City of Bergerac
About twenty-five years ago, "Bergerac" was for me synonymous with John Nettles (also the main character Barnaby in The Midsomer Murders) who rode around in a 1947 Triumph Roadster and solved mysteries on the island of Jersey in England. But, as my interest in wine increased, the more I realized that the TV series called "Bergerac" was but a shadow of its real world counterpart, a village and region located in the department of Dordogne.
The river Dordogne is the name of the northern tributary which, together with its southern neighbor, the Garonne, leads out into the Gironde, the main artery of Bordeaux; vital both in terms of climate and in hindsight also in the shipping of wines to buyers in primarily England. The Dordogne stretches almost into the center of France, and the town and commune of Bergerac is located about halfway along that stretch, slightly north of the stunning sweet wine district of Monbazillac.
Bergerac has become somewhat of a magnet for British "expats", i.e. English who have sought refuge abroad to enjoy a more pleasant climate, and a slightly more exotic and in part more affordable life. Today's Bergerac is not as cheap as before, but given the proximity to Bordeaux's fantastic wines, the price point is still within reasonable limits, if compared with the more famous region and its more coastal orientation. Also contributing to the constant flow of tourists who come here is the ease of which English as an only language will get you around.
The town of Bergerac, with its old core, is stunningly beautiful and an adventure to discover, complete with charming log houses and picturesque cobbled streets. The square, with its cafés, restaurants, and fountain, quickly becomes crowded when the heat begins to allow us humans to sit outside. Église Saint Jaques is a wonderful stone church with Romanesque roots in the form of a chapel from the 13th century, rebuilt and expanded in the 14th century after medieval fashion, and carefully expanded and renovated during the centuries. You can stroll around for hours and look at its magnificent pipe organ, ornamented leaded glass windows and its countless sculptures. Another popular excursion, a museum well worth a visit if you are inquisitive, is the "Musée du Tabac"; a curiosity and an interesting documentation of history giving an insight into Bergerac's involvement in the tobacco industry of bygone times.
At Le Vin'Quatre, you are guaranteed a fantastic gastronomic experience, although dining at this establishment will set you back. For a slightly more humble experience, although still high on quality, we can happily recommend L 'Authentik. Cafes, bars, small bistros, and restaurants are abundant in Bergerac, and most are well worth a visit as the bar is set high here in the village.
Bergerac sprouted up around a castle that was built as early as in the ninth century. Unfortunately, there are no physical remains of this castle, but the city has been constructed with the help of building materials from this castle. The region came under English flag early on in history and was subject to English rule between 1152 and 1450. This circumstance partly paved the way for the wave of Protestantism that swept through France and was a decisive factor in the establishment of this particular faith here, in an otherwise religiously divided state. In 1577, a peace treaty was signed in Bergerac between the King of France, Henry III, and French Protestants, so that going forward the king could wage war on only one front instead of fighting several simultaneous battles. The French religious wars, however, entailed a desire on the part of the king to unite the whole of the French people under the banner of Catholicism, and the many conflicts also involving both the English and Spanish crowns did not end until 1598, with an edict that once again restricted the rights of Protestants.
Bergerac is widely known also from a literary point of view, with the main character in Edmond Rostand's famous eponymous play, Cyrano de Bergerac; the lyricists love sick, large-nosed central figure is known all over the world and has been endowed with two statues in the city. The play has also been filmed for the screen countless times, with its advanced scenes and multi-faceted lead role, it has been considered particularly prestigious a task to tackle. There is no evidence that Cyrano actually visited the city, but the connection has been exploited in every way possible to attract visitors.
The wine industry is one of the most important industries of the area, as the Bergerac region includes several different AOPs (Appellation d'Origine Protégée). High-class red, white, sweet, fortified, and rosé wines are produced here at modest prices; something we will address in next week's article when we specifically write about the Bergerac region's viticulture and production. But well worth a mention is "Maison du Vin" in the village of Bergerac which is partly located in the buildings of the old convent Recollets; in our view the most beautiful in the city, so well worth a visit!
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