Perigord, the Cradle of Western Europe humankind

The historical County of Perigord and the Baronies of Beynac, Biron, Bourdeilles and Mareuil correspond to modern day department of Dordogne.

Sergeac in Perigord - Dordogne
Sergeac

King Henri IV re-attached the county to the Royal Estate in the 16th century.

The rivers Vézère and Dordogne flow through the department, which is now part of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in South-West France.

Its prefecture is Périgueux.

The region is considered the Cradle of Western Europe humanity as it has indeed constantly been inhabited since the Lower Paleolithic.

Neanderthal men were the first to settle in the natural shelters the Vézère River hollowed in the limestone cliffs.

Homo Sapiens, the first early modern humans anatomically similar to us, followed in their steps about 40, 000BP.

Their remains were discovered in the late 19th century in the Cro Magnon rock shelter in the village of Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil.

Cro Magnon men – as they became known – decorated, engraved and painted the countless rock shelters in the Vézère Valley.

Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil

The sophistication and specificity of their art is known as Magdalenian Art after the initial discoveries made in La Madeleine Shelter.

These earned the Vézère Valley to be listed World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Vallée de l’Homme indeed boasts 147 prehistoric sites and 25 painted or engraved caves dating from the Paleolithic.

The department of Dordogne’s outstanding archaeological sites generate today a thriving tourist industry that attracts thousands of visitors each year.

The Four Perigords

Dordogne spreads over the North-East of the sedimentary Aquitaine Basin.

The Four Perigord
The Four Perigords

A great variety in soil, vegetation and cultures therefore led the locals to divide their Perigord into four distinct areas.

The north of the department or Perigord Vert – Green is a huge checkerboard of fields and meadows delineated by hedges and woods.

The centre area around Périgueux or Perigord Blanc -White consists of  chalky limestone that gives a light colour to the soil.

The south-west around Bergerac or Perigord Pourpre – Purple is renowned for the vineyards that grow on the south-facing banks of the Dordogne river.

Finally, the prestigious Perigord Noir – Black spreads around Sarlat and takes its name after the density and dark green of the surrounding oak forests.

The Land of a Thousand Châteaux

Perigord is also known as the Land of a Thousand Châteaux.

Chateau de Losse - Rose garden
Rose garden

It was indeed at the heart of the territorial conflict that opposed French and English during the Middle Ages.

Countless bastides or walled cities and fortified castles and villages were therefore built on the rocky spurs overlooking the rivers.

Builders erected them with the beautiful local golden limestone.

Many buildings are still traditional roofed with limestone slabs locally known as lauzes.

Some of them, such as dovecotes, are a specific architectural feature of Perigord.

Exceptional villages of Perigord

Dordogne -Perigord is a splendid region that boasts 8 villages ranked among Most Beautiful Villages in France:

Beaumont du Perigord - Maison Laphite
Maison Laphite

Belvès, Beynac, Domme, Limeuil, Monpazier, La Roque Gageac, St-Jean-de-Cole and St-Léon-sur-Vézère.

Other towns and villages were granted the label Picturesque Villages in Perigord:

Montagrier and Varaignes in Perigord Vert, Biron, Liorac-sur-Louyre and Issigeac in Perigord Pourpre and Carlux, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Paunat, St-Amand-de-Coly, St-Geniès and Salignac-Eyvigues in Perigord Noir.

And of course, the Dordogne also boasts 18 bastides or walled cities:

Beaumont-du-Périgord, Beauregard-et-Bassac, Bénévent, Domme, Eymet, Fonroque, Lalinde, Molières, Monestier, Monpazier, Puyguilhem, Roquepine, Saint-Aulaye, Saint-Barthélémy-de-Bellegarde, Saint-Louis-en-l’Isle, Vergt, Villefranche-de-Lonchat and Villefranche-du-Périgord.

Products from Perigord

Perigord-Dordogne is a region of dark oak forests, limestone plateaux and vast alluvial plains.

This diversity in landscapes and soil allows it to specialize in cereals, fruits, wine and tobacco cultures and cattle breeding.

Truffle known as Black diamond

Perigord is the best black truffle producing region of France and the first European with 45% of the production of Diamonds of Périgord.

Black truffle from Perigord
Black diamond

Truffle is an underground fungus or mycelium.

It matures during winter among the roots of oak trees and some hazel-trees.

The dry limestone underground and the micro-climate of the region are ideal conditions for its development.

In the old days, farmers trained their pigs to find the truffles as they have a very acute sense of smelling.

Today, they use dogs!

Truffles obviously enter the composition of many local dishes such as Foie Gras – Goose liver pâté.

The region generates 80% of the French production.

Walnuts

Walnuts from Perigord - Dordogne
Walnuts

Perigord is the 2nd French producer of walnuts with 36,000 tons per year.

The Romans planted the first walnuts trees in the 1st century AD.

The trees are very resilient and can indeed live up to 300 years in a temperate climate.

Walnuts produce a beautifully flavoured oil, while the wood is mainly used for manufacturing of high quality furniture.

The irregularities of this hard wood or knots produce the loupe.

Strawberries

Dordogne is also the 1st French producer of strawberries with 44,000 tons per year.

Strawberries from Perigord - Dordogne
Strawberries

In fact, the Dordogne and neighbouring department of Lot-et-Garonne share the first place!

That said, Strawberries are highly sensitive to variations in weather.

They are therefore cultivated under long plastic sheets fixed on arched metallic armatures.

Tobacco and sunflowers

Finally, tobacco growing is an essential part of the local agriculture, especially in the Bergerac area.

Imported from America during the 16th century, it was initially cultivated for its medicinal virtues.

And of course, you’ll find field after field of glorious sunflowers, the emblematic flower of the region!

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Four Périgords

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