Turn to www.bergerac-tourisme.com, find the large green and yellow map, look for Bergerac and what do you see? You can’t miss him. Cyrano de Bergerac and his big nose of course, monopolizing the whole of the Dordogne. Only Cyrano wasn’t from Bergerac. The real Cyrano was born near Paris, wrote impassioned love letters between duels and Edmond Rostand used him as the model for his verse-play Cyrano de Bergerac.
The most interesting and original part of Bergerac covers the sloping hillside on the northern bank of the Dordogne. You can clearly see the reasons for Bergerac’s importance when standing at the southern end of the arched bridge which links the superb Place de La Madeleine to the town’s centre. It is a perfect site for a settlement, on a gentle bend of the river, winding its way through the town past the ancient port where vessels used to tie-up in the olden days to load wine destined for England and Holland.
The old town and harbour quarter near the museum are worth exploring; as a Protestant stronghold in the 16th century much of the rest of the town sustained heavy damage during the Wars of Religion. Today, Bergerac, only partially dependent on tourism, is mainly concerned with the wine industry and agriculture. It has been a wine-city for centuries, an area where everybody grows grapes. Much of the wine is grown in small quantities for the people to drink locally. Those that can travel - they are many and they travel very well indeed - have been favourites of the British for hundreds of years.
A major crop of the region is tobacco and a fascinating museum in a handsome 15th century building is devoted to the much- maligned weed. It traces the history of tobacco which, till the 15th century, was known only to the American Indian, and among the earliest exhibits are pipes used by them in the belief that smoking was not only good for them but helped to establish friendly relations with invaders of their territory. Wrong on both counts. The exhibition includes outstanding examples of pipes and snuff boxes, etchings and wonderfully carved and decorated cigarette holders along with appropriate paintings. Local rumour has it that song-writer Jerome Kern, of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes fame, was refused entry.
Gabare on the Dordogne River
Cyrano, Place de la Pélissière
Bergerac Old Town
Bergearc Old Town
Photos © Dominique's Villas & OT Bergerac Pourpre - Mairie de Bergerac