Secret Hotels of the Dordogne
The Dordogne River valley is one of the most beautiful areas in France—and there are plenty of stylish hotels where even a weak dollar goes far.
Overlooking umpteen miles of rolling hills and the tiny town of Montignac, these basic accommodations offer a view that your average luxury hotel would kill for. Not only that, but the setting is appealingly serene—there's nothing around but fields and farmland. (You might even forget that the Lascaux Cave, home of France's most famous prehistoric paintings, is just a five-minute walk away.) Though none of the five rooms gets the view face-on, you can take in the scenery over café au lait in the breakfast room or simply plop down on the hillside at any time of day. One of the rooms has a small private terrace, so book well ahead; unlike most of these hotels, Le Bellevue is open year-round. Regourdou, 011-33/5-53-51-81-29, chambres-montignac.com, $55–$59.
Les Eyzies is a bustling town that sells itself as Cro-Magnon Central because it's an ideal base for visiting the area's prehistoric sites. Hovering on the outskirts, Les Glycines is a hotel that offers stylish comfort in a low-key, no-pressure kind of way. What started out as a 19th-century postal relay has been turned into an assortment of inviting rooms decorated in a soothing palette of cream, taupe, and beige. The rooms that have a view cost more, but for the extra €30, you'll be able to contemplate the splendid garden, pool, and landscape first thing in the morning. Many of the ingredients for the gourmet meals served in Les Glycines' dining room come from the enormous potager, or kitchen garden. 4 ave. de Laugerie, 011-33/5-53-06-97-07, les-glycines-dordogne.com, $136–$239, half pension is from $286 for two people (half pension is mandatory from mid-July through August).
Le Moulin de la Beune
The small, family-run hotel has a lot of charm thanks to co-owner Annick Soulié, who believes that her job is "to make people happy." The old stone building is a vine-covered, 17th-century mill. The rooms are simple, but the nice draperies give them a little personality. If your room faces the stream, you'll be treated to the sound of water rushing by, which would be idyllic if it weren't for the traffic on the road during high season (it calms down after 7 p.m.). With what you've saved on your room, you can treat yourself to a meal at the acclaimed restaurant, Au Vieux Moulin; the chef is Annick's husband, Georges Soulié. Be careful not to fall into the stream after you indulge in a few glasses of Bergerac. 2 rue du Moulin Bas, 011-33/5-53-06-94-33, moulindelabeune.com, $90–$103, half pension is from $212 for two people; dinner from $47.
LE COUX ET BIGAROQUE
A couple of years ago, Virginie and Philippe Vue, young professionals from Normandy, gave their lives a makeover. They moved to the sleepy hamlet of Le Coux et Bigaroque, about 20 miles west of Sarlat, where they spruced up three stone buildings once affiliated with the church across the street; there are 15 guest rooms. Though the lodgings are still somewhat humble, the surroundings are so lovely you'll easily forgive a few spots on the carpet: The courtyard is filled with flowers and trees, and the Dordogne flows just half a mile away. In fact, a short walk takes you to one of the river's few official beaches, where there's a lifeguard on duty during high season. The Vues live on-site with their three children, who'll share their slide and swing set with younger guests. Families will also appreciate the larger rooms, which can sleep four or five. Breakfast and dinner are served in the airy dining room or outside under the trellis. Le Chambellan is closed in December and January. Place de l'Église, 011-33/5-53-29-90-11, coux-et-bigaroque.fr/chambellan, $71, half pension is $136 for two people.
La Maison des Peyrat
Sarlat is probably the prettiest town in the Dordogne, but its popularity can make for a less-than-tranquil experience—all the more reason to stay at La Maison des Peyrat, about half a mile uphill in a residential neighborhood. The long, one-story stone building dates back to the Middle Ages and at various times was a hospital for plague victims, a residence for nuns, and a farm. (Part of its appeal was ample water—note the well in what is now the hotel's reception area.) Current owners Martine and Jean-Luc Ginestet preserved the historic character of the building, while also injecting a dash of modern design. The result is 10 simple, airy rooms in light colors and with rattan furniture; common areas feature exposed beams and original artwork, including some of Martine's sculptures. Outside, a chestnut tree shades the terrace where breakfast and dinner are served in good weather, and foliage surrounds the building and the swimming pool. If you stay for a few days, you'll probably end up partaking in the afternoon apéro, when everyone gathers for a drink while the sun goes down. Le Lac de la Plane, 011-33/5-53-59-00-32, maisondespeyrat.com, $100–$140, half pension is from $189 for two people.