Sample fine French food and exquisite wine in the romantic town of Bergerac
As the plane pulled onto the empty tarmac, it was clear that Bergerac wasn’t going to be a bustling metropolis. The single room-baggage-claim-cum-passport-control and the solo control officer separating tourists from entry was not what I expected from an airport just across the Channel, in the affluent South of France. Still, if surprises were the aim of our trip then this was just the beginning.
Bergerac is a small medieval town that rests delicately on the Dordogne River, south-west France. ‘Capital’ of Périgord Pourpre, this historical ville used to be flourishing port for its exquisite red wine. A well-kept vieille ville (old town), a visit to Bergerac is an excellent way to experience quintessential France, and a relaxing journey through its rich and vibrant history.
Bergerac is most famous for the 1990s film Cyrano de Bergerac featuring Gérard Depardieu. Statues of the famous character adorn the town’s most famous places (squares) and charactertures of his notorious long-nose are painted in every quaint restaurant.
One such restaurant is Restaurant le Richelieu, just off Place Petissiere on Rue de Conférences. Offering set menus that include starters, mains and desert for €12,90, this restaurant is definitely one of Bergerac’s finest. Set in the romantic location at the bottom of a wine cellar, surround yourself in Bergerac’s well-established wines as you try a little of the tipple (a bottle from €12.) The menu is rustic, serving up genuine country cuisine. Choose between potage (thick soup), jambon et melon (ham and melon) or salade di gissard (gizzard salad) for starters; mains is a choice between confit de canard (duck breast), agneau avec les herbes (lamb with herbs) or bouef avec poivre (beef with pepper sauce); desert ranges from the creamy crème caramel to sorbet de poire (pear sorbet). Each plate is as delicious as the next and a great introduction to Bergerac’s local cuisine.
For another inexpensive set menu, head to La Scala also on Rue de Conférences in the Vieille Ville. Set menus range between €15,90 and €18,90, giving the diner an opportunity to try Bergerac’s famous meillefeu et foie gras. Reading very much like most of the other menus around (essentially steak and chips for mains), this restaurant is still inexpensive for the region and is clearly popular with the locals and tourists alike. For afters, you can choose between desert or fromage (cheese): a small portion of strong, stinky and very French, brie and camembert.
Both eateries offer value for money and a great place to sample all the area’s local meals, but Le Richelieu takes visitors on a romantic journey back to Bergerac’s route de vin.
If it’s wine you’re interested in (and here by the Dordogne, it certainly should be), then don’t miss La Maison des Vins de La Region de Bergerac in the heart of the Old Town. This underground cellar is free for tourists and shows a video about the history of wine in Perigord. To finish off this interesting journey, you are free to sample some of the drink. For a red, try Chateau les Merles 2005 which exhibits a rich, oaky flavour. For a pink, sip Chateau les Grimard 200, far more vibrant and robust than the sweet fruity tastes you expect from a rosé. Thirteen varieties of wine are grown by over 1000 wine growers for the Bergerac Appellation, making this very much the heart of the wine region in France. Prices for a bottle start from as little as €3 so there’s no reason not to take some of this authentic wine home.
Despite its small size, there’s plenty to do in Bergerac including a boat trip down the Dordogne. Promenade en Gabarre is a one hour ride (€7,50 for adults, €4,50 for children) on a traditional flat bottomed boat, where you soak in the region’s rich history of this river, from its disastrous floods to its first wine export.
Visitors can also make the most of the town’s excellent southern location and take short day trips to Sarlat or Bordeux. Covered in 15th and 16th century houses in golden stone, Sarlat is a beautiful example of exquisite medieval architecture. Its old town is perfectly kept and steeped in character.
The big city of Bordeaux is a vast contrast to the small port of Bergerac, but definitely worth a visit. Plenty of cathedrals, squares and museums dot the large town and it has an endless list of tasty restaurants and bars for a livelier night-time ambience.
Bergerac’s biggest attraction though has to simply be its endless cafés serving the tastiest in croissants, chocolatines and the most decadent of cakes. For an inexpensive sugar fix, head to Sarl Le Fournue Basque on Rue de La Resistance, where you can buy home-made pizzas, baguettes and croque monsieurs (from €1,80 – €4) or croissant amandes, chocolat chocolatines and other buttery delights from €1 – €2.
Though there is a lot to do in the Dordogne, a weekend away to Bergerac is more about its promenades and soaking in its historic atmosphere than filling your day with endless activities. Its rustic buildings, cobbled streets and beautiful places ring back to a traditional France, full of historical importance, romantic charm and of course, plenty of croissants.
Where to stay
Europ' Hotel on Rue de Petit Sol, offers accommodation for €43prpn