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Report 1863: Seven Travellers in the Dordogne, the Loire Valley and La Rochelle

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Fall 2010

Trip Description: September 2-22, 2010, Montreal-Bordeaux and return. Seven people, one vehicle, two weeks in the Dordogne, three days in the Loire Valley and a final day in the seaport of La Rochelle.

Destinations: Countries - France; Regions/Cities - Dordogne, Loire Valley, Other France Region

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; Small Group: 5 to 9

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Page 1 of 19: Introduction and Planning

photo by Doug Phillips

Moulin de Poulican

BW and I have been visiting France annually since 2005, mostly in the Luberon, but also including the Drôme and several stops in Paris. The first few times we traveled on our own, with four of us in the Drôme (TR 1532 "A Traveller in the Drôme") in 2008 and six of us (TR 1685 “Cinq femmes et moi”) in the Luberon in 2009. We decided to make the Dordogne the focus of our 2010 sojourn. There were a number of initial decisions we had to make:

Time of Year

We decided on early September. In 2008 and 2009 we had traveled in June and found it a bit rushed getting away from our home in Eastern Ontario, just outside the town of Smiths Falls. Perhaps September would be a bit more convenient. Plus it had been very hot in the south of France in the previous two holidays. And the September scenery, while perhaps not quite as spectacular as June, offers its own rewards.

Numbers

While many people find it hard to believe, our group of five women and myself functioned very well in 2009 and we would have been quite willing to do it again. However, only one of the 2009 group could join us this year. Fortunately, two other couples decided to join us which created a nice even (?) number of seven travelers. In our group of seven were four retired teachers, one of whom had just retired in June.

Port of Entry

Paris has been the no-brainer for the past few years – fly into CDG, catch the TGV to Avignon, pick up the rental car and head off. But, depending on flight arrival and departure times, we usually had to spend some time in Paris – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Paris is my favourite city in the world, but it did add to the cost of the trip. Plus I had to pay attention to the SNCF train site to try to book PREM fares as soon as they became available. A guy I met while swimming at the pool over in Perth, mentioned that he flies into Bordeaux when he goes to the south of France or northern Spain. And guess what? Air Transat has a non-stop slight between Montreal and Bordeaux’s Merignac Airport. The only issue is that the schedule doesn’t mesh perfectly with the Saturday-to-Saturday rental period in France. So we had to add one day at the beginning and four days at the end – which of course negated any savings by not staying in Paris and buying TGV tickets, but did give us the opportunity to add a couple of additional areas to our visit.

Vehicle

Previously the largest rental vehicle was a mini-van, but this year I had to move up one size class, which turned out to be an eight-passenger Mercedes Vito mini-bus.

Navigation

We got around with the help of a three Michelin Departmentes maps - # 317 Indre et Loire, Maine et Loire, #329 Correze, Dordogne, #337 Lot, Tarn-et-Garonne; two National maps - # 722 France, #725 France Sud; and a Garmin 775 GPS. The GPS was helpful at times, but frustrating at others. It tended to be reliable on larger roads and in larger centers. For example it gave perfect directions from the hotel in La Rochelle to the Europcar rental lot at the Merignac Airport on our final day, but it took us in several directions on some of the smaller roads in the hilly areas of the Dordogne and Lot on some of our early day trips.

Rental Property

This turned out to be very easy. I found a review on Slow Travel for a property that looked great for our group. I looked around a bit more, but couldn’t find anything that came close. And that’s how we came to stay at Moulin de Poulican, aka Poulicant, a four-bedroom property a short walk from the crossroads village of Thonac and about 7.5 kms from Montignac.

Extra Days

I had to cover five other days. The first day was pretty easy – travel into the Dordogne, stay somewhere pretty central and head up to the Moulin late the next afternoon. So Beynac it was, and the Hotel du Chateau became the location for our first night in France. For three of the other four days, I decided to drive a few hours north and spend some time in the Loire Valley. On Trip Advisor I located a rural gîte very near Amboise that appeared to meet our needs and budget. I was able to book Auberge forestière de Marcheroux a few months ahead of our time in the area. However, we were over four hours from Merignac Airport, so I decided to spend the last evening closer to Bordeaux. The obvious answer would have been to drive into Bordeaux, stay the night and have a short drive out to the airport in the late morning for our 2:15pm flight back home to Canada. But for a couple of reasons, at least one of which will I am sure strike many as somewhat peculiar and which I will explain later, I decided to spend our last day and evening in the seaport of La Rochelle. After looking over some options on Trip Advisor, I booked rooms on Booking.com at Les Gens de Mer, on the street running between the gare and the Vieux Port. The 48-room hotel is one of a small chain located in coastal cities of France, mainly in the north, but also including one in Marseilles.

Communications

I purchased a Nokia 2220 slide phone at the E.Leclerc store in Sarlat. The price was €49.90, plus the SIM card and time. It was an essential purchase for us, especially this trip. We had an unexpected family medical emergency situation back home while we were away. While we had a few stressful days, the phone allowed us to keep up-to-date on the situation. A phone also came in handy for communications within France. Both the hotel in La Rochelle and the auberge near Amboise wanted confirmation that we would be arriving within a few days of our reservations. And of course it came in handy for making restaurant reservations and a vineyard tour down in the Lot.

This was the second time I have purchased a mobile phone in Europe. Prices are much lower than in Canada, the phones are unlocked (difficult to get an unlocked phone at home), and there are no issues about whether or not it will work in France or how to charge the phone. I had planned to use the phone back home in Canada, as I did with the first phone I purchased, but discovered that it was not compatible with any of the networks here – a bit frustrating. But I still have an inexpensive phone that I can take with me on future trips to Europe.

So off we went, flying out of Montreal’s Pierre E. Trudeau airport on Thursday September 2 and returning on Wednesday September 22.

Here's what happened:

Next: Beynac

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