On the tranquil Dordogne River, Bergerac is a medieval town surrounded by green countryside with vineyards and farms. You’re here in a renowned wine region, visiting castles, cooperatives and museums for days, while wine committees across the region meet in one of the town’s stately Renaissance cloisters.
This river should be in your vacation plans, with canoe trips, peaceful walks and cruises on the old barges that used to carry wine along its route. The name Bergerac may ring some bells: Cyrano de Bergerac, a 17th-century musketeer and writer, never actually visited the town, but Bergerac still adopted him , and erected two statues of him.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bergerac:
1. Old Town
On the right bank of the Dordogne, the medieval quarter of Bergerac is a street sloping towards the river.
You will love half-timbered houses such as Maison Gaudra on Rue des Fontaines, which dates back to the 1300s.
Downstream from Rue Gaudra is “Le Cadeau,” a creek that once powered seven of the city’s water plants, and even today the Rue des Fontaines operates a small hydroelectric plant in disguise.
Place Pélissière takes its name from the leather and leather merchants who used to work on the square, and here you can see the church of Saint-Jacques and look up at the wooden perches made for the bell ringers.
2. Tobacco Museum
Bergerac has one of the last tobacco plantations in Europe.
Whatever your opinion of the industry, there is no doubt that this factory has an interesting story.
The museum examines how it was first cultivated more than 3,000 years ago, how it was brought to Europe after the discovery of the Americas, and its impact on 17th and 18th century society.
There are curated artefacts to visit, such as tobacco pouches and talc pipes made by Native American Sioux tribes.
The Tobacco Museum is located in the Maison Peyrarède, a mansion built in a Renaissance style replaced by classicism.
There are 13 appellations in the Bergerac region, each with its own variation and personality.
Rosés, reds, dry or sweet whites and dessert wines are produced in this region, and it is the only wine in France with a 50-50 red to white ratio.
There are more castles and caves than you can hope to incorporate in a holiday.
Many take half a day: wineries like Court les Mûts in Sausignac are more than just wine tours, meetings with vintners and tastings. They are equipped with a winemaking laboratory and have their own wine museum, while the wine cellar serves as an art gallery.
4. Le Cloître des Récollets
The wine committees of Bergerac and Duras, which basically means all the local producers, meet in this 17th-century monk’s cellar.
So, without a doubt, if you want to learn about viticulture and winemaking techniques in the famous wine region, this place must be on your plan.
The architecture is also important, with a beautiful wooden Renaissance gallery above the courtyard.
From there, a stroll to the “Vinothèque” takes you through the prehistory of this landscape and presents a “sensory table” where you can experience the aromas of Bergerac and Duras wines.
5. Monbazillac Castle
At the top of the slope that rises steadily from the left bank of the Dordogne, the Chateau de Montbazillac is surrounded by one of Bergerac’s most famous vineyards.
The castle, built in 1550 as a defensive function, is located over Bergerac, a few kilometers to the north, and can die for it.
You can go inside and see the property, which was bought by the Huguenots in the 1600s and is decorated with period furniture.
Finally, you can also taste delicious dessert wines grown in 25 hectares of vines around the castle.
The real Cyrano de Bergerac grew up in the 1600s on an estate near Paris named after the town as its 14th-century owner helped liberate Bergerac from the British during the Hundred Years’ War.
So you can see his connection to the city is minimal at best.
But after Edmond Rostand’s famous play in the late 19th century, Cyrano de Bergerac became a semi-mythical figure and has been adopted by the city ever since.
There are two statues of Cyrano: the largest and proudest is located on the Place Pélissière, and the other is surrounded by wooden houses on the beautiful Rue de la Mirpe.
In summer, if you come to the Dordogne without taking a trip on the river, you are missing out.
There are companies around to rent canoes and kayaks for a full day or half a day for just a few euros.
It’s up to you where to start: in the western part of the region, the rivers are wide and calm, with flat and green banks, and there are plenty of places to bring your boat ashore for lunch.
But if you want to glide through rocky limestone canyons, then you’ll need to drive east up the river, starting at places like La Roque-Gageac, with steep hills, dark woodlands and medieval castles like A huge sentinel stands above the river bend.
