One of our last explorations in the Lot-Dordogne had us setting off for Domme – another of France’s Plus Beaux Villages.
It is set high above the Dordogne river on a rocky outcrop. A bastide established in the 13th century, it began a long history of being taken over by various political factions. The Knights Templar were imprisoned in Domme before their demise at the hands of a king who coveted their wealth, and some of their graffiti still survives on the prison walls. Then there were the wars between the English and French when it changed hands a few times. Then France’s own religious wars involved more sieges and subterfuge as it changed between protestant and Catholic factions.
It had a period of peace and prosperity during the 17th century, but then declined after that – for which we can be thankful because it is largely preserved for us to enjoy today. The weather was still quite hot, but we really enjoyed exploring the streets and enjoying the fabulous vista of the lowlands from this great vantage point, lunching at a restaurant right on the edge of the drop down to the river.
But also on the way, we accidentally (all those roundabouts and confusing road signs!) came upon Moncalou which is fascinating for another reason. It tells the story of the legendary wine of the Perigord, and has a very tall tower from which it feels like you can see forever. We were amazed at how many little hamlets and settlements we could see when driving around it felt so deep in the countryside we were away from everything.
Since Roman times wine has been grown on the hillsides above the Céou river. With all the changing fortunes of war, famine, boom and bust, it flourished here and was exported throughout Europe, Russia, England and even Asia. This was the wine that was served in the French court. It was so sought after it basically became a monoculture which made it highly vulnerable to being wiped out by just the right bug. This turned out to be a particular aphid accidentally brought into the area. It devastated not only the Dordogne vines, but also vines throughout the whole of France and seriously threatened France’s famed wine industry. Being no longer financially viable, large numbers of vignerons left the land to look for work, taking with them their wine-growing expertise.
Fortunately, in 1994 a project was started to revive the Domme wine industry which now again produces wine that recalls the old descriptions of Domme wines – ‘wines for laying down, strong in alcohol and rich in tannins, the reds having a beautiful ruby colour.’ Obviously we were obliged to pay homage over lunch later!
Heather, Tina and Sharon