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Dordogne is a department in southwest France, in the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. Set between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees mountains, the Dordogne is the kind of place where the good life reigns supreme, well known for its bucolic natural beauty, medieval castles, and villages, and intriguing prehistoric cave paintings.
Dordogne is also a great place for foodies, famous for its foie gras, truffles, Bergerac wines, strawberries, walnuts, and ceps mushrooms.
WHEN TO VISIT:
Summer is the high season and the majority of visitors come in July and August. It is also when the weather is at its best, and when the majority of local festivals take place. If you decide to visit Dordogne in the summer book everything (hotels and activities) well in advance!
Spring and Fall are quieter, more pleasant alternatives but the weather may be more unpredictable.
Winter is the best time to avoid the crowds. Some villages boast beautiful Christmas markets and the black truffle season runs from December to March. However, many of the tourist attractions and restaurants close for the cold season, though some chateaux do remain open.
By public transportation: unfortunately, train services in the region are slow, irregular, and infrequent and buses are not better. Sarlat is the main public transport hub, with train connections to other regional destinations like Bergerac and Le Buisson-de-Cadouin.
By car: this is the best way to explore Dordogne! Drive its scenic roads at your own pace and stop where you please. If you don’t have your own car, you can take a train from Paris to Agen, Toulouse, or Bordeaux and from there rent a car to visit the Dordogne.
If you are hitting the French roads for the first time, have a look at our Driving in France Guide.
You can rent a car through the site RentalCars.com. This site is great because it takes all of the major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc, and more and does the comparison of prices for you. This helps to ensure that you get a great price without all the time and work.
Best Things to Do in Dordogne
For this article, we asked some fellow travel bloggers and friends about the best things to do and their favorite places to visit in the Dordogne. From top sights to hidden gems, here are some fun things to do in Dordogne.
The Land of 1001 Castles
One of the top things to do in Dordogne is to visit some of its medieval castles. From fairytale castles to mighty fortresses, the Dordogne Valley boasts a stunning cultural heritage and some of the prettiest sites in France.
Dordogne was in the middle ages an important area of conflict between France and England: the famous Hundred’s Year War (1337 to 1453) between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, and the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Security against the enemy was paramount in the valley and the wealthy were ready to sacrifice beauty and comfort for protection.
To the north the best castles of the Loire Valley were ornate, graceful structures built to impress. These iconic châteaux were not built for protection but as elegant retreats for the nobility of Paris.
The Dordogne Castles instead were more functional, built to protect. They were solid, imposing, fortified structures, usually in strategically important positions.
The list of most beautiful medieval castles in Dordogne – which are also some of the most beautiful castles in France – includes Castelnaud (cover picture), Fénelon, Beynac, Commarque (on the picture above), and Hautefort but there are many more!
Ecomusée de la Noix (Castelnaud)
Castelnaud is on most tourist itineraries when visiting the Dordogne. However, within a short walk of the castle car park is the Ferme de Vielcroze, and the Ecomusee de la Noix. Walnut groves are common in this part of France, and here you can walk through the trees, watch the processing of the fruit, and learn about the history of the industry.
There is a nature walk through the grounds, with info boards explaining the wildlife to look out for and describing the various stages of walnut tree growth and management. It ends near a picnic area, with tables where you can sit and enjoy the peace and calm of the surroundings.
This is a working walnut farm, and you can see the walnuts being milled – a surprisingly hands-on process. The museum includes a French-language film that details the history of walnuts in the region, the life cycle of a walnut tree, and shows works of art made from walnut wood. Finally, a visit wouldn’t be complete without perusing the on-site shop that sells ‘everything walnut’. Walnut oil, walnut cake, walnut wine, whole walnuts. The oil is excellent as a salad dressing.
Suggested by Tracey | Pack the PJs
Kayaking / Canoeing on the Dronne River in Brantôme
The Dronne River weaves its way through the Dordogne and the historic village of Brantôme. With a series of hairpin turns and weirs, this section of the Dronne River is perfect for kayaking and canoeing. It is also a lovely way to see the famous Benedictine abbey and other notable architecture of Brantôme.
There are two canoe hire places in Brantôme: Brantome Canoë is the most convenient canoe rental, right next to the large public car park on Avenue André Maurois. Further down the river in Les Prés is Allo Canoes Brantome. You can choose from multi-person canoes, kayaks, or go solo in a smaller kayak. If you’re feeling daring, you can even kayak down the small control weirs!
The rental establishments offer all the safety equipment you will need to have a safe and fun time kayaking on the Dronne River.
Suggested by Hannah | Hannah Henderson Travel
The Medieval City of Sarlat-la-Canèda
Sarlat is one of the top places to visit in the Dordogne. The enchanting walled city of Sarlat is so well-preserved that it was submitted for consideration to UNESCO in 2002. Sarlat is the Perigord Noir area of the Dordogne, known for its foie gras, walnuts, and delicacies such as cèpe mushrooms and truffles.
