At least once in her young life, a girl has imagined herself as a princess in a fairy tale—we have Cinderella to thank for that. But what the bedtime tales of our youth neglected to tell us was just where Cinderella was going in her horse-drawn carriage when she took off with her prince for happily ever after? It could very well be she was headed to the Dordogne region of southwestern France, also known as the land of 1,000 castles. And one of the largest and most imposing is the one that dominates the miniscule village of Biron. (population 150). And just a few cobbled steps from the grand Chateau is Le Prieuré, a chambre d’hotes that will steal your heart.
The 500-year-old priory was built for the priests of Biron and rumor has it the clergymen used a hidden passageway beneath the ancient floors of the priory that lead directly to the château. In the years I’ve been staying here, I have yet to uncover the secret door, but I do feel as if I’ve uncovered one of the Dordogne’s best-kept secrets. I can’t gush enough about Le Prieuré (but I’ll try). From my first knock on the hefty wooden doors six years ago, I was in love. Since then, I’ve slept in all the rooms, and have seen the Le Prieuré change hands three times. I dream of being the fourth. But current owner Elisabeth Vedier has put the right kind of love into this historic and one-of-a-kind inn. As such, Le Prieuré has been completely renovated to a high standard. The result? An exquisite yet still down to earth Bed and Breakfast that lulls travelers into a far away state of mind.
Each of the five large bedrooms (and I mean large even by U.S. standards) boasts an en-suite bathroom, period furnishings, and a gorgeous view over the countryside. Le Prieuré also offers a small apartment, with one large bed and one small, fitting for a family of three. The apartment, named Baleux, has a separate outside entrance, as well as inside access, and a small but fully equipped kitchen plus laundry machine. The common rooms of the chateau are imbued with historic character, from the wood-beamed ceilings and cream-colored stone walls, to the stone floors and beast-sized fireplaces, and invite you to indulge in private time with a good book or a laptop. The modern chef’s kitchen can host cooking classes if you’d like to arrange them, and the dining room can seat up to 12 for special occasion meal. On nice days, which are frequent in the summer, breakfast, tea or an afternoon apero can be taken on the outside terrace.
The Dordogne region is one of France’s most beautiful and less known, and Biron is remote, which adds to its charm. Foodies take note—the Dordogne is also one of France’s most edible provinces, home to foie gras, walnuts, duck, and some amazing wine, among many other gustatory delights. Guests will find exploring the surrounding countryside a pleasure. There are excellent local restaurants, fermes auberges and colorful markets. The vineyards surrounding Bergerac are stellar, and medieval villages like Monpazier are close by, as are the famous towns of Sarlat, the castle of Beynac, and the famous paintings of Lascaux.
If a destination wedding is in your future, Elisabeth can help arrange a ceremony at the Biron village chapel, followed by an unforgettable reception at Le Prieuré. If you happen to be in Biron on or around July 14 (Bastille Day), inquire about the village fete, where long tables are set up on the cobblestones, and food and wine is served. Here you’ll sit elbow to elbow with local residents and other revelers before the dancing begins. The night is capped off with fireworks over the chateau.
A local legend says that back when God was placing castles over France, He got to the skies over the Dordogne and discovered a hole in his bag and tumbling out were crenellated towers and drawbridges. So before returning to Paradise, He shook out the remaining “crumbs” over the rivers and valleys below. Traveling along the serpentine roads that crisscross the castle encrusted Dordogne, I find this tale easy to believe.
And in Biron, happily ever after feels like a dream come true.
Go to the website www.leprieurebiron.com
Rooms from €145-€165
Apartment from €165-€185
Packages are available online
Good To Know
-Le Prieuré is only open from February until mid-November
-The floors are creaky, and you can often hear people walking above/below/next to you when in your room
-Dinner at Le Prieuré available in low season, Monday through Thursday, with advanced reservations
-You will need a car
-There is only one restaurant in Biron and no stores or pharmacy, so plan accordingly
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer whose book about the Dordogne region was published in 2010.