Bergerac & the Southern Loop
Our gîte in Bergerac is actually located 7 km. southwest of Bergerac only a few minutes drive from downtown. Bergerac is a quaint, small town of about 20,000. We spent some time there mostly in old town near the Dordogne river that bisects it. As the “birthplace” of the fictional character, Cyrano de Bergerac, it attracts tourists from all over the world. We heard Dutch, English (both American and British), German, and other languages we could not identify. While it is a charming and quaint town, it mainly caters to the tourists. On Bastille Day, what is supposed to be the equivalent of Fourth of July for the French, there were several events that were planned for the day. We had read that this celebration draws more than 30,000 spectators to the festivities. So, fearing a parking nightmare, we arrived early mid-morning and planned to spend the entire day enjoying the festivities.
This is where it gets interesting. In the U.S., we have attended many festivities and festivals where you are elbow to elbow with thousands of people also attending these events. For five and a half hours, we were among…….200-300 people, most of whom were having lunch in one of several cafes and restaurants surrounding the popular statue of Cyrano. After walking around for a while, relaxing in the shade, and enjoying some “glace”, we realized that we still had six hours left until fireworks that evening. Nothing much was happening so we called it a day and headed back home.
This experience made us think about the fact that we still have expectations based on experiences we have back in the U.S. Unless you are in a major city like Paris, the smaller towns and cities are much more laid back about such events and the scale of what actually occurs is proportionate.
The next day, we wanted to take advantage of our time and explore the southern part of the Aquitaine region and so we plotted a rectangular route that would take us south to several large cities — Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, Agen (the furthest city south and largest of them all with 33,000), and Marmande. On the way, we drove through and stopped in several towns and villages.
All in all, it turned out to be more than six hours of driving. Was it worth it? Yes! Why? The main reason we are here for 8 weeks is to get to know a much smaller area of France in depth. In doing so, we will be able to narrow our interest considerably, choosing one or two smaller areas to come back to next year and spend several weeks getting to know much more intimately the location in which we may wish to settle.
Bergerac is famous for its white wines and so the valley south of Bergerac is all vineyards. Once you head south, it doesn’t take long to leave the vineyards behind. As we headed south, the climate became hotter, dryer, and much more sparsely populated than anywhere else we have been. A few of the cities had interesting and beautiful parts, but what we noticed most was that in some cities, the economy was suffering with many shops closed. And, most of the cities lacked the appeal of a Périgueux or Bergerac. In the end, it was a positive experience since now we know better the areas that appeal to us and the areas that don’t.