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Two Weeks in the Dordogne Valley: A Travel Guide

We just spent an incredible two week holiday in the southwest of France, and I’ve had quite a few requests for details, so I decided that rather than message everyone individually, I’d blog about it! Please feel free to share this with friends and comment if you have any other feedback or questions about what we did and how we did it.

Getting There & Back

We currently live in Yorkshire, so our trip to France from England was a road trip. We highly suggest doing the drive over two days. On the way down, we drove from Harrogate to Maidstone (approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic), where we stayed in a Premier Inn just off of the motorway. It costs around £40-50 if you book well in advance and pre-pay for the best rate. There is a restaurant and pub on site.

In the morning, we drove an hour to Dover and took a P&O Ferry to Calais. The ferry ride is easy and inexpensive if you book well in advance, and takes just 90 minutes. If priority boarding is available, we highly recommend it—you’ll be first on and off the boat. We experienced lengthy queues to get through French immigration, and recommend that you plan to arrive at least 2 hours before your ferry departs, especially during peak travel times.

From Calais, you are approximately 8 hours from Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. You’ll spend about 50 Euro in tolls, and we did have trouble with some machines taking our credit cards, so it’s best to have cash with you when you start the trip.

Returning, we break the trip up the same way, 4 hours the first day and the rest of the drive plus the ferry on the second. From Les Eyzies-de-Tayac to Orleans, we recommend the Novotel Orleans Le Source, just off the motorway. They have a restaurant and pool, and it is very family-friendly. They will only allow 4 in a room, so we had to get adjoining rooms on the way back.

Then the next day we drive the rest of the way to Calais (4 hours), take the ferry (90 minutes), and drive the rest of the way back home (5 hours).

If you are flying to France, the airport we’ve had recommended by other travelers to the region is in Limoges. You will need to rent a car, and you are approximately 2 hours away from our location in the Dordogne Valley.

Accommodation

We cannot recommend Le Banquet in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac highly enough. We have stayed their twice now, and their self-catering gites are well-appointed, the grounds are beautiful and immaculately maintained, and and the location is ideal for exploring the southwest of France whether you are a first-time visitor to the region or someone who travels there every year. There is so much to do within an hour of Les Eyzies, and you could quite honestly never travel more than 30 minutes away and still not be able to see and do it all!

We stay in La Forge, which is a two bedroom, one bathroom stone gite alongside the water. The gite can sleep 5, and we found it to be the perfect size for us, and would also recommend it for families of 3-4. There is a fully equipped kitchen, dining room table, comfy couches, Sky TV and a British-spec DVD player, and a bookshelf full of books. There is a dishwasher and washing machine.

On site, there is also a games room which my children absolutely love. Play pool, table tennis, darts, foosball, draw or color, play games, borrow movies…honestly, we didn’t even see our children most evenings! There is also a pool with lounge chairs and umbrellas.

British owners Rob and Karen are a pleasure. They’re knowledgeable about the area, eager to help if we have questions, and truly care about us having a wonderful time. We feel like we are friends instead of renters. That said, you have plenty of privacy on site, and they’re around if you need them.

What to See & Do

There is so much that you could see and do in the Dordogne Valley, and there’s no way that I can do justice to all of it. However, there are a few places we visited and things that we did that were absolute favourites, and we would be remiss not to mention them.

Rocamadour: Incredible town built into the hillside, and a popular pilgrimage site. It’s a little over an hour away from Les Eyzies and the drive is gorgeous. We weren’t super impressed with the dining options, but found a decent lunch and a pint. Allow at least 3 hours.

Sarlat-Le-Caneda: Beautiful French market town about 30 minutes away. One of Marcus’ favourite towns to visit. Allow 2-3 hours (more on market days) to walk around and sit outside with a glass of rose. Tons of wonderful options for food, too.

Domme: Walled hilltop medieval city with spectacular views of the valley below. Not very big and was a bit quiet the day we went, but the views alone were worth it. Allow 2 hours or so.

Chateau des Milandes: Lovely chateau about 30-45 minutes away. Birds of Prey display that we all really enjoyed (even though we didn’t understand what we were saying). Fabulous cafe on site. Home was owned by Josephine Baker and inside gives plenty of information on her life and family. Allow 3 hours or so and definitely stay for lunch outside.

La Foret des Ecureuils: Ziplining and climbing about 30 minutes away from Les Eyzies. This was so much fun, and not just for the kids. Children from as young as 2 can participate, and the site is very big and popular, but wasn’t too crowded when we went. Allow 2 hours (depending on the age of you and your children). Don’t forget the bug spray.

Le Bugue: We loved the market at Le Bugue (check for days before you go—sometimes it’s open on an evening) and this is also the town where we did most of our grocery shopping as they have a large Intermarche. It’s about 20 minutes away from Le Banquet.

