Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Visit Dordogne, France
Dordogne is a department in southwest France, in the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. Set between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees mountains, Dordogne is well known for its bucolic natural beauty, some of the most picturesque medieval towns in France, and intriguing prehistoric cave paintings.
Dordogne is also a great place for foodies, famous for its foie gras, truffles, Bergerac wines, strawberries, walnuts, and cep mushrooms.
So if you are curious about visiting Dordogne on a weekend getaway or by car on a Dordogne road trip, we’ll show you the best things to do in Dordogne, France.
When to Visit Dordogne
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 most local festivals occur. If you decide to visit Dordogne in the summer, book hotels and tickets to the most popular Dordogne attractions 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 crowds. Some villages boast beautiful Christmas markets, and the black truffle season runs from December to March. However, many Dordogne attractions and restaurants close for the cold season, though some châteaux do remain open.
Getting Around Dordogne
Unfortunately, public transportation in the region is slow and infrequent, so a self-drive holiday is the best way to go. Drive its scenic roads at your own pace and stop at the best places to visit in Dordogne or where you please.
If you don’t have a car in France, you can take a train to Agen, Toulouse, Bordeaux, or Brive-la-Gaillarde, and rent a car there to visit the Dordogne. Browse the Car Rental Companies operating in France and check out our best tips for hiring a car in France.
If you are hitting French roads for the first time, have a look at our Driving in France Guide.
Where to Sleep in Dordogne
The medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda (Sarlat), in the Périgord Noir, is Dordogne’s main transportation hub and an excellent base to explore other places in Dordogne. Sarlat is a good place for sightseeing and enjoying regional food.
For a unique stay in Sarlat, book at Les Jardins du Porche, an ensemble of furnished apartments located a 10-minute walk from Sarlat’s city center. All the units come with free Wi-fi and a private terrace or garden.
The capital of the Périgord Pourpre is also an ideal base to explore the surrounding region, full of beautiful vineyards, rolling hills, and idyllic riverside villages. There are plenty of things to do in Bergerac, from unique museums to wine tours.
What to Do in Dordogne, France
For this article, we asked some fellow travel bloggers and friends about the best places to visit in Dordogne and their favorite Dordogne things to do. From top Dordogne attractions to hidden gems, here are the best things to do in Dordogne, France.
1. Land of 1001 Castles
One of the best 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 France’s prettiest sites.
In the Middle Ages, Dordogne was 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 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 Castles in Dordogne, instead, were more functional, built to protect. They were solid, imposing, fortified structures, usually in strategically important positions.
The list of the most beautiful medieval castles in Dordogne includes Castelnaud (cover picture), Fénelon, Beynac, Commarque (in the picture above), and Hautefort. Some of these Dordogne castles are also listed as the most beautiful castles in France.
2. Ecomusée de la Noix (Castelnaud)
Castelnaud is one of the top destinations in Dordogne, mainly for its famous medieval castle. However, within a short walk of the castle car park, the Ferme de Vielcroze and the Ecomusée de la Noix are also worth a stop.
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.
The Ecomusée de la Noix is part of a working walnut farm where you can see the walnuts being milled – a surprisingly hands-on process! The museum part shows works of art made from walnut wood and includes a French-language film that details the history of walnuts in the region and the life cycle of a walnut tree. 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.
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. – Suggested by Tracey | Pack the PJs
3. Canoeing on the Dronne River (Brantôme)
Canoeing is one of the fun things to do in the Dordogne region, and it is especially popular in places like Brantôme.
The Dronne River weaves its way through the historic village. 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 and 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 fun time canoeing on the Dronne River. – Suggested by Hannah | Hannah Henderson Travel
4. Visit Sarlat-la-Canèda
Medieval Sarlat is one of the best places to visit in the Dordogne. The enchanting walled town of Sarlat is so well-preserved that it was submitted for consideration to UNESCO in 2002. Sarlat is the Périgord 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 local producers a chance to showcase their incredibly sought-after products. 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
5. Be Fascinated by the 2000 Stone Age Cave Paintings of Lascaux
The 2,000-year Prehistoric paintings in the Lascaux Cave are a Dordogne must-see. 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 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
6. 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 boxes, 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 that have been manicured to create a stunning abstract garden of symmetry and movement. Visit on Thursdays 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
7. Visit the Medieval Bastide Village of Monpazier
Visiting 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. Monpazier is one of the most beautiful villages in Dordogne and is also 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, which 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, arrive early, as parking is limited. – Suggested by Kylie | Visit Dordogne
8. 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 France’s most important truffle trade centers.
Truffles used to be dug up by pigs, but nowadays, it is more likely to be dogs. This famous mushroom is rare and very appreciated in French cuisine, which justifies its high market prices.
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 between December and March. The towns and cities of Sarlat, Périgueux, Sorges, Sainte Alvère, and Thiviers are good places to purchase these famous mushrooms.
9. Wine Tasting in Bergerac
Bergerac is a famous wine region and appellation in South West France, covering an area along the Dordogne river. The wines are close in style to those of Bordeaux, around 100km to the west. They are also from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon grapes.
The most famous wines in the area are the Monbazillac, which produces exclusively sweet white wines. The Côtes de Bergerac and Pecharmant appellations account for many of the best red and white wines of the region.
Wine tasting is one of the best things Dordogne has to offer. Around Bergerac, there are several wineries and cellars open to the public, offering tours and wine tastings. Thanks to previous users’ ratings and the map of the Bergerac wine area, it will be easy for you to make your own Bergerac wine route.
10. Explore Josephine 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 for his wife, not far from their main residence.
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.
Joséphine Baker 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 shows. – Suggested by Manouk | Groetjes uit Verweggistan
And there you have it, what to do in Dordogne, France, for any kind of traveler. Now all you need to do is decide which things you will do on your trip to Dordogne (but we suggest doing them all!).