Spend your holiday in the Dordogne
One of the largest departments in France is the Dordogne. The department shares its name with the river that flows through it, which stems in the Auvergne from the rivers Dorde and Dogne. The touristic region of Dordogne is regarded more broadly than just the departmental borders.
The Dordogne department closely corresponds to the original Perigord province. The names of the four areas in which the Dordogne is divided are also a reminder of this:
- Perigord Vert (green) is the northern part with Nontron as its centre. It is a rugged and wooded area, interspersed with heathland and cultural landscapes with very few inhabitants.
- Perigord Blanc (white) makes up the northwestern part. Perigueux is located here, the capital of the Dordogne department.
- Perigord Pourpre (purple) is located in the southwest with Bergerac as its centre. It is popular for its wine regions and is named after the peel of a grape. While white wines originally formed the principal part, for example, the famous dessert wine of Chateau Monbazillac, nowadays there are also many beautiful red wines.
- Perigord Noir (black), with Sarlat as the most important spot, forms the eastern part of the department. The dense and dark leaves of the many holm oaks found in the numerous orrests is how it has earned the name "noir." This is the tourist heart of the region which features an abundance of attractions.
Towards the east, between Sarlat and Rocamadour, is the holiday park FranceComfort - Domaine de Lanzac.
The Dordogne stretches for about 500 km, making it one of the longest rivers in France. From the Massif Central, a result of the merger of the Dorde and the Dogne, the river leads through the departments of Puy-de-Domme, Corrèze, Dordogne and Gironde to the Atlantic.
The Dordogne was vital for the transport of goods by boat. Due to large parts along the river being very violent, the boats, la Gabarre, were dismantled at the final point and brought back to the start by horse and cart.
It enters the department of Dordogne at Souillac. Along beautiful cliffs to Le Cingle de Montfort (a large loop in the river) and Domme. Then along La Roque Gageac and the valley of the 5 castles, Lacoste, Castelnaud, Marqueussac, Fayrac and Beynac to Limeuil where the Vézère meets the Dordogne. After that, towards Bergerac and on to the Atlantic coast. For
many tourists, the Dordogne forms a challenge when trying to view by canoe or kayak. They are available for rent at many spots along the river, perfect for a day trip or trek. To experience the river somewhat more peacefully, you can take a boat trip in a Gabarre. The river can also be easily followed by bicycle or car.
Canoeing in the Dordogne
Discover the Dordogne from the water. The Perigord Noir area along the Dordogne is an especially popular travel route. But you can also canoe and kayak on the other rivers such as a Dronne, L'Isle and Vézère where it's considerably quieter.Gently paddle along steep cliffs and pebble beaches along the banks in this virtually untouched piece of nature. Many canoeists have seen kingfishers in their natural habit and have experienced a unique vantage point of the beautiful castles from the water. On the water, you can discover the area from a completely different aspect.
From the rental location, various distances are possible whereby often the choice can be made to be brought back from a point downstream by minibus or from the location to a point upstream.
Holiday hikes in the Dordogne / Lot
The Dordogne is a great hiking area. There are relatively flat areas and parts where there are more differences in altitude, so more than enough options to choose from. Panoramic views can be seen from the higher altitudes.
In the villages, hiking trails have often been laid out from the centre ("Le Bourg": centre of the village, village square) (Petites Randonnées, Circuits) which lead past the more beautiful parts of the surrounding area and return to the starting point. There are also the Grande Randonnées, these are the longer routes that also lead from village to village. From the next village, you can follow another Grand Randonnée. All routes are very accessible.
