Saturday, April 4, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015 - Bergerac - as in Cyrano de and Wines of

Bergerac is a large town along the banks of the Dordogne situated about an hour west from here. Only 57 km (about 40 miles) but along a local highway that weaves through many villages and follows the Dordogne.

(A note about the images. The Internet service here is painfully slow, since we're not in a town, and we are connecting many devices to the Internet here. So I have been using a program to compress these photos for the web. This allows me to upload photos more quickly and hopefullty keep up with the speed at which we are seeing interesting things. Perhaps when we get back to the states, I'll change out the photos for the original when I can connect to our wired Internet service. The photos look ok, but I'm noticing skies and such look a bit like paintings rather than photos. Hoping you'll still find these pictures useful.)

Our village is just 5 km east of St. Cyprien. 

Bergerac wines are the nearest AOC vineyards to us, so we decided to explore Bergerac and visit its Maison des Vins de Bergerac (House of Wines) to get the lay of the land. The day was still grey and required a jacket, but was plenty warm enough for walking around.

Much of the route follows the the Dordogne with the exception of a couple of loops and is a pretty drive which will get better by the day as the trees leaf out, the flowering trees and shrubs burst open in colorful display, and of course when the sun returns. Spring is coming.

Our GPS guide is a lovely English voice called Sully, inspired by the character Cully from the BBC series "Midsomer Murders" (Janis couldn't remember her name exactly and now it's too late to change the name of our GPS). Sully doesn't "recalculate" but is willing to tell us to make a U-turn when needed. She can also navigate by longitude and latitude coordinates which was most helpful in finding our house for the first time as it doesn't have a real street address. The why of this to be revealed in good time. She got us directly to the parking lot we were looking for.

Bergerac is the center of France's tobacco growing area and there is a museum one could visit on the history of tobacco in France. (We didn't visit the museum - who knew France grew tobacco - wonder if it is used to produce those horribly smelly Gauloise cigarettes)

This was the capital city of  the Perigord region until the (French) Revolution when the capital was moved to Perigueux. It had been a port and trading city along a broadened stretch of the Dordogne since the 12th century. An early bastion of Protestantism, Bergerac suffered much damage during the Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Nevertheless, the old city center is a maze of 15th - 17th century residences and store fronts. Our walking tour of the old town sent us down narrow alleyways, past dozens of half-timbered houses and a few Renaissance buildings.

From our parking space, we left modern Bergerac

and walked into a large area of pedestrian shopping streets. We passed through a permanent, covered food market (Halle) to check out its offerings. 

Finally we entered the old town at the Place Pelissiere at St. Jacques (St. James) church. Originally a 13th century stop on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela, this church was destroyed on several occasions during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. The nave was rebuilt in the 1600s and restored by 1860. 
17th century nave St James

St. James rose window above altar
The outside of the church shows many differences in stone attesting to its need for periodic rebuilding. High above is a wooden platform on which stood the monks charged with ringing the church bells.
Where bell-ringers stood to ring the bells. See below for how high up this is.

The square behind the church has a fountain and a statue of Cyrano de Bergerac. You would expect this to be the town's most celebrated former resident, but you'd be wrong. Cyrano de Bergerac's real-life counterpart had no connection to Bergerac whatsoever except for the coincidence of name. (You can post a question if you want the story behind the de Bergerac name).

We wandered streets and alleys in the old town lined with half-timbered houses and Renaissance residences. Every corner presented a view to make you think you were in the 15th century (well, if you could block out the parked cars).

The doggie sign says: Here I  do what I want.

cart in front of a Brocante (Second-hand old stuff that may or may not be antiques or as Dave would say, a junk store)

We stopped for lunch in a lovely little square surrounded by these buildings, including one for sale if any of you are interested in a fixer-upper in Bergerac. This park also had a statue of Cyrano, this time in stone, much older, with his nose well-worn. 

After a lovely lunch of French bread sandwiches with sliced pork and cheese, we meandered down to the old port waiting for the magic 2 PM hour at which the Maison des Vins would re-open after lunch. Consider yourself warned: Never plan to visit a museum, tourist office or other such establishment between noon and 2 PM. It is expected that, like the workers in these establishments, you will be spending your time on a lovely and leisurely lunch.

The river is not so much a port now, but still where one can book a ride on a gabarre. These wide wooden boats once carried products like wine and tobacco up and down the river and were how goods were moved from one town to another, or to Bordeaux for further distribution. Today, these boats provide leisurely tours up and down a section of river for tourists. We're looking forward to a warm sunny day to enjoy a river view of the towns and cliffs in our area. (There are gabarre locations in several towns and villages along the river. I imagine each has its own territory and something new to show the visiting tourist.) 
gabarre tour boats

Finally, the culmination of our visit: La Maison des Vins. Housed in the former Couvent des Recollets (convent of the Recollects). The Recollets were the catholics who, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (granting religious freedom) in 1685 tried to bring the protestants back into catholicism. The cloister for this convent still exists as part of the Maison des Vins. 

At last, let the wine-tasting begin. The Maison des Vins represents all the Bergerac AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) areas. The soils here can be the same as those of the more famous St. Emilion a bit to the west of here. Both reds and whites are produced in the 15 AOCs of this area. 

We tasted a variety of whites and reds and purchased a few bottles to bring back with us. 

Clark, Dave, Janis in the tasting room of  La Maison des Vins de Bergerac

Our server who explained the wines to us and the wines we tasted (for free)

Bye, bye Bergerac. We'll be back. 
Brageirac is the Occitan spelling of the town name. 

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