On Saturday we finally made the time to visit the town of Périgueux in the Périgord region. Périgord is our eastern border neighbour of the Gironde and has a fascinating history, rich in cuisine and plentiful dramatic landscapes.
Périgord is divided into four regions. To the east, cliffs of Sarlat form Périgord Noir. The middle Isle Valley and the main town of Périgueux where trade and industry have flourished is called Périgord Blanc. The rolling hills and vineyards of Bergerac are in southern Périgord Pourpre and in the north you have ‘Périgord Vert’ and its Parc Naturel Regional Périgord-Limousin.
The region boasts some of the best-preserved prehistoric sites including the fabulous cave paintings at Lascaux dating from the Palaeolithic era. More recently it was a major part of the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries. The region is littered with hundreds of medieval and Renaissance Chateaux, some of the best to visit being Beynac, Bourdeilles and Puymartin.
When you arrive into Périgueux the town is dominated by the magnificent domed white Cathedral of Saint Front: well worth a visit. The religious site dates from the 11th century with the domes being added in the 12th century. Viewed from the air, the four gigantic domes form a cross.
On the other side of town is the Gallo Roman area, once dominated by a huge amphitheatre. Built in the 1st century AD, the structure once held 20,000 spectators. What remains of the amphitheatre is now found in the Jardin Arènes and since the scale of the ancient building can be still seen, it’s worth having a look.
Saturday morning in Périgueux is a must as every square in the historic town holds a food market. In Place de la Clautre, right under the cathedral, you can find colourful local fruit and vegetables; Place de Coderc sells fresh meat and poultry; in the Coderc Marché couvert you get great fresh fish and finally you’ll discover the engulfing perfume of the truffle market in Place Saint Louis.
With the sites of Périgueux covered it was time to explore the food and wine of this region! The narrow streets joining the various squares together are bustling with cafes and bistros, with truffles in the air, and duck and goose products everywhere you turn. We found a lovely small, family-run restaurant called the Au Bien Bon. I recommend it, good traditional plates for a 13€ menu midi accompanied by a pichet of rustic vin rouge from Pécharment .
Although Bergerac wines are fairly well known, there are some other little heard of wine appellations in Périgord. I tasted some excellent AOC Pécharment in bottle and – albeit a bit rustic and tannic – some good carafe red that goes well with a lunch of duck and pate.
Pécharment is a tiny 400ha vineyard area that lies in the northern hills around the town of Bergerac. Red Bordeaux varietals are used here and some good honest wines are made. Apparently the vineyards of Pécharment used to be harvested to make the delicate white wines of Rosette. Rosette is an AOC in its own right and is now limited to the west of Pécharment it is the smallest and least known AOC of the region that uses Semillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle to produce wines that must contain between 8-54 g/l residual sugar. I tried a 2012 Clos l’Envège which was delicate with light tropical aromas, slightly sweet (15g/l) but with a good acidity and body. Great alternative to sweet wine for either a pate starter or dessert; try one if you can get one!
If you ever visit Périgueux then I recommend the following restaurants (reservation a must) and a bottle of Rosette can be found at the Cave Julien De Savignac in rue Taillefer.
· Au Bien Bon 15 Rue des Places, Tel: 05 53 09 69 91
· Le Grain du Sel Restaurant at 7 Rue des Farges Tel: 05 53 53 45 22
· Café de la Place, 7 Place du Marché au Bois 24000 Périgueux Tel: 05 53 08 21 11