To the French, the Dordogne is a river. To the British, it is a much looser term, covering a vast area roughly equivalent to what the French call Périgord, which starts south of Limoges and includes the Vézère and Dordogne valleys. The Dordogne is also a département, with fixed boundaries that pay no heed to either definition. The central part of the département, around Périgueux and the River Isle, is known as Périgord Blanc, after the light, white colour of its rock outcrops; the southeastern half around Sarlat as Périgord Noir, said to be darker in aspect because of the preponderance of oak woods. To confuse matters further, the tourist authorities have added another two colours to the Périgord patchwork: Périgord Vert, the far north of the département, so called because of the green of its woods and pastureland; and Périgord Pourpre in the southwest, purple because it includes the wine-growing area around Bergerac.

This southern region is also known for its bastides – fortified towns – built during the turbulent medieval period when there was almost constant conflict between the French and English. In the reaches of the upper Dordogne, the colour scheme breaks down, but the villages and scenery in this less travelled backwater still rival anything the rest of the region has to offer.

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