A Guide to Holidaying in Dordogne Valley

Introduction

Dordogne Valley is one of the largest and most picturesque “departments” in France, though it is one of the most prominent in terms of its many historic buildings.  Home to lively markets and fine cuisine, the Dordogne Valley is synonymous with some of the most popular food in France. Local cuisine includes foie gras, duck and goose-based ingredients, Périgord’s popular black truffles, chestnuts, walnuts, Périgord strawberries, as well as Bergerac and Monbazillac made from top grape varieties are similar to Bordeaux’s “grand crus classés.” The picturesque view of the Dordogne is an invitation to explore the beauty of the landscapes of the region on a variety of holidays.

Where is Dordogne Valley?

Dordogne Valley is in Southwestern France, with its prefecture in Périgueux. It is located in between the Loire Valley, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and the Pyrenees and is named after the river Dordogne runs through it. This corresponds roughly to the ancient county of Périgord. It had a population of 416,909 inhabitants in 2013.

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What are The Best Sites and Attractions In Dordogne Valley?

When it comes to outdoor activities, the Dordogne with its rivers, limestone cliffs, and forested hillsides is exceptional.

1. Le Bugue Aquarium

The aquarium at Le Bugue is a smallish freshwater aquarium – so no sharks but it has a pleasant family-friendly atmosphere and lots of interesting displays. The aquarium has large tanks of carp, trout, and other various freshwater fish. There also tanks with sturgeon which are huge and have a shark-like appearance. There is also an outdoor pool where you can feed the fish. You can also see a pool full of turtles. The aquarium also has a house full of lizards and serpents in different sizes and colors.

2.Tour Lascaux II

This cave is referred to as the art site. It has detailed ancient cave paintings that tell the story about prehistory. Book a guide and learn the fascinating reasons behind the reproduction, as well as the history of the people who created the stunning and intriguing images.

3. Le-Bournat

Le Bournat is a theme-village depicting life in rural France during the 20th-century. The buildings, tools, and furniture are of the era, and as you walk around you can visit those into trades such as potters, woodcarvers, basket weavers, and lots more. To make it even more interesting each of these has people carrying out these trades using the tools of 1900. It is fascinating to see. Outside you can watch a shepherdess and her dog herding a flock of geese around the park, you can watch a harvest being collected and you can admire the herb garden and the farm animals which are in the village.  There is also an animal island surrounded by water and you can row a boat around the island and see the cattle with their long horns that live on the island.

4. Explore the Muse Gallo-Romain Vesunna Museum

Housed in a glass structure, the Muse Gallo-Romain Vesunna and archaeological site are beautifully preserved. You can take a walk on the streets like a Roman, or book a tour guide and find out the stories behind the sites. The center has various exhibitions relating to the prehistoric period.

5. Maison Forte de Reignac

An impressive example of architectural ingenuity, Maison Forte de Reignac is the only completely intact strong house of its kind in France. Deceivingly small from the outside, the rock hides an enormous interior  features bedrooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, and even a chapel. Its dark past is revealed in the grisly torture exhibition.

6. Manoir-de-Gisson

The manor house is two different constructions linked by a 13th-century hexagonal tower which contains a stone staircase. The roof is made of stone (Lauze) and is incredibly heavy. These Lauze roofs are now rare due to the weight of the tiles. The mullioned windows, the pretty colonnaded window, and the decorated door frames are also noteworthy.

7. Bergerac Aqua Park

Bergerac Aqua Park is located on the edge of Bergerac, near the large center of Leclerc, on the road to Bordeaux. Bergerac AquaPark is set in a 2-hectare park right on the edge of the Dordogne River. There are 4 pools in all. One of them is a large paddling pool for young children. One of them is a shallow pool with a mushroom shower, again for young children. There are a swimming pool and plenty of space around the pools to enjoy sunbathing and shady seating areas that are ideal for relaxing. Facilities for ping pong and beach volleyball are available when you want a break from the pools and there is a bouncy castle for young children. As the Bergerac Aqua Park is right on the edge of the river, you can hire canoes from here and take a trip of 1 hour, 6 km, or 11 km. If this activity starts to make you hungry, you can visit the poolside café, which serves drinks and snacks, including sandwiches, chips, steaks and chips, crepes, waffles, and ice cream.

