We have never been to this part of France before, so the review is in three parts. As background, we are a family of 5, with our eldest 9 and youngest 10 weeks…
1. The Gite
The property is an attractive stone cottage/barn with a single downstairs kitchen/diner/lounge.
Upstairs are 3 good size bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a large landing area and balcony.
This rental living itself could be considered a large semi-detached house, with the owner (Ali) living in the other attached property. Separation between the properties is good - externally, via a courtyard and private/screened gardens, and internally, via a hall and reception area. Access to the properties are completely separate. The owner is only there if you need assistance - otherwise, you are left alone, with the comfort of knowing there is someone nearby who can assist.
The weather was hot outside, however the Gite internally was cool in the day time and warm in the evening - very comfortable with the stone walls.
Outside, there is a nice eating area directly next to the property which is well screened from the sun, but equally very warm. Walk through this screened areas, to access a large grassy area which is great for the children to play in and also contains a playhouse and swings.
The pool itself is in the far corner of the grass area (just 100 small steps away from the gite). The two pools are positioned here to receive the maximum amount of sun. One is a paddling pool, which is great for the kids to run around in (but has no heating) and the main pool (I would estimate is 9x5m) and is heated by a series of solar heated pipes. The pipes work remarkably well and the pool is easily heated to 26 degrees by lunch time. The pool depth is estimated at a flat 5.5 foot depth with a standard metal step access.
The property and surrounding facilities are incredibly well maintained and very clean.
We had no problems with the boilers (the downstairs boiler just heats the kitchen water btw), and whilst there are flies and wasps, this is no different to anywhere we've been in Southern Europe - and they certainly weren't just confined to the property!!! Certainly the low score review earlier is very, very mis-representative and I feel is very unfair. We didn't see a single ant all holiday, unlike Menorca!
The owner has a dog, Charlie. Charlie is a very gentle labrador, who is absolutely wonderful for company and our children. Our namesake cried most of the way home when he discovered that Charlie couldn't be included as duty free. Note that despite the occasional presence of Charlie (which we welcomed and encouraged), there were no doggy "gifts" outside whatsoever and I understand that if there's any concerns, Ali can keep the dog away from the rental garden as required.
In summary, the gite is quiet, clean, and cool inside - even if weather is very hot. Ali is on-site, but rarely seen. The pool is comfortably heated and there's a huge amount of space for the children to play in. Inside, the gite is well proportioned and we enjoyed our stay immensely.
2. The Area
The weather (late August) is 20-24 degrees before lunch and warms to 32 in the afternoon. It is very warm, but not unpleasantly sticky hot and we had the occasional cooler days (20% of the time), which was great for exploring.
The property is situated in Au Comte, which is a hamlet consisting of a few (pretty stone/cottage/barn) houses just outside of Loubes-Bernac. The area is wall to wall sunflowers and vines - it is very pretty.
Loubes-Bernac is a small village which consists of a church, post office, mini-mart (ie. equivalent to your local UK 7/11 store, but without the corporate-ness) and a restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant has recently closed (due to unfortunate circumstances), and is currently up for sale, however I am sure it will open again very soon as it looks well positioned.
The distance between Au Comte and Loubes-Bernac is 0.5 miles, via a traditional French road (quiet, well maintained, but with a grass verge - no pavement).
The local mini-mart has trouble taking card payments, so make sure you have some cash (there's an in-store ATM machine if not), and is well stocked. It is typically French; make sure you are there between 9-9:30am otherwise the bread and fresh pastries sell out!! Note that it shuts at noon on a Sunday - the larger supermarkets shut at 1pm on Sunday.
Further afield, there are larger Carrefour (supermarkets) in Sigoules, Duras and Eymet - these are open for longer, but the croissants aren't as nice!
Eymet (pr: Ay-may) is a delightful Bastide town, with an amazing medieval square and plenty of restaurants - this is 7.5 miles and 10-15 minutes drive away from Au Comte. The market (busy night) is Tuesday.
Duras is also a pretty town, with a beautiful chateau - this is 9m and 15minutes drive away. The market is Thursday, so make sure you arrive early. This has fewer restaurants.
Sigoules had one cafe/bar restaurant and is the smaller of the three.
The best restaurants are listed in the property information pack, and the "cafe restaurant", whilst appearing quiet in Eymet centre (the menu appears lacking), we found cooked to a high standard and ate here several time (much better than the Creperie next door). The Italian opposite is also good, but very busy and the tables are close together (cigarette smoke).
Other must sees are:
Chater Vineyard - local UK owned vineyard. Free tour, just outside Duras
St. Emilion - about 1 hour drive away and is an absolute must on a cold day. Buy a family tour for 14EU to see the main attractions…a most incredible town.
Château de Bridoire (other side of Sigoules) - fantastic for playing games with the children and around 15EU for a family. Lunch "basket" here is a very typical French affair at 20EU for bread, cheese, tomatoes, ice cream, pate, drinks for two (large) adults - surprisingly good value and experience.
Although we went last 2 weeks of August, everywhere was not busy at all, so we had no problems getting a table or needing to queue for attractions.
3. The Journey
We normally travel fly, so driving to the Dordogne was quite an experience.
On the way down, we went via Paris (big mistake) and the overall journey took a record breaking (longest) of 14 hours!!
On the return, we found the correct route, which should have been Calais -> Rouen -> Le Mans -> Tours -> Poitiers -> Perigueux -> Bergerac. Make sure you follow the Touts Direction when approaching the towns and also the Autoroute signs marked "Aires de ….", as these are convenient journey break stops.
Following the correct route, we took less than 10 hours from Au Comte to Calais Channel Tunnel, which included 2 petrol stops (70EU each fill) in a hybrid 4x4 plus 3 baby stops. Without the baby stops, it would be easy to complete this journey by car in less than 9 hours.
The toll road (one-way) was a total of 70EU.
For the journey (from the UK), you will need:
- Headlight convertors (irrespective of whether your Xenon lights suggest otherwise!)
- A GB sticker
- High-visibility vest
- V5 (unbelievably)
- Warning triangle
- Fully comprehensive driving insurance (most EU insurance is third party only)
- Breakdown cover (we used AXA, but most bank travel breakdown policies cover this)
- 300 Euros (for on the spot speeding fine)
Although 9 hours seems a long time, it is nothing like driving in England. The roads are clear, empty, well maintained, straight, fast, facilities with great scenery. I would liken it to a 4 hour journey in the UK in terms of stress!
To conclude, we would absolutely recommend "The Grange" in Au Comte. Note that this area of France is quite rural and that a car really is essential to get out and about. The owner is very helpful and pleasant, the gite itself is spacious, very clean, attractive and cool in the daytime/warm in the evening and I would absolutely recommend this property.