The Périgord in the Dordogne department on Aquitaine is divided into four regions, the Périgord Noir (Black), the Périgord Blanc (White), the Périgord Vert (Green) and the Périgord Pourpre (Purple). A beautiful and largely unspoiled area, expat Fiona Alderman waxes lyrical about the beauty, history and drama of this dramatic region and shares ten of her favourite things to do in Périgord Noir…
We have lived in the Perigord Noir, Dordogne, for nearly 14 years; it is a very beautiful environment with many historic places to visit. Just 20 minutes away from our home in Salignac Eyvigues, is the capital of the area – Sarlat, which receives over a million visitors every summer. They are drawn to its dramatic beauty, wonderful markets and lots of events like the open air theatre festival in August which takes place in the medieval streets and ancient buildings.
Particularly wonderful is the animated and colourful market which is held in and around the streets of the magnificent church of Sainte Marie. The celebrated architect, Jean Nouvel, who was born in Sarlat, converted the church with its massive doors into an indoor market with a glass lift to the roof giving panoramic views over the town – it is a must-see if you are in the area.
In nearby Montignac you can the famous Lascaux caves. Lascaux II, a replica of the original, which is just 200 metres away, displays art from the original site, retracing the history of the grotto and explaining the artists’ techniques of nearly 17,000 years ago. You can’t visit the original site as hordes of visitors will cause further deterioration but the level of detail in the replica cave provides for a stunning experience. There are plans already underway for a 3rd and 4th Lascaux to fully enter into the future of this much visited site. If you’re there in July and August there are night time cave tours which are great fun. (Tip – try to book tickets in advance at the local tourist offices to make sure you can visit at the time you want).
Near Lascaux, is the prehistoric site of Régourdou, situated on a high hill overlooking Montignac – it was discovered in 1954 and is considered one of the most important Neanderthal sites in France.
In the Vallée de la Vézère, there are a number of Grottes and Gouffres to explore – you would need several days to see them all. The Grotte de Rouffignac with its hundreds of animal paintings, La Madeleine where there is a troglodyte village, and Les Eyzies, the capital of the prehistoric age sitting at the foot of very impressive cliffs.
This region has the reputation of having the most castles – 1001 to be precise. For me, the most striking are on the River Dordogne. Reminiscent of the roles they played in The Hundred years War, they stand overlooking each other, seemingly still guarding their territory. Situated on a rocky hilltop, the castle of Castelnaud is surrounded by a cluster of houses. This castle was an impenetrable fort situated on the English side overlooking the rival castle of Beynac. It is now a military museum dedicated to the Middle Ages, and is open all year round.
Beynac holds memories for me of many wonderful holidays. We would stay in the Hôtel Maleville, overlooking the river Dordogne and eating the most memorable meals, prepared by Madame Maleville. Sitting with a lovely glass of cool rosé at the edge of the river, watching the world go by and smelling the fragrance of garlic, herbs and truffles all mixed to make an omelette aux truffes… You are in heaven, Non?!
Madame also cooked amazing “pommes de terres Sarladaises” (in English Potatoes Sarlat). I have never really been able to recreate it to quite her level of perfection, even though I live here now and know about it since it is one of the most popular dishes of the region. It requires copious quantities of goose fat, the secret ingredient, is easy to make and utterly delicious.
Another beautiful chateau and certainly one of my favourites, a little further along the Dordogne, is the Chateau Milandes. It was built in 1489 and is famous for being where the legendary singer and dancer Josephine Baker lived with her adopted children. There is a permanent exhibition dedicated to her life, her magnificent gowns, personal belongings and the sumptuous marble bathrooms will definitely provide you with a “wow” moment!
The Périgord is rich in gastronomy as well as in architecture. From the picturesque hilltop villages and riverside towns, ancient places to enjoy French country cooking is at its best.
Fiona Alderman is a British expat who lives and works in Perigord Noir: www.salignacfoundation.com