Bergerac Travel Guide

Bergerac Bound: Vineyards, Vistas, and the Vintage Soul of Dordogne

There can be few wine lovers who haven’t at least heard of Bergerac. Rich vineyards and fields surround this beautiful town, capital of the Perigord Pourpre, one of the largest wine-growing regions of the Aquitaine. The town’s main claim to fame is the dramatist and satirist Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-55), whose romantic exploits have inspired many dramatizations.

Bergerac’s official history does not begin until the 11th century, although Cro-Magnon man was here long before the Romans arrived in Gaul. Today, the Vezere Valley in the Dordogne has the most spectacular series of prehistoric cave paintings anywhere in Europe, including the astonishing Grotte de Lascaux near Montignac.

However, early man and Gallic tribes were supplanted and suppressed by the Romans following their conquest of Gaul. Roman rule endured for centuries, bringing many significant technological and civic advancements. It was only in 476 that their hold over France finally gave way as the Western Roman Empire fell apart. In their place rose two great dynasties – the Frankish Merovingian and Carolingian families. Their control over France was fierce and pragmatic, adopting many aspects of the more enlightened and pervasive Gallo-Roman culture into their own. By this point, Christianity had spread across the entire country.

In the 12th century, the Perigord region’s political situation shifted dramatically following Henry of Anjou’s marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Over a third of France, including the Dordogne and its towns, became the property of the English crown. Bergerac was founded sometime in the 11th century as a fortified outpost, which is no longer in existence. At the time, Bergerac had the only bridge across the Dordogne River, making it a vitally important piece of strategic real estate. Indeed, the wider region has become known as the ‘Land of 1001 Chateaux’ thanks to its abundance of historic castles. They were built primarily to protect citizens and repel opposing armies.

Bergerac flourished through the Middle Ages, as its wines gained a favorable reputation throughout Europe and became vital to the town’s prosperity. Yet the wider region saw many battles during the Hundred Year’s War, and it changed hands between the English and French forces before the end of the conflict in 1453. Earlier that century, Charles VII had marched triumphantly into Paris to claim sovereignty over France.

In the 16th century, France was engulfed in the Wars of Religion between the Huguenots (French Protestants), the Catholic League (led by the House of Guise), and the Catholic Monarchy. Sadly, the Wars of Religion would bring misery to the citizens of Bergerac. Continuous persecution of the town’s large protestant population saw the overall population decline from the end of the 17th century.

The 18th century was also a very turbulent time for the citizens of France. Louis XV was an ineffectual leader whose regime was increasingly at odds with the country’s needs. Enlightened anti-establishment and anticlerical ideas expressed by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu further threatened the royals. Tensions were further escalated by the Severn Years War fought by France and Austria against Britain and Prussia, leading to the loss of France’s flourishing colonies in Canada, the West Indies, and India to the British. The war cost a fortune and was even more ruinous for the monarchy; it helped to disseminate in France the radical democratic ideas that had been thrust onto the world stage by the American Revolution.

All of which led to the French Revolution, the declaration of the First Republic in 1792, and the execution of Louis XVI and his vilified queen Marie-Antoinette. The next hundred years saw an incredible amount of social and political change, including the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte, his subsequent banishment and the installation of a failed second Republic, and the eventual rise of Emperor Napoleon III of the Second Empire in 1851. However, so too would his reign be marked by ruinous wars and social tension – finally, France declared its Third Republic in 1870.

In the 20th century, Bergerac reclaimed its former status as an important urban center in the Perigord by creating and expanding its tobacco and wine industries. Bergerac wine was highly regarded by the mid-20th century, which was sadly overshadowed by the outbreak of the Two World Wars.

Today, Bergerac is a quintessential historic French town merging the ancient with the modern with effortless ease. Its cobbled old town, medieval harbor, beautiful countryside, and excellent restaurants attract a sizeable number of summer tourists, as the broader region. Yet despite its global renown, Bergerac has managed to hold onto its authentic character and never feels like a touristy caricature. It is a living, breathing, working town with many attractions.

  • Black truffles of Perigord
    Black truffles of Perigord

    Gastronomy & Wine


  • Place de la Mirpe

    With its tree-shaded square and timber houses, place de la Mirpe is undoubtedly the prettiest part of Bergerac’s delightful old town. Perfect for a leisurely stroll – and a glass of wine! – the La Place Pelissiere is also worth a visit, boasting a jaunty statue of Cyrano de Bergerac looking up at the nearby church.

  • Musee du Vin/Musee du Tabac

    Bergerac’s museums are dedicated to its twin vices: wine and tobacco. The fascinating Musee du Vin et de la Batellerie has displays of vintage wine-making equipment, while the Musee du Tabac collects lots of ornate pipes and tobacco-centered artifacts inside the 17th century Maison Peyrarede.

  • Chateau Biron

    This much-filmed chateau is a glorious mishmash of quirky style and opulence. It deserves a full day’s exploration.

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