If you are looking for a beautiful, fascinating and charming place for a holiday, then take a moment to check out the Périgord Noir region in France. The Périgord Noir offers all of those features as well a great climate, delicious food and excellent wine. Humans and their ancestors have lived in this hospitable area for many thousands of years.
There are four regions in the Périgord in the Dordogne area of the French Aquitaine – Périgord Noir region (Black), the Périgord Vert (Green), the Périgord Pourpre (Purple) and the Périgord Blanc (White). While the whole area is interesting, let’s focus on the Périgord Noir.
It’s a region rich in authentic picturesque villages, restored castles, pre-historic anthropological sites and natural caves. The capital of the Périgord Noir region is the medieval city of Sarlat. Sarlat charms visitors with its romantic architecture, wonderful markets and village like atmosphere. It is so popular it attracts over a million tourists over the summer but even in winter, it’s a pretty place.
The Dordogne is Gorgeous
The Dordogne river flows through the area from east to west on its way to the Atlantic coast. Over millennia the river has etched its way through the limestone leaving deep gorges and cliffs. Ancient oak and hazelnut forests still grow over much of the area interspersed with cultivated fenceless fields.
This is the northern region of French Aquitaine where France and England clashed through the Hundred Years War. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. There are over 1,000 castles in the area, some crumbling ruins, others lovingly restored. While the castles in the Loire Valley may have all the glamour, those in the Périgord are older and equally as interesting. Many are definitely worth a visit with great views from their ramparts.
Two of the more renowned castles are Beynac which was on the French side of the river, while the fort of Castelnaud is directly across the river on the English side. The impenetrable Castelnaud is now a privately owned museum featuring medieval warfare. For an interesting side note, the movies ‘Ever After’ and ‘Chocolat’ were filmed in the village of Beynac.
If you are inspired to explore other medieval cities and castles check out this blog post on Lithuania for some more interesting history.
Charge like a Knight through Ancient Oak Forests
I rode on a horse trek for some days through the Perigord Noir region. It was magic riding from castle to castle, exploring overgrown trails and historic Roman ways through gnarly oak forests. Not to mention feasting like nobility every lunch and dinner time! Luckily the horses didn’t seem to mind the extra weight.
When you catch a view over the oak forests and fields it seems like there are ruins of fortified castles on every outcrop. If you travel through the area in summer bright fields of nodding sunflowers will greet you. Another main crop is tobacco.
The French Cradle of Mankind
The Vézère valley is a UNESCO World Heritage area where there are an extraordinary number of interesting anthropological and archaeological sites. This might be the land of your ancestors so maybe you will feel instantly at home in France’s “Cradle of Mankind” in the Périgord Noir region.
In 1940 a young Montignac local accidentally discovered beautiful paintings in the limestone cave system. The now world famous Lascaux caves are covered with prehistoric artwork deep underground. The astounding paintings are estimated to have been painted about 17,000 years ago. Tourists can no longer visit the actual caves because of the deterioration moist breath and body heat cause.
In the new Lascaux however, modern artists have painstakingly replicated the original cave interior. You can spend as long as you like with the impressive vibrant figures of prehistoric animals such as aurochs, deer and horses.
Régourdou, overlooking Montignac, hol
Périgord Noir Region Black Gold
The Périgord Noir is also famous for some of France’s trademark foods. This is the land of truffles and foie gras among other delicacies.
Truffle hunts begin over the cooler autumn months in the hazelnut and oak forests. Specially trained dogs and pigs seek out the strong-smelling black fungi. Using pigs is somewhat riskier though, as they have a tendency to eat what they find. You might even get to join a truffle hunt. Otherwise just hunt in the local markets and bargain for a good price.
Périgord truffles are extremely expensive but the pungent smell is divine. You only need a little to add musky flavours to an oil. Grate a small amount over a simple meal and truffles will transform what is already good, instantly into great.
The Périgord Noir region is also the area most famous in France for producing foie gras. This is made from the livers of special breeds of geese and ducks. At certain times you can see large flocks of birds out in the pastures feeding freely. Foie gras and truffles together make a memorable meal.
Getting around the Périgord Noir region
Getting to the area is relatively easy by train or flights into Toulouse or Bordeaux. However, the area lacks a network of public transport so to make the most of you time you may need to consider car rental.
The Périgord Noir is one of my favourite areas of the world. I hope this article has given you some inspiration to plan a holiday in the area. I know that if I ever get a chance to return I would be there in a flash.