Les plus beaux - authentic French villages
Together with the department of Aveyron, Dordogne has the highest number (10) of "plus beaux villages de France." These are places that stand out because of their beauty and are therefore placed on a special national list. They are for the most part restored medieval or fortified villages that have retained their original authenticity. In the valley of the Dordogne, you can find the fortified village of Domme, featuring a magnificent view over the valley, Beynac, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, La Roque Gageac and Limeuil. The valley of the Vézère has two of the 'most beautiful villages in France': St-Léon-sur-Vézère and St-Amand-de-Coly. These villages, which are typical of the Périgord, are sure to impress with their authentic appearance, beautiful architecture and pleasant tranquility. Other places in the Dordogne-Périgord are also worth a visit: Belvès on a rocky spur high above the valley of the Nauze, or the English fortified village of Monpazier, which has remained exceptionally well intact and is considered a textbook example of the fortified villages in southwestern France. Further towards the north lies the picturesque village of St-Jean-de-Côle,
Castles and fortresses in the Dordogne
The Dordogne contains the largest density of noble houses in France. There are up to 1500 castles, fortresses and country houses. These architectural highlights all share a mix of various building styles from multiple eras. Over forty can be visited, including:
- Château des Milandes
- Château de Biron
- Château de Jumilhac
- Château de Bridoire
Another part is privately owned and have often been converted into luxury hotels or chambres d'hôtes, such as the Château de St-Geniès and the Château de Lalande.
The 14th-century Maison Forte De Reignac in Tursac is the most peculiar castle of the Périgord. In France, it is the only example of a castle carved in rock that has remained intact and still has its original furniture.
From the 12th century, natural stone was used more often. This his reflected in the Beynac fortress, which is built on an excellent rocky outcrop above the valley of the Dordogne, and in the medieval castle of Castelnaud, which stands opposite the Château de Beynac.
The Château de Hautefort belongs to the classicist architecture in the Périgord and is one of the most prestigious castles of Southwest France.
Bastides in the Dordogne
The typical French bastides are fortified towns built in the Middle Ages. Mainly to encourage the rural population to settle in and around market places. On both banks of the river Dordogne, bastides were built as defensive strongholds during the 100-year war between France and England. A good example is Monpazier, built in 1284 by Edward I of England. It is the best preserved bastide in the Périgord, thanks to the preservation its medieval character: a central square bordered by arcades, straight streets and parapets.
The French-built bastide Villefranche-du-Périgord is even older and formed a stop on the route to the department of Lot-et-Garonne in the south. The covered market is still used every autumn for the sale of boletus.
Beaumont-du-Périgord was built by the English in the form of an 'H', in memory of Henry III (the father of Edward I).
All these picturesque bastides are a pleasure to visit, both the English (Fonroque and Lalinde) and the French (Domme, Molières and Eymet).
Amazing gardens and parks
There are 33 parks and gardens in the region, 14 of which have been awarded Jardin remarquable (special garden). Every park and garden has its own unique atmosphere: The gardens at Manoir d' Eyrignac are ancient gardens in a classical style, those at the castle of Hautefort are typically French, while the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac are very romantic and the Jardins de l' Imaginaire in Terrasson are more modern. In addition, there are 13 towns and villages in the Périgord, such as Périgueux and Bergerac, which have won national prizes for their exuberant floral splendour.
Cycling in the Dordogne
France is not a cycling country by nature. There are few cycle paths. Nevertheless, more attention has been paid to it in recent years. On most paths it is allowed to ride with a mountain bike ('VTT' in French). Expanded tours are available from the centre of Montagrier, Brantôme, Cherveix-Cubas, Lalinde, Vitrac or Biron. There are 28 routes in Périgord with a total distance of over 2000 km.
There are also the so-called 'green routes.' In the Green Périgord between Thiviers and Saint-Pardoux la Rivière, an old 17 km long railway track has been converted into a cycle path. In the Black Périgord lies a beautiful path between Sarlat and Grolejac/Cazoules, and in the White Périgord you can cycle through Trélissac/Marsac and Périgueux.
Special routes for walnuts, foie gras, apples and wine
Discover and experience are important keywords for connoisseurs. Lovers of authentic flavours will surely indulge themselves in the Périgord, where foie gras, confit de canard, truffles, strawberries, walnuts and wine are the typical regional products. Four of these products feature their very own route through the region. Bon appétit!
- Route de la Noix du Périgord: La Grandjean’, ‘La Marbot’, ‘La Corne’, ‘La Franquette’. Names of four authentic walnut species, which you will come to know while discovering the Route de la Noix du Périgord. Visits to farms, restaurants, museums and local markets provide you with information about healthy delicacies and the people who have been working with it for decades. More info: www.noixduperigord.com
- Route du foie gras du Périgord: In 2009, producers of foie gras and a selection of regional restaurant owners and innkeepers decided to join forces to realise this route. Meanwhile 23 farmers, artisans and canneries are now also associated, plus another 47 restorers. The sixty companies have one thing in common: processing goose and duck liver, often in a traditional way, and highlighting it as a specialty of the Dordogne. In this way, all restaurateurs ensure that only foie gras with the protected title IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is featured on their menu. More info: www.route-foiegras-perigord.com
- Route de la pomme du Limousin: The apple of the Limousin has already won heaps of awards. In addition to the national label l'Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, Europe has adopted the approval of l'Appellation d'Origine Protégée. To venture the apple route, you must be in the north-east of the Dordogne, at the top of the Périgord Vert. July and August are particularly interesting, as many producers offer free guided tours through orchards or fruit cooperatives. More info: www.pomme-limousin.org
- Route des vins de Bergerac: Some 140 passionate winemakers invite enthusiasts to experience the route around Bergerac. Company visits, guided tours of the vineyards, exhibitions, and sometimes concerts; they do everything they can to bring their product to the attention of customers. The Route des Vins begins in the Monastery of Le Cloître des Récollets in Bergerac, where you can also find the Maison des vins. Tip: Try a sumptuous sweet, golden Monbazillac or a full-bodied red Pécharmant! More info: https://routedesvinsdebergerac.jimdo.com
A visit to the market (Le Marche) is extra special. It has everything from commercial tourist stalls to farmers selling their own produce. The market also serves as a meeting point for residents of the area to catch up with family and friends, exchange the latest news and to buy fresh products. From eggs to live chickens and chicks, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, olives and herbs, walnut-based products, exceptional bread, fresh goat's cheese, but also clothing, household and exotic goods. All in all, it's a colourful collection of people, market stall holders and tourists. As a tourist, you can't help but feel the warm hospitality, the fun, and the continuous bustling.
The flea markets and vide-greniers, flea markets and markets for antiques and curiosities are also worth a visit. Anything and everything can be found here, and you're always accompanied by a pleasant crowd. Time, date and place are usually announced through posters or flyers behind the windscreen wiper. The local tourist office also has this information. Bargaining is a habit. Even if you don't speak the language, you can come a long way with sign language or a piece of paper. Often there are also artists or musical groups at these markets, who only add to the atmosphere.
The Lot is an area where prunes and walnuts are grown, where pigs snoop for black truffles, where goose foie gras (foie gras) is made, exceptional lamb (Label rouge) is sold, where traditional goat cheese (Rocamadour) is made and where 2000 years of famous Cahors wine from grapes are pressed.
Cahors wines, renowned world wide
The Cahors wine region extends spans over 3850 hectares and is mainly located in the Lot valley and the calcareous Causse. The Cahors wine is one of the oldest wines in France. It is a distinctive red wine with an intense and powerful flavour. Although it becomes more refined with age, this wine can also be consumed young. Ideal for red meat, Cahors wine also matches regional specialties such as foie gras, confits, quercy lamb, truffles and Causses cheeses like Rocamadour.
Truffles are a type of fungus that grows underground, especially near oak trees, also known as truffle oaks. This rather unsightly black mushroom is so fragrant that it's earned the nickname the perfumed soul of the region. The maximum weight of this black diamond, a reference to the exceptionally high price that must be paid for it, is roughly 100 grams. The truffle is detected with the aid of pigs
or dogs. The most famous truffle market is held in Lalbenque (near Cahors) from December to March, every Tuesday afternoon at exactly 14:00. It's reminiscent of a theatre show, as hot shots from the finest restaurants in France (mockingly referred to as matadors) come to purchase truffles from unworldly farmers who, with their baskets filled to the brim, stand side by side in a row.
Before trading starts, the truffles are examined, felt and weighed with the hand. Something is written down, mumbled, and a careful yet satisfied smile can be seen on the faces around you. Right at the moment-suprême, when the church clock strikes exactly 14:00, deals are immediately turned into deeds and within fifteen minutes the market is over. The actual transactions take place in alleys and on porches. The basket contents are exchanged for thick wads of banknotes. Afterwards, they all drink a hearty glass of prune (plum brandy).
