The Périgord, a rich heritage...
With its first human settlements dating as far back as 450,000 years ago, the Périgord region has an exceptional history, and the shelters and caves of the Vézère Valley offer visitors a unique insight into the lives of our ancestors. The region is still today dotted with the vestiges of Gallo-Roman cities, religious edifices (Roman Art) and medieval fortresses.
The discovery of the prehistoric caves and shelters pushes the history of Périgord further back than ever imagined, but it can also be said that the history of Périgord begins in the Roman period when the inhabitants of the Dordogne began calling themselves “Petrocorii”. The first hints of the birth of our Périgordian region date back to its attachment to the Roman province Aquitania.
In the 10th century, Périgord was divided into the baronies of Beynac, Biron, Bourdeilles, and Mareuil. In the 12th century Périgord became an earldom and the abbeys of Boschaud, Cadouin, Chancelade and Sarlat were built. After the French Revolution, the 1789 Assembly identified the Dordogne as a region and defined its communes and cantons. Despite the rural exodus of the late 19th century, agriculture remains a major activity, supplemented in the 20th century by a surge in tourism.
Sarlat-la-Canéda, a town of Art and History...
Sarlat-la-Canéda has been able to maintain and preserve the marks of its history.
The medieval city grew up around a large Benedictine abbey dating back to Carolingian times. As a monastic estate, it reached its peak in the 13th century.
Its origins are lost in the mists of time, but it existed in the 9th century as one of the six main Périgord abbeys (the others being Paunat, Belvès, Saint Front de Périgueux, Brantôme, Terrasson). The Carolingian abbey of Sarlat was the only one to have been spared by the Vikings, situated as it was away from the Dordogne and its tributaries. It managed to stay independent and in 1153 placed itself under the direct protection of the Papal See in Rome. It was rebuilt in Roman times between 1125 and 1160. In 1318, it became the seat of the new bishopric created by Pope John XXII. The abbey church became the cathedral of the diocese of Sarlat. The bishops, replacing the abbots, began an architectural transformation that was finally completed in the late 17th century.
Bishops and consuls shared power from the 14th century to the Revolution. Having become an episcopal city, Sarlat played a prominent role in the Hundred Years War. With resident armed troops, and stores of weapons and food, the fortified city was also defended by outlying castles and was able to help other towns besieged by the English: Belvès, Domme, Montignac. It was ceded, however, to the English under the Treaty of Brittany in 1360. Although retaining its former status, it was forced to surrender twice and suffered under the iron hands of Captain Geoffroy de Vivans and the Viscount of Turenne.
The Fronde rebellion ended the peace in 1652. Sarlat was occupied again by Condé troops but eventually regained its freedom in bloody fighting. The architectural quality of its monuments and buildings attest to its dynamism and its ability to weather major economic crises. The disappearance of the diocese (as it was attached to Périgueux) in the Revolution ended its importance. As a sub-prefecture it sank into oblivion for almost 150 years, surfacing only 40 years ago.
One may be excused for thinking that many French town and cities have just as curious and picturesque lanes and beautiful monuments, but modernization has gradually destroyed those treasures of the past and Sarlat has miraculously been saved thanks to legislation passed on 4 August 1962 called the Malraux Law. This law for the restoration of protected sectors was first applied in Sarlat. The centre of the small medieval city with its 65 protected monuments and buildings was used as the pilot project for fine-tuning the restoration criteria and financing.
“Here is the Paradise of the French” (Henry Miller).
In 1965, the two communes of Canéda and Serlat merged to become Sarlat-la-Canéda.
With its boundaries roughly corresponding to the Périgord of old, the Dordogne département is an “intermediate” region: north to south it lies between the Massif Central and its foothills in the Aquitaine Basin, and from east to west between the highlands of Corrèze and Lot and the open country of the Charente. Bathing, climbing, hiking, horse-riding... A unique region for all lovers of nature and sporting holidays.
A truly vast region (922,000 hectares, the 3rd largest in France), it features forests side by side with farmland: tree-covered hills and slopes, and heaths chequered with vales and meadows.
The Périgord offers a vast range of activities. Water parks that extend into the natural environment, languid streams that can turn into rapids and waterfalls, the region will satisfy the entire family. Canoeing and canal-boating, horse-riding and buggying, marked trails for biking or just hiking... The Périgord is totally unspoilt. Very few parts of it are industrialized. It is a lush, green, sunfilled landscape with a vast range of countrysides.
Goose and duck, their famous “foies” and confits as Périgord’s flagship products. Crepes too: nut, strawberry, mushroom, vine...
Périgord cuisine is governed by local produce.
Recipes – the real ones – are passed mother to daughter, and are family treasures: regional recipes and preparations for preserves to last the winter. An epicurean tradition, a warm welcome, and the art of “living well”: that’s Périgord.
Périgord walnuts were awarded AOC status (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) since the 2002 harvest. The nut has cholesterol-inhibiting properties. Périgord walnuts are totally “green” and create no pollutants.
Duck and goose foie gras is a major Périgord product. The first signs of goose farming (see the illustration) date from 15,000 years ago. Today, the entire region rightly boasts expertise in foie gras.
The Dordogne River, an imposing valley full of tourism opportunities...
The Dordogne (Dorgonha in Occitan) is a river sometimes classified as a French river in the Massif Central and sometimes in the Aquitaine Basin. The Dordogne Valley is a listed art and history heritage site.
French primary-education syllabuses have always classified it as a tributary of the Garonne. However, it flows directly into the sea via the Gironde estuary (which is actually its own estuary jointly with the Garonne).
Most institutions currently operating in the Dordogne Basin consider it to be a river.
The Dordogne offers many different tourist stays and holidays: Canoeing/kayaking, rafting, hydrospeed, sports or leisure fishing, bathing, sailing, flying, windsurfing, waterskiing, and leisurely canal-boating.
The traditional Dordogne, Garonne and Loire boat, flat-bottomed and with a small draught, was used to transport freight. The boats were clinker-built (hull made of overlapping slats and nailed in place by wooden pegs). The freight used to be ore and various agricultural produce, but mainly wood for casks (Auvergne wood for Bordeaux casks downstream, Atlantic salt, in exchange for north Quercy and the Auvergne upstream). Some of these boats have been rebuilt for tourism.
The Dordogne Valley with its lush landscapes, and some tourist sites, have been able to safeguard the valley’s history.