THE PERIGORD REGION, AN ITINERARY FOR CONNOISSEURS (France)

THE PERIGORD REGION, AN ITINERARY FOR CONNOISSEURS (France)

Few regions in Europe can boast a concentrate of history, art, nature and cuisine. Undoubtedly, the French region of Perigord is one of them. Here, we find some of France’s most charming villages, alongside medieval walls and castles, rocks, rivers and blooming hills.

  

CARCASSONNE

  

This itinerary through the Perigord region begins with the town of Carcassonne. This fortified, walled city was the main centre of the Cathar religion and witnessed  the fierce persecution of its faithful by Simon di Monfort.
To reach Carcassonne, drive along the D5 that starts in Beziers and crosses the Minervois , a wonderful region of vineyards and herbs  with Mediterranean scents.
Once arrived, follow the indication for the parking in the Cité. One of the parking lots is reserved for campers and allows loading and unloading or even spending the night.
A tour of the medieval Cité should start at the Count Castle (11th - 13th century), continuing with the House of the Inquisition (13th - 17th century), 'Hotel de la Cité, now a luxury hotel, the Basilica of Saint Nazaire et Saint Celse, the Eglise Saint Sernin, the Grand Puits and, finally, the walls. The Bastide Saint Louis is also worth a visit: its building may be less ancient than those in the Cité, but they are just as interesting and certainly appreciated by the lovers of medieval history and architecture.

  

ALBI

  

After taking the D118, drive in the spectacular landscape until Mazamet. The N112 takes you to Albi, a beautiful town on the river Tarn that is well worth a visit, starting from the Cathedral of  Saint Cecilia.
Built between the 13th and 16th century, it appears like a vessel made of bricks in the heart of the old city; this fortress-cathedral is a symbol of Catholic reaffirmation after the Cathar heresy, and is a masterpiece of southern Gothic style.
Afterwards, visit the Berbie palace, which hosts the collection of native painter Toulouse-Lautrec , and the houses in Vieil Alby, the ancient centre that appears to challenge straight lines. It is a maze of little corners, yards, niches and gates that seems to have designed to please the nosiest visitors.
Remember that Albi features a free camper area, located in the cathedral parking lot, offering a breathtaking view of the lit up cathedral at night. After leaving Albi, the D600 takes you to Cordes-sur-Ciel, a medieval city that seems to reach for the sky, just as imagined by its founder, the Count of Toulouse, in 1222.

  

FROM NAJAC TO CONQUES

   

From Cordes-sur-Ciel, we take the D39 by La Fouillade towards Najac.
The village is an ancient Bastide, dominated by the castle, and is rightfully rated one of France’s most beautiful villages.
Following the D911 and then taking the D997 at Rignac, we reach the beautiful village of Belcastel, also rated one of the country’s most beautiful villages. The village looks over the Aveyron river, and centres around its castle. Unfortunately, parking spaces here are scarce, and large campers may have some difficulties, but this should not put you off a visit.
Returning on the D911, after a few kilometres you reach Rodez, whose cathedral can be seen from a distance: the most significant monument of this pretty little town that also features several perfectly restored renaissance buildings.
Following the D988, you quickly reach the delectable village of  Espalion, on the bank of the river Lot; the medieval atmosphere of its old bridge, the Place du Griffoul, the old tannery and the  Vieux-Palais magically charm you back in time.
Leaving Espalion behind and travelling some 10 km, you reach Estaing, one of the most picturesque medieval cities, which lies north of the Aveyron river and by the canyons of the river Lot.
With its great history and art heritage, the village is a great attraction for lovers of medieval art and its enchanting streets make it also one of France’s most beautiful villages. Moving on and crossing the canyons of the Lot, you reach Conques, a key stop along the Way of St. James, with an exceptionally beautiful Romanic architecture.

  

FROM FIGEAC TO ROCAMADOUR

   

Figeac is a pretty town with a great art heritage.
A wealthy medieval city in the past, it has maintained its unique houses, palaces and bourgeois homes with their proud architecture, which include the hotel de la Monnaie and Hotel de Balène. This was the birth city of Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion, the scientist who decrypted the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Figerac celebrated him with a giant Rosetta stone, a tribute to the original stone that enabled deciphering the characters, and an Egyptology museum in his birth home, which includes all his works.

Proceed then for St. Cir-Lapopie, a charming medieval village. Its perfectly maintained houses, nestled around the church, have kept their original half-timbered or stone façades, most which date back to the 13th - 16th century. Saint Cirq has recently become the favourite spot for painters and writers, whose art shops and galleries can be found all scattered over the village and nicely complementing its original architecture.

From St Cirq you proceed to Cahors, a town founded around the 1st century B.C., with its ancient Franco-Roman baths, and theatre. The city also boasts important medieval monuments, such as the cathedral of St. Etienne and the Valentré bridge. The modern part of Cahors is also noteworthy, with its boulevard Gambetta and the promenade along the river Lot, and its lovely river cruises.
 
Continue towards the charming village of  Beynac et Cazenac. Its houses have been perfectly restored. The castle of Beynac, currently under repairs, dates back to the 11th-13th century and offers a picture of life in those times. A fantastic experience here is a canoe ride along the Dordogne. The ride passes the wonderful castles of Castelnaud, Fayrac, Marqueyssac and of course also the castles of  Roque-Gageac and Beynac. Those who do not feel like rowing on a canoe can take the same route on a ‘gabarre’, a kind of flat barge that was used in the past to carry goods on the Dordogne.

The journey continues towards les Eyzies-de-Tayac.
This charming village lies between the cliffs and the Vézère river, and is the ideal base for a visit to the caves of Font-de-Gaume, with its hundreds of prehistoric river paintings, and the caves of Combrarelles, a major sanctuary of the Magdalene culture. There are more than six hundred incisions illustrating the animals of the Quaternary. The base camp remains at  les Eyzies, with has a large rest area with camper service.

Back on D47, you reach Sarlat-la-Caneda, an incredibly beautiful historical art city. The medieval part of Sarlat has the highest concentration of listed monuments in Europe. You need to discover this city by following its history through its buildings, the lantern of the dead, the cathedral and the picturesque narrow lanes. Let’s not forget that this town also plays a key role in French cuisine. There are countless shops offering foi gras, truffle, wine, walnut oil and other valuable ingredients.
Visiting Sarlat with the camper is easy, thanks to the serviced rest areas near the town’s old centre.

Not far from the city you find  the cave of Lascaux, which is also known as pre-history’s Sistine Chapel because of its wall paintings. Because of the risk of damaging its paintings, unfortunately, this site cannot be visited. However, a replica known as Lascaux2, has been created with identical copies of the original paintings.

The next stop is Rocamadour.
This is a spectacular village built on a cliff on three levels, along the Way of St. James. On the top level is the castle, linked to the sanctuary at the lower level through the Way of the Cross or a sloped lift. The latter is composed of six chapels, a basilica and an abbey palace. The famous Black Virgin painting, as well as other 12th century pictures in the church of  Rocamadour, are an invitation to devout contemplation. The lowest level hosts the medieval village, connected through the pilgrim steps or another lift. With its four gates and perfectly restored houses in their original style, the medieval village is truly amazing.

This last stop concludes our itinerary, which crossed one of the most charming, enchanting and romantic territories in Europe, thanks to our reliable Camper.

   

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