Best time to visit the Dordogne

There’s a reason the summer is peak season in the Dordogne, warm sunshine and long days partner perfectly with adventures by boat or bike.
Realistically, if you want to canoe the Dordogne River – one of our favourite, family-friendly ways to get around – you’re going to want to travel between June and September, when daytime temperatures can reach the mid 20s°C. If you’re not tied to school holidays then consider travelling either end of this season to beat the biggest crowds – or book early; the Dordogne is deservedly popular in summer, but this can mean its towns and sites can struggle under the strain. Hiking and biking holidays are best through the summer, but also April and October, the former bringing spring flowers and fresh market produce and the latter the glorious grape harvest. Although you’ll need to be prepared for chillier nights, and more chance of rain. December to March is truffle season in the Périgord Noir, and while you’ll find lots of accommodation open, some tourist infrastructure – canoe hire, some hotels and restaurants – may shut. You’ll have the Périgord to yourself though – and your local hosts will be able to help you navigate the off-season closures.

Dordogne Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
2
9
40
FEB
2
10
35
MAR
4
14
35
APR
6
16
60
MAY
9
21
60
JUN
12
24
47
JUL
14
27
42
AUG
14
30
41
SEP
12
25
58
OCT
9
18
55
NOV
5
12
52
DEC
3
9
42
Diane Kirkwood, owner of our off-grid Dordogne holiday accommodation Covertcabin shares what she loves in the Dordogne all year round: “My favourite season is usually whatever is about to come! Winter here is sometimes mild, sometimes harsh but there’s an opportunity to cosy up by the wood burner and take things easy, but then I’ll be longing for the springtime with the profusion of wild flowers in the meadows to look forward to and the warmer weather brings everyone and all the wildlife to life. Summer is hectic and passes by in a flash, but when the evenings are warm there is still opportunities to stargaze and it’s a prime time to spot shooting stars. By then, I’ll be hankering for the cooler nights, the autumn leaves are spectacular, we hunt for mushrooms and chop and stack wood, there is so much to enjoy in every season.”

Things to do in the Dordogne...

...Get paddling. One of the best ways to explore the Dordogne is via its river. And don’t worry – this is as leisurely as canoeing gets, floating downstream with the current between bucolic riverside towns, spotting chateaux and kingfishers en route. ...Go off grid. Hole up in a cabin in the woods, relax in a lakeside hammock and listen to the frog chorus. The Dordogne does away-from-it-all nature like nowhere else – with delicious local market fare just a bike ride away. ...Tuck into local produce. This is a region famed for its duck dishes – don’t miss the magret or confit de canard served up with thin slices of potato cooked in goose fat. Or the black truffles and walnuts of the Périgord Noir, the latter made into tasty walnut tarts and desserts.

Things not  to do in the Dordogne...

...Hire a car. You could spend a week whizzing about from sight to sight locked up in your car in-between or you could, instead, enjoy a leisurely bike ride or canoe trip to a clifftop chateau, rock-hewn village or convivial cafe. We know what we’d prefer. ...Ignore the underground. Some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved prehistoric paintings lie in the caverns littering the eastern Dordogne. Don’t miss the UNESCO-listed Vezère Valley or the Grottes de Lascaux – a complex of intricately decorated caves accessible from Montignac. ...Try the foie gras. Just because the tradition of foie gras production goes back generations, it doesn’t make it any less cruel. Caged ducks and geese are force-fed to enlarge their livers to 10 times their normal size – which is then sold whole, or made into terrines, patés and parfaits.

Our top Dordogne Holiday

Dordogne self catering cabin sleeping 4

Dordogne self catering cabin sleeping 4

Off-grid, off-beat self catering cabin

From €650 to €900 per week (sleeps 2-4)
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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.

Dordogne travel advice

Donna Webber, from our canoeing, walking and cycling specialists, Headwater, shares her Dordogne travel advice and tips:

Itinerary advice

“The medieval centre of Sarlat is an absolute must: lose yourself in its ancient alleyways and wander its cobbled streets; visit on a Wednesday morning or Saturdays and you’ll get the famous market – recommended for eats and the freshest local fare.”

