The Dordogne, known as ‘le Périgord’ in French, marries subtle natural beauty with the very best of French gastronomy.
Located in the south west of France, it is popularly known as ‘the Dordogne’ among the many British who make it their second home, but the French usually refer to it as ‘le Périgord’. Broadly speaking, the region encompasses the entire Dordogne river valley; this is an area of mountains, medieval forts and castles, fine wines and some of France’s best food (a notable claim to fame in a country renowned for its gastronomy).
Here is why you should visit and how:
A Region Steeped in History
Home to legendary personalities such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lionheart, the area was the scene of many battles between the French and English. The numerous castles dotting the hills and mountains of the region are a direct consequence of this strife. Chateau de Beynac and Chateau de Castelnaud are noteworthy examples of these castles that regularly changed hands between the French and the English throughout their endless wars. The tiny town of Beynac, with its narrow cobblestone streets and exquisite views, is a great place to start your exploration of this historic region.
Exceptional Natural Beauty
With a river at its core, the valley is a smorgasbord of rolling hills, cliffs and vineyards. In the fall of the year the leaves turn to gold in the soft autumnal sun and the views are magical. Take the train and hop off at a town that piques your interest or hire a car for total freedom.
Rich Gastronomic Traditions
Traditionally based on duck and goose, the local food may often be fowl, but that has not prevented it from attaining from a stellar reputation among food lovers. Top quality foie gras and confit de canard are easy to find among the many specialist shops in the region (Sarlat is well-known for its abundant food shops). However, even if you are unable to stuff your suitcase with such delicacies, they are also available in restaurants throughout the region.
In a nation that prides itself on its wine, this is a good jumping off point for a wine-based adventure. The area around Bergerac is famous for the quality of its grapes and the town, although perhaps less enchanting than others in the region, is a good place to start your trip- Bergerac Wine Tours (see below) will get the ball rolling.
Proximity to Bordeaux
This city, a worldwide wine legend, is only a train trip or a car ride away. Not only is it filled with delights for wine lovers, but a successful urban rejuvenation project has resulted in its historic core being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Where better to start or finish a trip to the Dordogne Valley?
When to go: Spring and autumn are generally warm and are perhaps the most comfortable times to visit. Summer can occasionally see temperatures of 40C and it is also the busiest season. Winter can be icy cold or wet, but it is usually not both at the same time.
There are French domestic flights to Bergerac as well as international links to airports such as London Stansted in the UK.
Bordeaux can also be used a base and the airport at Merignac has links to the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Austria and Sweden. Flying low cost, Easy Jet has a large base there.
Bergerac and many of the towns of the valley including Sarlat have rail links. Coming from Paris, you can take the TGV and change at Libourne or Bordeaux.
Car is the best option for maximum freedom, allowing the possibility to visit smaller villages off the beaten track. Larger towns such as Bergerac and Sarlat have, as noted above, railway links.
www.bergeracwinetours.com organizes excellent wine tours
www.northofthedordogne.com is a website dedicated to some the highlights of the region
www.historyworld.net is a great place to dig into France’s rich past (navigate to France in the ‘Histories’ section)
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