As you can see, this is why we highly recommend two weeks. One week is simply not enough time to see the sites and take it all in, and build in time for relaxing too. However, if you can only go for one week, we suggest that you try to visit at least one French market, go to at least one beautiful town for exploring, and see one chateau. Those three things, combined with a couple of walks through Les Eyzies and plenty of relaxing time at the gite and the pool is the perfect holiday.

Final Notes

I simply cannot express to you just how beautiful this part of France was, how much we loved Le Banquet, and what an incredible holiday this was. We’ve been twice now, and fully intend to go back (even though that will mean traveling from the states). It is everything a holiday should be.

Whew! That’s it! Let me know if you have thoughts or questions, and I’ll do what I can to help! Happy holiday-ing!

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In which things feel bittersweet…

Last summer, when most of our friends moved home and our church closed, the word bittersweet was thrown around so often that I swore I would smack the next person who used it.  Luckily, it never came to that, and the bittersweet period slowly faded away into the new normal.

But now, months later, bittersweet seems the only word I can find that fits.  Today we are 100 days out from our move back to America.  Things didn’t end quite the way we’d planned, and it’s been a bit of a rocky one for us lately.  But I think (I know) we’ve come out stronger on the other side, and that God has a bigger and better plan for our family.  We just need to turn it over to Him.

As sad as we are to say goodbye to Harrogate, we are happy to say hello again to our family, our friends, and many things about our life in the states.

Bittersweet.

I really do hate that word.

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In which I am speechless…

Don’t laugh!  It happens!

Not often.  But it does happen on occasion.

I spent an absolutely incredible long weekend in Rome last weekend. Not only was I able to reconnect with friends, now like family, over food, drink, and plenty of laughter, but my friend Elisa and I were able to complete a pilgrimage…in Rome…during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  There were Holy Doors and Sacred Steps and walking (oh the walking) and tears and hugging and so much more emotion than even I am used to.

I’m still processing a lot of it and it’s hard to write about just yet.  I’m working on it.  It will happen.  But it’s going to take some time, this one.  So stay tuned…I promise it will show up here one of these days.

In the meantime…there are pictures!

 

 

 

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In which I need Lent…

We are just a couple of weeks into our Lenten journey, and this year it feels so much different than it did last year.  I knew that it would, of course.  Our church, our wonderful parish community, is gone, and some of our closest friends have gone with it.  We are blessed to have another Catholic church here in town though, but fitting in, belonging, and making it feel like the home we lost has been hard.  I also think part of what’s been holding me back from feeling comfortable there is the knowledge that our time overseas is almost over.  I have a sense of, “Why bother getting involved when it’s just a few more months?”

So I’ve been trying other ways to feel alive and renewed this Lent, and among them, I’ve been reading some of the daily mass readings and devotions at Blessed is She. The readings and the reflection on 17 February really struck a chord with me, specifically, this one quote:

Lord, renew the spirit within me, I want to be steadfast, unwavering, and true to you. I want my heart to be clean, contrite, humbled, and once again entirely Yours.

Yes.  That.  Exactly.  That is exactly what I need this year.  I was in a different place in my faith last year at this time.  Maybe not better or worse, but different.  And I didn’t feel quite as lost as I do these days.

So today, I need the renewal of spirit that Lent is here to offer me.  I plan to take this as what it is…an opportunity.  A chance for me to grow in faith and in the spirit that I’m being offered by this sacred time.

Praying that you experience that same renewal during this Lenten season.

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In which I know what you’re going to say…

It’s a bad habit.  I know.  I get busy and sidetracked and time flies by…and then months have gone by.  So I’ll try to give a brief synopsis of Nov through the present, and then maybe I’ll remember you before July.

We had a fabulous holiday season, which included a visit from Marcus’s mom and sister over Thanksgiving, a beautiful Christmas in Harrogate, and a trip to Germany with the Millers and Fitzgeralds to ring in the new year in style. The girls and I learned the ski, and JD turned SIX!  All in all, a pretty amazing and to 2015.

2016 has started off in typical fashion…and by that I can only mean one thing…busy. E moved up to the development squad in diving and her training is more intense and time consuming.  S is on three cheerleading squads, one of which competed, and won, a competition in January.  JD keeps us busy with play dates and her mini cheer team.

And to add to the mix, we’ve been homeschooling E. As you do.  But she’s thriving…and as the result, so are all of us.   Funny how that happens.

My friend Barbara and I dashed to Dublin for a last min getaway, which was fabulous.  A weekend was the perfect amount of time, and we got to see and do so much!

Over the next five months our lives will be full-on.   Stay tuned, will you?

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In which much has happened…

I know, I know.  I start blogging again and it’s all roses and sunshine and then I fall off the face of the planet.  I’ll try to catch you all up to speed without wasting your evening.

I did, in fact, finish the marathon.

