Map of France showing the Dordogne region


In Search of the Black Diamond: Truffle Hunting in the Dordogne







Saint Felicien
Church of Saint Felicien

Issigeac house
"Mushroom House"


French cat




Statue of Cyrano
Stone Cyrano

Bronze Cyrano

more walls






























Guy with barrels of wine
Edouard de Saint-Exupery

Chateau Tiregand
Chateau Tiregand





My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Travel"


Discovering the Dordogne: France's 'Secret' Region Intrigues and Delights

By Marilyn Heimburger
Photos by Don Heimburger

Paris appears to top the destination wish list on a first trip to France. But after that, the Dordogne area of southwestern France is an enticing destination known for history, culture, wine, gastronomy and relaxation.

The Dordogne, also known by its former name, the Perigord, is an hour's drive east of Bordeaux. The Dordogne River runs east to west through its center, carving out a winding river valley scattered with more than 1,000 picturesque castles and chateaus. From vineyards in the west to pre-historic sites along the Vezere River tributary in the east, and fortified villages from the Hundred Years War, there is plenty to see.

In the tiny medieval village of Issigeac a circular wall surrounds winding streets dominated by the octagonal bell tower of the 15th century Church of Saint Felicien. The 13th century stone buildings with Gothic arches and charming half-timbered houses with beautiful inlaid brick detail are lovingly preserved, not to attract tourists, but to be lived in and used by the less than 1,000 inhabitants. Look for the “Mushroom House,” built with an overhanging second story, to allow carts access to the narrow streets that surround it. An active market is held in the central square on Sunday mornings, but a stroll through the quiet town at dusk calms the spirit and prepares you for a relaxing dinner.

Brickwork in Issigeac

La Bruceliere restaurant in Issigeac is family-run and serves gourmet local cuisine with regional wines. A pleasant surprise in rural France, it also offers five rooms for overnight accommodations.

La Bruceliere La Bruceliere



The historic town of Bergerac was founded with the castle built to manage river traffic on the Dordogne, and the 9th century bridge accommodating pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. In the old town, see the picturesque stone buildings constructed with local yellow stone, and the half-timbered houses on the Rue St. Clar. The National Tobacco Museum is housed in the 17th century Peyrarede House.

In the medieval town square, restored in the 1970's, you'll discover a stone statue of Cyrano de Bergerac – the comic/tragic hero made famous by Edmond Rostand's 1897 fictional story about the brilliant and poetic swordsman with a very large nose, in love with the beautiful Roxane. The real-life Savinien de Cyrano, upon whom the fictional character was loosely based, was born in the 17th century near Paris. When he joined the Cadets of Gascony, he changed his name to Cyrano de Bergerac, after a family estate of that name. The town of Bergerac is nevertheless happy to adopt him as a symbol of boldness and generosity.

Unfortunately, Cyrano's famous stone nose is routinely broken off by admiring fans. So a new colorful bronze Cyrano with a more permanent nose was erected in 2005 in the Place Pelissiere, in the shadow of the picturesque church of Saint-Jacques.

In the 18th century flat-bottomed boats called Gabarre carried wine and wood for barrel-making from Bergerac's riverfront to Bordeaux for export. Replica Gabarre today offer tours on the Dordogne in Bergerac and in the castle-rich area near La Roque-Gageac.


A peaceful courtyard is at the center of the Recollets Cloister, now home to Bergerac's House of Wines. Here a Wine Journey exhibit explains the history and appellations of Bergerac wines. Visitors can also taste the local wines and visit with a winemaker from the Dordogne Wine Route.( What is there to learn at the House of Wines?

The vineyards in the geographic area of Bergerac are classified into 13 appellations that are grouped into five different types:

Reds: Bergerac, Cotes de Bergerac, Montravel and Pecharmant
Roses: Bergerac rose
Dry Whites: Bergerac and Montravel
Sweet Wines Monbazillac and Saussignac
Dessert Wines: Cotes de Bergerace Blanc, Cotes de Montravel, Haut Montravel and Rosette

Wines of Bergerac

France's system of appellations consists of a set of strict rules covering which grape types may be used in a particular wine, the areas in which the grapes can be grown, the maximum permitted yields, the pruning type and sometimes the harvesting techniques.

Particularly popular in the area is Monbazillac, a sweet white wine made from grapes harvested after they have begun to shrivel and develop “noble rot.” Each individual grape must be hand picked from the bunch at just the right time — a labor intensive, painstaking job.

Grapes on the vine

The vineyards of Bergerac cover almost 30,000 acres in 93 villages on both sides of the Dordogne. Although traditionally overshadowed by the more well-known wines of its neighbor Bordeaux, many of the Bergerac wines compete favorably with them, and at a lower cost.

Wines of Bergerac Light lunch

Chateau Puy-Servain ( owners Daniel and Catherine Hecquet have nearly 120 acres of vineyards (the average for wine growers in the area is 50 acres) and export 60% of their wine.

The Chateau VARI estate in the town of Monbazillac is an organic vineyard. Their wine bar, la maison Vari, offers wine along with a simple, but delicious menu for a light lunch.

Winegrower Edouard de Saint-Exupery of the Chateau Tiregand in Creysse (whose famous literary relative wrote The Little Prince in 1943) welcomes visitors for free wine tastings or for a guided tour of the 17th century family estate, located just 10 minutes east of Bergerac.

More on the Dordogne

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