The Périgord Pourpre takes its name from the wine-growing region concentrated in the southwest corner of the Dordogne département, most famous for the sweet white wines produced around Monbazillac. The only town of any size is Bergerac, which makes a good base for exploring the vineyards and the uplands to the south. These are peppered with bastides, medieval fortified towns, such as the beautifully preserved Monpazier, and here also you’ll find the Château de Biron, which dominates the countryside for miles around.
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Bergerac, “capital” of Périgord Pourpre, lies on the riverbank in the wide plain of the Dordogne. Once a flourishing port for the wine trade, it is still the main market centre for the surrounding maize, vine and tobacco farms. 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 compact vieille ville is a beguiling area to wander through, with numerous late medieval houses and one or two beautiful squares.
Monpazier, founded in 1284 by King Edward I of England (who was also Duke of Aquitaine), is one of the most complete of the surviving bastides. Picturesque and placid though it is today, the village has a hard and bitter history, being twice – in 1594 and 1637 – the centre of peasant rebellions provoked by the misery following the Wars of Religion. Both uprisings were brutally suppressed: the 1637 peasants’ leader was broken on the wheel in the square.
Monpazier follows the typical bastide layout, with a grid of streets built around a gem of a central square. Deep, shady arcades pass under all the houses, which are separated from each other by a small gap to reduce fire risk; at the corners the buttresses are cut away to allow the passage of laden pack animals. There’s also an ancient lavoir where women used to wash clothes, and a much altered church.
Château de Biron
Château de Biron
The vast Château de Biron was begun in the eleventh century and added to piecemeal afterwards. You can take a guided tour (in French only), but it’s better to use the audio-guide and wander at will around the rooms and the grassy courtyard, where there is a restored Renaissance chapel and guardhouse with tremendous views over the roofs of the feudal village below.