This is a blessed region. Long a favourite of travellers from across the world, the Dordogne seems to have it all. It is, as Henry Miller said, “a country of enchantment.”
France’s reputation for food might have been built up around the pleasures of the the Périgord table. Famous for its poultry and foie gras this is also a region of superlative cheese, excellent beef cattle, lamb from the eastern causses and an agriculture that could be defined as a giant kitchen garden. Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance, olives are supplemented by walnuts and hazelnuts both in the making of oil and to be seen peeping out of loaves of fine floured bread. The wines of Bergerac are ever-improving, thick reds from Cahors have been savoured since Roman times and the great sweet white wines of Monbazillac and Saussignac have nothing to fear from their famous Bordeaux neighbours.
Our most ancient ancestors recognised the fertility of this region which will grow apples and tomatoes, walnuts and cherries. Their refuges, tucked in tight against the sheltering walls of the Vézère valley, showed that the hunting was good and that they were able to appreciate the power of the place in which they lived. The lasting legacy of their wall paintings is a highlight for any visitor to the region and we will visit both the reproductions of the mighty chamber at Lascaux, and other cave systems where we can still see the paintings in their natural state.
The enchantment of the history of the Dordogne is present throughout the centuries. Through these landscapes trod some of the greatest and most colourful characters in the European Middle Ages. Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the region as dowry to Louis VII, king of France and then to Henry Plantagenet, king of England. The region’s bellicose past is evident in the great châteaux that once defined the frontier between France and England during the Hundred Years’ War and later became symbols of religious adherence. From the battlements of Castelnaud along the river the great bulk of Beynac is visible.
In the end Aquitaine is just what her name implies, a region of waters in the warm south characterized by the river Dordogne that flows through it all, observing the landscape. This is perhaps the most beautiful river in France and the prospect which she surveys in her stately passage towards the vineyards of Bordeaux is the epitome of this diverse country. Processing between cliff walls that once served as a refuge for our ancestors over 30,000 years ago, winding between fields of nuts and fruit, dividing the more recent giant fortifications of the Middle Ages: all of the secrets of this splendid land are laid bare to her.