As we have seen, the countryside around Bergerac is mild and green.
The hills there tend to be rounded and forgiving, such as Montbazillac in the south, which sits on a plateau with a circular route around the small village through a landscape overgrown with vines.
The tourist office in Bergerac will provide you with all the maps and guides you might need.
Or you can just stay by the river, which has several routes with meadows on one side, flaky green waters on the other, and orchards, meadows and sunflower fields on the other.
9. Gabarres de Bergerac
Barges are a tradition on the Dordogne River next to Bergerac and have been traveling along the river for centuries.
So if you want your river trip to be as easy as possible, you can board a traditional barge that departs from Quai Salvette in summer.
During the 90-minute cruise, your captain will tell you about the busy lives of barge drivers in the past when they were vital to the wine trade, and will give you an insider’s history of the city.
As you float into the countryside, he or she will point out kingfishers, herons, turtles and other wildlife on the river.
10. Lac de Pombonne
Bergerac is far from the ocean, but if the summer gets too hot, the picturesque lakes make up for it.
There is an attraction in the northern part of the city, from the beginning of July to the end of August, the beaches of the lake are supervised by lifeguards.
Lac de Pombonne is located in a 50-hectare park surrounded by meadows, forests and farms where sheep and donkeys graze.
Backed by the sand are picnic tables and lawns, there are trails to the forest for cyclists and walkers, and there are designated areas on the lake shore if you like fishing.
A little further from Monbazillac is this lovely medieval village filled with Renaissance and Gothic houses.
Most are half-timbered, and many have romantic wooden galleries or corbels that make them look top-heavy. Come here on a Sunday morning to soak up the hustle and bustle of one of the best markets in the area, and spend an hour or two finding your way through the bewildering streets of the old center.
Look out for the Maison des Têtes, built in the 1400s, with human heads carved into the beams, or the lavish Renaissance château where Bishop Sarlater once lived.
12. Grottes de Maxange
You’ve probably never seen a cave like this, and it’s easy to drive upstream from Bergerac.
Grottes de Maxange has all the common stalactites and stalagmites you know, but what one sees is the almost otherworldly crystal blocks on the ceilings and walls.
These sharp, elongated formations are called helicoids and are formed by capillary action over thousands of years.
The cave was discovered by accident in 2000 while dynamite was being carried out in a neighbouring quarry.
Bastide was a small but fortified town built quickly during the Anglo-French conflict to colonize the countryside.
The closest one to Bergerac is Puyguilhem, which is little more than a small village but still retains fragments of its old city walls, built by the English in 1265. About 25 kilometers upstream, Larinde was the first English castle, built in 1260. It has experienced fierce battles in the Hundred Years’ War, so there are only few clues about its origin, with traces of the city walls along the river.
Still, it’s a very pretty town with a lovely riverside setting.
For one of the most complete castles, you need to go a little further to Montpazir, about 45 minutes southwest of Bergerac, built in 1281.
14. Moulin Rouge de la Ruzik
Between Bergerac and Larinde is an 18th-century paper mill, still in operation and powered by a water wheel.
For nearly 300 years, this historic-listed paper has been made from a blend of hemp, linen and cotton (known as “rags”), and the interactive museum will take you every step of the way.
You can even DIY your own sheet to take home.
The site dates back to the 1500s when it was a wheat mill, and the paper mill that replaced it remained in operation until the 1980s before becoming a heritage museum.
The location and architecture are stunning, as well as a neat shop selling specialty paper from the factory.
15. Food tour
If you’re curious about the culinary delights of the Dordgogne and Périgord regions, you can fill your day with one unforgettable culinary experience after another.
So you might visit a Trapist dairy, experience life on a goat farm, make chevrolets, check out an artisanal vinegar factory, visit the family-run Clovis Raymond distillery, and make brandies and liqueurs.
The noble Périgord black truffles are another story. You can see the enthusiasm (and wealth!) that this precious tuber produces on a Monday morning in the middle of winter at the truffle market in Saint-Alville.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Bergerac, France
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