It takes a Brit to show us the magic of the Périgord

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British best-selling author, Martin Walker, has brought the French Périgord region to the literary world map with his crime series. The region, however, is worth a detour even without murder and manslaughter. The original version of this story can be found in Germany’s “Die Welt”, in German-only, unfortunately.

Apparently, it takes a Brit to promote the quiet beauty of the deeply rural province in southwestern France. Brits have always had a good sense of destinations with potential: whether in Chianti, Mallorca or the Algarve – they were usually there before everyone else. Scottish best-selling author, Martin Walker, whose Bruno crime thrillers spread the word around the world, discovered the Périgord in the 1980s when he visited friends in Le Bugue.

“We went to the local markets and canoed on the Dordogne river. I liked it, but I never dreamed of ever living here,” he says. Until his wife, Julia Watson, a food critic and passionate cook, found the perfect home at the outskirts of Le Bugue in 1998: a farmhouse almost as idyllic as that of Fernand and Odette, two of the relatively insignificant characters in Martin Walker’s latest crime novel, “Grand Prix.”

The Périgord benefits from Martin Walker’s thrillers

Martin Walker is an intellectual hailing from Oxford and Harvard. He was editor of the British newspaper “The Guardian” for 25 years. Then he ran a think tank for top executives in Washington, DC. He wrote nonfiction books about the Cold War, Gorbachev and Bill Clinton. Today, he mainly writes crime stories.

The Bruno novels unfold in his adopted country, are translated into fifteen languages and provided the very best advertisement for the Périgord region. The region can use the publicity because, in spite of its enchanting villages, countless castles dating back the 12th and 13th centuries, the romantic history of famed Cyrano de Bergerac as well as excellent restaurants, it stands in the shadow of the elegant seaside resorts on the Atlantic or the wealthy city of Bordeaux and its famous wine-growing region.

Without Martin Walker, Le Bugue would probably have remained an unknown city forever, counting just under 3000 inhabitants, a classical town hall, picturesque winding lanes and lots of flowering geraniums. But Walker’s fans know that Le Bugue represents the location for the fictitious Romansh venue Saint-Denis, and that the local village policeman, Pierre Simonet, stands in for the actual Chief of Police, Bruno Courrèges.

Walk in Bruno’s footsteps

A total of nine Bruno thrillers have been printed by Diogenes Verlag today, representing a total of around two million books. Germans, Swiss and Austrians alike drive in droves to the Périgord and follow Bruno’s footsteps – into the prehistoric grotte du Sorcier, over the famous truffle market of Sainte-Alvère or through the lanes of Limeuil, one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Some of the places described in the books are fictitious, others alienated. But many locations are simply called by their actual name, and so the reader finds his way to the charming restaurant “Chez Julien” in Paunat, to the starred restaurant of the Relais & Châteaux hotel “Au Vieux Logis” in Trémolat, or to the winery Château de Tiregand.

“My friend Martin has brought me many visitors,” says François-Xavier de Saint-Exupéry, nephew of the famous aviator and writer (“The Little Prince”). Mr. de Saint-Exupéry is the owner of the impressive Château de Tiregand. He also owns a good 35 hectares of vineyards in the north of Bergerac.

More and more German tourist buses stop at the gravel driveway in front of his castle: “People are asking about Bruno’s favorite wine. They do not even taste it and just take a few bottles with them,” says the winemaker.

At the Le Bugue market, Stéphane Bounichou says that his highly acclaimed cheese, the Tomme d’Audrix, has also become a bestseller. “It’s unbelievable how many tourists buy a piece of it,” he says.

A few corpses are by no means a deterrent

In Audrix itself, a picturesque medieval hamlet, the charming two-star Auberge Médievale benefits from the success of the Bruno series as well. Owner Karin Beyney tells us that her six rooms are mainly booked by German-speaking guests and that almost every visitor holds a Walker thriller in their luggage.

“If Martin Walker did not exist, our hotel business would not be so good,” says Micheline Morissonneau from the Dordogne-Périgord Tourist Office. She can prove her assessment of the situation: between 2010 and 2016, the number of German hotel guests in the region increased by 22 percent, while the number of Swiss guests increased by more than 75 percent.

The fact that not even a few corpses are a deterrent to tourism, but on the contrary attract tourists to the places of fictional crime, is nothing new. Agatha Christie’s book “Death on the Nile” didn’t negatively impact the travel industry either in its time. Even today, one can find nostalgic Nile cruises that remind us of the crime writer.

How many readers of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán have followed private detective Pepe Carvalho through Barcelona’s Boqueria market? How many have traveled to Concarneau, Brittany, to join forces with Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Inspector Dupin at the L’Amiral restaurant?

Word is, there are tourists who explore Venice with an open book by Donna Leon in hand. The reader learns that Guido Brunetti’s wife buys her cheese at Casa del Parmigiano and occasionally takes her to the fish bar “Al Covo”.

Travel Tips and Information

Getting there: The nearest airport is Bordeaux, reachable for example with Easyjet from Berlin or with Volotea from Munich, then by rental car. There are also train connections, such as Paris, Limoges-Bénédictins and Périgueux to Le Bugue.

Accommodations:

In Trémolat: “Le Vieux Logis” (double room starting at 210 Euro; with half board for two persons from 440 Euro), luxurious and atmospheric 23-room hotel with beautiful garden, star chef Vincent Arnould’s kitchen alone is worth a visit.

In Les Eyzies: “Les Glycines” (double room starting at 129 euros), a former post office dating back to 1862 has been transformed into a contemporary hotel. Guests can expect a modern spa and can find truffle menus in winter times.

In Audrix: “Auberge Médievale” (double room starting at 48 euros), a simple but very charming six-room hotel in the picturesque village center, where you can eat under the grapevines on the terrace in the summer.

Festivals and markets: the Baroque festival with Baroque music and Romanesque architecture every year during the month of June. Summer night markets with specialty stands and music in several places, such as the organic night market in Sarlat, where an internationally renowned theater festival takes place.

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