Packing tips

“Remember to bring long shorts for when you’re canoeing – to avoid sunburn on the tops of your legs when in the canoe – and bring footwear that will protect your feet where you pitch – but that won’t come off if you capsize!”

Insights on self-guided tours

“Support is provided by our local reps, who will provide your briefing on whichever activity you have chosen, running through the routes and getting you kitted out with bikes/canoes/kayaks as appropriate. They also provide any transfers and most importantly, move your bags so you don’t have to. They are unobtrusive and work away behind the scenes –but are only a phone call away if you need them.”

Booking advice

“If you require triple or family rooms, do book early to avoid disappointment – most hotels only have one room for 3+ people and these are the first ones to get booked out!”
Diane Kirkwood, owner of our off-grid Dordogne holiday accommodation Covertcabin, shares her tips and insights on holidays in the rural Périgord Vert:

Escaping the summer rush

“There are a lot of visitors coming in July and August but as this is a mainly rural area, visitors are dispersed over a large area and we are only really aware of the influx on market days and at big events. The roads for the most part are still quiet, great for cycling and there are miles of off road tracks to explore. If you’re looking for solitude you can certainly still find it here, especially out of high season.”

Combating waste

“Our favourite local restaurant holds weekly ‘Anti-Gaspi’ (anti-waste) nights where you are not given a full menu choice but eat whatever they have left, then you pay whatever you want and 20% of that is donated to the local food bank. The food there is always fab so it’s no hardship really!”

Advice on rural life

“My advice to first-time visitors is to remember that most shops will close for a couple of hours at lunchtime! It took me SO long to get used to French opening hours.”

Tips from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Dordogne travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday.
Prepare for fantastic food
– Steve Dickinson
“Pack as light as possible, but for all temps (the caves were quite cold). If you want to visit lots of attractions, you'd need to be a very strong rider to have enough time to do this.” – Deborah Palacios

“I'd recommend visiting in the summer months, when there's more of a chance of sunshine and if you do visit out of season, bring some warm clothes! If you don't speak French, bring a phrase book or try and learn the basics beforehand. Saying that, my husband and I knew no French and managed to get by! I'd also invest in a good camera, as there's all sorts of wildlife to photograph.” – Jenna Wills

“Although we loved the wildlife the frogs were pretty vocal so you may wish to take some earplugs if you are a light sleeper like me.” – Sarah Smith

“You need cycling gloves to kayak that far!” – Martha Beardsworth
Make good use of the bikes, there is a lot of fantastic countryside all around.
– Rupert Green

Responsible tourism in the Dordogne

Tourism can be a powerful force for small, local businesses in the Dordogne’s more rural reaches which rely on a diverse range of income streams to keep afloat. Traditional values, and a sense of heritage is strong in this region of France, but so is the pull of the big cities, where greater employment opportunities attract young people out of the countryside in swathes.

Diane Kirkwood, owner of our off-grid holiday accommodation Covertcabin explains:
“There are issues with rural de-population as a lot of the younger people struggle to find work locally and head off to the big cities, but there are local government schemes and social enterprises to help young farmers. Generally, I feel that the French people have a healthy respect for their roots and their ‘Patrimonie’ or heritage. The old language of Occitane is promoted in schools where they learn folk songs and stories.”

Spreading tourism throughout the Dordogne, not just along its eponymous river, not only bolsters ongoing efforts to keep young people in rural areas, but helps ease the pressure on more popular regions which face huge numbers of visitors especially in the summer.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: canadastock] [Intro: MemoryCatcher] [Things to do in the Dordogne...: Andrew Lawson] [Donna Webber advice: Dennis33053] [Diane Kirkwood advice 2: DomyD] [Steve Dickinson quote: angelap2009] [Rupert Green quote: Gilles Guillamot]
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