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.
Le Mas de Castel
Just a couple of miles south of Sarlat is a small hotel that feels like it's leagues away from tourists and crowds. Everything about it is soft-spoken, including owner Francine Charpenet Mottet, who transformed the family farm into a relaxing vacation spot. The grounds feature a pool, a garden, and rosebushes, and there are even plans to create a picnic area for guests. "Comfort" rooms are decorated in yellows, blues, and reds; the larger "superior" rooms (€10 more) have private entrances and terraces that open out onto the garden. While the hotel has no restaurant, if you opt for a superior room, you can picnic at your outdoor table. Le Mas de Castel is one of the rare hotels in the area with a handicapped-accessible room; in any event, most rooms are on the ground floor. The cone-roofed structure next to the pool is a re-creation of a borie—mortarless, flat-stone huts that have existed for thousands of years in the south of France. Le Sudalissant, 011-33/5-53-59-02-59, hotel-lemasdecastel.com, $89–$139.
La Belle Étoile
Hovering over the banks of the Dordogne, the ancient auberge (no one knows exactly how old it is) has 15 spacious rooms and a superb restaurant. In fact, chef Régis Ongaro owns the hotel—it's been in his family for four generations. The same attention that gets showered on the food is apparent in the hotel's service: Guests' comfort is clearly a priority. There's nothing particularly hip about the decor, which includes gold-toned fabrics and regional antiques, but the soothing atmosphere is a perfect counterpoint to the buzz just outside. The medieval town butts up against—and parts of it are carved into—a cliff in a bend of the river, and its beauty draws crowds in high season. If you're searching for solitude, hunker down in the hotel's sitting room. The windows and high ceilings let in lots of light, and the hunting-lodge decor will help you forget the 21st century. Le Bourg, 011-33/5-53-29-51-44, sarlat-tourisme.com (click on "Hotels and guest houses"; then check off "Village" and "Logis de France," and click "Search"), $111, half pension (for stays longer than three nights) is $230 for two; dinner starts at $38 (reserve a week in advance).
Philippe Latreille's great-great-grandmother used to run a ferry from the landing just down the street from this old stone house, steering the wooden boat across the river herself. Once the bridge was built, the ferry service folded, and she had to come up with another way to feed the family. For the first 100 years of its existence, La Treille was simply a restaurant; the hotel opened in 1960. While the restaurant is still the main attraction—Latreille is a well-known chef—the hotel is a worthwhile value. Several of the seven rooms in the main building look out onto a garden; two face the road (one of the main routes to Sarlat, it can get clogged during high season; fortunately, traffic disappears by evening). An annex is home to a few family-size rooms. The hotel's name, by the way, refers not only to the owners, but also to the century-old grape arbor (treille) on the restaurant's terrace. Philippe Latreille offers on-site cooking classes to small groups, except in July and August; the hotel is open all year. Le Port, 011-33/5-53-28-33-19, latreille-perigord.com, $77–$121, half pension is from $201 for two people.
Domaine de la Rhue
After raising sheep for 15 years, Eric Jooris wanted a change. So he transformed the 19th-century stables on the family property into a beautiful country inn. The beams that used to separate the horse stalls have been incorporated into the spacious lobby, and the latticed ceiling support is exposed on the upper floor. That said, you won't be sleeping on straw. The hotel was completed 18 years ago, but you'd never know from looking at the rooms, which are spotless, with an uncluttered, elegant look. The generosity of space is rare in French lodgings: Ceilings are high, and windows are plentiful. The view adds to the effect—aside from the enormous manor house out back (that's where Jooris's parents live), all you see are vast fields and open countryside. A hiking trail leads to the chapels and churches of Rocamadour, a spectacular medieval pilgrimage site carved into a cliff. If you don't feel like walking, you can drive there in a matter of minutes. 011-33/5-65-33-71-50, domainedelarhue.com, $111–$214.