Where you can experience the Real France

When I say France, you may naturally think of Paris.  However, there is far more to this country than its capital city.

One fine example of this is the gorgeous town of Bergerac located in the South-Western department of Dordogne.  I’m not saying that Dordogne is the only place to experience the ‘Real France,’ but considering that I holidayed there last summer, it only makes sense to discuss it now.

Why did I go there?

When I’ve been to France before I’ve generally travelled to Paris with the odd excursion to Rouen or Lyons.  However, my close French friend, Louis, and his paternal grandparents live in the small village of Le-Coux-Et-Bigaroque in Bergerac, Dordogne.

Having spent his summers there, in 2017 he invited our friend Farhad and I to stay with him for a week.  And it was within that week, I experienced a France very different to the one in Paris.

The Culture

So, what made Bergerac so different from Paris? Well, for starters, the whole way of life is different.  As you can expect from a capital city, Paris is a place where everybody is on the move.

This was not the case with Le-Coux-et-Bigaroque.  It was such a small village that everybody knew each other.  Everyone was more relaxed and took their time to get things done.

Bergarac is a town steeped in history.  The Lascaux Caves are a cave system with some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.  The original caves are closed for conservation purposes, but stunning replicas have been painstakingly-recreated.

Here you can see over 2000 paintings with 900 of these being of animals like deer, cattle, bird and even a rhinoceros.  But most impressive has to be the Hall of Bulls chamber, where there are paintings of bulls over 5 metres long.

There is also the magnificent Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.  Built in the 12th century as the epitome of a Medieval fortress, it has since become a vastly historical building, which overlooks the Dordogne River.

Chateau de Castelnaud Bergerac France
Chateau de Castelnaud, Bergerac, France

Lastly, if you have a hankering to see some incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations, then book a guided tour around the Gouffre de Proumeyssac, where you can see the stunning Cathedral of Crystal.

The Food

When we were in Bergerac, we ate and we ate and we ate and we ate.  Louis’ grandmother cooked us huge lunches and dinners and they were always delicieux.

Beyond the standard bread and cheese, we had many dishes typical of a small country village.  We had meat galore, including wild boar, chicken, venison, duck, pork – all of which was locally sourced and hunted.  No processed food there.  And as you might have guessed, this area of France might not be the most vegan-friendly.

However, their local delicacy is walnuts.  You will see them growing everywhere and you will find walnut versions of everything.  There’s walnut ice cream, walnut wine, walnut beer, walnut tea, walnut aperitifs, walnut EVERYTHING.

The Landscape

Le-Coux-et-Bigaroque and, by extension Bergerac, was absolutely gorgeous.  Set in the heart of the French countryside, there were blue skies and rolling fields.  A welcome alternative to air pollution and traffic jams.

Bergerac’s defining feature is the Dordogne river, which is what the department is named after.  The river is splendid stretching 500 kilometres through Limousin and Perigord, before ending in Bordeaux.

Every morning, Louis, Farhad and I, went swimming in the river.  The water was crystal clear and we could often see barbel and perch.  Occasionally, we’d try to catch them – to varying degrees of success.

As mentioned before, the Castelnaud-la-chapelle overlooks the Dordogne and seeing this spectacular landscape was a truly humbling experience.  The skies were the clearest possible and the sunshine sparkled off the water.  On the other side, the castle overlooked luscious (I’m running out of adjectives) green fields.

Dordogne River as seen from the Chateau de Castelnaud
Dordogne River, as seen from the Chateau de Castelnaud

Yet there is more than one way to enjoy the Dordogne.  We spent one afternoon kayaking down the river and other than being an intense workout, the scenery was glorious.

So, the next time you’re planning a trip to Paris, try going to somewhere off the beaten track like Bergerac.  You’ll eat like a king, culture your mind and see the beauty of Mother Nature, but best of all, you will experience ‘the Real France.’

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