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It was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  I did not meet my time goal (lol…not even close), but I did do it.  And with the fact that I was so sick throughout so much of my training (pneumonia, pleurisy, cracked ribs) I am still so proud of myself for finishing within the time allotted and never stopping.  So yeah.  I’m a rock star.

Our friends did leave.  It has been the hardest summer we’ve ever spent abroad, saying goodbye to so many of our closest friends.  It has taken the wind out of our sails, so to speak, and I wish I could say that we have fully recovered…but we haven’t.  We are blessed to have so many friends here in England, so even with the departure of a few, this place still feels like home.  But it doesn’t make the loss of friends any easier to bear.  “How lucky I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  Indeed.

Marcus and I went to Rome!  It was absolutely incredible–more incredible than I ever could have imagined.  We did so much walking and sightseeing over three days we were exhausted when we came back!  We weren’t able to be there for the Papal audience on Wednesday, but we did see him in the window of the Papal apartments on Sunday morning where he appeared and prayed the Angelus.  It was so inspirational.

We couldn’t have done it without some amazing friends that pitched in and watched the girls for us while we were gone–it was our first trip to the continent without them, and it was hard to be away.  But we are thankful that we have such amazing friends and they were well looked after while we were gone.  (Be thankful I am only posting 5 pictures…I could have posted hundreds…literally hundreds).

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We spent almost three weeks traveling in Europe on the mother of all road trips.  We drove down through England, took the ferry from Dover to Calais, drove to Ostend, Belgium, visited Bruges, took the kids to Disneyland Paris, and then spent a week in the Dordogne Valley before making the long trek home, which included stops in Orleans and near Cambridge.  It was absolutely incredible.  We loved it so much we have already started planning two weeks in France again for next summer!

(pics to follow…they’re still on my phone…from August…eeek!)

Speaking of next summer, we also learned that this will be our last year in England.  We are gutted to move on, but for a lot of reasons, have accepted that this is God’s will and that He has bigger and better things in store for us.  We won’t know exactly where we’re heading and what Marcus will be doing until later this year or early next year, but keep us in your prayers, will you?  In the meantime, we fully intend to live our last year in Europe to the absolute fullest (much to Marcus’ dismay…he is all about saving, that one).

So, that mostly brings us up to date.  I’ve got a few other things to blog about that are in the more recent past, so they’ll warrant their own blog posts (obvs).

But I’m still here.  Still kicking.  And we’re still adventuring…and I love every minute of it.

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In which I am inspired…

Several months ago I received an email about a Catholic women’s retreat sponsored by the Military Council of Catholic Women (MCCW), which I am able to belong to while we are stationed overseas.  I’ve gotten these emails over the years, and honestly, I’ve never given them a second thought.  But something about this one caught my eye, and I was curious to find out if anyone else I knew was going, as I was too nervous to go alone to Germany and attend my first retreat.

  
At the 11th hour, I found out that two women and my parish priest would also be attending, and it was like all the little ducks quickly fell into line.  I would attend my first Catholic retreat, in Bavaria, with friends.  I was excited about the topic, “Totus Tuus, Totally Yours.”  I was ready for 5 days away, in one of my favorite places in the world, with time for reflection and prayer.

  
The weekend did not disappoint, on so many levels.  I got time with one of my best friends Rachel, the recipient of the Perfect Match Blanket who’s preparing to depart for the states in less than two weeks.  I grew closer to another woman from our parish, Francine.  I spent time with our parish priest, Father John, for the first time–and honestly, I learned so much just from spending time with him outside of the chapel.  I met and mingled with women from bases around Europe, including connecting with several women from other British bases.  I grew my network of those staying behind, while so many of my friends’ European adventures draw to a close.

  
I have grown so much in my faith and as a Catholic over the past year, and in many ways, this retreat was exactly what I needed to help me continue on my journey.  The speakers were thought-provoking and inspiring, and I was blessed with some time for adoration, meditation, reflection, and prayer.  It was much needed.

  
I also got to spend time in a gorgeous location, awestruck by how faith-filled the region was, with so many Catholic Churches and road signs that note when you can attend Mass.  And of course, the food and the beer was plentiful and delicious!

  
Coming back from retreat wasn’t easy, I quickly learned.  You go away and have all these ideas and want to change and do so much, but when you come home, the laundry still needs to be done, and you can’t simply decide you’re going to change your entire family structure and focus overnight. So making small changes to grow in faith and lead my children has been my focus.  I’ve read “The Domestic Church” upon my return, and that’s helped me begin to see my calling as a wife and a mother in a new light, though it’s still a challenge.  

  
Finally, the retreat helped prepare me for moving season.  A stronger faith will be able to help guide me through a hundred goodbyes and changes.  

At least that’s what I keep telling myself. 

This retreat truly was a huge blessing in my life, and I know thirty years from now, I’ll look back on it as a life-changing event.  It was inspirational.