Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
The Ultimate Dordogne Itinerary to Explore Dordogne-Périgord Noir
In southwest France, the Dordogne Valley is a fantastic area to explore by car. The Dordogne – Périgord Noir was for us a real love at first sight for the richness of natural sites, its history, and culture, and we are sure it will steal your heart too!
This 5-day Dordogne road trip from Montignac to Sarlat-la-Canéda explores the great sites of Dordogne-Périgord Noir, Dordogne’s most touristy part. From the Vézère Valley to the Dordogne Valley, this Dordogne route will allow you a few days to unwind and enjoy good food, wine, and a slower pace of life.
Read on for the description of this Dordogne itinerary which comes with a Dordogne map with all the stops.
This road trip Dordogne-Périgord Noir is one of the most beautiful road trips in France. Read more about road-tripping in France:
Dordogne Road Trip Overview
- Start: Saint-Amand-de-Coly (or Brive-la-Gaillarde if you arrive in Dordogne by train)
- Finish: Sarlat-la-Canéda
- Duration: 5 days
- Suggested Route: Montignac – Vézère Valley – Sarlat-la-Canéda – Dordogne Valley
- Total distance: 208 km, 3 hours 15 minutes drive in total
- Regions covered: Nouvelle-Aquitaine
- Best for: châteaux, medieval towns, prehistoric sites, food, and wine.
You can also extend this Dordogne itinerary by adding more villages and châteaux. Check out the list of best Castles in Dordogne for inspiration.
If you fly to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), you can pick up your rental car at the airport and start this road trip Périgord Noir from there. The drive from CDG Airport to Saint-Amand-de-Coly takes 5 hours 15 minutes (533 km) – Click here to rent a car at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
Another alternative is to take a direct train from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Brive-la-Gaillarde and then pick up your rental car in Brive-la-Gaillarde, at the train station. The journey from Paris to Brive-la-Gaillarde takes 4hr 30 min – Click here to rent your car in Brive-la-Gaillarde
If this is your first trip to France, check out our tips for hiring a car in France.
Road Trip Dordogne Périgord Noir – Map
About Dordogne – Périgord Noir
If you do not understand the distinction between Dordogne vs. Périgord, don’t worry! Périgord is the name of the historic region, while Dordogne is the name of the current French department, which has almost the same limits. Dordogne is also the name of the river which crosses this department.
While reading about the Périgord, you will also read about colors, which correspond to the four tourist destinations identified in the Périgord /Dordogne department:
- The Périgord Vert: the Green Périgord is the most northerly, a land of meadows, light oaks, and chestnut trees. This is where the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park is located. The main city in the Périgord Vert is Montron.
- The Périgord Blanc: the White Périgord is located below the Périgord Vert, and the main city here is Perigueux. The color white is in reference to its limestone soils.
- The Périgord Noir: the Black Périgord is located in the southeast, around Sarlat-la-Canéda. The color black is in reference to the dark foliage of the many oaks present in this area. The main city in the Périgord Noir is Sarlat-la-Canéda.
- Périgord Pourpre: the Purple Périgord corresponds to southern Dordogne, around Bergerac and its vineyard, with its leaves that turn red in autumn. The main city in the Périgord Pourpre is Bergerac.
How many days in Dordogne? If you focus only on one tourist destination (white, black, green, or purple), allow 5 days to one week. A two-week Dordogne itinerary will allow you to visit the best of each tourist destination.
Road Trip Dordogne – Itinerary 5 Days
Day 0 | Arrival
From Paris Austerlitz, take the train to Brive-la-Gaillarde, where you can pick up your rental car. From Brive, drive to Saint-Amand-de-Coly, where you will spend two nights.
Saint-Amand-de-Coly is located in the heart of the Périgord Noir, a stone’s throw from the Vézère Valley and the Lascaux Caves, and is listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. The village is dominated by a fortified 12th-century abbey, the most beautiful of its kind in the Périgord.
For your stay in Saint-Amand, book two nights at the Hotellerie de l’Abbaye Saint-Amand. This charming guest house offers well-equipped, spacious rooms with rustic décor, an on-site restaurant, and an outdoor terrace.
Day 1 | Vézère Valley
Day 1 of this Dordogne road trip starts exploring the Vézère Valley, formed by the river of the same name. This is a place of picturesque villages and lush green landscapes, where we can follow the footsteps of the first men who inhabited the region 20,000 years ago.
