Nestled in the southwest region of France, Dordogne is a picturesque area brimming with history, natural beauty, and vibrant culture. A haven for travellers seeking to immerse themselves in the quintessential French experience, this guide will provide a glimpse into some of the highlights that can be discovered in this stunning region.
Dordogne, also known as Périgord, is a land laced with history, embodying a rich mix of prehistoric caves, medieval castles, lush gardens and charming local markets. The region is divided into four distinct areas: Périgord Blanc with its limestone hills and bustling Périgueux; the forested Périgord Vert; the wine-rich Périgord Pourpre; and Périgord Noir, home to the picturesque town of Sarlat-la-Canéda.
With an abundance of activities to enjoy, Dordogne offers visitors the chance to explore prehistoric caves like Lascaux IV, visit stunning gardens such as Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac, partake in local gastronomy through truffle tours and wine tastings, or even embark on scenic canoeing trips along the region’s serene rivers.
History and Culture
The Dordogne region in Southwest France is rich in history and cultural attractions. Visitors can explore medieval towns, prehistoric caves with stunning paintings, and impressive castles that transport you back in time.
The Lascaux IV museum allows visitors to discover the incredible prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux, known for their exceptional representation of the animal world. The museum offers an immersive experience and educational activities designed for the whole family. Audio guides provide a deeper understanding of the significance of the artworks. Other museums showcasing prehistory in the region include Font de Gaume and Gouffre de Proumeyssac.
Castles and Towns
The Dordogne is home to an array of beautiful towns and impressive castles. Sarlat-la-Canéda is a well-preserved medieval town boasting 66 classified monuments. Its picturesque cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings make it a must-visit destination.
Bergerac, sitting along the banks of the River Dordogne, is an enjoyable place to explore with its weekly market, cafés, and rich history.
Other remarkable locations that offer insight into the region’s history include:
- Monpazier: A beautiful medieval bastide town
- Domme: A fortified village situated on a hill, offering panoramic views
When it comes to castles, the Dordogne does not disappoint. Some of the must-see châteaux in the area are:
- Château de Beynac: An imposing fortress with spectacular views of the Dordogne Valley
- Château des Milandes: The former home of the famed entertainer Josephine Baker
- Château de Castelnaud: A medieval fortress occupied by the English during the Hundred Years War
- Château de Hautefort: A magnificent castle boasting French-style gardens, offering guided tours for visitors
These sites allow travellers to delve deep into the region’s history and experience the stories behind the castles and towns first hand. Visiting the Dordogne is truly a captivating journey through time for history and culture enthusiasts.
Natural Beauty of Dordogne
Parks and Gardens
The Dordogne region is home to several magnificent parks and gardens. One of the most famous is Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac, which offers stunning views over the Dordogne Valley. There’s also the exquisite Eyrignac et ses Jardins that serve as a little paradise filled with beauty, peace, and harmony.
Exploring the Countryside
The countryside in Dordogne is an attraction in itself, with picturesque landscapes, including lush vineyards and rolling hills. The region is divided into four Périgords: Périgord Noir, Périgord Vert, Périgord Blanc, and Périgord Pourpre, each offering distinct landscapes and experiences. From hiking and cycling trails to casual strolls, visitors can explore the diverse countryside and soak in the natural beauty.
Adventures in Dordogne
For those seeking a bit of adventure, the Dordogne region has plenty of exciting activities to offer. The crystal-clear Dordogne River invites visitors to enjoy canoeing and kayaking through the stunning landscapes. For a more leisurely experience, take a trip on a traditional Gabarre boat, which offers an excellent way to admire the surroundings. Wildlife enthusiasts can also explore the numerous prehistoric caves and troglodyte dwellings found across the region, such as Grotte de Rouffignac and Font de Gaume.
Nestled amidst the beautiful countryside of Dordogne are several scenic villages that are a must-visit. La Roque-Gageac, one of France’s most beautiful villages, boasts spectacular views of the cliffside and the Dordogne River. Brantôme, often referred to as the “Venice of Périgord”, features a picturesque medieval town centre. For history lovers, Les Eyzies is home to many prehistoric sites, and its charming old town is an excellent place to explore. Each of these villages provides a unique experience, showcasing the rich culture and history of the region.
Things to do in Dordogne – Local Gastronomy
Dordogne is a region that celebrates its rich culinary heritage, and there is no better way to experience the local flavours than by visiting its weekly markets. These gatherings often feature local delicacies such as truffles, foie gras, and walnuts, allowing visitors to indulge in authentic French gastronomy. One of the most famous markets in the area is the Périgord Pourpre, where food enthusiasts can find an abundant array of fresh, seasonal produce.
