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Discover rustic France in the Dordogne

From prehistoric paintings and ancient caves to quaint market towns and grand chateaus, discover the rustic charm of the Dordogne.

Few areas better demonstrate that special “je ne sais quoi” that attracts so many to France than the Dordogne. 

Home to multiple historic sites and important finds for the country, the Dordogne is a cornucopia of heritage, tradition and discovery set against a backdrop of laid-back rural warmth. Peaceful yet captivating, no wonder it proves so popular with tourists, offering the true French experience with discount holidays and hotels a million miles away from the crowded city streets of the capital.

Unearth this region’s enchantment for yourself with our guide to the best of the Dordogne.

 

What to see

Getting acquainted with the stunning Dordogne countryside is the first port of call for all visitors to this southwestern region or ‘department’, whether you choose to admire its splendour from the veranda of your holiday gîte, take a walk through rural roads or drive the scenic route. The Dordogne’s lush rolling hills and green valleys are strewn with castle ruins; the landscape is sure to offer inspiration to any intrepid explorer.

Aside from castles and rich foods, the Dordogne is regarded as one of the most important prehistoric areas in the world. Come face to face with ancient ancestors at sites such as Font de Gaume or the world famous Lascaux caves, where you can discover some of the first cave paintings in existence. The Dordogne’s Vézère Valley is teeming with ancient caves, many of which include etchings from as far back as 10,000 BC.

Lascaux caves paintings

 

What to do

Nowhere can the homely rustic atmosphere of the Dordogne be felt more warmly than in the charming market towns of this region. The busy marketplace may be a beacon of a bygone era in many European towns, but in sandstone-carved Sarlat this central square remains at the heart of the community and everyday activity. As picturesque as it is practical, Sarlat demonstrates another particularly appetising trait of the area – its food.

The Dordogne neighbours the great wine-producing region Bordeaux, so a bold red for the table is not difficult to come by, but the area is a gourmet retreat in its own right. Cooking is truly an art form in the Dordogne, with traditional fare the order of the day as family recipes are proudly passed through the generations. Local agricultural efforts produce walnuts, fruits like golden quinces and an array of cheeses. Some farmers are even lucky enough to find a wild patch of greatly sought-after truffles growing on their land to bring to market.

Sarlat marketplace

With its prime location just a few kilometres from the Dordogne River, Sarlat is the perfect place to pick up a picnic lunch before heading to the water’s edge.

Accessible from most areas of the region, the Dordogne River winds its way through breathtaking scenery and notable villages, making it the perfect pathway to discovering some of the area’s treasures. A canoe or kayak trip along its waters is the best way to see more of the river and the sights en route.

kayaking on the Dordogne River

 

Where to go

The Dordogne is castle country, rumoured to boast over 1,000 castles and chateaux, and many consider this a leading reason to visit the region. These pillars of medieval architecture scatter the landscape as a grand reminder of the heritage of the area and the Hundred Years’ War that helped to shape its unique atmosphere. If you’re visiting the Dordogne, Chateau de Castelnaud and Chateau de Beynac are well worth a visit.

Chateau de Beynac castle in the Dordogne

No holiday to the Dordogne is complete without visiting the region’s capital town of Périgueux. The town has been standing since the Neolithic period and its architecture is an interesting mix of the many different moments in history it’s witnessed. Once a cathedral, the Saint-Etienne church is an example of this reconstruction with its 16th-century structures sitting on the same site as earlier and later parts of the building respectively.

Likewise, The Perigord Museum of Art and Archaeology offers the opportunity to interact with the area’s history, housing an impressive collection of prehistoric and Roman artefacts from the Dordogne.

For a true taste of the Dordogne, visitors should head to one of the town’s more prominent buildings – the Maison du Patissier. Built during the Renaissance, this venue is easily identifiable by the scallop shell décor on the door, a symbol used around the region and associated with the “Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle” or the Way of Saint James pilgrimage. The Maison du Patissier is recognised as the birthplace of paté de foie gras and the controversial dish remains a culinary favourite of the Dordogne.

Saint Etienne church in Perigueux

Image Credit: MOSSOT, Prof saxx, Thesupermat, Jebulon, Cobber17 (wikimedia.org)

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