The Vézère Valley is home to incredible prehistoric sites: caves, cliffs, and troglodyte villages. Today, you will visit two major ones.
Morning in the Village of La Madeleine
On the road linking Montignac-Lascaux to Eyzies de Tayac, there’s one of Dordogne’s major prehistoric sites. On a pretty bend of the Vézère river, we discover a vestige of the Magdalenian period (-17,000 to -10,000 years ago).
La Madeleine is a troglodyte village located halfway up a cliff. It was built by the men who lived there from Prehistoric times until the end of the 19th century, and it is a vibrant testimony to the lives of our forefathers until today. In fact, this prehistoric period (Magdalenian) borrows its name from the village of La Madeleine.
You can visit this site on your own (there are information panels at the main spots), and there are free guided visits every hour. The Prehistoric archeological site is off-limits, so your visit will focus on the medieval site.
The Village of the Madeleine is an incredible step back in time: the place is lovely, plus it is an excellent introduction to the next stops of this road trip.
Afternoon in La Roque Saint-Christophe
There are other Prehistoric sites in this area; the hard part will be to choose which ones to visit!
On the road back to Montignac-Lascaux, the next stop is the Maison Forte de Reignac, the first château of this road trip and the most unique.
Built on a cliff in the 14th century, this extraordinary ‘château-falaise’ is the only monument of its kind in France to have survived completely intact. This impressive château was home to a local lord and his family, and it is preserved in an exceptional state and entirely furnished with period furniture.
Visit the different rooms and halls – the château is bigger than it looks from the outside! The visit ends with a small museum dedicated to the torture and death penalty in the middle ages.
A few kilometers upstream of the Vézère River, we find the troglodyte fort and village of La Roque Saint Christophe. This site – an impressive limestone wall 1 km long and 80 m high – is truly magnificent for its rare and wild beauty, powerful shape, and fascinating history.
Over the centuries, this natural cavity was constantly eroded by the river and the frost, thus shaping hundreds of rock shelters and long overhead terraces. La Roque Saint-Christophe has been occupied by men since Prehistoric times and was later in the Middle Ages altered to become a fort and a village.
Don’t miss this unique place, inhabited until the start of the Renaissance, where you can still see the remains of some dwellings, a chapel, and some tools and machines used by its inhabitants.
Day 2 | Lascaux
Morning in Lascaux
We left the most important and fascinating site for the end of this “Prehistoric tour.” Discovered completely by chance in 1940 by a couple of kids from the nearby village, the Grottes de Lascaux (Lascaux Caves) was a true masterpiece of cave art that came to light after being protected from all human and animal presence for thousands of years. Here, we can find hundreds of rock paintings dating back 20,000 years!
The current site is a perfect replica of the original, closed to the public to prevent further damage by the crowds. It is called Lascaux IV, being Lascaux II and Lascaux III partial replicas that you can eventually also visit. Don’t miss Lascaux IV’s great guided visit, which starts with an emotional approach to the discovery. Book your tickets WELL in advance!
Afternoon around Montignac
After visiting the Lascaux Caves, this Dordogne itinerary explores the village of Montignac. This pretty medieval village on the Vézère River is well worth an exploration, especially for the attractive balconied houses along the riverfront. There is also a walk up above the town that has splendid views of the town, the river, and the 10th-century ruined fortress.
After your visit, drive to Sarlat-La-Canéda, where you will spend four nights. For a memorable stay in one of France’s most beautiful medieval towns, book at Le Petit Manoir. This gracious historic manor right in the center of Sarlat comes with a garden, a terrace with a pool (yay!), and private parking nearby. There are only a few rooms in this historic gem, all with city views, so book well in advance!
If you prefer to stay out of the town’s hustle and bustle, book at Le Clos de la Canéda. This wonderful B&B has a swimming pool, free private parking, and gardens. The rooms in this centenary building combine modern décor with traditional materials.
Day 3 | Sarlat-La-Canéda
Day 3 of this road trip Dordogne-Périgord Noir explores Sarlat-La-Canéda (Sarlat). You will love Sarlat, one of the most beautiful medieval towns in France. The capital city of the Périgord Noir has the highest concentration of listed historical monuments per m2 in the world (it’s on the Guinness Book of Records!).
