Constant Delight

Constant Delight

Here Jonathan Broom describes how his trip to Constant became a journey of discovery through one of the most beautiful regions of France.

When HPB first acquired the village of Constant in 1987, an enormous amount of effort – and not a little money – went into restoring it beyond its former glory.

Effort, and money, well spent, I’d say. The site offers Bondholders all the usual standards of excellence, plus two outdoor swimming pools, one indoor swimming pool, a toddlers’ pool, an exercise room, a sauna, two tennis courts, a children’s play area, a sitting room and library, snooker and pool tables, table tennis, a free DVD library, an onsite shop and restaurant.

On arrival, I found myself thrust into the middle of a Bondholders’ food- and wine-tasting evening. I emerged from my bed the next morning, staggered to the window – and looked out over the most gorgeous valley, just as the sun was coming up. Talk about lifting the spirits. If this was the Dordogne, I wanted a lot more of it. Time for a look around.

Picture perfect

Taking the car, I headed a short way south towards St-Félix-de-Villadeix – a picture-perfect village, its soft, sandstone buildings positively glowing in the morning sun. Absolutely beautiful.

I would have been quite content to while away an hour or two in St-Félix. Indeed, I was almost reluctant to drive any further. But I’m glad I did.

The Dordogne is quite simply bursting with beauty, both natural and man-made. Dramatic yet unthreatening, the landscape is a treat for the eyes. And every town and village is more beautiful than the last. Built, as you’d expect, from the local stone, these places are so picturesque it’s almost overwhelming.

Being free to go where I pleased, I headed east from St Félix to Ste-Foy-de-Longas, very twee and home to the Truffière de la Bergerie truffles farm, apparently one of the most famous in a region famous for its truffles.

Thence south to Lalinde, utterly charming. An English bastide (fortified town) founded in 1261, Lalinde lies on the north bank of the mighty Dordogne River. A great place to walk or fish. But since I had neither boots nor rod, I kept going.

Simply stunning

Crossing the river and heading west, I came upon the village of Couze-et-St-Front. Two words: chocolate box. But the nearby Château Lanquais is worth a look – and, a little further on, the Château de Bannes is simply stunning.

Passing acre after acre of walnut groves and apple orchards on my way, I arrived in Monpazier, surely being the best preserved bastide in the Dordogne. 400 metres by 220 metres, the town is perfectly quadrilateral; the streets run parallel to the longest sides from one end of the town to the other, and are crossed by four transversal streets, dividing the town into rectangular compartments. The central Place des Cornières is surrounded by medieval and 17th-century houses – originally all the same size – whose ground floors form the arches of an arcade.

But if I thought Monpazier was a highlight, I had reckoned without Belvès. A fortified 11th-century village (actually, a small town) perched on a rocky outcrop, the so-called “City of the Seven Towers” is not an easy place to walk round – but it’s worth it; not only is the town itself amazing, the view (from just about anywhere) is spectacular.

Mighty château

Back in the car, and yet more winsomely pretty villages. Siorac-en-Périgord. Marnac. St-Cyprien. Bézenac. And then, just as I was getting ready to yawn my way through yet another charmingly cute little hamlet, I rounded the bend and swiftly adjusted my conceptions.

Lying on the north bank of the Dordogne River, Beynac-et-Cazenac is attractive enough. But what makes it truly special is the mighty Château de Beynac, a lowering 12th-century edifice perched atop a limestone cliff, which utterly dominates the town. Almost 200 metres up, the château is austere, impregnable, and magnificent.

Time now to head north-west, to Périgueux. Of the historic buildings, the Cathédrale St-Front is worth a look; the 1173 Byzantine church has been over-restored, but the interior retains its charm. Périgueux is apparently at its best on Wednesday and Saturday mornings when there is a foie gras and truffle market on Place St-Louis in Puy St-Front, and a food market near the cathedral.

Beautiful Bergerac

Still one place to see, of course: Bergerac.

Once a flourishing port for the wine trade, Bergerac is still the main market centre for the surrounding maize, vine and tobacco farms. Devastated in the Wars of Religion, Bergerac is now essentially a modern town with some interesting and attractive reminders of its past.

The “vieille ville” is a calm and pleasant area to wander through, with drinking fountains on the street corners and numerous late medieval houses.

Bergerac has a number of museums, the best of which is the small Musée Régional de la Batellerie, with displays on viticulture, barrel-making and the town’s once-bustling river-trading past. Outside on the square is a statue in honour of Cyrano de Bergerac, the fictional figure with the prominent proboscis who is the town’s most famous (though fabricated) son.

I had a gander at some of the gift shops and boutiques, then bought a takeaway coffee and sat on a bench overlooking the Dordogne River to ponder my visit. My verdict? If you’re in search of “La Belle France”, Constant is the perfect HPB location.

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