Long a favourite with British visitors, drawn by its tranquil beauty and famous gastronomy, the romantic countryside of the department of Dordogne has Ages when English kings ruled Aquitaine province for 300 years.
Reminders of the Hundred Years War between England and France can be seen in the many bastide (fortified) towns such as Domme and ruined chateaux and castles fought over by Crusader king, Richard the Lionheart.
Follow his ‘route’ making sure to include restored Beynac and Castelnaud, ranged opposite each other across the River Dordogne frontier which gives the department its name.
Confusingly, the French refer to this area between the Loire Valley and Pyrenees as Perigord - a corruption of its old Gaulish name. Each distinctive area is ‘colour coded’.
Dordogne’s capital, Perigueux, lies on the central limestone plateau of Perigord Blanc (white). A great base for exploration, the city has significant Roman remains. Perigord Pourpre (purple) in the south west takes its colour from the rich red wines produced around Bergerac along with mellow whites and roses. Follow a tradition begun hundreds of years ago and take some home.
The evergreen oak woods high above central Dordogne could explain dark Perigord Noir (black). Here the Vezere Valley, a UNESCO world heritage site, has enough caves to keep most ardent pre-historians happy. Find out more at the Musee National de Prehistoire at Les Eyzies-de-Tayac.
A ‘must visit’ is Montignac which houses replicas of the famous Lascaux Caves. The original paintings date back over 17,000 years. Medieval Sarlat is a fine example of Dordogne’s ochre-coloured architecture. Sometimes used as a film set it’s the perfect backdrop for a huge Saturday market selling all the basics of Perigordian cuisine, from truffles and foie gras (goose liver pate) to walnuts and mushrooms.
The verdant river valleys bordering on Limousin - green even in dry summers - were first labelled Perigord Vert (green) by author Jules Verne. More sparsely populated than other areas, cycling is a pleasure and the rivers are great for fishing and canoeing - some have swimming beaches.
The Regional Natural Park of Perigord-Limousin is ideal for outdoor activites including walking and rock climbing. Admire Dordogne’s architecture from Pigeonniers (stone dovecotes) to fairytale turrets at Jumilhac-le-Grand and be sure to visit lovely Saint-Jean-de-Cole.