8. The International Centre of Prehistory

This center houses a large screen that gives information in different languages about prehistory in the Vezere valley. There is also a film about prehistoric practices of man such as making weapons from flints. Other areas include an auditorium with films about the period and an animation and learning zone with workshops on archaeology and a reconstruction of an archaeological dig.

What Are The Fun Activities to In Dordogne Valley?

By and large, wherever you end in the Dordogne Valley, its varied landscapes make it impossible not to embark on an outdoor adventure with your family. So trainers on, this is going to be one wonderful ride!

1. Hiking and Walking

Gustavia-saint-bartheleme

The number one destination for most hikers, the Dordogne Valley is crisscrossed with thousands of great walks both on and off the beaten track. Stumble across unmapped prehistoric caves, troglodytes, and medieval ruins, either tucked away in a limestone cliff or nestled in a wooded hillside. 

2. Canoeing

If it’s not a walk you ‘re after, a day of canoe drifting down the Dordogne, canyoning in the hidden waterfalls of the forest, or fishing in one of the rivers of the region, or a leisure lake, should be just the ticket. But if you prefer to stay on dry land, golf is another favorite pastime for holidaymakers. Whether you live for a game or enjoy a casual tee-off, the Dordogne is the ideal place to practice your swing while enjoying the stunning scenery of the region.

3. Rock Climbing

Lorient

The pocketed limestone cliffs of the Dordogne offer an enormous amount of rock climbing. The Dordogne is a year-round climbing destination. Highlights include the Rocher de l’Isle in Jumilhac-le-Grand, where climbing on the grounds of the Château de Jumilhac is suitable for all abilities. Bayac, 20 kilometers upriver from Bergerac, is great for beginners. There are two places to check out – the Falaise de Mombrun and the Falaise des Corbeaux. Both sites have a variety of well-equipped, easy climbs with a lot of confidence-inspiring holds. Just south of the Dordogne River, Autoire is nestled at the base of a limestone forested outcrop with an impressive 30-meter waterfall. It’s home to a quarter of the climbing routes in the Lot department, with some 270 routes offering great variety on superb rock. With climbs of 5 to 25 m, graded from 5a to 8b abilities are catered for.

4. Air Balloon flight

There are various Hot Air Balloon tours offered around the Dordogne, with the most popular taking off and floating over Chateaux, countryside and villages.

5. Fishing

Grand Cul de Sac Beach

Fishing is a must in the Dordogne Basin. Practiced by locals or visitors, this is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the region near Brive la Gaillarde. Fly fishing is well known in Dordogne next to the campsite for those who practice fishing.

6. Wine Tasting in Bergerac

You will find the Maison du Vin on the banks of the Dordogne River in Bergerac. Here you can take the opportunity to find out what makes the different aromas of wine, taste some of the local wines and pick up a leaflet with the ‘Route des Vins-Pays de Bergerac’ in preparation for some more serious wine tasting. While you’re there, make sure you take a look around the 12th-century cloister that is part of the Maison du Vin.

7. Les Gabares boat trips on the Dordogne

Gouverneur Beach

The Gabares are typical flat-bottomed boats used for transporting goods along the Dordogne since the Middle Ages. This is a relaxing way to enjoy the many Dordogne chateaux and villages from the perspective of the river. Various sights and animals are pointed out to you as you slowly meander the river as well as the past of the Gabares.

8. A Visit to The Château de Hautefort

The Château de Hautefort is full of treasures that will certainly win over both parents and children. Explore this Renaissance fortress with its impressive fortifications, hidden tunnels, secret corridors, film set, and period furniture before enjoying fresh air in the French formal gardens and the English-style park. Children’s workshops are held on the theme of the chateau every Wednesday in July and August. Night and costume meetings are also frequently scheduled.

