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Perhaps all journeys through the Dordogne Valley should start with stuffing yourself with punnets of freshly picked strawberries. At least, that’s how I began my exploration of the Dordogne Valley’s beautiful villages… I had arrived in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne on the day of the town’s Fete de la Fraise, the strawberry festival that celebrates, well, strawberries. Straddling the moss green waters of the Dordogne, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne turned out to be the perfect introduction to what was to come in the next few days, for I was about to embark on a self-guided walk through the Dordogne Valley with On Foot Holidays. A land shaped by a river The Dordogne Valley, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine south western France, just to the east of Bordeaux, is named after the river that runs through it. Dotted with storybook villages filled with history, I was eager to discover every corner of the limestone cliffs and ancient castles that I had heard so much about. To get acquainted with the river, I boarded a traditional Gabare – a flat bottomed boat – and found myself charmed by the river. The captain proudly declared to be the “most beautiful river in the world!” Some might argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the Dordogne lacks the wildness of the Loire and the electric glacial blue of the Rhone. It’s certainly not considered an ‘exciting’ river, yet there is a certain calmness and serenity about the gentle flow westwards towards the Atlantic Ocean that draws you in. Fuelled by strawberries and the comforting knowledge that my luggage would be safely transported to my accommodation for the night, I set off on my journey.
The Dordogne flows 472km from Massif Central to the Gironde estuary in a westward direction, and has been part of a designated Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO since 2012. Being mostly navigable, the Dordogne is known for the traditional trade boats called Gabare, which transported wood one way towards the coast to trade for salt, fish and other coastal goods. Beautiful villages galore With only four days to discover the area, the village of Autoire is where I began my walk, instead of Beaulieu. My route would have me pretty much following the curves of the Dordogne, in and out of valley beds, up and down the steep cliffs, through farmlands and villages that may or may not register as a dot on Google Maps. My guide and driver dropped me off in the medieval centre of Autoire before disappearing with my luggage towards Carennac. Just like Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, this is another village part of the Plus Beaux Village de France collection, and is certainly as pretty as a painting. I followed the route map and soon found myself in narrow valley tracks heading towards a waterfall, before ascending a steep rocky path up to Chateau des Anglais (which has nothing to do with the English as it turns out). It clings onto the cliff face like an eagles nest. Without being on foot, I would not have discovered these locations let alone being able to enjoy the vantage point the chateau offers of the surrounding valley. It was the most perfect of days, with cloudless blue sky against the verdant hills, clusters of villages below. At merely an hour into my journey I was already smitten. What appeals to me about self-guided walking, is that I am able to be a little bit independent. While the walking pack provided the most updated maps and directions, I enjoy the process of getting lost, then finding my way again. The ability to choose, when you feel like it, a longer or a shorter path, can reveal different experiences to the traveller.
Editor's Letter Welcome to the Autu