Living the life – Bergerac and Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne, France

An unusually early start for us on a Monday morning, packing up camp on Arcachon Bay (after obligatory beach dog walk in the dark), to join the commuters heading into Bordeaux for our 8am vet appointment. We handed Lizzy over for her Electroretinogram, which would be conducted under anaesthesia, so she would be gone for the day. We had carefully planned a supermarket with car park laundry facilities, then a nearby park for our wait. However, the snow globe like effect of white dog hair left by the previous user of the washing machine and no entry for motorhome sign at the park, lead us to plan B, a small town called Castelnau-de-Médoc.

We spent the day doing a few jobs feeling quite incomplete without Lizzy, especially poor Lola who spent the whole day pining. I am not sure how she will find Lizzy’s 2 night stay for her operation next month. However, 4pm soon came around and we managed to get parking, so we could both go and see the vet for her results. Thankfully she passed with flying colours, with “textbook” results for the responsiveness of her retinas. This gives us the all clear for cataract surgery on both eyes at the beginning of May, knowing that without their cloudiness, her eyes are functioning well.

We had decided to head east after collecting Lizzy, as we have an off-road weekend planned just over the border in Germany in late April, so we are going to take a leisurely journey over there. Our first stop was an Aire in Libourne. It looked like a nice town and it also meant we did not have to fight too far through the rush hour traffic of Bordeaux.

Unfortunately we fell foul of the bug in Google Maps on the way to the Aire, where if you try to use a dropped pin or GPS coordinates it randomly changes the destination on route to the centre of the town. When using CarPlay you cannot even tell until you get nearly there. I had managed to work round it for months but got caught out trying to re-select our destination too quickly. So we needlessly travelled through the centre of town then had to come back through again to the Aire. Only to find it was a left turn straight off the main road into town. We decided, probably unfairly, we had seen enough of Libourne after that.

The next morning though we were rewarded with a lovely run around the impressive, purpose built 2km long rowing racing lake next to the Aire in the morning. The steam was rising off the lake and frost on the ground from the clear night sky. It was great for us all to stretch our legs, before we hit the road again.


Our next destination, as recommended by my parents from their previous visit, was the lovely old town of Bergerac on the Dordogne. As we have been on the road for so long now, we have finally made it into season and all the campsites with closed doors for months are finally open again. So, instead of the usual car park type park up or Aire, we opted for the municipal campsite on the banks of the Dordogne opposite the old town of Bergerac and the impressively equipped rowing club.

We have had some glorious French springtime weather, which is equivalent to the best of UK summer sunshine most days and really quite warm enough for sitting out, walking etc. The extra space we have had by using a campsite also meant that we could have a bit more of our usual home routine and do some exercise by the van along with some glorious early morning runs along the Dordogne amongst kingfishers, water vole and herons as well as the ubiquitous Canadian geese and mallards. Also, some very competitive table tennis became a daily occurrence, with even a cycle to get our own bats and balls when the sites kit went missing one day.

Wine tasting with a view in Bergerac

Walking around the lovely old town of Bergerac was wonderful too. We were a little surprised that the tourist information office was the top thing to do in Bergerac, until we joined the early evening wine tasting on the terrace overlooking the river in the sunshine drinking fabulous wine and realised why. We also had one of the best meals of our whole trip at Le Bistro d’en Face on the La Madeleine side of the river. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we just kept going back to reception to extend our stay each morning.

We therefore got to see both local markets – the La Madeleine market on Friday morning with the most impressive fish stall we have ever seen, where we stocked up on huge pieces of fresh cod and tuna. Then on Saturday morning there was a bigger market around the cathedral in Bergerac. Both were well attended by the locals, not one the often overpriced tourist markets, so we could chose all the best stuff by joining the longest queues.

We finally dragged ourselves away to head a little further east on Saturday. We had a fabulous drive through the Pérignord region, past gorgeous stone houses, chateaux, small villages and quaint towns with bustling Saturday markets. Living in the relatively small and somewhat more crowded UK, you can really appreciate the beauty and scale of rural France. Two hours of enjoyable, small, mainly empty roads enjoying the views and the drive, in no particular hurry.


Arriving in Sarlat-la-Canéda was then a bit of a surprise with cars parked everywhere along the streets. Although it is a small town, it seems the Saturday market is very popular and as the receptionist as the campsite informed us, as we took one of the last three spaces on the large site, it is now the French Easter holidays. Our out-of-season freedoms are officially over!

Nonetheless we joined the crowds for a walk round the another beautiful old town at Sarlat-la-Canéda today in the sunshine. We enjoyed a coffee and a light bite in town before heading back for the last of the Heineken Cup quarter finals. We have managed to find another campsite with table tennis tables too, so will be making the most of the facilities here before we head further east next week, filling in a bit more of the French map to areas we have not previously visited.

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