A beautiful crescent of white sand, Saint Jean’s Bay Beach features excellent surfing and a thriving coral reef. It’s a perfect location for parents with children, visited by locals and day-trippers from nearby Saint Maarten.

9. Tours de Merle Les Tours

Saline Bay

What Are The Most Beautiful Villages In Dordogne Valley?

The Dordogne Valley is home to an enchanting mix of picturesque villages that have retained their French countryside charm. Here are 10 places you’re not supposed to miss

de Merle are medieval towers t seem to appear out of nowhere and a perfect day-out for wannabe knights and princesses in search of adventure. In the summer months, displays of medieval sword combat are a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Close by, Les Fermes du Moyen-Age is a great reproduction of a 15th C. A hamlet with farm animals, houses, and a medieval vegetable garden.

1. Beynac-et-Cazenac

Built on cliffs above the Dordogne River, the Plus Beau Village of Beynac-et-Cazenac consists of clusters of cream-colored stone houses lined with steep, cobbled lanes. At the top is a castle, this was the scene of battles in the Middle Ages, when its lords, who were allies of the French King, fought against their neighbors at Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, who were loyal to the English Plantagenets. The fortress is one of the best-preserved in the region, and its sweeping views over the Dordogne Valley make climbing the calf-strength even more worthwhile.

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2. Saint-Amand-de-Coly

This quiet village perched on the edge of a hill north of Sarlat-le-Canéda is named after Saint-Amand, a hermit living in a hillside cave in the 6th century. The heart of this small village, made of traditional golden stone houses, is an imposing Romanesque church which dates back to the 12th century and stands on the site of a ruined abbey. In the 14th century, this remarkable church was transformed into a fortress, evidence of which can be seen from thick walls, archer holes, and blind stairs. Saint-Amand is home to the 14th-century Château de la Grande Filolie, which boasts an attractive woodland setting as well as a renowned workshop famous for its classic French copper cookware.

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3. Castelnaud-La-Chapelle

Perched on the confluence of the Dordogne River, the village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is a picturesque village with a breathtaking view of the bucolic countryside of the Dordogne. Dominated from above by its spectacular castle, Castelnaud is a feast for the eyes; take a stroll up the steep streets and pass the typical Périgordine-style houses, built with large stone walls, sloping roofs, and thick wooden shutters, interspersed with arched gateways, half-timbered houses and colorful rose windows, which add to the appeal. Climb to the top to find the mighty medieval fortress from where you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

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4. La Roque-Gageac

Consisting mainly of a row of yellow-stone houses between the Dordogne River to the front and overhanging cliffs to the back, La Roque-Gageac occupies a dramatic and much-photographed setting. Thanks to the sunny, south-facing position and the cliffs protect it from cold northern winds, the village enjoys its own microclimate. Palm trees and banana plants grow in a tropical garden, which you can marvel at, along with several troglodyte caves, as you climb up the narrow streets to the cliffs.

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5. Limeuil

Perched on the confluence of the rivers Dordogne and Vézère,  a stroll through the village takes you past rose-covered stone houses, layers of wood-framed cottages built on the hillside, craft workshops, and panoramic gardens. The village’s crowning glory lies on the top plateau, where the gardens are full of centuries-old trees and sculptures and offer a perfect view of the rolling fields below.

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6. Rocamadour

A landmark for pilgrims and one of the most visited villages in France, Rocamadour clings to steep cliffs above the River Alzou, a tributary of the Dordogne River. There’s a dramatic 150-meter drop from the towered château at the top. The 216 steps of the stairs of the pilgrims take you past the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Basilica of Saint-Sauveur and the Crypt of Saint Amadour, as well as the chapel containing the statue of the Black Madonna. Be sure to reward yourself for the tough ascent of Rocamadour’s creamy goat cheese.

