26 JANUARY 1962, Page 20

Truffle Country


ALONG the rich middle reaches of the Dordogne, before it flows away to the vine- yards of St. Emilion and Pomerol, lies a lush, contented land of plump geese, truffles and little castles-all set about with walnut trees. Only the hounds who root up the truffles have a lean or hungry look.

Look at the map of the river valley-Cyril Connolly's magic circle against the Group Man --the Perigord Noir. On the banks of the tribu- tary Vezere is the village of Les Eyzies, once the rocky shelter of Cro-Magnon man. A few miles up the river, Lascaux, the Louvre of prehistory. And the Dordogne itself, dominated by the forti- fied hilltop village of Dommc, one of the dozens of bastides which are scattered about the countryside, relics of the Hundred Years' War.

It is a region that repays leisurely study and exploration, a land of Ronianesque churches, medieval markets and Renaissance houses. But there is no noticeable public transport-buses are an invention that has not yet impinged on the civilisation of the Dordogne. A car is almost essential, or a bicycle for mad Englishmen pre- pared to pedal uphill in the midday sun.

Before you go, read Freda White's Three Rivers of France, and when you go take with you Glyn Daniel's enticing work pf .gastro-archoco- logy,' Lascaux and Carrick-. Also take his advice -visit the less spectacular caves such as La Mouthe, Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume before going to Lascaux. And whenever you do go underground, wear a thick sweater. The cliffs may be cracking under the summer heat, but two hundred yards under the limestone hills it is always damp, and very cold.

Unfortunately, most of the once-modest hotels where Doctor Daniel' enjoyed his memorable meals, have now become too con- scious of their gastronomic fame-and have fixed their prices accordingly.

The Dordogne is a river for the fisherman rather than the swimmer. Except at the peak of the summer heat, it is swift and cold. But if you don't mind paying about 5s. for a swim (you can stay all day long) go to Les Milandes. Josephine Baker's gracious pleasure gardens which lie between her chateau and the river. No swimming pool in the world could have more romantic surroundings, even if she has had her initials worked in tiles on the bottom.

Oddly, this is a part of France which people come to see but seldom stay long enough to absorb. Talk to any of the number of British tourists encountered queueing for the Lascaux cave or having an aperitif at Les Eyzies; almost invariably they are on their way by car to or from the South of France or the Costa Brava. And of the P6rigord they carry away nothing but a booklet from Lascaux, a fleeting impression of fertile fields and ancient towns (whose names all seem to end with ac: Monbazillac, of the sweet, golden wine, Beynac and its spring), and a firm resolution to come back next year.