Dordogne in southwest France is one of those places you can’t help fall in love with. It’s a verdant land of medieval villages and majestic chateaux, vineyards and pretty villages, forests, rivers and lakes.
UNESCO World heritage listed Sarlat, with its wonderfully preserved medieval centre is one of the most well-known cities of the Dordogne Valley. In fact it has the highest number of classified buildings per square metre of any town in Europe and is a classified Town of Art and History. Walk its cobbled streets, enjoy the marvellous Saturday morning market and get to the top of the Church of St Marie via a glass lift for 360° panoramic views of the town.
The medieval town of Bergerac sits along the banks of the River Dordogne. You’ll find a warren of winding, cobblestone streets lined with restaurants and cafés. Half-timbered buildings, gently tinkling fountains and a weekly market are just a few of the reasons to visit. It’s a great place for wine lovers with a terrific Wine Centre in a former monastery.
While we’re on the subject of wine tasting, this area is known for its fabulous wines. Some of the best are from Bergerac but not far away you can try the Grands Crus of Saint-Émilion, just over the departmental border.
Take a visit to small producers, châteaux, vineyards and cellars and enjoy a tasting or even a vineyard ride by Segway or bike. You can also take a distillery tour to discover Dordogne’s famous aperitifs – walnut wine, ratafia and La Vielle Prune (plum brandy).
Bobbing about on the water
The River Dordogne is ever present and a great way to enjoy the area is by canoe. There are courses to suit all fitness levels, from a couple of hours to half a day or longer. Take a picnic and moor at the water’s edge to relish the ravishing views of glorious countryside.
Chateau des Milandes
The romantic 15th century Chateau des Milandes was home to the legendary entertainer Josephine Baker. Famous for her skimpy costumes and wonderful singing, she was a super star of the Paris stage in the 1930s. The chateau pays homage to her memory with a fabulous collection of her personal items including stage costumes. Much of the castle looks as it did when she left it in 1964. The gardens are gorgeous and there’s a fabulous bird of prey show (spring to Autumn).
Hanging gardens of Marqueyssac
The Gardens of Marqueyssac are exquisite. Created in the 19th century in the grounds of a manor house and now a National Historic Monument, there are more than 6km of shaded paths bordered by 150,000 hand-pruned box trees, some of which are more than hundred years old. Perched on a cliff over the Dordogne Valley, the view from top, offers exceptional views over the Dordogne Valley.
One of the best times to visit the Gardens of Marqueyssac is a summer evening when the paths are lit by thousands of candles and the sound of music carries over the hedges – simply sublime.
Indulge your passion for good food
In Dordogne there’s plenty of opportunity to indulge in the finest local produce and flavours. From farmers markets to local specialities such as cheese, walnuts, foie gras and truffles, wonderful wines and numerous foodie events – you’ll be tasting the best of France.
Everywhere you go you’ll find delicious local products. At markets, in authentic country inns, village bistros, brasseries and Michelin starred restaurants.
In the summer, there are loads of local farmers’ markets. Only producers from the region are allowed to have stalls. There is always a festive atmosphere, especially at the nocturnal markets.
Top tip: In August head to ‘L’assiette de Cyrano’ in Bergerac. It’s a fabulous food and wine festival in the town centre.
La roque saint-Christophe
This unique, 1km long cleft 80m up a cliff is truly fascinating. It’s a natural shelter which has been inhabited by humans since the days of prehistory to the Middle Ages. A 3D film and replicas of ancient machines invented by those early dwellers bring the history of this awesome site to life.
Step back in time
At Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and Beynac there are remarkably well preserved ancient chateaux. Here you can’t help but get the feeling not much has changed over the centuries and the views from the hilltop towns are stunning.
The Vézère Valley, a listed UNESCO world heritage site known as the cradle of humanity is home to 127 prehistoric sites including the world famous Lascaux Caves.
Where to stay
Stay at the Chateau Masburel near Bergerac, where award winning wines have been made for almost 300 years. Their luxury rooms overlook vineyards, the chateau has beautiful rooms with antiques and paintings and are adult-only – perfect for a relaxing break and superb base for touring Dordogne. Find out more and book at: chateau-masburel.com