Dordogne travel guide

The Dordogne is bucolic France at its finest. A varied region known historically by the French as the Périgord, or specifically the Périgords Noir, Blanc, Vert and Pourpre (named after their famous dark forests, limestone, woodland and grapes respectively) – home to deep ancient forests, impossibly pretty honey-coloured stone villages, painted caves and its pièce de résistance – the Dordogne River.
If les francais’ famous laissez-faire attitude seems amplified here, you can’t blame them. Because who could hurry and worry through life surrounded by the Dordogne’s deep forests and down-to-earth charm.
Holidays here are all about lazy days canoeing in the shadow of chateaux perched atop dramatic limestone cliffs, stopping to wander ancient fortified towns and shop for local delicacies in a plethora of busy farmers’ markets. But if paddling doesn’t float your boat the Dordogne is equally lovely by bike or on foot. Or if that all just sounds too energetic head off-grid into the heart of the woodlands of the rural Périgord Vert, where you can stay in a cabin and explore away from it all, at your own pace.

The Dordogne is…

…verdant, with vertiginous limestone cliffs and the best of France’s local produce.

The Dordogne isn’t…

…unexplored. Expect crowds and the need to book early, especially in summer.

Dordogne map & highlights

We use the term Dordogne loosely in this guide – the beauty of the river, its gorges, chateaux and waterside towns don’t end with the administrative borders of the Dordogne department. Ignore neighbouring Lot at your peril, where the impossibly perched village of Rocamadour clings to a cliff face, and fairy-tale Carrenac and bustling Souillac are all unmissable stops on a Dordogne holiday. Be warned though, the Dordogne is popular, especially in July and August when its prehistoric sites can be packed out. Ticketing systems are in place at the Lascaux Caves, for example, to control visitor numbers and preserve the site, so you’ll need to book in advance, or best of all visit outside peak times.

1. Carennac

A swathe of red-tiled turreted roofs adorn the cottages and 16th-century mansion houses of Carennac, one of the most beautiful villages in the Dordogne Valley. Reach it by bike, or by boat for the best views and don’t miss a chance to sip a Fenelon when you get there – the sweet, ruby-red local aperitif made from red wine, walnut juice and crème de cassis.
Dordogne chateaux

2. Dordogne chateaux

The Loire Valley may be France’s chateaux-central, but nowhere does downright dramatic like the Dordogne. Canoe the short stretch of river between Carennac and Meyronne and you’ll pass no less than four perched atop the limestone cliffs. Don’t miss the view of the river from the Chateaux de Beynac, or head into the Périgord Pourpre to the imposing Chateau de Biron, sat on a hill with panoramic views across ancient forests and farmland.
Dordogne River

3. Dordogne River

Cutting through the dramatic limestone gorges of the Périgords Poupre and Noir, the twists and turns of the forest and cliff-lined Dordogne River are best explored by canoe. Leisurely that is – as you’ll need plenty of time to wonder at the villages tucked into the rock faces, elaborate perched chateaux, and to hop out for a munch of a tasty menu du jour.
Périgord Noir

4. Périgord Noir

So named for its deep dark forests – not, as is often touted, for its abundance of delectable black truffles – the ‘black’ Périgord is home to spectacular villages like La Roque Gageac, carved out of a cliff face in the hollow of a meander in the Dordogne River, medieval Sarlat and honey-coloured Carrenac. This is also the Dordogne’s culinary heartland, home to delicacies such as confit de canard. And truffles, of course.
Périgord Vert

5. Périgord Vert

One of the lesser-known and most rural parts of the Dordogne, the Périgord Vert is home to deep green forest and rolling grasslands, crisscrossed by streams and topped with rocky promontories – and the odd chateau or three. A handful of quiet small towns and pretty little villages are as busy as this tranquil area gets – making it perfect for off-grid hideaways in the heart of nature.
Prehistoric art

6. Prehistoric art

Some of the world’s most significant collections of prehistoric cave art are found in the limestone caverns littering the Dordogne. Perhaps most spectacular of all are the Lascaux Caves, discovered in 1940 by four teenagers searching for their lost dog. Tours run through atmospheric multimedia-generated reproductions (visiting the real thing is too damaging), and can be combined with other prehistoric sites in the Vézère Valley. All can get very busy – so ideally visit outside peak times.

7. Rocamadour

Just south of the Dordogne Valley in the Lot, the spectacular village of Rocamadour clings precariously to the side of a near vertical cliff. Just 15km from the river, France’s second most important religious site is a popular side trip on canoeing holidays. Make the pilgrimage by bike – or on foot – although climbing the steps to the Basilica on your knees, à la France’s Kings of the past, is optional.

8. Sarlat-la-Canéda

One of France’s oldest fortified towns, and once the biggest medieval town in Europe, Sarlat is astoundingly well-preserved and untouched by recent history. Its maze of central streets is practically car free making for easy – although on-foot exploration. Be warned though, it remains one of France’s major centres of foie gras production, with factories and local farmers practising traditional force-feeding techniques.
Diane Kirkwood, owner of our off-grid Dordogne holiday accommodation Covertcabin shares her love of the little-visited Périgord Vert: “Tucked away at the northernmost tip of Dordogne, we are far from the ‘famous’ sights such as the caves of Lascaux, the Dordogne river and the vineyards or Bergerac, but I like to think of our little area as a ‘Mini-Dordogne’! Our cabins are all at private locations within the Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin, this is the Périgord Vert of forests, lakes, rolling countryside, secret valleys but we do have our local caves, chateaux and beautiful, less famous, rivers where we can canoe.”

Our top Dordogne Holiday

Honeymoon accommodation in the Dordogne, France

Honeymoon accommodation in the Dordogne, France

A secluded woodland cabin in Dordogne, SW France

From €1040 per couple per week
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Dordogne or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: canadastock] [Is/Isn't: Stephane Mignon] [Carennac: LPLT] [Dordogne chateaux: Gentil Hibou] [Dordogne River: Simon Frost] [Périgord Noir : Stephane Mignon] [Périgord Vert : Stephane Mignon] [Prehistoric art: Lascaux] [Rocamadour : Dynamosquito] [Sarlat-la-Canéda: Chensiyuan]