Dordogne Holiday Planning Guide
Because this region has escaped overdevelopment, Dordogne is one of France's best kept secrets with historical châteaux, medieval fortresses, prehistoric cave paintings, and Roman remains sprinkled throughout. Legendary stone villages with golden stone houses make this region seem a little like a cross between a fairy tale and a movie set. Canoeing down the River Dordogne is a fantastic way to tour the region, and there are many areas where you can walk, hike, and sightsee on foot. This region, which roughly corresponds with the ancient county of Périgord, remains quite rural and known for its wonderful pâtés.
Places to Visit in DordogneSarlat-la-Caneda
: Take a trip back in time with a stroll down this city’s many pedestrian-only streets lined with perfectly preserved 14th-century buildings constructed of golden stone, or bring your taste buds into the present moment by sampling local delicacies at one of its many markets and festivals. Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil
: Home to a World Heritage-designated historic city area and the archeological site where the first Cro-Magnon skeletons were discovered, a stop here will add layers of interesting history to your Dordogne tour. Perigueux
: Stop at the region’s largest town to experience lively cafés and restaurants, shopping, and a charming Old Town center with architecture inspired by Roman, Renaissance, and Gothic influences. Montignac
: A popular base for exploring the nearby Lascaux caves, this town makes for a peaceful place to stay, with arching bridges connecting buildings and narrow lanes winding on both sides of the Vézère River. Bergerac
: Famous as the alleged home of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619–55), this town filled with cream-colored stone buildings is in close proximity to vineyards, and has a riverfront Old Town and café culture worth exploring. Le Bugue
: Plan to stay here on your Dordogne holiday for a relaxed alternative to more bustling towns. With its calm riverfront, small winding streets, and weekly market, you will get a quaint village experience in proximity to other major attractions of the region.
Things to Do in Dordogne
Popular Dordogne Tourist AttractionsLascaux II
: Visit this museum to see lifelike replicas of the famous 17,000-year-old Paleolithic paintings discovered in neighboring Lascaux Cave. Chateau de Castelnaud
: Visit this beautifully restored medieval fortress-turned-museum to see a large collection of weapons and armor from medieval times and to learn about medieval warfare. Sweeping views from the castle towers, guided tours, and evening performances add to the experience. Sarlat Market
: A famous shopping attraction in Dordogne since the Middle Ages, this open-air market offers fresh local produce, fabrics, soaps, and other goods, while artisans sell locally made arts and crafts in the indoor portion of the market. Whether you’re shopping for souvenirs, picking up treats for a picnic, or just people watching, it’s sure to be a lively day out. Chateau de Beynac
: Built into the side of a dramatic limestone cliff, this 12th-century castle has been featured in a number of films and displays a collection of tapestries that tell the stories of the castle’s former inhabitants. Grotte de Font de Gaume
: While all other cave painting sites in France have closed to the general public in order to preserve the paintings, this cave remains open. Don’t miss your chance to get up close and personal with the ancient paintings of bison and other images on a guided tour.Roque Saint-Christophe Fort et Cite Troglodytiques
: Curious travelers should make a stop here on their Dordogne trip to explore caves and terraces in the 1 k (.5 mi) long and 80 m (87 yd) high limestone cliff, which were inhabited by people from Paleolithic to Renaissance times.Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac
: Also known as the “crystal cathedral,” this cavern is filled with natural stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations that sparkle in the light of visitors’ flashlights. You can enter the cavern through a tunnel or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket. Les Jardins de Marqueyssac
: Walk through 5km (3mi) of paths winding through intricately landscaped greenery and sculpted box hedges to the gardens’ dramatic overlook, where you will be able to see across the green, castle-studded Dordogne Valley. Chateau des Milandes
: This castle was restored and used as a training home by the entertainer Josephine Baker. Today you can visit exhibitions dedicated to her life and work, stroll the well-manicured gardens, or take in a show about birds of prey. The Maison Forte de Reignac
: Visit this Dordogne attraction to get a double dose of the region’s history: learn about life in the Middle Ages in the fully furnished rooms of the only intact cliff castle in France, or visit the exhibit about prehistoric life on the site before the castle was built.
