The food, wine and idyllic lifestyle of the Dordogne region have always appealed to tourists – but that has not dimmed its thoroughly French allure.
Castles and caves from Sadillac to Lascaux
What to see and do
Sadillac is the perfect base for exploring the grandiose hilltop châteaux that look down on the Dordogne river and the Unesco-listed prehistoric sites along the Vézère valley. Sarlat with its narrow streets are lined with lavish sandstone mansions, perfectly preserved since the middle ages and Renaissance. Don’t miss taking a ride up the 14th-century bell tower, where architect Jean Nouvel has designed a panoramic glass lift offering 360-degree views.
Each of the Dordogne’s landmark castles has something different to discover. The immense Chateau de Castelnaud is perfect for kids, with its remarkable collection of medieval armaments, while the equally majestic Château de Beynac above a stone village that tumbles down to the river, was a location for Luc Besson’s 1999 Joan of Arc movie. The ornate, chocolate-box Chateau Milande used to belong to dancer and activist Josephine Baker, and houses an incredible museum about her life. In a tranquil valley is the breathtaking Château de Commarque a towering mass of ruins above ancient cave dwellings
Garden-lovers should leave time for two of France’s most famous formal gardens. The Jardins Suspendus at Marqueyssac are a magical maze of 150,000 swirling, looping box hedges, while those at the Manoir d’Eyrignac are more English in style, including an extravagant perfumed rose garden.
The Dordogne’s incredible prehistoric sites are principally along the Vézère river. Kick off Les Eyzies, spectacularly hewn into the cliffside, with a tour of the Prehistoric Museum. On the other side of the river from a rickety staircase disappears into the Grotte du Grand Roc a vast cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites, while La Roque Saint-Christophe is a kitsch but fascinating reconstitution of a kilometer-long cave village cut high into a cliff, inhabited 55,000 years ago by Neanderthals.
Nothing quite prepares for a visit to Lascaux, especially since the recent opening of a new €60m centre complete with futuristic multimedia special effects and interactive iPad guides. This is the second recreation of these caves and their 600 prehistoric wall paintings. The original site, discovered in 1940, closed to the public in 1963 to protect the fragile Cro Magnon artwork known as the “Sistine chapel of prehistory”. The new Lascaux is attracting huge crowds, with tour groups leaving every six minutes, so consider visiting the quieter, original Lascaux II complex, which is frankly just as impressive a recreation of the original caves.
Bergerac and Périgueux
Bergerac comes to life on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, when its narrow medieval streets are taken over by a market. Stock up for a picnic in the surrounding vineyards with organic tomatoes, saucisson, packed with hazelnuts and fragrant strawberries. Bergerac is at the heart of affordable and welcoming wine country. It’s easy to follow a Route des Vins around the rolling vine-clad hills, discovering little-known reds such as Pécharmant and the luscious Monbazillac dessert wine.
Enjoy your picnic in the gardens of the Renaissance Château de Monbazillac, visit its tasting sessions and explore the sweet Monbazillac wines.
Château de Bélingard to try its fruity Bergerac Blanc. You may well bump into the estate’s garrulous owner, Laurent, Comte de Bosredon, who will tell you how wine has been made here since the days of the Celts.
Halfway between Bergerac and Périgueux, take a side trip to Domaine de Neuvic a fish farm with a difference as it harvests sturgeon eggs to produce caviar. For €19, visitors get a tour of the farm and see some seriously enormous sturgeons, plus a spoonful of caviar and a glass of bubbly.
Périgueux is the capital of the Dordogne and is dominated by the swirling domes and turrets of its white Saint Front cathedral. Inspired by St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the present building looks similar to the Sacre-Coeur in Paris – not surprising because it was restyled in the 19th century by the same architect.
Where to eat and drink
The centre of Bergerac has plenty of relaxed wine bars and pubs such as Au Plus Que Parfait The best place for a romantic lunch is under the giant plane tree spreading over Place du Feu, where Une Cuillère pour Maman serves a selection of light, contemporary plats du jour which might be sea bream with sun-dried tomatoes or date-encrusted roast lamb, plus vegan and vegetarian options.
In Périgueux, head straight for the town’s historic covered market on Place du Coderc. It was already a foodie paradise but now it boasts the Bistrot de la Halle a minuscule diner where a glass of wine is the perfect accompaniment to freshly shucked oysters or a hamburger au foie gras
Golf around Sadillac
For the keen golfer several other golf courses are in the Dordogne region, most golf courses are within easy reach, for instance the famous championship course at Château de Vigiers (18 hole par 72 and 9 hole par 36). Other golf courses in the neighborhood are the Golf and Country Club Villeneuve (18 hole par 72, 9 hole par 31). Château Les Merles (9 hole par 36).
History and Culture
Saint-Émilion: Food and most famous French wines are ready to be discovered.
Cloister of Cadouin: A Cistercian abbey on the UNESCO world heritage list, located on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim ways
While Bergerac has lots of little specialty shops where locals and tourists alike can find designer fashions, china, glassware, jewelry and perfumes, the city revolves around its food and wines. At almost every turn, and on most days of the week, Bergerac hosts markets that are not so much a place to purchase the freshest of food or antiques but a social event at which to catch up with friends.
The food markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays to around midday in the Notre-Dame church and Sainte-Catherine area. At the Place de la Madeleine there’s a farmers’ market style event on Fridays to around noon, while Tuesdays see an organic food market at the Place Doublet. Fresh fruit and vegetables along with cheeses, truffles and meats, vinaigrettes, herbs and, of course, local wine can all be purchased. There are also summer markets, candle lit evening markets and flea markets. The Place Gambetta hosts a general market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The office Tourisme Bergerac in the Rue Neuve d’Argenson has a handy leaflet detailing all the markets, their times and venues.
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