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12 Best Things To Do In Dordogne, France

12 Best Things To Do In Dordogne, France

12 Best Things To Do In Dordogne, France

Where imposing castles punctuate the lush green meadows and the river orients the landscape, there’s a host of interesting things to do in the Dordogne. Here is our pick of the land of medieval villages.

To the English it’s the Dordogne, to the French it’s Périgord.

As a popular destination for Brits, The Dordogne is what the English imagine rural France to be in their bygone fantasies. Attractive hill country with meadows rich and green, charming villages sympathetically restored, romantic châteaux peering down onto curving rivers framed with verdant trees.

With the walnuts abundant, the truffles fragrant, the bread always oven-fresh and wine a very serious affair, there’s a lot to love about the Dordogne. There’s also plenty of great things to do.

Visit imposing castles via a boat cruise down the River Dordogne, stroll a charming town untouched over the centuries or wander immaculately maintained gardens. Encounter the regions prehistoric past or peruse the stalls of bustling village markets.

Our guide to the Dordogne covers the top experiences, goes a little off-the-beaten-track, tries the local tipple, and discovers quality French cuisine.

It may be an English fantasy, but it’s well worth realising.


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IN THIS GUIDE

WHAT TO DO IN THE DORDOGNE, FRANCE


1 – SAIL ON A GABARRE PAST TOWERING CASTLES

The basin of the Dordogne River is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Recognised for its well-preserved natural setting and exceptional cultural heritage, it’s a place of graceful beauty. Medieval castles, ominous and forbidding, perch on limestone cliffs. Unchanged for centuries, they continue to guard the sweeping waters, miles of forest, and tiny villages that lay below them.

There are few better ways to take in the scene than on a ‘Gabarre’. These flat-bottomed boats were used to transport wine and agricultural goods along the river to Bordeaux, where they would be shipped across the world. Today they transport visitors through remarkable scenery.

The best place to pick up your Gabarre is La Roque-Gageac, a beautiful village nestled into the foot of a dramatic limestone cliff. The 1-hour tour run by Gabares Norbert offers great views of the village, spots wildlife along the shore and ends at the towering medieval fortress of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, before returning to La Roque-Gagaec.

2 – ADMIRE THE TOPIARY AT MARQUEYSSAC GARDENS

The 19th-century stone-tiled Marqueyssac Castle is perched on a limestone cliff, just above the Dordogne River. But remarkably the great views are not its main selling point. In 1860, the owner began planting boxwood trees in the garden of the castle. Today there are over 150,000, each hand-crafted into a mesmerising array of sweeping contours and interlocking forms making Marqueyssac gardens a must-see on any Dordogne itinerary.  

The most impressive structure of hedges surrounds the house, but the entire rocky limestone summit is worth exploring. Walking paths head past rockeries, cute huts and a series of arches. To the west, views of Beynac Castle dominate the landscape, while to the south, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle stands much as it did hundreds of years ago.  

There are three paths to choose from, but we suggest taking the clifftop path (La Promenade des Falaises) to the Belvedere at the other end of the rocky spur and returning via the heights walk (La Promenade des Hauteurs). Allow at least 1 hour to explore, longer if you want to take in the remarkable views from the café.

3 – STROLL THE MEDIEVAL STREETS OF SARLAT-LA-CANÉDA

Founded in the 9th century by monks trying to hide religious relics, Sarlat-la-Canéda was established a few kilometres away from the busy Dordogne River to maintain secrecy. However, its strange position in a dell with few natural defences, hasn’t stopped it from thriving.

Today, the pedestrianised centre is rich with 14th-century architecture. Saint-Sacerdoce Cathedral with its mix of architectural styles dating from the 9th century is fascinating, as is the Lantern of the Dead next door. The Church of Saint Mary has been converted into a mix of old and new by French architect Jean Nouvel who added 15-metre steel doors and a glass elevator that whisks visitors 35 metres up to an observation deck overlooking Sarlat (€5).

The highlight of Sarlat-la-Canéda, however, is the local market, filling the medieval streets with fresh produce, inviting aromas and energetic hubbub. The market is held Wednesday morning and all-day Saturday. There’s a night market on Thursday in summer, a Christmas market throughout December and a Truffle market in January. For fine food in a lovely street at the end of the day head to L’Adresse.




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