The idyllic Dordogne region of southwestern France entices droves of visitors in search of fertile undulating landscapes, tranquil sun-drenched villages and fascinating medieval bastides. Here are some of the highlights that make this diverse region so seductive.
The Great Outdoors
This wonderfully verdant landscape enjoys a mild climate and long hot summers, perfect for abundant alfresco activities. The Dordogne River is a hive of activity during the summer months, when visitors escape the heat in its clean, cool waters. Enjoy kayaking, swimming and fishing, or just lazing by its peaceful banks. Relax on a scenic river cruise in a traditional flat bottomed boat or ‘gabarre’. The rolling hillsides and valleys attract year-round hikers and cyclists, whist climbers are drawn to the area’s steep cliffs and craggy outcrops. For spectacular aerial views of the region take to the skies in a thrilling hot air balloon ride.
Idyllic Towns and Villages
The region boasts myriad picturesque market towns and villages. La Roque-Gageac is a huddle of sandstone houses fronting the Dordogne River, framed by a towering cliff face. Palm trees and tropical plants flourish in the sheltered setting, and winding alleys lead to ancient troglodyte caves in the cliffs. Famed for its Saturday truffle market, Sarlat la Caneda is a beautiful historic town and vibrant visitor hub. Pay a visit to Saint Marie church, where you can ride in a panoramic glass elevator and enjoy fantastic bird’s eye views across town.
Don’t miss the delightful medieval settlement of Domme. Built in 1281 this historic bastide village sits in an elevated clifftop position, and played a key defensive role during the French/English 100 Years War. Enter the village through its impressive fortified archway and wander streets lined with turreted stone and timber houses, bars, restaurants and artisan shops. Head to the panoramic terrace by the town square for a superb overlook across the Dordogne valley, and watch hot air balloons drifting across the sky at sunset.
Ancient Cave Art at Montignac
In 1940 four teenagers stumbled upon a network of hidden caves in the village of Montignac. They were astonished to discover the cave walls bore hundreds of paintings of large animals, human figures and unusual symbols. Archaeologists have since uncovered over 600 paintings in the Lascaux cave, which date back to the Upper Palaeolithic (late stone-age) period. Experts estimate the cave art is 17,000 years old! The site was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. To preserve the historic artworks, the caves are no longer open to the public, but you can visit a series of reconstructed caves near the original site. Here you’ll find painstakingly reproduced images of bulls, stags, and bison, all stunningly similar to the originals.
The Dordogne boasts a wealth of stunning bastides and ancient castles. Nine hundred year old Chateau de Beynac commands an imperious vantage point, impressively perched on a limestone outcrop hundreds of feet above the river Dordogne. Conquered by Richard the Lionheart at the end of the 12th century, it’s one of the best preserved castles in the region. To visit, stretch your legs on a steep ascent through the winding cobbled alleyways of mediaeval Beynac village. The climb takes you above the stone tile roofs of pretty ochre village houses. Once you reach the chateau, the views across the valley are breath-taking. On the opposite bank of the Dordogne stands Beynac’s historic rival, the strategically positioned Chateau de Castelnaud, built in defiance of its enemy. Don’t miss the Castlelnaud Museum of Medieval Warfare where you’ll find an extensive weaponry and armour collection including crossbows, swords and huge missile launchers or ‘trebuchet’.
The Dordogne is a treasure trove for the epicurean. Meat lovers can indulge in duck, goose, and Quercy lamb reared on rocky limestone outcrops. Feast on regional classics such as confit de canard and fois gras. Walnuts, cep mushrooms and the highly valued black Perigord truffle (aka the black diamond) feature heavily on restaurant menus; peak truffle season is December to February. Make time to sample creamy Rocamadour goat’s cheese and Bleu des Causses (a cow’s milk cheese similar to Roquefort). Wine lovers should explore the local vineyards in the countryside surrounding Bergerac. Alongside classic white and red Bergerac, try the sweet Vin de Branceilles and Monbazillac; both pair splendidly with local cheese and pate.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com