About Central France – The Dordogne and Massif Central
First and foremost the Dordogne is a river. It rises in the Auvergne, flows 472 km west to Bordeaux, and by the time it reaches the département of Dordogne is a broad and gentle creature gliding between poplar-lined banks and ruined castles perched on limestone cliffs. Gazing down from their eyries, these stern fortresses and the bastides, handkerchief-sized fortified settlements tucked away in the crumpled southern hills, can seem at odds with Dordogne’s rural idyll. They are the legacy of old Périgord, a frontline state in the Hundred Years War, and as far as the French are concerned (departmental bureaucrats notwithstanding) this is Périgord still.
The great advantage in being a region instead of a département is not having to recognize boundaries, so Perigord has been divided into four mini-regions: Périgord Vert, the meadows and woodlands of the north; Périgord Blanc, a swathe of territory through the centre; Périgord Pourpre (purple) for the vineyards around Bergerac; and Périgord Noir, the south-eastern comer incorporating the famous prehistoric caves.
Périgord is over-run with visitors in summer, but this should not put you off: the welcoming, generally rolling, often pleasantly green landscape is big enough to take the people. Périgordian delicacies from foie gras and confits (goose or duck preserved in their own fat) to walnuts and truffles (the latter an aromatic edible fungus snuffled out by discerning pigs) are available year-round.
The main N89 runs almost the entire way between Bordeaux and Lyonand gives access to many of the best places to visit. Périgueux and Brive-la-Gaillarde are the two launching points for Périgord Noir, the focus of the Dordogne tourist trail which lies to the south around Sarlat-la-Canéda. Anyone with time to spare should take in Upper Dordogne and the Lot.
Bus services are very erratic and require patience; trains are only slightly better. Périgueux (for Bordeaux and les Eyzies-de-Tayac) and Brive-la-Gaillarde (for Clermont-Ferrand, Sarlat and Uzerche) are the main transport hubs; Bergerac is also served by Bordeaux and Sarlat trains. Bike hire is widespread and although the terrain is hilly (except along the riverbank), distances are short.