Do you know your Périgord from your Quercy? To most English speakers, the area covered by this site is colloquially known as 'The Dordogne' - in the same way that Provence, Brittany and other fairly loosely defined areas cover other parts of France: Read on for a simple explanation of the physical and political geography of the area, many terms for which are blended into current and traditional descriptions.
Dordgone, Lot, Tarn and Garonne
The Dordogne is one of the main drainage arteries of this part of France, rising near Clermont-Ferrand, and meandering westwards before joining the Garonne to form the Gironde delta just north of Bordeaux. The river is navigable for a good distance, and has locks throughout its length, and also several hydro electric power stations. Main towns on the Dordgne include Bergerac, Sarlat-le-Caneda and Souillac.
The Dordogne is noted for spectacular scenery and chateaux, especially around the meandering section between Lalinde and Souillac.
The Lot, a river of comparable size, runs roughly parallel to the Dordogne about 40 km to the south before it joins the Garonne. As with the Dordogne, much of the Lot is navigable with locks and hydro electric power stations. Main towns on the Lot include Villeneuve sur Lot, Fumel and Cahors.
As the river cuts into the Causse de Quercy around Cahors and eastwards the limestone scenery becomes spectacular, with villages perched high on the limestone cliffs such as St Cirq La Popie offering popular viewpoints in addition to historic interest.
The Tarn rises very near the source of the Lot, but flows south westward through limestone country creating spectacular gorges before turning to the northwest near Toulouse, and joins the Garonne near Moissac. The Tarn Gorge and those of its tributaries, most notably the Aveyron, offer testing adventure sports with climbing, white water canoing and cycling all practiced to a high standard along its length.
Main towns along the Tarn are Albi, Montauban and Moissac.
The Garonne rises in the Pyrenees, and flows north to Toulouse, where it turns to the north west, and just north of Bordeaux brings the waters it has gathered to join with the Dordogne and other rivers to form the Gironde delta before it opens into the Atlantic at the north end of the Bay of Biscay. There is sufficient water in the Garonne to support a nuclear power station, and at Golfech near Valence d'Agen the twin columns of steam from the cooling towers will often be seen above the horizon. Although navigable for a fair distance, most boat traffic goes along the Canal Entre Deux Mers which joins the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Major towns on the Garonne are Bordeaux, Agen and Toulouse.
Dordogne, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne
The first thing to understand is that départements are often simply referred to by their two digit code name, derived from an alphabetical list of the départments, so Dordogne is 24.... Lot 46... Lot-et-Garonne 47 and Tarn-et-Garonne 82: These will also be the first two letters of the postal code, so you can easily know which département an address is in.
Dordogne's major feature is the river that runs through the south of the départment: The administrative centre (préfecture) is at Perigueux, almost in the centre of the départment with sub prefectures at Bergerac in the west, Sarlat-le-Caneda in the east and Nontron in the north. The boundaries of the modern département are very close to the historical region of Périgord, more of which you can learn below.
Lot is a department that reduced in size over the years, with the eastern section of the river only now remaining in the département. With it's préfecture at Cahors, and sub préfectures at Gourdon and Figeac, Lot owes much of its character to the mainly limestone landscapes giving rise to spectacular gorges and cave systems.
Lot-et-Garonne covers the western section of the river Lot and part of the Garonne vale. With a less spectacular landscape as the limestone of Lot and Dordogne give way to sand and alluvial deposits, and a plentiful water supply from the two major rivers, fruit production and industry form its backbone from its préfecture at Agen with sub préfectures at Marmande, Nérac and Villeneuve-sur-Lot.
Tarn-et-Garonne comprises a large section that was removed from the south of Lot. As its name implies, it covers the lower Tarn and the Garonne. As with Lot-et-Garonne, the limestone landscape in the east with some spectacular gorges gives way to a gentle vale around the Garonne. The préfecture is at Montauban with only one sub préfecture at Castelsarrasin.
Aquitaine/ Nouvelle Aquitaine Midi Pyrénées / Occitanie
In 2016 there was a consolidation and renaming of the regions in France, which has created some confusion where search engines have been concerned as many have been slow to adopt the new regions so you may encounter the old names for a while yet.
The reasoning for this was given by the government of Francois Hollande as satisfying the need to reduce regional administration: At the time of writing, a little over a year after the changes were introduced, the success - or otherwise - of the changes has yet to be seen.
Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne were in Aquitaine, and are now in Nouvelle Aquitaine which merged Aquitaine with Limousin and Poitou Charentes to the north. Nouvelle Aquitaine now covers the Atlantic coast to the Gironde, and a broad strip of territory to the east. It is the largest of the French regions.
Lot and Tarn-et-Garonne were both in Midi-Pyrénées and are now in the new region of Occitanie which merged Midi-Pyrénées with Languedoc-Rousillon. The name and heritage is built around the historical region of Occitania, and most towns and villages now bear dual language signs: The main highway to the north is known as A20 L'Occitane
Occitanie meets Nouvelle Aquitaine in the Pyrénées, and covers the eastern half of the French Mediterranean coast with the area of north Lot where it meets Dordogne the northermost part of Occitanie.
Périgord and Quercy
Visitors will often hear the terms Périgord and Quercy which refer to historical pre-Revolution names for the regions. However, confusion is amplified as each of these historical regions is broken down into parts, some named after colours. Although no longer in administrative use, the archaic names are still in use, and it will be a help for any visitor to at least have an understanding of these regions.
Périgord and Quercy formed much of the battlegrounds between the English and French in the Hundred Years War of the 14th and 15th centuries, and there is much historical and prehistorical interest throughout both regions. Today they have a common reputation as a region producing some of the finest foods and wines in France, in particular truffles and foie gras.
Périgord is fairly simple to define as it aligns itself fairly closely to the modern départment of Dordogne, and each of the four sub regions has one of the sub prefectures in it
Périgord Vert (green) covers the north of the Dordogne départment and is mainly green, rolling countryside.
Périgord Blanc (white) is the central area of the département, taking its designation from the limestone landscape.
Périgord Pourpre (purple) is roughly the south of Dordogne through which is a large wine producing area, taking its name from the autumn colour of the vines.
Périgord Noir (black) is roughly the east of Dordogne, taking its name from the oak and chestnut landscape, much of which produces the famous black truffles.
Quercy is harder to define as it was split between Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Dordogne, Corrèze and Aveyron.
Quercy Blanc covers the south east corner of the Lot département with its northern boundary roughly the D656 road between Tournon d'Agenais and Cahors, and continues into Lot-et-Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne to include areas around Montaigu de Quercy and Lauzerte
Le Vallée de Lot is a strip along the river Lot from the département boundary just east of Fumel to Cahors
Bouriane is a triangular area from le Vallée de Lot to the Dordogne, noted for its chestnut and oak woodlands.
A large strip of limestone landscape runs down the centre of the Quercy region, collectively known as the Causse de Quercy, which is now designated as a UNESCO Geopark. This subdivides into three named parts:
Le Causse de Martel, a small area in the very north including the towns of Souillac and Martel
The very large Causse de Gramat in the centre which has its southern boundary along the river Lot, and includes Rocamadour.
Another small area south of the river Lot, the very pretty Causse de Limogne, extends down into Tarn et Garonne.
To the east of the Causse de Gramat are two strips, Limarque and Ségala running roughly between the Dordogne and Lot rivers, and spilling over into neighbouring Corrèze and Aveyron.
So its good to know your Périgord from your Quercy.....