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7. Monpazier

 Founded in 1284 by Edward I of England, Monpazier is one of the most beautiful villages and is considered by many to be the best-preserved bastide in the Dordogne. Visitors to this charming village will be amazed to discover that at four hundred meters by two hundred and twenty meters, Monpazier is perfectly quadrilateral, with streets running parallel to the longest sides from one end of the village to the other. The most important place to visit in the village must be Place des Cornières. This picture-perfect square is lined with 23 stone houses, the ground floor of which is the arch of a long stone arcade, where there is a local market for rain or shine.

8. Domme

The incredible panoramic views from the historic village of Domme make it one of the most beautiful villages in the Dordogne. Founded in 1281, this fortified medieval town served as a major defense point in the Hundred Years War between France and England. When you enter the city, you go through a large, double towered gate that leads to the square of the city. In this area, you can access the many craft shops in the city and the local market on Thursdays. The best thing to do, however, is to soak in the views while enjoying a drink or a meal on the terrace overlooking the stunning countryside.

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9.Perigeux

Perigueux is a large town in the middle of the Dordogne, which you can pass through if you’re heading from the south to the north or vice versa. The Saint-Front Cathedral in the center, with its towering domes and turrets, is its most famous landmark. There’s also the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum, where you can see the remains of a Roman villa, including underfloor heating and mosaics, as well as other Roman artifacts. A defensive wall used to encircle the city, but now all that remains of it is the Mataguerre Tower, which you can go to the top to see the views of Perigueux.

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10. Saint-Jean-de-Cole

Enjoy the stunning view of the square forming a nearby café before sailing the water, the ideal spot to enjoy a delicious picnic, and soak up the relaxing atmosphere. Nestled in the north of the Dordogne region on the Cole River, Saint-Jean is a small but charming village famous for its half-timbered houses and ochre-colored buildings. The houses in this village are of a picture-postcard sort, with most of them boasting the traditional stone roofs of the area. The village’s highlights can be found on its main square; here tourists can appreciate the 12th-century pint-sized chateau, while across the other side of the square there is an exceptionally shaped Byzantine Romanesque cathedral.

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What are The Best Dining Options in Dordogne Valley?

1.Restaurant L’Essential, Périgueux This small Michelin-approved restaurant is a perfect starting point for gourmets who want to try top-notch French cuisine and delicious wines. Prices are just marginally higher than many other grocery stores in the region, but the quality of food is miles away. If you can grab a seat on the decorated terrace in the back, take it – it's a lovely place to tuck into the fun, ingredients-led dishes, such as head de veau (calf 's head) with pan-fried foie gras and squash emulsion. Calculate running distance on map

2. Le Relais De La Ganache, Saint-Astier Et in a restored 19th-century barn tucked away in the hills of the Dordogne, this cozy restaurant and inn is the kind of place you can't imagine. They do have a paddock and stables for travelers who come on horseback and want to rest here overnight. Menus are made up every day local items currently in season. Groups between 10 and 20 may consult the chef to develop their own customized menu based on their budget and dietary preferences. Draw Route on Google Maps

3. La Pate a Max, Sarlat You'll find yourself feeling 'all ducked out' at some point during your journey. Once this moment comes, give your stomach a break from the precious chicken and head to this little Sarlat pasta bar instead. The pasta is handmade and comes with a variety of at least half a dozen sauces. There are typically a few meat-free choices – a godsend to vegetarians searching for a healthy meal in this carnivorous country. Measure walking route distance

4. Le Chèvrefeuille Cookery School, Saint-Cyprien Following a few days of dining in the Dordogne, you want to imitate the ways of the Périgord cooks. And plan a cooking lesson with Ian Fisk, chef, and owner of Le Chèvrefeuille Restaurant and Cookery School. The cooking experience starts with a chef-led market tour, where you can talk with local farmers and find out how to select the best seasonal produce. It's up to the kitchen to start planning a multi-course menu that includes seasonal vegetable confit du canard, apple dauphinoise, and cabécou tartlet

