Holidays in Dordogne
The Dordogne region in the central region of France is one of the most popular holiday destinations in France . Although the Dordogne has no coastline for ‘bucket and spade’ holidays, there are wonderful rivers for canoeing and swimming, as well as sandy river beaches.
The scenery is dramatic and interspersed with pretty towns and villages, both in the hinterland and along the Dordogne and Vezère rivers, plus innumerable châteaux, caves, museums, picnic spots and viewpoints.
There are four distinct sub-regions – the Périgord Pourpre, in the southwest, named after its vineyards; the Périgord Vert to the north; the Périgord Noir, centred around Sarlat, which is named after its dense forest; and finally, the Périgord Blanc which covers the limestone countryside to the north around Périgueux.
1. Home from home
The area has sometimes been referred to as ‘Dordogne-shire’ because of the numbers of English visitors who live or holiday there, but don’t let this put you off. The Dordogne Valley is still very firmly French, but with the added bonus – especially for first-time visitors – that you don’t need to be a fluent French speaker to really get under the skin of this enchanting area. And there’s a huge number of self-catering properties to choose from, with owners who know what British visitors like.
2. Fun on the water
Paddle your own canoe or kayak to experience the river at water level and get up close and personal with its wildlife. Hire centres along the river offer full instruction and safety equipment, with beginners of all ages welcome. To find out more about life along the river, relax on a cruise with commentary in a traditional flat-bottomed boat or gabarre, once the commercial lifeblood of the river – departure points include Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, Beynac, Bergerac and La Roque-Gageac. And share some of the many outdoor activities on offer such as horse riding, cycling and walking – ask at any local Tourist Office.
3. Explore castles and Gardens
If your family loves history, adventure and a good solid fortress, they’ll love playing soldier amongst the imposing Medieval castles overlooking the Dordogne. Built during the 100 Years War between France and England, they are steeped in atmosphere. Particularly popular with families is Castelnaud for its museum of medieval warfare and regular live-action displays. Across the valley, the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac are also huge fun. Perched on a promontory with sweeping river views, the park includes an extraordinary box tree maze, play areas for children, themed trails for younger visitors, and even the chance to try rock climbing.
4. Go underground
The tranquil Vézère river which flows south into the Dordogne is dotted with more than a dozen unique prehistoric sites. Most famous of all is Lascaux, discovered in 1940 by teenagers looking for their dog, and today the perfect replica that is Lascaux II enables 21st century visitors to marvel at their fabulous wall paintings. Get an overview of the whole UNESCO-listed valley at the Prehistory Museum at Les Eyzie-de-Tayac, and don’t miss Font de Gaume, the last cave with polychrome paintings still accessible to the public. The lifelike bison and horses, mammoth and reindeer are guaranteed to wow audiences of all ages – advance booking strongly advised. Further east, take an unforgettable underground journey by boat at the Gouffre de Padirac.
5. Beautiful towns and villages
Capital of the Périgord-Noir region, the postcard-pretty town of Sarlat-le-Canada is a must-see from any angle but especially from the new glass lift that effortlessly transports visitors to the top of the former church of Sainte-Marie. Visit beautiful villages straight out of a fairy tale, like La Roque-Gageac beside the river; the hilltop village of Loubressac; and Collonges-la-Rouge with its red buildings and craft shops. And don’t miss Saint-Emilion, famous for its scrumptious macaroons as well as red wine.
6. Go market shopping
Every town along the Dordogne Valley has a regular market day, a great opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds and colour of local life. Browse stalls piled high with fresh, seasonal produce; watch local craftspeople at work; and let your children put their classroom French into practice by buying ingredients for lunch. Many markets take place in historic squares. Try Périgueux, historic capital of the ancient Périgord region, or the bastide towns of Monpazier or Bretenoux These walled communities were built between the 13th and 14th centuries with straight streets leading into a central market place. Visit stalls and shops beneath stone arcades for a retail experience far removed from the usual modern high street.
The Dordogne area has an agreeable climate with long hot summers. Beware of the occasional thunderstorm when it is humid. Winters are generally mild although you can get the odd very cold snap. For an up to date weather forecast, select here.
Food and Wine:
For those who enjoy sampling different foods this is an area renowned for truffles, walnuts, duck, goose and foie gras – the markets are overflowing with local produce and at every corner you will see signs offering opportunities to sample and buy local products.
For wine buffs, the areas around Bergerac and Bordeaux are the places to head for, with vineyards stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see.
If you would like to eat out then have a look at our restaurants section – the vast majority have been visited by us personally and are here because the whole family really enjoyed eating there.
Despite the gently undulating countryside that is a feature of the Dordogne there are some stunning golf courses to be found. We can recommend Souillac Golf & Country Club (www.souillaccountryclub.co.uk), to be found in the heart of the Dordogne. It offers a unique combination of great golf with family-friendly accommodation and activities.
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Dordogne:
- Picnic Spots