Gourmet Dordogne: how to make the most of one of France’s top foodie regions
In addition to magnificent castles, prehistoric cave art and lush landscapes, the Dordogne is famous for its foodie traditions. Immersing yourself in its culinary culture is one of the best – and tastiest – ways to experience life in rural France. The region’s gastronomic goodies range from truffles and walnuts to fine wine and fresh produce. If you enjoy soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of a French market, Dordogne will be your heaven.
Dive into the markets
Local farmers crowd their stalls along the cobbled plazas and winding lanes of the Dordogne (also known as Périgord), selling seasonal treats such as cèpe mushrooms, chestnuts, duck terrines, foie gras and confit, walnuts and even truffes noires (black truffles). Browse towers of pungent cheese, arrays of creamy honey and heaps of the produce of the moment, from asparagus to strawberries. Summertime night markets are also fantastic: bring your own plates and cutlery and dine at tables set under the stars.
The town of Sarlat-la-Canéda has a famous (and therefore touristy) Saturday market and a night market on summer Thursdays. Each village also has its own market day, and some of the top markets fill the winding medieval streets of fascinating villages such as Issigeac (Sunday) or the covered market halls of history-filled bastides (fortified villages) like Monpazier (Thursday) and Beaumont-du-Périgord (Monday nights in summer).
Dine at the region’s top tables
All of the magnificent produce available in the Dordogne begs exquisite preparations, so no wonder the region boasts excellent restaurants. Offerings include Michelin-starred delights like Le Vieux Logis where chef Vincent Arnould crafts refined Périgord cuisine. Or dive deep into the hills behind Trémolat to find Les Truffieres, a cosy, casual farmstead where Yanick and his son Aurélian prepare farm-fresh fare such as a rich, aromatic garlic soup.
Other top tables hide in tiny villages, including Le Petit Paris in Daglan, with its super-fresh seasonal cuisine, and Le Saint Martial in St-Martial-de-Nabirat, with precision dishes prepared by Valérie and Jean-Marc Réal. Villa Laetitia in the regional hub of Bergerac serves daily specials, all Périgord classics, in a cream-stone dining room. You can splurge on luxury produce (think truffles, lobster and St-Jacques scallops) at Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat-la-Canéda; another option is L’Essentiel in Périgueux, where chef Eric Vidal invents dishes built around local lamb, pork and duck.
Quaff the local wines
Since it’s not as famous as Bordeaux and St-Émilion, the area around Bergerac is an affordable and essential stop for wine-lovers. Vineyards carpet the countryside around town, producing rich reds, fragrant whites and fruity rosés – and with 13 AOCs (Appéllations d’Origines Contrôlées) and more than 1200 wine-growers, the choice is broad. The town’s Maison des Vins is an informative place to start tasting, pick up maps of wine routes or organise vineyard visits. Among the many Bergerac vineyards open to the public is the prestigious Château de Tiregand (chateau-de-tiregand.com), known for its Pécharmant wines. Monbazillac is a local sweet wine, perfectly paired with Dordogne pâté or cheese. Try it at grand Château de Monbazillac or family-run Château Montdoyen, which also crafts excellent white wines.
To stock up on an array of vintages, head to Julien de Savignac, a top purveyor in the region. Their flagship store in Le Bugue holds an eye-popping range of wines, from the inexpensive wines sold en vrac (bring your own empty jug) to rarefied vintages sold for thousands of euros. As you travel, also look out for the local, often homemade, eau de noix (walnut liqueur). You can find it in shops, too, such as Sarlat’s Distillerie du Périgord.
Gorge on truffles
While the Dordogne is famed for all of its gourmet goodies, for some culinary connoisseurs there’s only one that matters: the black Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum), often dubbed le diamant noir (black diamond) or la perle noire du Périgord (black pearl of the Périgord). The height of truffle season is between December and February, when you’ll find them on local menus and when special truffle markets are held around the region in towns like Périgueux (Marchés au Gras), Brantôme (Friday mornings) and Sarlat-la-Canéda (Saturday mornings). Leading local chefs head 35km south of Périgueux to diminutive St-Alvère’s marché aux truffes (Monday mornings), where top harvests fetch as much as €1000 per kilogram, and the aromatic tubers are weighed out on scales around the town market hall.
The art of truffle hunting is a matter of luck, judgment and hard-earned experience, with specially trained dogs (and sometimes pigs) helping in the search. You can book in with expert Edouard Aynaud at Truffière de Péchalifour, just north of St-Cyprien, to tour his truffières (truffle-growing areas) and try the rarefied fungi over a picnic lunch.
Things to do when you’ve had your fill
Historic castles Don’t miss the Dordogne’s beautifully situated thousand-year-old fortresses such as Château de Beynac and Château de Castelnaud, which were set up in strategic opposition across the emerald-green Dordogne River. Nearby you can tour famous entertainer Josephine Baker’s grand home at Château des Milandes.
Vézère Valley cave art North of the Dordogne, the placid Vézère River winds through lush meadows, creating a tiny valley flanked by limestone cliffs which conceal dozens of subterranean caverns world-famous for wonderfully preserved prehistoric sites. Inside, the incredible cave paintings, engravings and sculptures comprise the highest concentration of Stone Age art found in Europe. Mostly created by Cro-Magnon people between approximately 15,000 BC and 10,000 BC, primary sites surround the town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil with its brilliant Musée National de Préhistoire . Top caves include Grotte de Font de Gaume, Grotte des Combarelles, Grotte de Rouffignac and Lascaux II (the last of which is a reconstruction of the magnificent original Lascaux cave, now closed to the public).
Boating the rivers of the Dordogne One of the best ways to explore the gorgeous scenery of the Dordogne is aboard a gabarre, a flat-bottomed wooden boat used to transport freight along the rivers of the Périgord. From April to October, traditional gabarres cruise from Bergerac, Brantôme, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and La Roque Gageac. La Roque Gageac’s operators include Gabarres Caminade, Gabarres Norbert and Gabarres de Beynac. To burn off some of the calories acquired on your trip, companies also rent out canoes and kayaks. In La Roque Gageac, try Canoë Vacances and in Les Eyzies, Canoës Vallée Vézère.