Lovers of foie gras and truffles, not to mention nature lovers, have always sought out the Dordogne and Périgord regions of France. Our first stop, Périgueux, was the capital of the old province of Périgord. After following the trail of the Cro-Magnon people to prehistoric caves, we visit Cahors, the ancient capital of Quercy, then Montauban, where the painter Ingres was born.
It’s hard not to wax ecstatic about this beautiful region. Writer Henry Miller went so far as to say that the Dordogne “gives me hope for the future of the race, for the future of the earth itself.” From the time of the Cro-Magnons, humans have been setting up camp in this gorgeous valley, where the river loops around soft limestone cliffs, where troglodyte dwellings still exist, and prehistoric cave-paintings abound. Today, humans come here to visit the castles that loom over the cliffs, to paddle down the river in canoes, to enjoy the delightful villages carved into the limestone, and to admire the magnificent cave paintings in places like Lascaux and Font de Gaume.
About 2 hours east of Bordeaux by autoroute (express highway), the most delightful part of the valley starts somewhere around the tiny village of Saint Cyprien and ends near Souillac. If you are coming from other parts of France, the principal gateways to the area are the pretty, but sleepy towns of Bergerac, Brive-la-Gaillarde, and Périgueux. Of the three, Périgueux is the most interesting (see below). The low-cost airlines Ryanair, Flybe, Twinjet, and Transavia fly into Bergerac airport; another handful of low-cost airlines fly to Brive-la-Gaillarde. Périgueux can be reached by train from Paris, Bordeaux, and Limoges. Centrally located, Sarlat-la-Canéda is a logical base for visiting the area, but it gets quite crowded; in fact, you can make any of the villages your base, as the distances between sites are relatively short, if you’ve got wheels.
Be advised that during high season this area is very popular with European tourists. Between mid-July and mid-August, the narrow road that follows the river can get jammed; on the other hand, the period between October and April is so slow that most hotels and restaurants close. Note: Many hotels in the area have restaurants and offer half-board (that is, breakfast and dinner); this can be a good option in small villages where restaurants are few and far between.
For extra help in planning your trip, visit the Comité Départemental du Tourisme de la Dordogne (Dordogne Regional Tourist Office), 25 rue Wilson, Périgueux (www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr, [tel] 05-53-35-50-24).