5. Restaurant Nicolas L, Périgueux One of those rare restaurants that finds where the quality of food lies behind the price, Nicolas L is a good choice for families. The Nicolas L of the restaurant's name is Nicolas Lamstaes, a chef who has learned his trade under the granddaddy of French haute cuisine, Alain Ducasse. This education is demonstrated by the high-quality, elegant cuisine that includes dishes such as caramelized veal sweetbread with truffle pasta and foie gras emulsion, and fried scallops with caviar butter risotto and Bayonne ham. To order to cultivate palates that are not yet used to the warm, buttery goodness of the Dordogne cuisine, there is a children's menu also. Calculate running distance on map

6. Hostellerie de Plaisance Restaurant, Saint Emilion Located in the center of the Saint-Émilion wine region, its sommelier, Benoit Gelin's advisor, will have the ideal pairing of wines. The restaurant is open for dinner and lunch on Saturdays from Tuesday to Saturday. Tasting and seasonal menus are open. There is a bar and terrace with a beautiful view serving light dishes such as salads and sandwiches specially designed by chef Cédric Béchade under the label "l'Esprit de Plaisance." It's available for lunch from Monday to Friday. Measure running distance on a map

7. La Chartreuse du Bignac Restaurant, St Nexans The dining rooms provide views of the surrounding vineyards and hills. Drinks can also be enjoyed in the small library or between the chestnut trees. The chef focuses extensively on local and seasonal produce. With a variety of Bergerac vineyards to choose from, there's also a great selection of wines to complement your dinner. On cooler evenings, this can be enjoyed alongside a big open fireplace. An à la carte menu is available, as well as a fixed menu. It is available for dinner on reservation and closed on Tuesday evenings. Calculate running distance on map

What Are The Best Places To Stay In Dordogne Valley?

1. Château de la Treyne Perhaps the most stunning château-hotel in the Dordogne, this branch of the Relais & Châteaux is located in the baroque gardens perched over the Dordogne River. The Michelin-starred Great Lounge Restaurant (no lunch Tuesday – Friday) is a feast of ice, woodwork, and Louis XIII seats. The elegant guest rooms range from the glamorous Jail Doreé (or "Golden Jail" at the top of the castle tower) and the hyper-charming Soleil Levant (the former chapel, now sparkling in historic lime and yellow) to the deluxe suite with its beautiful antiques and river views. Measure running distance on a map

2. Hôtel Beau Site Notre Dame Set in a beautiful 19th-century stone mansion in the middle of the busy Rocamadour, you 'd never think it was a Best Western hotel. With charm to spare and a very good gastronomic restaurant, visitors will enjoy the romance (and quietness) of a historic setting with light, spacious rooms, and all modern conveniences. The restaurant is probably the best in town, offering a menu of French classics — foie gras, duck breast, Quercy lamb, and local cabécou cheese — along with fantastic city-high views; there's also a cheaper bistro if you're in a hurry. Measure running distance on a map

3. Le Vieux Logis Constructed around the most beautiful dining room in the Dordogne, this vine-clad manor house in Trémolat is one of the best hotels in the area. Warm guest rooms vary in size, but most of them face a well-tended garden and a flowing brook; the best of a bunch of terracotta tile floors, stone walls, and suite bathrooms. The lounge is rather elegant, with exposed columns, Louis XIII-style chairs, and faïence plates placed over the fireplace, while the gourmet restaurant provides a view of half-timbered and pink-and-red paisley fabrics. The six-course dinner menu includes Chef Vincent Arnould's forte — veal in mustard sauce. Measure Route Distance

