Welcome to the verdant and mysterious land of the Périgord Noir,
where history, gastronomy, and spectacular scenery vie for the visitor’s affection.
France appears to be an ancient and unified nation, which is why it may surprise you to learn that many locals do not primarily identify simply as “French.”
Scratch the surface, and you will find that the cultural origins of any French person are not rooted in Paris and a universal Frenchness, but rather in one of the myriad Régions Naturelles Françaises (“French Natural Regions”). Before the French Revolution created a unified country, these territories defined les français; to this day, they continue to influence food, architecture, legends, and even the language.
One of the most renowned and distinct of these regions is le Pays du Périgord Noir in Dordogne. Named after the dense oak forests that produce its world-famous truffles, this luscious rural land is archaeologically rich and full of medieval châteaux and villages.
Beynac-et-Cazevanne is one of many remarkable towns on France’s “Most Beautiful Villages” list. In fact, half of those on the list can be found in this area. The eponymous castle, a martial construct that sits majestically on a limestone cliff towering nearly 500 feet over the Dordogne River, is the ancestral home of the Beynac aristocratic line. The noble family had to sell their heirloom in the early 1960s to a philanthropic couple, who undertook a massive restoration project to revive its former glory. Today, this superb feudal fort is one of France’s best-preserved châteaux and a popular attraction for tourists, filmmakers, and history buffs alike.
Venture beyond the drawbridge to discover throngs of sights and activities that emphasize that Man’s greatest achievements often pale in contrast to nature. Just after the bend of the castle-lined Dordogne River (one of Unesco’s biosphere reserves) is the Pays du Fénélon: hundreds of miles of hiking and biking paths dotted with vineyards, forts and climbing and kayaking options.
If you are feeling adventurous, you could even follow in the path of local folk heroes such as Pierre Grellety, the leader of a popular revolution against the monarchy. His struggle culminated in triumph when he and his 200 croquants (Editor’s note: name given to rebellious French peasants during this period) defeated an army of 3,000 well-armed soldiers by using their knowledge of the densely wooded country. Who knows, you may get lucky and stumble upon some tuber melanosporum, or as the proud locals call it: la truffe — the one and only truffle in their eyes!
Things To Do
14 rue Châteaureynaud, 24420 Sorges
Spend a whole weekend dedicated to the black diamond. Start with a delicious feast at the Truffle Inn, then follow the resident chefs through the local market before attending a cooking class to learn the industry’s secrets. Afterward, put these new skills to the test in your very own truffle hunt.
Home to various members of French upper-crust society since 1489, this renaissance château’s most famous owner, Josephine Baker, added art deco details when she modernized the interior to accommodate her 12 adopted children. Do not miss the stained-glass windows, the gardens and the bird sanctuary.
Located on the grounds of a 17th-century château, these outstanding hanging gardens have spectacular views of the Dordogne River and its valley. Take your time exploring the miles of shaded paths that house over 150,000 pruned boxwoods. During high-season months, the walkways are candlelit by night with music and light shows.
Avenue de Lascaux, 24290 Montignac
In 1940, a French boy famously stumbled upon these caves while looking for his runaway dog. After a few days of exploring their depths by flashlight with friends, he revealed his discovery to the world. Lascaux IV, an exact replica, was created in 2016 by conservationists to preserve the original paintings in what is dubbed the Sistine Chapel of cave art.
Built on the side of a cliff overlooking the Vézère valley during the 14th century, the Reignac stronghold is one of the most intriguing places to visit in the Périgord Noir. It is one of the best-preserved hill castles in France with a beautiful museum that occupies several levels.
Place de la Liberté, 24200 Sarlat-la-Canéda
To better grasp the depths of Périgord’s gastronomic history, visit Sarlat’s exceptional marché. Reserved for local producers but attracting patrons from far and wide, the market is dedicated to food on Wednesdays and artisans’ wares on Saturdays.
Tournepique, 24250 Castelnaud-la-Chapelle
Take a ride in the sky with Thibault Carvès in one of his beautiful hot-air balloons. Soar over the picturesque landscape with once-in-a-lifetime views of the nearby châteaux, villages and, of course, the Dordogne River. Whether at sunrise or midday, this experience is unforgettable.
Gabarres Caminade, 24250 La Roque-Gageac
The best way to enjoy the many shoreline towns of the Dordogne River is in a traditional gabare (Editor’s note: a large, flat-bottomed boat typical of the area). Embark at La Roque Gageac for a journey through fields, orchards, vineyards and the tenebrous oak forests that gave the Périgord Noir its name.