All summer long, France is the playground for Europe’s grandes vacances. But come winter, visitors dwindle, and les trufficulteurs take to the rocky woods and sun-dappled pastures of Périgord, some 50 miles (80 km) east of Bordeaux, for truffle-hunting season.
Truffle-loving tourists fill the cozy medieval village markets and restaurants to buy and eat subterranean fungi, but few actually come to harvest these little aromatic nuggets.
Hunts are open to visitors, guided by some of the world’s leading truffle experts. Join an expedition and be privy to their truffle-finding secrets. Venture through secretive, musky territories in chilly forests thick with oak and hazelnut trees. Alongside, specially trained pigs and dogs help unearth the magic mushrooms.
It’s the ultimate earthy scavenger hunt. The most memorable prizes: intoxicating, perfumed black Périgord truffles worth their weight in gold.
Of course, diners here are rewarded with the finds of the harvest, too. Area bistros plate up truffle dishes of all sorts, often at remarkably low prices, from classic truffled foie gras, gamey pâtés, and savory egg dishes to more innovative takes on the Tuber melanosporum, such as truffled ice cream, crème brûlée, and a most heady truffled vodka.
- Planning: The truffle-hunting season runs from November to April. Visitors can hunt, distill, and cook at truffle workshops. Local expert Edouard Aynaud along with his truffle-sniffing hunting dogs teaches courses on truffle gathering and cooking at la Truffiere de Péchalifour.
> The Best Truffle Markets:
If taking to the woods is not your thing, the lively and spirited truffle markets, which peak in activity from December to February, offer a fine alternative to scouting through the cold winter woods. They are the busiest in the chill of January, when the black truffles have their highest perfume and often lure celebrity chefs who come to stock up.
- One of the largest truffle markets in the world is in Richerenches in Vaucluse.
- The largest market in southwest France is at L’Albenque in Quercy.
- One of the most popular markets is in Sainte-Alvère village in Périgord.
This article originally appeared in the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel.