Ever dreamt of being a princess? Or a gallant knight? No matter what your age, you’ll realise that the Dordogne region of France with its rolling hills dotted with castles and manors is the stuff of storybooks. You could easily get lost in this land of breathtaking views, incredible food and wine, and romantic settings but luckily, you’ve brought the kids along and don’t worry, they won’t let you forget that they’re there!
We’re a family of five who love to travel. One of our biggest challenges, however, is how to see the sights while holding the tiny attention of our children for more than five minutes. Through trial and error (lots of trial and lots of error) we came up with a way to bring a bit of education, adventure, and lots of fun into our journeys. The following is our tried and tested Mission to France, the Dordogne Region. Give it a go by taking on each challenge. An easy itinerary for you, great fun for them.
The mission begins with a crest, the crest of Les Suites Sarladaises, located in the historic heart of Sarlat. Just minutes away from the town centre, stop by this once ancient hotel and observe the five objects painted on the crest beside the main entrance. These objects include: The Salamander, the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Caladrius, and the Unicorn. All are taken from Sarlat’s coat of arms and each one represents one of the five lovely apartments of the hotel.
For the purpose of the adventure, you’ll need to pretend the animals and birds of the crest have disappeared. Your job is to find them in some of their favourite spots and convince them to come back home. The mission will take you all over the region so best to rent a car for this journey.
Start your search for the salamander in Sarlat, where it’s the official symbol of the city, granted by the king of France at the close of the 100 Years War. The city was honoured for its unwavering loyalty to the French crown during that long struggle against the English (1337-1453). The ‘fire salamander’ was often found lurking, still alive, in the ashes of burned logs and became synonymous with lack of fear and its defiance to danger.
Tip: Visit the famous city food market held every Wednesday and Saturday to buy a variety of tasty treats but make sure you save some crumbs for the salamander. He can get very hungry.
Drive from Sarlat to the village of La Roque-Gageac, officially recognised as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (Most Beautiful Villages in France). This magnificent village built at the foot of the cliff has been occupied by humans since prehistoric times.
Take a boat trip aboard Les Gabares Norbert to sail along the river or rent canoes, kayaks for a more adventurous route. High up in the sky, amongst the trees, you might catch a glimpse of the majestic Phoenix. This bird, dating back to Greek mythology is famous for rising from the ashes and symbolises rebirth and new beginnings. Many civilizations were born and thrived next to the life giving waters of this river.
Castlenaud, meaning “new castle”, will be your next stop. Although occupied by the English during most of the Hundred Years War, the French finally took ownership in 1442. Take a tour of the mighty fortress and discover what it must have been like to battle as a fearless knight. You will also find reconstructions of medieval warfare, including siege engines, mangonneaux, and trebuchets.
The griffin, a mythical beast that is part lion and part eagle, was often spotted within the castle walls. Featured on many flags, the griffin is a symbol of strength and bravery, warding off enemies who dare to approach.
Tip: During the summer months, check out the medieval demonstration which is usually held every Sunday.
The peaceful Caladrius is a bird said only to dwell in royal households where it served its monarch by protecting against troubles and ill health. Chateau des Milandes, a manor house built in 1495, is your next stop. In 1947 the famous jazz singer Josephine Baker purchased it and made it her home. Take a tour through the residence and lovely gardens surrounding the house and see several of Miss Baker’s costumes, which she wore while performing. Surely the Caladrius lived here to watch over Miss Baker and her twelve adopted children, which she called the “Rainbow Tribe.”
Tip: Check out the amazing Bird of Prey demonstration for free with your valid Chateau entrance ticket.
Lastly, head back to prehistoric times and explore the Grotte de Rouffignac. Around 140 centuries ago, early man used these caves as shelter, refuge and even as an art gallery. Take a train deep into the mouth of the cave and spot over 250 ancient animal drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros, and galloping horses. Or maybe, those are drawings of the mystical unicorn? You decide!
Congratulations! You’ve found each symbol on the crest. Even though the Salamander, the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Caladrius, and the Unicorn had a great time visiting some of their favourite spots in the region, they all agree…there’s no place like home!
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- Karyn Gorman and Olav Adami