Sarlat is definitely the place for foodie fun in the Dordogne. The Sarlat market days are packed with regional produce and beautiful handicrafts. For extra fun, visit Sarlat in December for their Christmas illuminations, and one of the best Christmas markets in France – mulled wine, ice skating and events fill the main squares.
The annual truffle festival happens in January and gives the local producers a chance to showcase their incredibly sought-after product. Have you ever had a tasting menu with truffle shavings in every course? It is a special treat that you’ll not soon forget.
Suggested by Hannah | Hannah Henderson Travel
Be Fascinated by the 2000 Stone Age Cave Paintings of Lascaux
The 2000 prehistoric paintings in the Lascaux Cave are a must-see on a visit to the Dordogne Valley. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the paintings are considered to be masterpieces of stone age art.
No one quite knows exactly why or how paleolithic people created the art on the walls and ceiling of the cave. Experts believe they built their own scaffolding to create a sanctuary.
The original cave, which was discovered in 1940, had to be closed to the public to preserve the paintings. But the paintings have been painstakingly recreated so that visitors can see just what it was like.
The “new cave” is part of a modern multimedia experience at the Lascaux Centre International de l’Art Pariétal in Montignac. It’s a half-hour drive north of Sarlat or you can take a tour from Sarlat to the cave and other prehistoric sites in the region. The cave is open every day of the week, but be sure to check the opening hours as they vary by season.
Suggested by Cindy | Travel Bliss Now
Explore the Gardens of Château de Marqueyssac (Vezac)
The Marqueyssac Gardens at the Château de Marqueyssac in Vezac are truly incredible and a must-see if you’re visiting this region of France.
Sometimes called the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac, this National Historic Monument clings to the side of a rocky outcrop high above La Roque-Gageac, with commanding views across the valley of the five châteaux.
The gardens themselves are extraordinary, surrounding the creamy colored 17th-century château and filled with exquisitely clipped box, beautifully manicured lawns, and shady clifftop paths. There are three routes to take you through the formal gardens and out to the Belvedere, from where you will enjoy panoramic views across the Dordogne river and its famous valleys.
The formal gardens have been beautifully planted and managed, with the star of the show being the thousands of boxwoods which have been manicured to create a stunning abstract garden of symmetry and movement. Visit on Thursday’s at dusk for sublime sunset views through the trees or come early in the morning to avoid the crowds. There is plenty of parking just below the château and lots of places to stay locally, including campsites with direct access to the Dordogne and aires for those holidaying in motorhomes.
Suggested by Izzy | The Gap Decaders
Visit the Medieval Bastide village of Monpazier
Visiting beautiful Monpazier in Dordogne is like taking a step straight back into the 13th century. This delightful bastide town is perfectly preserved, complete with an ancient market hall containing measuring and weighing equipment from back in the day. It’s listed as one of the ” Plus Beaux Villages de France” (Most Beautiful Villages in France).
There were originally six gated entranceways to this bastide village all leading to the main square and two remain to this day. Once inside the main square, you are surrounded by a mix of stone houses with open arcaded bases.
The town’s weekly market has been running for over 700 years and takes place on Thursday. It’s a great day to visit to soak in all the atmosphere of the gorgeous village and sample some of the delicious regional specialties.
Be sure to visit the church of Monpazier that dates back to the 13th century, and take some time to pop into one of the many cute little shops displaying arts and crafts designed by local artisans. If you’re visiting in the summer months be sure to arrive early as parking is limited!
Suggested by Kylie | Visit Dordogne
Truffle Market Shopping in Périgord
The black Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum), is the second-most commercially valuable truffle species in the world. With this “black diamond” at home, it is easy to understand why the Périgord is one of the most important truffle trade centers in France.
Truffles used to be dug up by pigs but nowadays it is more likely to be a dog. This famous mushroom is rare and very appreciated in the French cuisine which justifies its high prices in the markets.
Truffle-hunting in the local markets is another of the top things to do in Dordogne. The best places to purchase the black Périgord truffle are the regional markets that run between December and March. The towns and villages of Sarlat, Périgueux, Sorges, Sainte Alvère, or Thiviers are good places to purchase these famous mushrooms.
Explore Joséphine Baker’s Château des Milandes
The wonderful Château des Milandes is the fairytale castle of the Dordogne. The castle was originally built in 1489 by the same owner as the castle in Castelnaud. He wanted to build a more romantic castle.
After a few owners, the castle was first rented and later bought by Joséphine Baker, a famous dancer. She is also known for her important resistance work in the Second World War and as a civil rights activist. She lived in Château des Milandes with her husband and all of her adopted children. She adopted them from different parts of the world and they were known as ‘The Rainbow Tribe’.
Nowadays the castle is a museum about her life. The ticket includes admission to the gardens which are very pretty and worth a stroll. They have different levels going up the hill with some nice scenery. In summer you can see impressive birds of prey show.
Suggested by Manouk | Groetjes uit Verweggistan