High and low into the Périgord Noir

Sarlat Hotels - town hall in Sarlat

The Périgord Noir: idyllic nature, adventurous detours into the past and gourmet dishes – good reasons to travel to the green heart of France. This article was adapted from its original publication in the Augsburger Allgemeine.

The Dordogne and the Vézère meander through green valleys. Extensive forests dominate the landscape, quaint little towns nestle against steep cliffs: the scenery of the Black Perigord might as well come from a picture book. In the footsteps of the Cro-Magnon, mammoths & company, there is not only wild romance on display here, but also history you can touch and feel.

This picturesque region in the department of the French Dordogne is part of the historic province of Périgord, composed of black (noir), green (vert), white (blanc) and purple (pourpre). The black Perigord is considered the jewel of the Dordogne. And rightly so: Sarlat-la-Canéda – Sarlat for short – is a feast for the eyes.

Markets with regional treats

The medieval town with almost 10,000 inhabitants is beautifully restored. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, a market is held in the streets, where you will find mainly local delicacies. These products are made of goose, duck, walnuts and truffles. From November to February, a separate truffle market is held as well.

The Périgord noir is not only famous for its culinary delights, its history is also impressive. From prehistoric times to the Middle Ages, the area has a major story to tell. Numerous museums, theme parks, exhibitions and nature trails await eager visitors. The spectrum ranges from child-friendly to highly sophisticated.

The artists of primitive times

Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are world famous, making the artist immortal. Who created the pictures in the cave of Lascaux, we will never know exactly. What is certain, however, is that the “Sistine Chapel of Cave Painting” near Montignac shows something spectacular: more than 2000 drawings – mostly animals – decorate a 150-meter-long underground passageway. They are said to have originated around 19,000 BC. The fact that “Lascaux II” and “Lascaux III” are one to one replicated caves – as the enormously air- and light-sensitive original is no longer freely accessible – does not detract from the experience in the least.

Those who prefer to travel at high altitudes rather than below ground should visit La Roque St. Christophe. The open air museum is located 80 meters above the ground in a limestone wall. The kilometer-long niche in the rock is not created by human hands: water and frost hollowed out the stone. This created terraces that were inhabited 55,000 years ago. Even in the Middle Ages and late into the Renaissance, this lookout perched high above the Vézère was highly appreciated. Exhibits and models illustrate the journey into the past.

The excitement continues underground

For tourists visiting the Périgord noir, a detour to the neighboring department of the Lot is recommended. There, about 60 kilometers from Sarlat, lies the Gouffre de Padirac. “Gouffre”, in French, stands for “abyss”, “divide.” Among locals and tourists, the attraction is also known as the “circular gorge of Padirac.”

Even from the outside, the stalactite cave is awe-inspiring: in the middle of nowhere, a hole with a diameter of 35 meters gapes into the ground. 75 meters below you can see the mossy floor – a kind of natural foyer, from where it goes even lower. After about 500 steps, and an additional ride in the elevator, it goes deep into the cave. On foot, you will explore the first section, before going in a small boat on the Rivière Plane, an underground river. Later, your legs will be challenged again. Gigantic stalactites and stalagmites of up to 75 meters in height, underground lakes and bizarre rock formations will captivate you.

Back in the Périgord, some will feel like a knight or damsel. That’s understandable: more than 1000 castles and palaces tower in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vézère. They proudly seem to watch over small villages, enchanting its people with dazzling lighting. Most of these buildings have been restored and turned into museums.

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