Bergerac, a town located on the riverbank in the wide plain of the Dordogne, is a capital of Périgord Pourpre, an area that derives its name from the purple grapes that grow in the region's 125km² of vineyards.
Bergerac is a beautiful little city where swans swim in the Dordogne River and a clutch of medieval, half-timbered houses cluster around the old river port. In the 12th century it was a major crossroads because of its bridge – at that time the only one on the river – as a result, it evolved naturally into a thriving commercial city and trading port.
Its fortunes took a dip in the 16th century when many Bergeracois became Protestants and left the town, by the end of the 17th century around 40,000 of its inhabitants had emigrated to England or Holland. But the city revived at the end of the 19th century thanks to its flourishing wine industry, the national gunpowder works and tobacco.
Bergerac region is primarily known for wine and tobacco. The region has over 13 appellations AOCs (Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée) and more than 1200 vineries. The most famous wines are the sweet whites produced around Monbazillac.
Devastated in the Wars of Religion, when most of its Protestant population fled overseas, Bergerac is now essentially a modern town with some interesting and attractive reminders of the past.
The 'vieille ville' is a calm and pleasant area to wander through, with drinking fountains on the street corners and numerous late medieval houses. In rue de l'Ancien-Pont, the splendid 17th century Maison Peyrarède houses an informative Musée du Tabac illustrating the weed's history, with collections of pipes and tools.
The Musée Régional de la Batellerie on rue des Conferences contains displays about the river-trade in the area as well as about barrel making and viticulture. Outside on the square is a statue in honour of Cyrano de Bergerac, the town's most famous association, on whom a 1990 Edmond Rostand's play starring Gérard Dépardieu was based.
Other places to visit: The Bergerac old bridge (The Salvette quays), Notre-Dame church and the Sainte-Catherine neighbourhood, Saint Jacques church, Scale of flooding, Saint-Clar Street, Pélissière Place, Saint Jâmes and Fontaines street.
The town comes alive on market days (Wednesday and Saturday) when you will see an array of excellent local produce on display including excellent wine varieties such as velvety Montbazillac drunk on special occasions. For the connoisseurs head to the slopes north of the river where you will find small wine growers producing some excellent red Bergeracs.
The region is highly regarded for gastronomy and produces wonderful geese and duck dishes rich in truffles, walnuts and strawberries. This is not the place for calorie counting!