Travel Insights: Bordeaux by Way of the Dordogne
March 17, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
With En Primeur week just around the corner in Bordeaux April 4-8, it seems a good time to share one of our favorite regions for wine lovers who relish exploring a bit off the beaten track—the Dordogne in the Aquitane region of southwest France.
This charming area, just inland from Bordeaux, is a treasure trove of remarkable beauty, historical sites, lovely cuisine and the interesting lesser-known local wines which include Bergerac, Monbazillac and Pécharmant. If you base your stay in the area surrounding Bergerac, you can easily reach the En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux. Just follow the road west that hugs the Dordogne and you will pass through Côtes de Castillon and St. Emilion. These right bank gems—with their delectable wines and rich history—are not to be missed, so make sure to allow ample time to explore!
In 1790 the region became Dordogne, formerly known as Périgord, which most locals still use. The area has four parts: Périgord Verte named for the lush verdant hills around Nontron, Périgord Blanc so called for the abundant exposed limestone in the areas surrounding Perigeux, Périgord Pourpre appropriately echoing the color of grapes in the wine region surrounding the town of Bergerac, and Périgord Noir named for its black truffles and dark walnut trees in the area centered around Sarlat.
Medieval villages dot the valley, the most striking of which are dramatically perched in and above towering limestone cliffs overlooking the Dordogne River, like Beynac-et-Cazenac and Le Roque-Gageac. You have to see it to believe it! The new National Museum of Prehistory is high in the cliffs in the village of Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, which houses the most important paleolithic collection in France. Lascaux, now closed to the public, has been painstakingly replicated in Montignac with its “Lascaux II”.
There are many activities in the region including cycling, canoeing, barge tours, hiking, horseback riding, water parks—the list goes on! There is no shortage of sightseeing options here, with many historical castles, cathedrals, fortresses, museums and the like to delight the mind and all your senses.
Aside from the more popular tourist attractions, there are endless low-key local pleasures in the myriad villages. Exploring local markets called ‘marche’, one will discover stunning produce from the pastoral farmlands, along with many delicacies such as assorted cured meats, foie-gras, walnut confections, and black truffles.
The larger market in the Dordogne capital of Perigueux is noteworthy, with all of the above plus the famous ‘pâtés de Perigueux’. The Saturday market in the meticulously restored Périgord Noir village of Sarlat is also very special. When the working gas lamps light the night, it truly takes your breath away.
There is nothing like experiencing local wines and cuisine while fully immersed in local culture and history. If Bordeaux is on your list of must-visit places, then we at Montesquieu Winery recommend you don’t miss this gem and its many magical charms. Enjoy all that Bordeaux has to offer by way of the less-traveled Dordogne!