An Introduction & guide to the Dordogne
An area of natural beauty, rolling hills, old villages, castles and small country towns that are ripe to be explored and enjoyed by all who pass through or visit. The heart of the Dordogne is centred around the city and prefecture of Perogueux. The area is perhaps most famous for, amongst other things, its gourmet delights, notably paté de foie gras, walnuts and truffles.
The Perigord Noir is in the centre of the Dordogne region. Named for its dark woodlands, predominantly oak and walnut trees. The walnuts are used to make regional specialities, including oil. The Vézère valley cuts through its centre, creating impressive cliffs with many limestone caves. In terms of sights and attractions, these caves contain works of prehistoric interest and the region has many pretty villages with dark slate roofs. Its main town is Sarlet-la-Canéda, a medieval centre full of houses from the 15th and 16th centuries.
West of this is the Perigord Pourpre. Named purple because of its importance as a wine-growing region, this area covers the city of Bergerac and the south-west area of the Dordogne. It's pretty gentle hills, which are also covered in sunflowers, make this one of the most attractive areas to visit. It is also well served by the international airport at Bergerac.
To the north lies the large green open spaces of the Périgord Vert. With untouched landscapes, this lovely rural area includes the towns of Nontron, Thiviers and Saint-Aulaye. Significant proportions of the region are classified as a national park.
The Perigord Blanc is the centre of this region, which includes the city of Périgueux, and is named after its white limestone terrain. Its major river is the Isle which runs from east to west, eventually reaching the Gironde. The geography is fairly flat, on a plateau, with wide valleys.
Further south you will find the Lot Valley. As the river Lot rises up through the Massif Central, it is surrounded by natural gorges and rich countryside, hiding prehistoric caves and medieval villages which seem to have remained unchanged for centuries. Its largest town is Cahors, sitting on a bend in the Lot which is crossed by a fortified bridge. Its rolling hills are home to wine estates which produce dark full-bodied reds.
The very east of the region is known as the Upper Dordogne Valley. It sits on a rocky limestone plateau and whilst it lacks some of the grandeur of other parts of the Dordogne, it more than makes up for it with its tranquillity. Small sleepy villages dot the landscape and country lanes wind their way through the lush countryside. Its busiest town is Souillac, known for its Romanesque abbey church and its underground caves reveal huge stalactites. The town of Rocamadour, set in a stunning location, has been an important pilgrimage site for centuries.
Sights & Attractions in Dordogne
The medieval towns, hilltop villages and cities built on the banks of the famous river are all amongst the attractions of the region. Within each town you will find historic buildings, informative museums and some of the most exciting prehistoric finds in Europe. A wealth of caves and underground caverns litter the region, allowing you to explore the Dordogne in the darker and cooler climes beneath. The perfect respite from the hot summer rays.
Another major draw of the region are the numerous chateaux. Some fortified, some privately owned and most with an intriguing history and a certain beauty that attracts us to them. From fairytale style chateaux to wine estates and fortresses you will have your pick.
Things to Do in Dordogne
Going for a paddle in the Dordogne is possibly one of the most popular activities in the region. Whether you choose to take your own kayak or canoe, or to take an organised boat trip on a tradition Gabare. On a hot summer day, taking a dip is certainly appealing. The Ministry of Health in France provides up-to-date information regarding the cleanliness of rivers and swimming areas. The interactive map (which is available in English) allows you to zoom in on the beaches of interest and to review recent test results. The beaches and rivers are ranked from excellent (blue) to prohibited (pink), meaning that entering the water is strictly prohibited. The monthly testing and monitoring makes it possible to assess the effects of wastewater sanitation and dirty rainwater runoff into swimming sites.
History & Culture in Dordogne
Today there is a marked difference between the rural and city areas of the Dordogne. Migration to the cities has been an overall theme, though this has been countered somewhat by immigrants taking up residence in the countryside.
The economy is mainly focused on agriculture (wine being the major income generator) with some industrial base in the cities, but the wealth of visitors means tourism is becoming more important. Many Europeans have taken advantage of the property crashes over the last 30 years and bought houses in the region. They have been, in the most part, welcomed because of the money they bring to the region. For the English, this has been in part due to their positive historical heritage.
Also see: History of Dordogne