Planning a Dordogne Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Dordogne with Kids
Picking a good base for your Dordogne holiday with kids is essential, as you will want to stay somewhere close to major attractions such as caves and castles to be near things to do without driving too far. Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil
makes a great place to stay when traveling with children, as there are many historical attractions within or near to city limits. Perigueux
is another place to add to your Dordogne itinerary: the largest town in the region has plenty to offer families traveling with kids. For a more relaxed base, choose the riverside town of Montignac
, which is close to caves but has a sense of peace and quiet you might miss in other tourist towns.
Things to Do in Dordogne with Kids
The kids will love to explore the many centuries of history that left their mark on the region, with visits to castles, caves, and other special things to do in Dordogne. Make sure to visit Grotte de Font de Gaume
, the only place in France where kids can go inside a cave to see actual paintings left there by prehistoric people. To learn more about caves in a replica setting, take a trip to Lascaux II
, where kids can see a recreation of the famous Lascaux cave paintings and learn about who made them. For caves filled with a different kind of treasure, take the kids to Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac
, where they will marvel at the sparkling natural crystal formations filling the cavern. Kids interested in learning more about the lives of knights will love seeing all the medieval artifacts on display at Chateau de Castelnaud
Tips for a Family Vacation in Dordogne
The easiest way for you to get around as a family will be by renting a car, as many Dordogne attractions are quite inaccessible without one. When eating out, family dining is generally welcome and many restaurants offer a kids’ menu, with dishes such as steak haché (beef patty), omelettes, croque-monsieur, and frites that pickier kids will like. If you plan to do some cave explorations with younger kids on your trip to Dordogne, consider bringing a headlamp, as it will be easier to manage than a handheld flashlight. Make sure to check to see if museums and other attractions have a reduced admission price for children and teenagers--most do.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Dordogne
Cuisine of Dordogne
As a destination for food and drink, your Dordogne holiday will be filled with many delicious experiences that reflect the history and culture of the region. As the area was very impoverished for many centuries, frugality is valued in the cuisine--this manifests itself in the generous use of duck and goose fat, and also in the "nose to tail" approach that uses everything from pig's feet to unusual organ meats. Another traditional penny-saving dish is cassoulet, a hearty stew cooked with beans, duck, pork, and sausages. Foie gras, the famous and sometimes controversial pâté, is local to the area, while you can enjoy duck or goose in another way with confit, where the legs and thighs are seasoned and simmered in fat, crisped, and served with potatoes cooked in the same fat, called pommes sarladaises. The area is famous for its black truffles, which are harvested from local forests in the winter--try them shaved on an omlette or in a luxurious sauce. Walnuts are a major agricultural product in the region, and you can enjoy them as walnut oil or vin de noix, a liquor made from walnuts, wine, brandy, and spices. Pair your delicious meal with some famous red wine from the region, or visit a vineyard and do some wine tasting near Bergerac
are hotspots for excellent restaurants.
Shopping in Dordogne
When shopping on your Dordogne tour, head outside to one of the region’s bustling marketplaces to sample and buy local delicacies and antiques. The region famous for its cuisine is naturally famous for its food and farmers markets, where you can pick up local specialties such as walnut oil, wine, truffles, cheese, fruit, and of course, foie gras. Visit Sarlat Market
, which has been a popular market in the region since the Middle Ages and keeps up its reputation today with a large open-air food and produce market as well as an indoor market selling local arts and crafts. Antiques markets are another favorite Dordogne attraction; Bergerac
puts on the most famous regional market every month, where you can browse antiques and bric-a-brac.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Dordogne
History of Dordogne
A trip to Dordogne is a trip through a rich and often tumultuous history. The region is well-known for its prehistoric archeological sites. People are thought to have lived in the area for nearly 500,000 years. In fact, skeletons of the oldest known modern humans, Cro-Magnons, were discovered in a rock shelter in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil
. Today, you can learn about the lives of these early humans with a visit to L'Abri Cro-Magnon
, a museum and recreated archeological site set in a cave. The area's many natural caves are thought to have been a major reason prehistoric peoples settled in the region, as they provided natural shelter from the elements. While living in these caves, the inhabitants also experimented with art, making beautiful paintings on the walls of the caves using natural pigments made from charcoal and earth. Many Dordogne attractions focus around prehistoric life and cave paintings. To experience one of the most famous cave painting sites in the world, visit the lifelike replicas at Lascaux II
. For an immersive experience in an actual cave, go on a guided tour at Grotte de Font de Gaume
, the only cave painting site still open to the public.
