France: Dordogne Valley, Varetz

This is what I dreamed when I was young medieval castles, perfect manicured gardens, beautiful and friendly people, rustic and tranquil farms, a little later in life : Michelin star establishments, plentiful and fresh food with delightful wines to match and a carriage taking me everywhere…..Back in May I spent sometime in the Dordogne Valley in southwestern of France, between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees.  Named after the Dordogne river that runs through it and spread over 6 departments and 4 regions. It roughly corresponds with the ancient county of Périgord. The region is dotted by about 1500 Chateau and Manoir (castles and manor houses).  The women in the area, past and present, are of upmost importance. They have helped and still to this day shaping  the region  values, heritage, culture as well as the gastronomic scene. Getting to the Dordogne is easy from London, it’s one and half hours by plane from Stansted and City Airport landing in  Brive – Dordogne Valley airport situated in between three departments, Correze, Lot and Dordogne.  Here is the map to help out location-wise:

France is divided in twenty-two regions and each region in departments, the departments are subdivided into 342 arrondissements, the arrondissements are subdivided into 3,883 cantons, the cantons are subdivided into 36,569 communes… I think that is it!?  Let me know if I got this right… quite confusing I think, but one day I will get the gist of it,  by then they might have changed their administrative divisions…

Anyway, back to the Dordogne, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,  geographically speaking, has a variety of landscapes, from the steep, narrow valleys of granite uplands, though lime stones plateau with their flat horizons, deep valleys lined with tall cliffs, to fertile, vibrant bright green colour of lush grass and river plains. The Lot, Correze and The Dordogne departments share a lot of history and traditions apart from the geography. This area hasn’t been industrialised and that explains the unspoiled  and beautiful verdant countryside.  The food and drink is one of the attractions of this region, from lively markets, equally beautiful produce to Michelin star restaurants in the area. Fresh organic and often homemade foies-gras is certainly on the menu very often, more about that later. This adventure started in the commune of Varetz, 15 minutes drive from Brive airport.

Provencal fountain

Les Jardins de Colette, is about 15 minutes away from the airport, situated in Varetz, is a great way to start exploring the area and ‘meet’ the first woman in this French adventure in the Dordogne: Colette, a Belle Epoque French novelist, the writer of the famous books that turned in to Hollywood blockbusters, Gigi  and most recently Cheri. Colette led a rich life of encounters and many risque experiences for her time . Nicknamed “The Wanderer ” , she  lived in different regions,
mansions , but was in the gardens where she spent much of
her time. A woman ahead her time indeed! Married at 13 years old and divorced three times among other affairs.  Beautiful, ample and colourful this garden reflects her life.
This garden is divided by six regions of France, where Colette spent time throughout her very colour life. The regions:


The henhouse

Parc Floral Les Jardins de Colette
19240 Varetz

Tél. : 05 55 86 75 35
Email : [email protected]

Staying in Varetz, Chateau de Castel-Novel

This adventure took me to Chateau de Castel-Novel in the footsteps of Les Jardin de Colette, the castle was built in the early middle ages and steeped in history as you can image. It was once home to Colette. Nowadays a hotel and a Michelin star restaurant, this place is a break heaven for gourmets with cuisine of the South-West and supported by great regional wines. The menu devised by Nicolas Soulie, who received a star on the Michelin guide and was elected “Young Talent” in the region by Gault Millau 2011. The chef proposes  the menu’du Marche’,  ‘Les Gourmandises de Bel Gazou’ (from €55)  as well as ‘les Desgustations de Colette’ (from €93) and young menu for under 12yo (€22)
Michelin star diner at Castel-Novel*
canapes: local cheese and sundried tomato and smoked duck and guacamole canape – nice way to start the meal after a flight and an exciting walking through Colette’s garden
Local wine:  Julien de Sauvignac 2011, Bergerac : 65% de Merlot et 35% de Cabernet sauvignon, beautifully strong deep in colour .  Intense and with tones of  black fruit, berries with a hint of vanilla, very aromatic and spicy. On the palate, round and full with long finish.
Starter : Egg at 65° (sous-vide), marmalade of tomatoes and crushed mushrooms,
croutons and morels drenched with sparkling smoked milk – This dish was terrific!  full of flavours, contrast textures and that smoked milk was a cracker! The egg was perfect as you would expect from sous-vide, the taste was multiplied by the cooking method.


Main:  Three pigs: confited and lacquered belly,  pink Iberian pluma, crispy throttle, eggplant and zucchini tempura – a France and Spanish high quality ingredients, head to tail eating – great dish full of textures. I particularly liked the pigs feet, nice and crispy. I wasn’t too impressed by the tempura – odd, but edible.

Gorgeous, fluffy and light Armagnac orange souffle and very refreshing grapefruit granita, with a small syringe of Armagnac



tea and coffee and petit-fours in the lounge – perfect finish


nook in my massive room
A good night sleep in a castle in enormous bed, the room had a 4 seater sofa, a coffee table, 2 armchairs and the table above, a double bathroom with his and hers sink. Perfect! The rooms are all different layouts and deco.  My room cost € 215/night  (April – June) for more info and offers: Castel-Novel

Next day very early breakfast, a massive table with variety of local cheese, charcuteries, breads, fresh fruits, yogurts, make your own eggs – fun! jams, butters, cakes, specially that Gateau aux Noix (walnut cake) that I loved so much!

gateau aux noir (walnut cake) and great variety of coffees, teas and juices
interior – I love the stairs!


morning view of the outside and at the small vineyard
the carriage waited to take us to the next adventure…

Disclosure: I was a guest of Brive Vallee Dordogne Tourist Board all views are my own.




  1. June 3, 2014 / 9:42 pm

    i have many happy memories of the Dordogne from childhood family holidays. Your write up has made me want to go back and explore what it has to offer the more discerning grown-up visitor!

  2. June 3, 2014 / 9:56 pm

    Hi Gill, @TalesOfPiglingBland It is such a magical part of France. I really recommend it.