The cuisine of Dordogne is nothing short of exquisite. With a strong focus on duck and goose, dishes made with foie gras and other related products take centre stage. A great way to discover the regional gastronomy is by dining at some of the top restaurants in the area, such as:
- Le Moulin du Roc in Champagnac de Belair, which offers a fine dining experience with French and European dishes.
- Auberge-de-la-truffe in Sorges, a restaurant renowned for its delectable truffle-based menu.
- Le Moulin de L’abbaye in Brantome, a Michelin-starred establishment showcasing exceptional French cuisine in a spectacular location.
Another must-try delicacy is the black truffle or la perle noire du Périgord, often dubbed the black diamond. These treasured fungi are found throughout the Dordogne, and the height of truffle season is between December and February.
Wine Tasting Experience
Dordogne is a prominent wine region in France, and visitors should not miss the opportunity to indulge in a wine tasting experience. Various vineyards and wineries across the region offer guided tours and tastings, allowing guests to sample some of the most exceptional wines the area has to offer.
Overall, Dordogne presents a gastronomical adventure that satisfies both the palate and the soul, providing guests with an unforgettable journey into French cuisine, local markets, and divine wine tasting experiences.
Sightseeing in Dordogne
Routes and Walking Paths
Dordogne, located in the picturesque region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France, boasts a plethora of points of interest for visitors to enjoy. Amongst many of its attractions, walking routes offer a splendid way to explore this breathtaking area with its historical sites, charming villages, and unique landscape.
One of the most popular walking routes leads to the ancient town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, which is home to the beautiful Place des Cornières, a pedestrianised square surrounded by medieval buildings. Here, you can wander the cobbled streets and admire the historical architecture before stopping at a nearby café for a relaxing coffee break.
Additionally, discovering the numerous castles scattered throughout the region is a must for any sightseeing enthusiast. Embark on a gentle stroll along the well-marked walking paths around the castles, allowing you ample opportunities to marvel at the impressive structures.
Don’t forget to explore the numerous wine vineyards that cover Dordogne’s rolling hills, where you’ll have the chance to taste the region’s exquisite wines and learn about the local winemaking heritage. Many of these vineyards offer guided walking tours and on-site parking, making for a convenient and enjoyable day out.
In summary, exploring Dordogne’s picturesque routes and walking paths provides an ideal opportunity to immerse yourself in the region’s rich history, stunning architecture, and gorgeous landscapes. Don’t miss out on the chance to create lasting memories from your visit to this enchanting destination.
Visiting Dordogne in Different Seasons
The beauty of Dordogne is that it offers a unique experience for travellers during each season, with various activities and attractions to enjoy. In this section, we’ll explore what to expect when visiting Dordogne in different seasons, so you can plan your perfect visit.
During spring (March to May), the Dordogne region comes alive with vibrant colours and blossoms. The mild weather makes it an ideal time to explore outdoor attractions, such as taking a leisurely stroll through the magnificent gardens of Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac and Les Jardins d’Eyrignac. Spring is also a perfect time to appreciate the rich history of the region by visiting the numerous castles, like Château de Commarque and Château de Hautefort.
Summer (June to August) is the high season for tourism in Dordogne, boasting warm and sunny days. During this period, outdoor activities are in full swing, with options like canoeing on the Dordogne River, swimming, and paddling. It’s also an excellent time to explore some of the prehistoric caves, such as Lascaux IV, Font de Gaume, Gouffre de Proumeyssac, and Grotte de Rouffignac. To escape the heat in between sightseeing, indulge in local gastronomy; don’t miss truffle tours and wine tasting events.
As the leaves change colours, autumn (September to November) paints a picturesque landscape in the Dordogne region. The fall season is generally less crowded, allowing visitors to enjoy the serene beauty of the region at a calmer pace. During this time, visitors can take advantage of engaging in historical tours, visiting churches, cathedrals, and participating in cultural walking tours. The milder temperatures are perfect for outdoor endeavours such as ports of call tours and water equipment rentals.
Winter (December to February) in Dordogne is typically quiet and experiences fewer tourists, offering a more relaxed experience for those looking to avoid the busier months. Whilst some outdoor activities may not be possible, visitors can still enjoy the stunning architecture and cultural sites, including the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda. It’s also a wonderful time to take in the cosy atmosphere of the local markets and enjoy the region’s delicious cuisine.
