Périgord Noir encompasses the central part of the valley of the Dordogne, and the valley of the Vézère. This is the distinctive Dordogne country: deep-cut valleys between limestone cliffs, with fields of maize in the alluvial bottoms and dense oak woods on the heights, interspersed with patches of not very fertile farmland. Plantations of walnut trees (cultivated for their oil), flocks of low-slung grey geese (their livers enlarged for foie gras) and prehistoric-looking stone huts called bories are all hallmarks of Périgord Noir.
The well-preserved medieval architecture of Sarlat, the wealth of prehistory and the staggering cave paintings of the Vézère valley, and the stunning beauty of the château-studded Dordogne have all contributed to making this one of the most heavily touristed inland areas of France, with all the concomitant problems of crowds, high prices and tack. If possible, it’s worth coming out of season, but if you can’t, seek accommodation away from the main centres, and always drive along the back roads – the smaller the better – even when there is a more direct route available.