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By Ron van Dijk /

The Dordogne flows between castles, From Souillac to Beynac, many of which date to the Hundred Year War between the French and the English. No doubt, this is mainly because the river was the route of passage, in the days of bad roads over the uplands, or no roads at all. The cliffs that border the valley might have been created to please warriors who sought a high rock to build on and a wide view from their towers. Castelnaud is a fantastic castle with an even more fantastic view…, overlooking its adversary: the castle of Beynac. They are not the palaces of the Loire, raised for princes to visit in the hunting season; but, they are better situated, and they have a human air of habitation.

Nearby is La Roque-Gageac, a strange village built up a perpendicular cliff, its houses clamped against the rock on a few terraces. A bit further up the river is Domme, reached by a zig-zag road from Cénac. Domme is a bastide. It was built in the 13th century, when fortress-towns were being set up all over this country. It was the custom to give the people privileges in order to induces them to build the places and inhabit them…, as well as fight on the right side if this were necessary. Domme still has two gates, and a good deal of its walls; streets of honey-colored houses, and the terrace overlooking the Dordogne far below. Beaumont is another good example of a bastide. It has the typical central market square, surrounded by the arcades called the ‘cornières’. The streets form a grid within the walls and the little town was purely built for defence. Once the town gates were shut, the enemy would have to scale the double line of walls. And if he got through that, the people took refuge in the church and defended it like a castle. Its towers still bear traces of the battlement from which the defenders shot arrows at the invaders, and the windows are set too high to be accessible without ladders.

In Cadouin you will find the majestic austere abbey-church which for many centuries attracted hoards of pilgrims to the Holy Shroud of Christ, which had long been considered as the shroud to have enveloped the head of the Christ after his crucifixion.  In the 19th century, a monk insisted on deciphering the inscription woven into its margin, which proved to be a Muslim text, and the pilgrimages ceased to continue.

French cookery is not only unsurpassed, it is supreme. Within her borders, the standard varies immensely. Every region has its specialties, but there are two which are generally outstanding: Burgundy and the South-West including the Dordogne. When visiting the Dordogne you will find yourself in a gastronomic paradise. Though the French were never famous for their breakfasts, the quality and quantitiy has greatly improved with the influx of foreign visitors. Naturally, a smaller breakfast allows you to drop into the patisserie to eat delicious pastries and cakes!

The food in the Dordogne is locally produced, and therein lies its great virtue. Nothing is imported, nothing is stale. The lettuces are straight out of the soil, the apricots off the trees. You eat the fruits of the earth in their season. The great local delicacies are truffles and cèpes, and various conserved meats. The potted Foie Gras, goose and duck, are marvelous and are rich beyond belief. In case you are worried about the welfare of the animals, farmers are no longer allowed to force feed the animals (as they did in the past). Nowadays, the geese and ducks just live on a ‘fattening’ diet.  

The preserves of goose and duck (called confit) are also great and should be tried at least one. Combine it with one of the local red wines from Cahors, and you will enjoy life like a King or Queen in France!


Best,

Ron

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