Shopping in Dordogne
Dordogne offers a wide variety of shopping experiences for visitors. From charming gift shops to bustling markets and impressive shopping centres, you will find something for everyone here.
One of the best places to shop in Dordogne is at the numerous gift and specialty shops. These charming establishments offer a range of unique and handcrafted items, making them the perfect places to pick up a keepsake or a gift for someone back home. Explore the art galleries and find striking pieces of artwork, showcasing the talent of local artists.
For a more traditional shopping experience, head to the local farmers’ markets, where you can find fresh and delicious local produce. Dordogne is renowned for its strawberries, so don’t miss the opportunity to grab a punnet of these juicy favourites while you’re there. You’ll also find a range of other fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses and more, making the markets a must-visit for food lovers.
Flea markets and street markets are also common in Dordogne, offering an eclectic mix of items from antiques and collectibles to clothing and accessories. These bustling markets provide a lively atmosphere and the chance to find unexpected treasures at bargain prices.
In addition to the smaller shops and markets, Dordogne also offers several shopping centres. These modern establishments house a variety of stores, providing a mix of popular brands, boutique shops and dining options. The shopping centres make for a convenient and enjoyable day out, especially if the weather is less than ideal.
Remember to take a break from shopping and visit the wine shops and tasting rooms throughout Dordogne. The region is well-known for its superb wines, and there are plenty of opportunities to sample and purchase a bottle or two to take home with you.
Golf and Other Sports
Dordogne offers a variety of thrilling sports activities for visitors of all ages and interests. Among these, golf is a popular choice with several courses spread across the region. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy picturesque settings while practising their swings and improving their skills. For those seeking other physical activities, the Dordogne also offers opportunities for swimming, running, and exploring the beautiful landscapes of the region.
Day Trips and Excursions
If experiencing the rich history and culture of the region is your cup of tea, then day trips and excursions are an excellent way to do so. One notable site to visit is the Château de Castelnaud which boasts massive ramparts and metre-thick crenellated walls, offering you a glimpse into its English-occupied past during the Hundred Years War.
Another fascinating stop is the town of Sorges, often considered to be the truffle capital of the Dordogne. Here, you can embark on guided truffle tours, taste exquisite local delicacies and immerse yourself in the unique gastronomy of the region.
In addition to these wonderful experiences, remember to make time for canoeing, exploring prehistoric caves, and visiting breathtaking gardens. These are just a few exciting activities that await you in the Dordogne, ensuring an unforgettable holiday experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top attractions in Périgord town?
Périgord boasts several attractions that are worth exploring. Some popular attractions include historical landmarks such as castles, cathedrals, and fortified towns. For example, the picturesque medieval town of Sarlat, which holds a vibrant local market, is a must-visit destination.
Which Dordogne Valley activities should I try?
The Dordogne Valley offers a variety of activities for all types of travellers. Indulge in local gastronomy, go truffle hunting, or participate in a regional cookery class to taste the flavours of the region. For outdoor enthusiasts, the area offers river swimming, paddling, or scenic walking tours. Wine tasting at local vineyards is another popular activity in the Dordogne Valley.
Which towns are best to stay in while visiting Dordogne?
Some of the best towns to stay in while visiting Dordogne include Sarlat, a historic town that offers a variety of hotels and restaurants, as well as access to top attractions. Other recommended towns are Bergerac, known for its wine tourism and beautiful countryside, and Périgueux, which has a rich history and impressive architecture.
What are some hidden gems in Dordogne off the beaten track?
To get a more authentic experience of the region, visit lesser-known towns such as Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, which boasts charming medieval streets and a beautiful river setting. Exploring hidden caves, like the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, with prehistoric paintings can provide a unique adventure. Additionally, look out for small-scale food festivals and cultural events that celebrate local traditions and crafts.
What can I do in Périgord Noir during my visit?
Périgord Noir, also known as the Black Périgord, is well-known for its picturesque landscapes, historic towns, and delicious food. You can explore charming villages like Domme, La Roque-Gageac, and Beynac-et-Cazenac. In addition, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the stunning prehistoric Lascaux Cave, which is filled with fascinating cave paintings.
Which must-see villages should I include in my Dordogne itinerary?
There are several charming villages in the Dordogne region that should not be missed. Some of the must-see villages include Rocamadour, a breathtaking cliffside town known for its religious significance, and Brantôme, with its remarkable Abbey and beautiful surroundings. Monpazier, a fortified town that boasts stunning architecture and a fascinating history, is another village worth including in your Dordogne itinerary.