Sarlat is also a market town known for its walnuts, foie gras, truffles, and fresh produce. You will find a huge Saturday market on the main square, with producers selling everything from cèpe mushrooms to handcrafts, walnut liquor, and clothing. Try one of the tasting menus at the surrounding restaurants –Sarlat is a food paradise!
Sarlat is a lively city all year round. Summer is the high season in Sarlat, and in wintertime, it hosts one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in France.
The list of interesting things to visit in Sarlat includes:
- Enjoy the view from the top of the old Church of St. Mary
- Sarlat Market
- Saint-Sacerdos Cathedral
- The Lantern of the Dead
TIP: don’t miss the guided night tour offered by the Tourist Office (3 Rue Tourny, Sarlat-la-Canéda). You can book it directly in the office, ideally a few days in advance.
Day 4 | Dordogne Valley
The Dordogne Valley is a place of old villages, ancient ruins, friendly locals, and bucolic beauty. Visitors to this region enjoy being part of the slow pace of life, exploring lovely Dordogne villages, and tasting the local food.
Morning Canoeing the Dordogne
Day 4 of this Dordogne road trip starts with a second coffee at the village of Domme. Located on the top of a cliff, the views of the Dordogne Valley from Domme’s panoramic belvedere (viewpoint) are spectacular.
Domme was a fortified village, and you can still see the Porte de Tours and some other remains of its ancient walls.
Stroll around the town, walk through its streets, and enjoy its gardens, the mill, and viewpoints. There is also a castle, but it cannot be visited because it is private property.
The next stop of this Dordogne itinerary is the Nautical Base of Cénac, where you will find a canoe waiting for you to explore the Castles of the Dordogne Valley. If, like us, you are a kayak or canoe lover, you cannot miss one of the most beautiful canoe tours in France!
For canoeing the Dordogne, we chose CanoSphère, a small company managed by four friends born and raised in Sarlat. They rent canoes for tourists but not only! CanoSphère finances environmental protection programs by donating part of the cost of the canoe tours in the Dordogne. By booking canoe tours with them (instead of the big players), you also ensure the development of responsible tourism.
CanoSphère offers different itineraries. We chose the most emblematic, the “Descente des Châteaux” itinerary (13km, 3 hrs), which explores La Roque-Gageac, and the castles of Malartrie, Castelnaud, Beynac, Marqueyssac, and Fayrac.
Afternoon in the Villages of the Dordogne Valley
After lunch, explore some of the neighboring villages on foot: La Roque-Gageac – a picturesque village on the cliffside – and its fortress, and the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac.
Beynac-et-Cazenac was my personal favorite village in Dordogne-Périgord Noir. Here, don’t miss the 12th-century Château de Beynac, one of the most authentic and well-preserved fortified castles in Périgord. A visit to the castle transports you back to the Middle Ages and offers unobstructed views of the Dordogne Valley.
Day 5 | Dordogne Valley
The last day of this road trip in Dordogne – Périgord Noir explores some of Dordogne’s most beautiful sites, so get ready for a grand finale!
Morning at Château des Milandes and Château de Castelnaud
Start the day at Château des Milandes, one of the best castles in Dordogne to visit. This 15th-century castle was home to Joséphine Baker and her rainbow tribe. Still today, the château is a tribute to this fascinating woman, who recently entered the Panthéon of Paris as one of France’s Grands Hommes (et Femmes).
Learn about Joséphine Baker’s life and career through some of her personal objects, outfits, and pictures. After visiting the castle, the manicured gardens are small but pleasant for a short stroll.
Next, visit Château de Castelnaud, one of the most picturesque châteaux overlooking the Dordogne’s Valley and Château de Beynac’s eternal rival. This astounding example of fortification was founded in the 12th century and is today considered a jewel of medieval military art.
During the Hundred Years’ War, the lords of Castelnaud chose the English side. But in 1442, after a siege ordered by king Charles VII, the French ultimately took it.
The visit to this château is great for families, with original demonstrations to make history accessible and interesting for all ages.
Afternoon at Jardins de Marqueyssac
One of the top things to do in Dordogne, the Marqueyssac Gardens are sublime! They are part of a real state where you will also find a small castle, a nature pavilion with a dinosaur skeleton, a via Ferrata course for the more adventurous, and a breathtaking panorama over the Dordogne Valley 130m above the river. Wander around a dreamy landscape with 150,000 pruned boxwood, and sip your favorite drink on their panoramic café-terrace until sunset.