to visit and if you find any gems, please let us know.
Local Tourist Information: these web sites provide additional information on the local area and things to do.