An Ancient Corner of France Is Glorious Above and Below Ground
Henry Miller called the lush green department of Dordogne a “country of enchantment.” The walled market towns here—Domme, Brantome, Sarlat, and Rocamadour—are some of France’s most picturesque.
Hilly but not mountainous, the Dordogne is also perfect walking and biking country. Deservedly associated with good food, such as duck and glorious foie gras, deep red Cahors wine, truffles, and wild cepes mushrooms, this scenic comer of France is also rich with flower-strewn valleys.
Romanesque churches, and medieval hamlets. Of the more than 1,500 châteaux, many are now hotels, often dramatically positioned along one of the tributaries (lowing into the majestic Dordogne River.
This was some of the most fought-over land in Europe, but Dordogne’s most significant history is truly ancient, as revealed underground in its painted caves. Discovered by four teenagers in 1940. the famous Cave of Lascaux (near Montignac) contains the world’s most extraordinary repository of prehistoric wall paintings, executed by Stone Age artists some 17,000 years ago. Permanently closed to the general public in 1963 to prevent deterioration, it was re-created 200 yards away, in the form of Lascaux II.
A dazzlingly accurate replica made in the 1980s by masters of the Beaux Arts in Paris, Lascaux II uses the same pigments that were available to Cro-Magnon man, and its limestone walls and 20-foot ceilings are covered with replicas of the original caves’ stunning renderings of bison, horses, boars, and bulls. Arrive early—Lascaux II sells out.
This area of the Dordogne, a fertile river valley, is riddled with grottes ornees, some dating back nearly 25,000 years. The town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Vezere Valley is the perfect base for forays into the Valley of Man, one of the richest in the world in ancient sites and deposits. Don’t miss the caves of Font-de-Gaume, whose Paleolithic artwork approaches that of Lascaux in importance.