Dordogne 12 – 19 May 2016
A taste of the good life
The department of the Dordogne in south-west France is justly famous for its pretty villages, cave paintings, elegant towns and landscapes of river valleys and quiet countryside. Less discovered is the wildlife: a charming mix of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Orchids are the most striking natural asset: up to 25 species can be found. Half of these are around our base at Castang. Birds on the doorstep include cirl bunting, melodious warbler, wryneck, honey buzzard, firecrest and black redstart.
Castang is a hamlet close to the Dordogne river above the village of Le Coux et Bigaroque, not far from St Cyprien. Cathy and Keith Parker are our hosts; Cathy is from Montcaret, a little farther west along the Dordogne valley, and Keith is from England. The house was once a Perigordian tobacco farm of great character and charm, parts of which are thought to be more then 400 years old. The farmhouse, together with its complex of converted barns, provides comfortable accommodation around a sunny terraced courtyard. Dinner, after a leisurely aperitif, is one of Castang's great features. Five courses of the best of the region's cuisine, from soup to dessert, accompanied by local wines, are prepared and cooked by Cathy.
Castang's large meadow has many hundreds of green-winged orchids along with tongue and pyramidal orchids. Loose-flowered orchids grow where the meadow gets damper down the hill, close to where golden orioles and nightingales can be heard and, with a little luck, seen. Beyond the orchid field, the area is a mix of meadows, cropped land and woods, cut by the wide river valleys of the Vézère and Dordogne.
More about our base at Castang
Lady, man, burnt-tip, fly, woodcock, narrow-leaved helleborine and greater butterfly are among the orchids, and two great surprises this far north are sombre bee orchid and long-lipped serapias. Meadows thick with yellow rattle, banks with meadow clary, tassel hyacinth, milkwort and a range of cranesbills, flaxes and rockroses are just a few of some 250 plant species. Shrubs include dogwood, fly honeysuckle and Montpelier maple.
Serins, Bonelli's warblers, short-toed treecreepers and hoopoes are all found around Castang or close to home. Black kites and buzzards are the most frequently seen birds of prey; hobbies are also likely.
Butterflies on the wing in mid-May include scarce and common swallowtails, black-veined and wood whites, Cleopatra, Glanville fritillary, green hairstreak, large copper and small blue. Elegant yellow and black ascalaphids – something between a lacewing and an ant-lion – hunt over meadows. Other invertebrates include violet carpenter bee and hummingbird hawkmoth. After dark, a short walk away, midwife toads are carrying their eggs.
Scarce swallowtail; female sooty copper; marsh fritillary.
More Dordogne butterflies here.
Two days will be on walks around Castang. Three days will be gentle walks a little farther afield, combined with visits to the village of Limeuil, at the confluence of the Vézère and Dordogne rivers, and a morning on market day in the town of Le Bugue. Our cave walk includes an optional visit to the crystal cathedral cavern of the Gouffre de Proumeyssac.
The Dordogne is justly famous for its prehistory, paintings and etchings especially, notably at Les Eyzies. We will arrange a suitable visit one morning, though exact plans are not certain, as our favourite site of Font De Gaume is restricting access. At Roque St Christophe there is an opportunity to see how troglodytes once lived, and it’s an excellent site for meadow and woodland flowers and butterflies, plus peregrines and crag martins.
Price: £1,450 per person in a twin room for a full week (Thursday to Thursday)
Single room supplement (two only): £150.
En suite facilities
Flights: direct flights to Bergerac from the UK likely to be (based on past experience):
- Scheduled Ryanair flights from Stansted or Edinburgh
- Scheduled Flybe flights from Exeter or Southampton.
There may also be Ryanair flights from Bristol to Bergerac. If you know of flights from other UK airports, or if you'd like to travel by car or train, please say!
Maximum number: 12
Left: Lizard orchid, common in the area but in most years not yet in flower during our visit. Middle: common redstart. Right: giant peacock moth.
Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. He has written a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 12 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.
Photos from May 2013: Glanville fritillary, underside; lady orchid; small elephant hawkmoth.
La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (French Bird Protection League) has set up a network of no-hunting sanctuaries throughout France. LPO is also battling French hunters to prevent an extension of the shooting season into the spring.
This was the origin of the 'Refuges LPO' idea. In recent years, the focus has been more on encouraging management for wildlife on land in private ownership - what in the UK we might call making a back garden nature reserve.
Biosphere Reserve: the Dordogne Basin is one of 13 Biosphere Reserves in France, declared by UNESCO in 2012. More details here. Biosphere Reserves are where nature with human activities alongside are considered well-managed, and are "Learning Sites for Sustainable Development."
Others which are Honeyguide destinations include the Cévennes and the Camargue. There are five Biosphere Reserves in the UK: the North Norfolk Coast is one.