A British Favourite – the Dordogne

BrantomeThe Perigord or Dordogne, is a land of limestone plateaux and wide grassy valleys, criss-crossed by the La Vézère and L’Isle rivers.  Divided into four colours – white, green, black and purple – this area is dotted with towns and villages such as Montpon, Savignac-les-Eglises, Sorges -renowned for its truffles, Saint-Astier, Neuvic and Mussidan, as well as Périgueux (white), the capital of the Dordogne which serves as a great base for exploring the surrounding area. The medieval part of the town comes alive on Wednesdays and Saturdays when local artisans display their first-class produce including assorted cured meats, truffles, foie gras and pies or ‘pâtes de Périgueux’. Once a pivotal Gallo-Roman site of Vesunna, you’ll still see vestiges of the Roman amphitheatre, a temple and the 12th-century Eglise Saint-Etienne today. 

Cathedrale Saint-Front which proved to be a trial run for architect Paul Abadie (he later went on to design the Sacré-Coeur in Paris) when he oversaw the restoration of the  building. 

BourdeillesAround the cathedral you will find a number of winding lanes from the 15th and 16th Centuries. Follow them down to the pedestrianised Rue Limogeanne and you will discover where the locals have been doing most of their shopping since the Middle Ages.

Nearby is the delightful town of Brantome (green) , where you will find the ancient abbey founded by Charlemagne (742-814). With its soaring campanile this is one of the most elegant medieval and Renaissance buildings in the Dordogne, complete with caves used by the monks as kitchens and cellars. Take a boat ride alongside the abbey for an interesting view of the town with its wide open parkland and narrow shopping streets.

Bourdeilles (green) is a beatiful little town for a stroll and houses a chateau of its own. A former barony of the Périgord, this dual chateau of different periods is built on a fortified bank overlooking the fast flowing river, a medieval fortress (13th-14th C) and a renaissance palace (16th C) with finely decorated rooms and a furniture collection of (15th-19th C).  You could easily spend the day visiting both towns.

Les EyziesSpend a morning in the  stunning, lovely town Les Eyzies (black) which runs along the Dordogne River offering lovely restaurants, and window boxes overflowing with geraniums, the beautiful Grotte Du Grand Roc with its amazing crystal structures, Cap Blanc with its stunning prehistoric cave paintings is very close and only a few miles from Lascaux caves. Canoes are available in the town if you want a more energetic day or before venturing onto Sarlat (black). People flock here for the high density of 17th-century, medieval and Renaissance architecture. Its prosperity dates back to the Hundred Years’ War when the town received payments for remaining loyal to the crown. The heart-shaped medieval centre is lined with luxury boutiques and eateries with the ochre sandstone of these splendid buildings providing a welcoming glow.

SarlatThe Saturday market is an absolute must and will enable you to sample some of the gastronomic delights of this region; black truffles, mushrooms, walnuts, pork delicacies and, of course, the celebrated Périgord foie-gras. Great cuisine may root you in Sarlat but don’t forget to venture out to some great chateaux nearby.

Despite widespread devastation during the Wars of Religion when most of its Protestant inhabitants fled abroad,  Bergerac (purple) is still an attractive market town. Once an important port for the wine trade it still serves as a hub for maize, vine and tobacco production. The old quarter and the old harbour are particularly delightful, boasting late-medieval houses and drinking fountains on street corners. 

BergeracThe town comes alive on market days (Wednesday and Saturday) when you’ll see an array of excellent local produce on display. Try to get hold of some of the white, velvety Montbazillac wine that is often drunk on special occasions or head to the slopes north of the river where you’ll find small wine growers producing some excellent red Bergeracs.

Can’t decide which colour is your favourite? Then spend a day in each, there is no doubt you’ll want to go back.

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