Of the dozen administrative regions within mainland France, the southwestern region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest—home to almost six million residents and bigger than the country of Austria. A thousand years ago the Aquitaine (whose borders have shifted over time) was renowned as one of the wealthiest and most agriculturally rich regions in this part of Europe. Today it is subdivided into 7 departements, the easternmost being a gastronomic hot spot known as the Dordogne (pronounced dor-DOY-ne), also called Périgord.
Dordogne’s capital, or préfecture, is the city of Périgueux, located on the banks of the Isle River. The city dates from when members of the Petrocori tribe joined Romans to create the town of Vesunna. The region around this city is known as the white Périgord (Périgord Blanc) after the abundance of local chalky outcrops.
To visit, it is wise to visit the tourist office on Place Francheville (office hours can be sparse; check in advance on the internet). There you can pick up free maps of the town and region. Even if you already have touring literature, such as a Michelin Green Guide, it can be valuable to learn of the latest regional festivals.
Though not as charm-laden as the city of Bordeaux, there are enough attractions within the city of Périgueux to make it worth spending a day before you head out to explore the countryside.
These include a military museum, the Vesunna Gallo Roman Museum, and the Art and Archaeology Museum—the fourth most important in the country regarding archeological finds, for which the Dordogne is famed. The annual Festival of Saint-Georges in early May, one of the oldest in the Aquitaine, attracts 25,000 visitors to bicycle races, fishing competitions, food stalls and fireworks.
Dordogne-Périgord is renowned for food. Summer festivals celebrate crayfish, roasted poultry, meats and wine, while the fall and winter are when porcini mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts are in season. Government road signs advertising this region include a drawing of a farmer next to geese (think foie gras) and a pig (think ham). This focus on rich food is reason enough to visit the open-air markets held each Wednesday and Saturday in Périgueux. Three markets are held in three squares before and west of the Basilica-Cathedral Saint-Front de Périgueux.
If this cathedral reminds you of the basilica of Sacré-Coeur in Paris, there is a reason: the mid-19th century reconstruction was designed by the same architect, Paul Abadie. It is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.
Of three markets, the main event occurs in the square of Place de la Clautre—once a site for public executions that is now surrounded by café patios. Consider walking around three peripheral sides of the market before weaving up and down between stalls to explore the interior.
Here are fresh baked loaves in different sizes and shapes with distinct names: batard, tourte, couronne or ficelle. Seafood includes Royan sole, live spider crabs, filets of dorado and scallops. Ample vegetable stalls sell red onions, white asparagus (tender, thick and tasty; as they grow the stalks are covered with dirt to shield them from sunshine). You can buy Dordogne butternut squash and chanterelle or (depending on the season) porcini mushrooms. Other colorful combinations include truffle salt, strawberry oil, chestnut honey, walnut mustard, goat milk yogurt in a range of flavors, chocolate coated cranberries and mint pepper tea. You can inspect fig, blueberry, quince and prune jams, or sausages flavored with Basque spices, hazelnuts or deer meat. This is also a center for foie gras, the making of which has been passed down through generations of families.
A two minute walk away is a slightly smaller market within the Place de la Coderc. Here you can find duck breast (magret de canard), freshly skinned rabbits, Sichuan or red peppers and green tomato jelly.
If you visit on a day without markets, local stores will also sell much of what you need. For a souvenir, consider an outlet on cobbled Rue Limogeanne that sells Couteau de Nontron knives. With their engraved boxwood handles, these have been produced in the Dordogne for six centuries.
These marketplaces are also social theaters. You can drink coffee and observe a fascinating range of different characters: a pink booted daughter clasping her scarfed father's hand as they inspect carrots, capped vendors shaking hands, gesticulating mothers bantering before stalls that sell reed baskets.
When the basilica bells chime at noon, vendors may clap hands as a signal that it’s time to pack up. Sellers will begin to place asparagus in crates, cabbage in sacks and fruit into boxes as they ready to depart.
For lunch at a city restaurant try a Périgord cassoulet, a pan of soup with white beans, vegetables, local ham and a leg of poultry. Take care what you drink: this filling broth will overpower any wine except a full-bodied red. Consider a relatively local bottle from Cahors or Bergerac.
After exploring Périgueux, you can drive out to visit more of Dordogne-Périgord. Travel south to the Dordogne River valley to inspect caves and museums packed with pre-historical finds, or west to taste the wines of Bergerac. If the GPS sends you off a main road through narrow country lanes surrounded by quiet fields and woods—consider this a gift. Relax and enjoy this off-route adventure while it lasts.
Why You Should Visit The Gastronomic Hot Spot Of Périgueux
Reviewed by Mobile Tech World