4. Hôtel Edward 1er One of the many benefits of this small but stately historic château-hotel is its position between the town and the magnificent countryside of the Dordogne. Here you can find all the facilities of a luxury hotel — a swimming pool, two top-notch restaurants with outdoor terraces, a lounge, outstanding service, and decor — with a comfortable environment and attractive prices. Rooms are clean and bright — some recently updated in a newer wing — with spacious bathrooms and lovely views of the countryside. The delicious and hearty breakfast is a big plus, and both the bistro and the gastronomic restaurants are the best in town, if not in the region. Check the website for some fantastic package deals. Measure walking route distance

5. Château les Merles A nice way to experience the lovely rolling countryside just outside Bergerac, this lovely castle offers everything you need for a relaxing visit, including a large swimming pool, fine dining, golf and charming walks. Recently refurbished rooms are pleasingly spacious and modern and common spaces invite you to linger, which friendly staff heartily encourage. The hotel has gone an extra mile for families, with a children's park and four luxurious family villas — each with three bedrooms and a self-catering kitchen — on the property. Check the website for exclusive packages of food and wine (some with cooking classes). Calculate running distance on map

6. L'Auberge du Sombral If location and views are your top priorities, you've come to the right spot. Situated on a quaint cobbled square in the center of town, this old inn is lined with grapevines and roses; inside, the practical guest rooms are decorated with local art and cozy tapestries, while the charming dining room serves the culinary specialties anticipated at lunch every day and at dinner on Friday and Saturday. Measure walking route distance

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The best time to visit the Dordogne is from May to October when the weather is cooler and you can enjoy the outdoors. July and August are the peak season, but nothing like the other areas in Europe where it can be packed with visitors.

There are three airports suitable for flights to Dordogne, Bergerac, Brive, and Bordeaux-Merignac. For onward travel from the airport, transfers or shuttle services are convenient and car hire is widely available, allowing you to travel directly to your accommodation. Many of the luxury hotels provide airport pick-up services, so its best to find this out first before you book a ride.

Dordogne Valley can also be accessed by high-speed train. Périgueux, Bergerac, Sarlat, and Brive are the closest stations. They are all accessible from Bordeaux, Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse. Once you reach the Dordogne, it’s difficult to travel all over the country. The local train line, which passes along the length of the Dordogne, does not stop at every town and you can find the trains infrequently.

If you want to go by car instead, you’ll probably take a ferry to the north coast of France, where it takes about 6 hours to get to Périgueux. It may be worth considering arriving at a ferry port near the west of France, such as Caen or Saint-Malo. In fact, the closest ferry port to the Dordogne is Bilbao in Spain, with a travel time of just 4 hours 30 minutes to Bergerac or Périgueux.

Dordogne Valley is famous for its  Castles, chateaux, and museums throughout the region, offering enough history and breath-taking scenery that needs no scholarly tendencies to enjoy it.

The Dordogne is known for its love of food and drink and boasts a long culinary history and a wonderful gastronomic tradition. The Dordogne is also known as the French city of foie gras, duck and truffle. Every season brings its own spectacular natural larder, including spring white asparagus, morel mushrooms and strawberries; summer abundance of fresh fruit; autumn walnuts, wild cepes, and girolle mushrooms; and the popular white and black truffles of winter. There is also a large range of local cheeses, such as Cabécou, which is made from raw goat’s milk, and soft walnut-liqueur-washed cheese produced by the monks at Abbaye d’Echourgnac. This focus on rich food is reason enough to visit the open-air markets held each Wednesday and Saturday in Périgueux

The following are some of the interesting things to know about Dordogne.

1. The Dordogne is the 3rd largest department in France and occupies an area of 9,060 km2 – greater than North Yorkshire and 4 times the size of Cheshire!

2. Every year more than 3,000,000 visitors visit the Dordogne – imagine the equivalent of the total population of Wales!

3. Luckily there are over 6,000 tourist accommodations and 1,338 restaurants spread across the department …

4. There are numerous caves to visit – some by train, some by foot; some with drawings, some with stalactites.

5. The inhabitants of Dordogne are known in French as Dordognais (women: Dordognaises). They re also known as Périgordins or Périgoudins.