Eventually, around 10,000 years ago, people living in the region transitioned from a hunter-gatherer existence to an agricultural society. About 2,500 years ago, the Celts invaded the region, bringing advanced metalworking and more trade activity. Most of their settlements were on hilltops, and they founded the first cities in the region, including modern-day Perigueux
. In 56 BCE, the Romans invaded and conquered the Celts (also called Gauls). The area became popular with Roman settlers due to its fertile land. The Romans brought a boom of building, and evidence of their architectural influence can still be seen in cities such as Perigueux
, where you can see Roman mosaics.
The Middle Ages brought increased conflict, both internal and external, to the region. Most of the conflict involved England, which battled for control throughout this time period, including the Hundred Years War. Chateau de Castelnaud
was instrumental during the Hundred Years War, and today you can visit the castle to view weapons and armor used during battles of this time. Another major conflict, the Wars of Religion between catholics and protestants, killed many people and destroyed a few monuments, and was finally stopped in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes.
Peace had finally come to the region, but centuries of conflict had left most of the population impoverished, while controversial taxes let the very wealthy nobility retain its wealth. As the population of the area continued to grow and taxes became ever more oppressive, tensions escalated into a peasant revolt in 1594. Uprisings such as these continued until the French Revolution. When Napoleon took power after the revolution in 1804, many people from the region joined his army. As time went on the area became less troubled, with poverty finally decreasing significantly in the 19th century. At the end of that century, many people left the region for cities and the area became known for Dordogne tourism, with historical sites such as Chateau de Beynac
drawing vacationers from around France and the world.
Landscape of Dordogne
Traveling in a verdant, fertile land of valleys and rivers, you will have plenty of opportunities to explore the landscape on your Dordogne holiday. The Dordogne river and other rivers in the region provide opportunities for kayaking and canoeing with great riverfront views of the many towns that dot the banks. Canoes Loisirs
is a popular choice, where you can paddle along the calm Dordogne River and see wildlife along the way. The region’s many natural rock caves provide even more opportunities for exploration: don’t miss the sparkling Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac
, a cavern filled with natural crystal formations. The area is a very popular destination for cyclists, who can traverse a plethora of small countryside roads without encountering any major hills.
Holidays & Festivals in Dordogne
As part of France, the region observes all major French holidays, including Bastille Day on July 14. The region also has a number of local festivals that will make your trip to Dordogne that much more exciting. As a hub for fine produce and cuisine, there are a few festivals that foodies will especially appreciate: Bergerac
holds a major food and wine festival in July, with parties in the streets and concerts. Nearby Bordeaux
holds an annual Wine Festival in June, which includes auctions, tastings, and concerts. Music lovers taking a Dordogne holiday will also appreciate the Musical Summer held annually in the chateaux, abbeys, and country houses near Bergerac
Dordogne Travel Tips
Climate of Dordogne
Most tourists make their holiday in Dordogne during the summer months, when it is warm but not too hot, with average daily highs around 29 C (85 F). For a less crowded but still very pleasant experience, visit during the late spring or early fall, when the days are warm and evenings are often cool and foggy. Winter is usually quite mild, with average temperatures 4-9 C (40-49 F). Some rain occurs during the winter and spring months, but it’s usually very manageable with an umbrella or raincoat.
Transportation in Dordogne
While trains can get you into one of the region’s major towns, public transportation is spotty at best and nonexistent in parts of the region. You’ll be best off renting a car for your Dordogne vacation, so you can access more remote attractions such as caves and castles. Most towns have taxi service, although they do get expensive for longer trips. The region is well-known as a cycling destination, and is accessible by bike.