Dordogne, Limousin and Lot
Although it doesn't coincide exactly with either the modern French administrative boundaries or the old provinces of Périgord and Quercy, which constitute the core of the region, the land has a physical and geographical homogeneity thanks to its great rivers: the Dordogne, the Lot and the Aveyron, all of which drain the waters of the western Massif Central into the mighty Garonne, which forms the southern limit covered by this section.
There are no great cities in the area: its charm lies in the landscapes and the dozens of harmonious small towns and villages. Some, like Sarlat and Rocamadour, are so well known that they are overrun with tourists. Others, like Figeac, Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Gourdon, Montauban, Monflanquin and the many bastides (fortified towns) that fill the area between the Lot and Dordogne, boast no single notable sight but are perfect organic ensembles.
The landscapes are surprisingly homogenous, too. From Limoges in the province of Limousin in the north to Montauban in the south towards Toulouse, the country is gently hilly, full of lush little valleys and miles of woodland, mainly oak. Limousin, at the north of this area, is slightly greener and wetter, the south more arid. But you can travel a long way without seeing a radical shift, except in the uplands of the Plateau de Millevaches, where the rivers plunge into gorges and the woods are beech, chestnut and conifer plantations. The other characteristic landscape is the causses, dry scrubby limestone plateaux like the Causse de Gramat between the Dordogne and the Lot and the Causse de Limogne between the Lot and Aveyron. Where the rivers have cut their way through the limestone, the valleys are walled with overhanging cliffs, riddled with fissures, underground stream-beds and caves. And in these caves especially in the valley of the Vézère around Les Eyzies are some of the most sophisticated prehistoric paintings and reliefs to be found anywhere in the world.
The other great artistic legacy of the area is the Romanesque sculpture, most notably on the churches at Souillac and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, but all modelled on the supreme example of the cloister of St-Pierre in Moissac. And the dearth of luxurious châteaux is compensated for by the numerous splendid fortresses of purely military design, such as Bonaguil, Najac, Excideuil and Beynac.
The wartime Resistance was very active in these out-of-the-way regions, and the roadsides are dotted with tiny memorials to individuals or small groups of men, killed in ambushes or shot in reprisals. There is one monstrous monument to wartime atrocity: the ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane, still as the Nazis left it after massacring the population and setting fire to the houses.
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