Out and About: The Dordogne

The Dordogne is a department of south-west France, with a population of approximately 400,000, located approximately two hour drive east of the major city of Bordeaux and two hours north of Toulouse. It’s around four hundred miles south of the Channel. The Dordogne forms part of the province of Aquitaine, along with the departments of Pyrenees-Atlantiques, Landes, Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne.

The Dordogne has a temperate climate and is a rich and fertile area, thereby supporting a rich variety of local agriculture produce. The region is densely forested with oak and chestnut and is criss-crossed by rivers flowing from the plateau of the Massif Central out to the Atlantic. The most famous of these, the Dordogne, has carved out a beautiful winding valley through the lush green centre of the region.

The Dordogne boasts the greatest number of castles and chateaux of all French departments. There are close to 1000 in total. A legend pretends that when God distributed his castles, he started by the Loire Valley. Going far away from there, his bag burst over the Dordogne river and the Perigord region will be eternally thankful for his clumsiness!

A large number of the chateaux date from the 13th and 14th centuries when the Dordogne was the frontier region in the Hundred Year War between France and England. Other dates from the Renaissance period.

The Dordogne is also an important European archaeological centre. Many Stone Age relics and caves have been found here dating back to 200,000 years ago (see the history section).

Over the 20th century the Dordogne has been characterised by a continual rural exodus. As a result many rural depopulated areas now rely heavily on agriculture and tourism. Principal agriculture products include wine, Perigord truffles, foie-gras and walnuts. The Dordogne is also the chief French producer of strawberries and tobacco (see the food and wine section for more detail). A visit to the local village markets, with their wonderful assortment of fruit and vegetables, clearly indicates the region’s self-sufficiency in food.