Reasons to visit the Dordogne

The Dordogne holds a special fascination for francophile Englishmen, not because of the beaches (because there are none) or the mountains (likewise) but because it seems like an extension of the best of British countryside, but more so, and with better weather. For some it looks like a warmer and sunnier version of the Cotswolds, with houses built of honey-coloured stone, rich green meadows and friendly locals with interesting customs.

There are, in fact, two Dordognes. The first is a river, rising in the Massif Central and meandering its way westward to finally meet up with Gironde near Bordeaux. The second is the French departement of the same name, unsurprisingly the area on either side of the river. It's very rural, a whole area of hills and valleys full of old villages, castles and small country towns. While some parts are well-geared for tourism, much of the region is happily off-the-beaten-track waiting to be discovered by the more intrepid visitors.

The heart of the Dordogne is centred on the capital Perigueux. It is most famous for its gourmet delights, notably paté de foie gras, walnuts and truffles. This is the part known as "le Périgord noir", situated in the south east of the department of Dordogne. Here visitors can revel in the limestone cliffs, castles (such as Beynac or Castelnaud) and picturesque villages such as Domme and Laroque Gageac, and also its world-famous caves with their stalagmites and stalactites, and in several cases prehistoric paintings. The French National Museum of prehistory is at Les Eyzies, while the grotto at Lascaux boasts the world's most famous prehistoric cave paintings. To avoid harming the cave paintings that survived in isolation for millenia, the real Lascaux is closed to visitors but an exact replica has been carved out underground close to the original location, and the visitor experience is totally authentic. There are other prehistoric caves that can be visited at Font de Gaume and Cap Blanc, and even a prehistoric theme park, Prehistoparc.

West of Perigord Noir lies Périgord Pourpre, the area round Bergerac; this is a low lying area, bordering the coastal plain and a region most famous for its wines and vineyards.

To the north side of the river is Périgord Vert, Green Perigord, a greener and more undulating region of small villages and farms, streams and rivers. 

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