Part One: Trémolat, Dordogne Valley

I recently went on holiday with my partner, Harald, to The French Country Cottage - Les Chouettes in Trémolat, in the Dordogne Valley, Perigord region of France. This quaint Perigordian village is nestled on the banks of the Dordogne River, with the church of St Nicolas standing tall in the commune centre. The river is an integral part of the region’s history - a great source of trade and transport that connected castles & villages during the 12th & 13th century. It is a region rich in walnuts, wine & wood, and was an exceptional treat to visit.

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After a lengthly flight from South Africa, we arrived on Old Year’s Day at Charles de Gaulle Airport to a crisp, rainy and misty morning. With few words in our French vocabulary (but an eagerness to learn) and tired eyes, we disembarked the plane and were greeted with a flurried rush of people moving swiftly past us, heading in various directions. After a few mis-turns, broken conversations and a security check point, we managed to navigate our way to the central train station at the airport. From here, we boarded our train and continued on a three-hour journey, meandering through long open fields, to St Jean Station in Bordeaux.

The station at St Jean is quite spectacular with a glass arched roof, and soft light filtering through it. We picked up our hired car from the top floor of the building, adjacent to the station. The view of the Bordeaux suburb below was a great expanse of flat terracotta toned roofs, and conglomerate of old and modern architecture. We navigated our way out of Bordeaux fairly easily, and made our way onto the A89, which took us onwards to Bergerac. The drive (even though a highway) was beautiful - open frosty fields, tall cold trees with round woven birds’ nests and incredible old buildings with magnificent stonework. After passing a toll gate or two, we wound off the highway and onto a quieter road headed towards Bergerac. The light was golden, the roads turned in a gentle flow, and Harald and I were filled with excitement and complete delight.

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We stopped over briefly in Bergerac to grab a few supplies for the house, and then made our way to the little town, Trémolat, where we would be spending the next ten days. The sun was setting swiftly at this point, and we drove into the town at dusk. After a few turns away from the village’s centre, we reached Karen & Alan Carter’s self catering French cottage, Les Chouettes. This 250 year old Perigordian cottage presented us with the warmest, cosiest welcome. The house was toasty and warmed by heaters, and a basket with bread, duck paté, wine, peanuts and coffee sat invitingly in the middle of the table. Feeling rather tired and cold, we made a big fire in the fireplace in the lounge and snuggled up on the most comfortable couches, each with a tall glass of delicious Bergerac wine. A most happy New Year’s eve, even if we didn’t make it to midnight!

Woke up to a foggy morning and a cup of coffee, and then set out on a slow walk around the quiet village. Many of the houses, still seemingly standing on their original foundations, are covered in a thin layer of vivid moss, and the trees are green and lush even though its mid-winter. Robins flit around, curious and watchful, and nut trees/orchards grow in abundance.

The village centre is quaint and compact, and homes and restaurants are interwoven with a beautiful old square, Le Vieux Logis Hotel and the 12th century church of St Nicholas (two arches remain from the original 9th century church). Quite a few restaurants and shops in the village seem to close down during the winter months, but Le Bistro & the one Michelin star restaurant at Le Vieux Logis open up during the evenings. Harald and I treated ourselves to an incredible meal with wine pairing at Le Vieux Logis - something I would highly recommend doing while in the area.

After continuing on a road that led us to the edge of Trémolat, we reached an incredible view of the village below and the Dordogne River running adjacent to it. The two bridges, one connecting this village with neighbouring areas, and the other used by trains, were rather striking in the morning mist. After some time, we meandered our way back home, snacked on a baguette and headed to the exquisite little neighbouring village, Limeuil.