This cheese is a specialty from the village of Rocamadour and the Causses du Quercy. The Rocamadour, often in the form of a slice, can be eaten at different ripening stages. Whether it is creamy with a subtle taste or a little drier with a more pronounced aroma, the Rocamadour tastes simply amazing in every case. It can also be eaten warm, for example with a salad.
In June, Rocamadour is host to the cheese festival, a marvellous gastronomic event.
The Bleu des Causses
The cheese variety known as "Bleu des Causses," formerly called Bleu of Aveyron, has been awarded an AOC and AOP status. This cheese, made from raw cow's milk, has blue veins, similar to the Roquefort. It is a popular cheese with a long tradition.
The Bleu des Causses is matured for three to six months, has a natural crust, and a beautiful ivory colour with blue-green fungus stains. It compliments a salad or omelette, but it's especially after a meal with a piece of bread and a glass of Cahors or Marcillac wine, that this cheese truly comes to life and expresses its unique character.
The Quercy lamb has, like certain types of wine, a protected status for a specific area. The breeding area is limited to the Lot and a few neighbouring departments.
The lamb is slaughtered in Gramat between the 60th and 150th day, and must weigh between 12 and 21 kg.
The popularity of Quercy lamb dates alls the way back to 1770 thanks to its tender meat and subtle taste. The pink meat with nice white fat even possesses a "Label Rouge" (agricultural certificate that stands for quality from France). Delicious when barbecued or prepared in the oven; is generally drunk with a glass of wine from
the region. Every year in August, the village of Cressensac organises the feast for the Quercy lamb. This again give rise to the opportunity for locals and tourists alike to have a taste!
Pescajoune is an authentic specialty from the Quercy region. The best way to describe it is like a pancake with dough made from wheat and buckwheat flour, with a dash of prune brandy. Apple slices are added and then baked in a pan with butter. You can also replace the brandy with rum, orange blossom or vanilla. There are variants with pear or plum. Delicious as a dessert or together with a cup of coffee, the pescajoune can also be fried in cubes.
Visiting caves always takes place under guidance. There are also waiting times for visiting a cave, especially during peak season. This has to do with a cave's microclimate. The caves are threatened by the formation of algae and moss due to the heat, light and disturbance of the air currents. Photographing, carrying backpacks or other large bags, pets, as well as eating and leaving waste is prohibited. This includes touching the walls and stalactites. We do however very much recommend seeing this natural spectacle, and given the climate in the caves, be sure to bring along a sweater.
You can find the most caves around Les Eyzies-de-Tayac and elsewhere in the Dordogne. Definitely a must-see!
- Caves of de Rouffignac,between Rouffignac and Fleurac. Also known as the cave of a hundred mammoths. You can explore the cave by train. Take into account waiting times and the visitor limit that is maintained per day.
- Caves of du Grand Roc, near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. A small stalactite cave that has a short tour but contains a splendour of stalactite formations which sometimes give the impression of looking at coral or crystal.
- Caves of de Villars, near Villars in the Perigord Vert. dropstone formations and about thirty small murals and engravings.
- La Roque-St.-Christophe, near Peyzac-le-Moustier, along the Vézère. Hundreds of hollows in the 80-metre-high rock wall, inhabited by the Cro-Magnon man and people who lived there in the Bronze and Iron Age, the Gallo-Roman period and during the Middle Ages.
- La Grotte prehistorique des Merveilles at Rocamadour
- Cave of Maxange at Le Buisson
- Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac, the crystal cathedral at le Bugue
- Gouffre de Padirac
- Cave of de Cougnac in Gourdon
- Cave of Tourtoirac in Tourtoirac
Swimming in the Dordogne/Lot
You can swim practically anywhere in the rivers of the Dordogne region: while discovering the area, find a nice beach and enjoy the cool water. Pay close attention to the current as it can be quite strong at times.
In addition to the major rivers there are also many small creeks and streams: perfect for families with toddlers and preschoolers: they can play in the water where there is absolutely no risk of drowning. If you notice a little stream somewhere, follow it for a bit as it will certainly lead you to a nice spot.